More than a flashlight

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I thought I had packed everything I needed for the time away at the leadership retreat. Cell phone – check. Pillow and sleeping bag – check. Changes of clothing – check. Running shoes – check. Readiness to be a dorm mom – squiggly checkmark with worries attached. I had not accounted for late nights and and no flashlights. The girls all laughed at me and one of them chimed in, “Ma’am, you’ve got a torch (flashlight) on your mobile.” Of course I did. I hadn’t needed it before that. Until this point, I’d only been out and about during the day. What had seemed like a luxury was now a necessity.

Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Psalm 43:3 (NIV)

Give me your lantern and compass, give me a map, so I can find my way to the sacred mountain, to the place of your presence, Psalm 43:3 (MSG)

I’m in desperate need of light in my walk with God too. Left to my own devices, I’m prone to wander into dark places where I was never meant to go. My thoughts wander and their rabbit trails are sometimes plain scary. Doubts and worries sneak in and then take over. Fears stomp their way to the front of the line. Without even realizing it, I’ve allowed all sorts of issues to set up shop in my mind and heart. Discouragement, despair and their good friend depression are gleefully waiting to get their hands on me.

I was not made for living in the dark. I was not made to have a permanent home in the land of despair. It’s amazing the difference a flashlight makes. Somehow the simple change of lighting the path ahead changes the focus and brings hope. It is easier to see the truth when the light is shining on it. It is easier to fight the anxious thoughts when the truth of who I am and who my Father is is illuminated before me. Following someone with the light is hopeful. At least one of us can see the way and alerts the others as to what is ahead of us. My heavenly Father, with His Light ablaze, is waiting for me to fall in step with Him.

The One who knows me best is the only One worth following. My Father does not want me to choose to wander in the dark. He wants to guide me with His truth and light into His presence. He desires that I will engage with Him in meaningful ways so that I will make my home with Him. When I am fixed on Him, the darkness is reminded of its place. My Father tells me the truth of His presence – He is always with me (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). He showers me with love – His love is eternal (Jeremiah 31:3). My God is gentle and affectionate – He is kind (Jeremiah 31:3, I Corinthians 13:4). He speaks – He is wanting me to hear His voice (John 10:1-10). My God delights in me – He sings over me (Zephaniah 3:17). He is the giver of life – He wants me to live life fully and richly in Him and for Him (John 10:10b).

I am called to turn on the flashlight of God’s Word. I need that beacon in the darkness to guide my way. I choose to only lose myself in Him.

Amanda Cook’s Closer

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Which full?

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Some things are good when they’re full. A full mug of tea. A full cookie basket. A bucket of popcorn. Some things are great when they’re full but they can be over-full. A brimming full weekend. A busy-every-night-of-the-week kind of week. Some things you just don’t want to be full. A full nose and head (why do colds have to win!). A full guilt bag of homework. Full of grief. Some of those “fulls” I’d like to skip.

 

“The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:12b-13 (NIV, emphasis mine)

There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse, breaking through the earth and growing tree tall, Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope! Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! Romans 15:12b-13 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

I gloss over some of the “fulls” I need in my life. I know they are there. I know God wants to work them into my life but I only quickly glance their way. They aren’t as pressing as some of the other things I’ve got going on. Homework and the stuffy nose seem to be winning the long game right now.

But if I’m honest with my heart, the homework and the stuffy nose are not nearly as significant in the long-term thread of the character of my life. While homework needs doing and a stuffy nose needs conquering, those two items might reveal my character but they won’t make my character.

I have some “fulls” that I desperately need. I long to be full of hope, joy and peace.

Hope-full. Discouragement hides in the corners of my heart often. It comes out to play when I’m most vulnerable. It swings a pretty heavy bat and easily dismantles the hope-full part of me often. I should have a solution to … I would rather be … How come … Each of those phrases turns the spotlight on me. Each one hits at my hope.

Joy-full. Sometimes I wear grumpy pants. I know I’m not alone. The wrong side of the bed called. The bad hair day wanted its hair products returned. So many things can easily disrupt my day. It may be the line at the photocopier or Starbucks. My day can turn on its head faster than I can even imagine. Why do I let these things steal my joy?

Peace-full. Worry’s a peace stealer. Anxiety takes over. A peace-full world? Is it possible? A peace-full heart? My heart, peace-full? What consumes my attention? What is looming on the horizon? Every time I seek to be the one in charge of all of the aspects of my life, I fail miserably. When I try to create the peace, it doesn’t last.

Hope-full, joy-full, peace-full – I can only be a person defined by those characteristics when I trust my God. These are His attributes. Attributes that He desires that I would have. Every time I try to build them into my life, it doesn’t work. I cannot create my own hope. I cannot create my own joy. I can’t create peace. If I could, why would I need God. Instead, when I give Him my circumstances (and this happens over and over again), I see Him reveal a bit more of each of them in my life. Oh, life conspires against any moment of hope, joy and peace that I acquire. But I have a God who has a bottomless well of supply. With Him, I cannot ever run out! He keeps giving and giving and giving out of the generous overflow of His heart of love for me.

Thank you, God, that You are the source of hope, joy and peace. Thank you for filling me again because I cannot do it on my own. You know the circumstances of my life and I give them all to You. Your hands are big and can hold each detail. Help me to trust You – the God who longs to fill me with His hope, joy and peace. Amen.

Useful?

 

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I opened the cupboard and pulled out supplies. Some make sense. They are needed for lessons in a unit. These items aren’t supplied by another kit. Other things seem to be completely random. A piece of paper with some notes on it. Do the notes make sense? This happened as I was doing some planning yesterday. I had to set up the experiment and try it again for myself in order for everything to make sense. Without that – not a clue.

 

Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?” And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” Isaiah 6:11-13 (NIV, emphasis mine) 

Astonished, I said, “And Master, how long is this to go on?” He said, “Until the cities are emptied out, not a soul left in the cities – Houses empty of people, countryside empty of people. Until I, God, get rid of everyone, sending them off, the land totally empty. And even if some should survive, say a tenth, the devastation will start up again. The country will look like pine and oak forest with every tree cut down – Every tree a stump, a huge field of stumps. But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.” Isaiah 6:11-13 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

Useful is always something God keeps in mind. While I need refresher courses about why I keep things, He has good purposes for all He has made. He doesn’t forget why He created it. He doesn’t lose track of it. He doesn’t file it away. My God is the One with a plan.

Does His plan always make sense to me? No, absolutely not. There’s much in Isaiah 6 that baffles the mind. God calls Isaiah in the most unique of ways. God purifies Isaiah and prepares him for the ministry He has planned for him. God gives Isaiah the message he is to speak. There’s no hugs and cuddles. This is straight up tough. Get it together. God knows the receptiveness of His people – zero. Absolute destruction would occur. But, Isaiah, go speak my message and keep doing it. Wow! If that’s a job description for success, I’m not sure I want that job.

Then there’s the little nugget of hope right at the very end. “But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.” A forest reduced to stumps is a dreadful visual. From lush green to barren. From tall statues to stumps. This picture doesn’t induce hope. In my way of thinking, what once was useful, has now been reduced to useless. Good thing that God’s plan is far bigger than my understanding.

There’s a seed in those stumps. What seems useless is actually useful. What seems destroyed has purpose. Human logic wasn’t required. God had a plan and no one could thwart it. No one would choose Bethlehem. No one would choose a stable. No one would pick a couple who had to travel from Nazareth. No one would pick a baby to be the one to change the world. But that’s my God. He uses things that don’t seem useful to become exactly what is needed. Who knew a stump had purpose!

It’s coming …

 

Jeremiah 33_15a

It’s easy to live in anticipation at this time of year. The first doors on the Advent calendar get opened. The house is trimmed with lights and greenery. The tree goes up. The gifts go under it. The Wise One would know which gift was for which person in our family. We siblings admired presents but without the label on them, the suspense just about got us every year. It’s coming. It’s getting closer. It’s almost …

 

The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. “’In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called:  The Lord Our Righteousness.’ Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NIV, emphasis mine)

“’Watch for this:  The time is coming’ – God’s Decree – ‘when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right. That’s when Judah will be secure and Jerusalem live in safety. The motto for the city will be, “God Has Set Things Right for Us.” Jeremiah 33:14-16 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

Christmas has that arrival moment too. Christmas morning (or Christmas Eve if you follow a different tradition) the gifts are opened. Delight is seen on faces. Toys are played with by young and old. It’s fun!

But sometimes the “Watch for this” is longer than the 24 days leading up to Christmas. Sometimes the watching and waiting feels like there is no end in sight. Sometimes it’s the watching and the waiting that makes me wonder what God is up to. Does He have a plan? Does He remember His plan? Does He see what kind of circumstance I find myself in? Does any piece of it make sense to Him? It usually doesn’t make a shred of sense to me!

In those moments, I’d like to take over and speed it up a little. I’d like to solve it. I’d like to be able to tie up all the loose ends and put them all neatly in their places. Then it would all be okay. Then it would feel like I helped God work His plan. But there’s the rub. I’m not meant to help God’s plan fall into place on my timetable. That’s working over Him. That’s using God to be some sort of solution guy who will just solve it for me. That’s not the relationship I want with God at all.

Jeremiah prophesied about watching and waiting and then the people of Israel had to do a whole lot of both. I have no doubt that Jeremiah’s listeners and the generations of people who followed Him wondered what on earth he was writing about. God had promised. God had said He would do it. But His time frame was rather vague. “In those days and at that time …”

So why do I think that God’s timing in my life will be any more specific? He knows exactly the days and at exactly the right time for the things that I continue to watch and wait for to happen. Appropriately, I haven’t got a clue! If I did, I’d help God’s plan move along and that would undoubtedly mess absolutely everything up!

Watch and wait. It really is better to just watch and wait.

God, too often I’d like to help move your plan along. Forgive me for putting myself in the place of control. I, again, yield the circumstances of my life into Your hands. You know what is best. You know what is needed. I choose to trust Your timing because You are my good, good Father. Amen

A Guide …

John 1_7

He sat in the driver seat. Microphone angled just so. He did two jobs simultaneously and did them very well. He drove on the “correct” side of the road (as opposed to the right side) and told us stories, the history of his land. Without both, the trip would have been a lot less interesting. He pointed out important destinations. He gave us the peculiarities of his country. Every trip I’ve taken since, I’ve compared the current guide to him. None have quite compared.

 

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. John 1:6-9 (NIV)

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light. The Life-Light was the real thing:  Every person entering Life he brings into Light. John 1:6-9 (MSG)

 

John the Baptists reminds me of that guide. He knew his spot. He knew he wasn’t the Light. But he knew that he had a role to play. He wasn’t the lead actor. But he wasn’t a random extra. He might be described as a secondary character. But John had to be one of the most important secondary actors ever because he had a significant role in Jesus ministry.

He was the long anticipated one. Elderly parents with their miracle baby! He had an unusual life. Strange food habits (locusts, anyone?) and an interesting wardrobe. He drew a crowd. But it wasn’t his warm welcoming speeches that did it. The Pharisees and Sadducees bore the brunt of his caustic tongue. (Matthew 3:7-10) He didn’t change his message. He called for people to repent from the wicked ways. His eyes were always looking forward.

He was living a life of expectation. I know my job. I’m doing my job. But someone is coming who is more amazing than I can describe. Look for Him. Search for Him. He is the one to follow. No amazing crowd size changed his message. No ridicule from the Sadducees and Pharisees got him to change the call. He baptized scores of people and his advancing fame and recognition did not cause him to rethink the task he had been given. He did the job laid out before him. Prepare the way. Point to Jesus. Prepare the way. Point to Jesus.

Prepare the way. Point to Jesus. Do I do either of those?

I think of my learners and I’m constantly thinking about the road ahead for them in the coming grade. Have I helped cement a good foundation for future knowledge? Have I given them enough repetition to master what they are being asked? I’m preparing the way in the most practical of terms. But in my spiritual life, do I prepare the way? Is my heart able to worship the way I’m meant to? Does worship draw me into a deeper walk with Jesus? How is my time in God’s word influencing my behaviour, my interactions with others? How are my relationships? Are they benefitting from a close walk with my Maker? Prepare the way. Is my heart as tender as it should be?

Point to Jesus. This one hits even closer to home. As I interact with those around me, do they even notice Jesus? Is there anything about me that hints at a relationship with Him? Do my words betray me? OR is Jesus present in what I say? Am I pointing to the reason for my hope? If not, I’ve bungled it all horribly! Every part of who I am is meant to point to Him – the author and finisher of everything about me.

Jesus, my heart longs to be prepared for You again as we anticipate the celebration of Your arrival. I know that You desire to open all the doors to my heart, not just the ones I think I’d like You to be in. I want to be ready for You. I want to be prepared for you. Father, may my life point people to Your Son, Jesus. Conform my will to Yours. My words to the words You are speaking. My heart to the tenderness of Yours. My longings to the passions of Yours. Thank You for enabling me to be the person prepared for You and pointing to You. Amen.

 

Light in the Dark

John 1_5

 

The winter days are short. It seems dark all the time. I arrive at work in the dark. The sun only rising as my students take their seats for the day. I leave work in the dark. The last rays of sun sending their final glimmers across the sky far earlier than I would prefer. I love clear blue skies filled with sunshine. Darkness, the darkness of December, has a way of worming its way soul and spirit in not such a good way.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:1-5 (NIV, emphasis mine)

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. John 1:1-5 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

We don’t really like darkness. Street-lamps flood the byways with light. Homes are well lit as lights are left on when no one’s in the room. Christmas trees brim with all sorts of sparkle as lights trim the tree. We do everything we can to get rid of the dark.

But darkness is unavoidable. It haunts us in all sorts of ways. It creeps into our souls and plants seeds of discouragement and doubt. It stomps its way in and waters the growing plant of disillusionment. It’s all about festering and fostering gloom and hopelessness. But it’s also the darkness of deed, too. Not only can my soul be discouraged, but I also sin. I miss the mark of God’s perfection. I look at the world through veiled eyes. The darkness of sin is inescapable. In the month of such darkness outside, the darkness of soul grows more quickly than can be imagined or understood.

It’s precisely that kind of darkness that did not scare off the Word, Jesus Christ. The world he entered was no less dark than our own. Sin pervaded. Discouragement seemed to win. Kings were all about power, people and payment. These are familiar problems.

But it all changed with Jesus. In Him was life. Life with the regular-ness of routine and the requirements of living. That part is impossible to get rid of. The bills must be paid, the salary must be earned. But this life of Jesus wasn’t just about seeing to my physical needs. In Him was life.  Life that was meant to be lived with Him. Community. Relationship. Life with Jesus. Life that was given purpose. Life that was given meaning because it was meant to be lived not just for one’s self. Life filled with hope because in Jesus my sin is forgiven, my eternity assured. Life with Jesus.

Not only was Jesus the source of life, but in Him was light. Light for all. Darkness with its stealthy feet was not supposed to have the final word. It tried. It tried really hard. It seemed to win and sentenced Jesus to death on a cross. But that was darkness’s last shot at winning. It completely failed too. Darkness forgot to take into account that Jesus, while fully man, was fully divine, fully God. God raised Jesus up. Death could not win. Light won. Jesus won. Darkness was utterly defeated.

But, darkness has not given up. It continues to wage war on my soul. Discouragement knocks rather loudly and persistently. Sin wants to conquer and plant its flag of victory. In those moments, it seems as though Life and Light are not enough. But when I call on Jesus’ name, the darkness loses its power. The Life and Light that is Jesus is powerful beyond my understanding. The darkness cannot understand it. The darkness cannot be in the presence of Light. Life and Light take over, flooding each corner of my being with the knowledge that His presence is always enough. It’s more than I can ever understand.

Jesus, too often I believe the lies that darkness speaks to me. I give in so quickly forgetting where my hope is found. I stand on the truth of your Word that You are Light and You are Life. I stand on the truth that You are the God who is always with me and so You are with me in the times that are dark. You are the One who keeps shining Your light into my soul. Thank you for being the true giver of Life and Light. Amen.

Watch!

Mark 13_37b

I was on a coach on Ireland’s Ring of Kerry. Our tour guide asked us to put away all of our stuff. He told us to watch. He knew that if we didn’t we would be disappointed. The coach rolled on past the amazing vistas. Was this it? Was this what we were watching for? Each corner revealed a new glimmer of beauty. We kept wondering, had we arrived now? We came around the final turn and my jaw hit the floor. Spread before me was the ocean in all its splendour dotted with islands with the sun blazing overhead. The waiting, the watching had all been worth it!

 

“Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away:  He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13:33-37 (NIV)

“So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch.” Mark 13:33-37 (MSG)

 

Watching seems so passive. I’m not really doing anything while I’m watching. At times, it feels useless. I could be doing something more, something worthwhile, something important.

There’s a waiting implied too! Watching and waiting! Most of the time, I know what I’m watching for. It’s the glimmer of understanding in the eyes of a learner. It’s the hopeful look of something long anticipated to arrive. Sometimes it’s passive – eyes hooded so as to not appear interested even though the desire is there. Frequently, it’s eyes wide open, eagerly trying to understand what you’re watching for.

There’s a posture in watching. When it’s a sporting rivalry, fans are on their feet willing their chosen team on to victory. But there’s a watching that hurts the heart. The kind that has anxiety and stress written all over it. Where worse is possible and might just come.

But then there’s the watch that Jesus is asking for. It’s alert watching. This is the full attention version of watching. Passivity is not an option. The gatekeeper is on duty. Eyes alert to see who is passing by, who wants in. The servants are on duty. They have jobs to fulfill, positions requiring their unique skill sets and abilities. The homeowner is only pleased when the tasks are completed. Everything is ready for the homeowner’s return. It’s imminent, but no one in his service knows exactly when it will be. But all is to be ready. All is to be prepared. Nothing is meant to be waiting to still be completed. Jesus second coming is foreshadowed.

But there is a lesson to be learned from all of this preparation and watching. Jesus is not waiting until He comes again to be doing things in and through His people. He moves in the hearts and minds of people all the time.

But how am I watching? Am I sitting on the sidelines, idly minding my own business, completely unobservant? If so, I’m absolutely missing out on what Jesus is up to now. I’m missing where He is moving. I’m ignoring the opportunities He’s placing in front of me to be His hands and feet. I’m ignoring His not-so-subtle promptings to speak His words of life.

It all changes if I am watching Jesus with keen interest. If I’m paying attention, then I’m asking Him to open my eyes to see what He’s doing. I’m desiring Him to reveal what He would have me do. I’m pursuing opportunities that He has revealed to me. I may be taking steps that make not a shred of sense but are divine appointments beyond my understanding. Because my eyes are watching Him, I will speak words of encouragement and hope. My hands and feet will reach out to bless others in big and small ways. I will change direction because of my obedience to the One who speaks my name.

Jesus, in this season of busy-ness it is so easy for my eyes to be darting all over the place. Instead, would you fix my eyes on You. Enable me to be observant of what you are doing and where you are moving. Give my heart and mind obedience and my hands and feet swift action so that I will join you wholeheartedly in the mission You have for me. Amen.

Gifts

I Corinthians 1_7 (MSG)

I wasn’t sure what I was shopping for this year. Usually, I have a plan well underway prior to the “shopping season.” But this year, I didn’t have a clue. So, sitting at a hockey game, I came right out and asked the question. “What do all of you want for Christmas?” Slowly, ideas came. But living in a land of plenty, the list was not composed of needs, but wants. Things that would be nice but are not essential to life at all.

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. I Corinthians 1:3-9 (NIV emphasis mine)                         

May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father, and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours. Every time I think of you – and I think of you often! – I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God, given by Jesus. There’s no end to what has happened in you – it’s beyond speech, beyond knowledge. The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives. Just think – you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that. I Corinthians 1:3-9 (MSG emphasis mine)

 

Physical gifts, the things I can hold in my hand, those are nice. They remind me that I’m loved by people I know and care about. But the spiritual gifts – the provisions that my heavenly Father has made for me – those are life altering.

Which type of gifts do I value more? Which ones rank higher on the importance scale?

There’s something about a tangible item that is easier to understand. I can see it. I can feel it. It holds worth because I know it’s physically there. But of how much greater worth are the gifts the Father has lavished on me? These are gifts I cannot see with my eyes. But these gifts change absolutely everything. They change my destiny. They affect my eternity. They defy my understanding.

Gift 1:  I have His presence. My God is the God who wants to be known. He is completely relational. From the beginning of time, He has existed in community – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He created man in His image. He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden as a man walks with his friend. While He has been accused of being far off and removed from what He made, my God is the God who wants to be known by His creation. He is the One who wants me to know Him. To see Him all around me. To sense where He is moving and to join Him in that call and that purpose. This is the God who didn’t stay far away remotely watching what He had created, but He came near, He moved in next door. He is close. He is closer than the air I breathe. He is with me!

Gift 2:  I am His child. My God is the purpose giver. Without Him, what reason do I have? Without Him, what is worth pursuing? He desires me to be in relationship with Him. Just as parents interact with their children, my Father delights to be with me. He chose me. I didn’t choose Him on my own. My sinful nature, my eyes veiled to true reality, would not have pursued a relationship with God except for His Spirit stirring in me. My adoption into God’s family was an incredible act of His love poured out for me. He longs for me to snuggle in. Tucked in close. Feeling His heart beat with love for me. His love is deeper and wider than I can ever imagine or understand. My Father’s love is constantly lavished on me as He reveals Himself in Jesus Christ – the One who sacrificed His life so I could have mine.

Gift 3:  I am forgiven. My God is the restorer. On my own, I am far from Him. I sin. I fall short of His magnificent glory. I look at the world through glasses made dirty by the gunk of my life. But, my God knew that I would try to do the right thing. I would attempt to live right, but I would still fail all the time. I can’t measure up on my own. Instead, because He is full of mercy and grace, my God is the One who reaches out. He sends His perfect Son to take my most horrid consequence. His Son dies in my place. And in raising Jesus back to life, death is conquered. The price is paid. I am brought into relationship with the One who formed me and loves me best. I still sin. But because of my relationship as God’s child, God the Father sees that the payment for my sin is paid in full. I’m forgiven. Washed clean. Made new. No longer who I was, but fully transformed.

The physical gifts under the tree – the wrapping is lovely. The gifts are great. But the gifts I have in Christ – those defy my understanding. They change my trajectory. They give hope. I am more loved than I can ever know.

God, I pray for a heart sensitive to You! Your gifts are beyond what I could ever understand. Thank you for being the Gift Giver who is lavishly generous. Thank you for pouring out your gifts to me! May my heart overflow with gratitude and love back to you! Amen.

 

The Christmas question

But make sure that you don't get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time an doze off, oblivious to God.

The question came to me as I sat in her chair getting my hair cut. “What are your Christmas traditions? Is there anything special you do at the holidays that you have to do every year?” I was left a little speechless. What do I do at the holidays? What occupies my time? Why do I always feel like the month of December flies by and I don’t know where it’s gone?

Typical answers flitted across the screen of my mind. There are concerts to attend. Parties to be a part of. Baking to be done. Meals to be prepared for. Presents to be wrapped. Decorations to be put up. Family time must be squeezed in somewhere. Friends to see. Advent to be observed. Oh, and Jesus too, He needs some time in all the hustle. The doing seems endless.

  

And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Romans 13:11-14 (NIV, emphasis mine)

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about! Romans 13:11-14 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

The busy is my problem. I get caught up in the busy and the to do list of the month of December and I don’t really recover until it’s January. I get completely absorbed into all that seems to be required of me. Lots of the “stuff to do” is good too. These things are fun, entertaining. But because I’m focused on them, I’m constantly missing out on what God has planned for me.

Losing track of what is most valuable, most important is easily done. Too often my Advent season feels more like a marathon than a time of joy and reflection.

I know my list of busy actually has it all backwards. Jesus got slapped onto the back end of the list. It really needed to start with Him. After all, without Him there is no need for the season of Advent. Without Him, there is no celebration of Christmas. Without Him, there is no presence to long for. Without Him there is empty, discouragement, despair. Without Him, there is only dark. I desperately want light. His Light. His presence. His peace. All filling those spaces inside my heart and mind that need a fresh infilling of the wonder of His presence. The majesty of His appearing. The unbelievable-ness that a God who made it all would reduce Himself to frail flesh and come to be with His people. I crave the God-with-me reminders of this season. I’m desperate to be clothed in Him again.

There are now choices before me. I can do the treadmill of December and miss the glory all around me. Or, I can start with Jesus and choose to be clothed in Him, alert and aware to His presence.

I’d love a do-over answer to the question that I was asked. “What are your Christmas traditions? Is there anything special you do at the holidays that you have to do every year?” I spend time with Jesus, concentrated time with Jesus. I bask in His presence. He is the One who declares that He is God with us. When I get this right, all of the other activities and things of the season fall into the right place.

God, forgive me for putting you on the bottom of my list. I pray for a fresh clothing of your Spirit over my life. May I be found in You for in You is fullness of life, fullness of joy. Amen.

Advent

Advent 2017

December 3 is the first Sunday of Advent. I want to live in a sense of wonder of what Jesus has for me this Advent season. May my eyes be open to what He is doing in, around and, just maybe, through me. I know I have lessons to learn.

My God …

Psalm 89-33, 34 (MSG).jpg

With every choice, there is a consequence. Some choices yield great consequences. Play well in the game, and it might be enough to help my team win. Other choices, the less happy ones, give the harsher consequences. Forget to the pay the bill, suffer a fine, maybe even lose the service. Both types of consequences influence, even shape, my behaviour.

[God says,] “… but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness – and I will not lie to David – that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.” Psalm 89: 33-37 (NIV)

“But I’ll never throw them out, never abandon or disown them. Do you think I’d withdraw my holy promise? or take back words I’d already spoken? I’ve given my word, my whole and holy word; do you think I would lie to David? His family tree is here for good, his sovereignty as sure as the sun, Dependable as the phases of the moon, inescapable as weather.” Psalm 89:33-37 (MSG)

I sometimes carry that same consequence thought process into my relationship with God. If I do _____, then God will love me. If I accomplish _____, then He’ll look on me with favour. If I do _____, I might end up in his bad books. With those thoughts running through my head, I’m not living a life with God at all. I’m living in fear of Him, waiting for Him to drop His bigger-than-Thor’s hammer on me.

That’s the not the God I love.

My God is a God of justice. He cannot abide sin in His presence. In love, He gave His people the mandate within which to live their lives. Love God. Love others. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Matthew 22:37-40). Because I fall so incredibly far short of that expectation, there had to be a consequence. It was a final one. The payment for my sin was death (Romans 6:23). There’s nothing happy about that at all. My God could have stopped right there. He could have tossed His hands in the air and given up entirely.

Thank goodness He didn’t.

Instead, just like the Psalmist stated, “… I’ll never throw them out, never abandon or disown them” my God sticks with me. (Psalm 89:33 MSG) That’s my God. The One who is always in the rescuing business. The pursuer of my soul. The One who is not satisfied until I am in the proper and right relationship with Him. There’s absolutely nothing I can do to earn this position of His favour. No achievement that is good enough. No good deed that is righteous enough. No gift I can give that is worth enough. The key word is a relationship with Him. He doesn’t want me behind Him. Then I can’t see His face shining loving smiles on me. He doesn’t want me in front of Him. Then I take over and try to be in control and that’s a complete disaster. He wants me to be with Him. Face to face. Close proximity. So close that I feel how much His heart beats for me. With Him is a place of tenderness and security. With Him is to know His love poured bountifully over me. With Him is to rest in the shelter of His arms circled round about me. With Him is to yield my will to His direction because He knows the way far better than I ever will. With Him is to see Him fulfill His promises. As Skye Jethani (2017) recently stated, “Our Lord does not love with an agenda, and He does not love because of who we are. He loves because of who He is.”

That’s my God. The one who keeps His promises. Who wants to be with me. Who loves me. Who. Loves. Me.

Jethani, S. (2017) With God Daily:  Why Jesus Heals [November 6, 2017 Devotional]. Retrieved from https://skyejethani.com/devotionals/

When it all seems discouraging …

Psalm 88-1.jpg

We all have those seasons. The ones where it seems all is going wrong. The ones where it feels as if God has taken off for another town, country, and continent altogether. Those are the seasons when discouragement is close at hand. Despair is knocking on the door.

 

O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. Psalm 88: 1-2 (NIV)

God, you’re my last chance of the day. I spend the night on my knees before you. Put me on your salvation agenda; take notes on the trouble I’m in. Psalm 88:1-2 (MSG)

 

I got to the end of Psalm 88. I was waiting for the hopeful moment. I turned the page hoping that the 18th wasn’t the last verse. Typically, the Psalms have a pattern of finishing on a hopeful note. There’s a recognition that while all seems lost, God is still present therefore hope can be found. Psalm 88 bucks the trend. “Darkness is my closest friend,” is not an encouraging way to end. (Psalm 88:18b)

But sometimes life is like this. There are seasons when things don’t go well. There are times of deep discouragement. In others, the physical toll of illness drains a person to the point of despair. God can seem to be very far off in those moments. His presence removed.

I often perceive that a “fix” is evidence of God’s presence. If things go well, He’s there. I know I’m wrong.

God is always present. His presence is not proof that things are going well. Frequently, when things are going well, I completely overlook the evidence of His presence with me. When I’m desperate, He is still there, even though He seems hard to find.

The author of the Psalm does not give up praying to God. Rather, his desperation sends him before God’s throne day and night. In my desperation, I am inclined to give up. My heart gets quickly frustrated by the perception of God’s lack of response. Why pray if nothing changes? I want an answer now. I don’t want to wait. I’m not really interested in the pain of character transformation and shaping. I’d like to learn the lesson, deal with the issue, move on. The faster the better. But the refinement and growth of my soul is a slow process. If I truly learned the lessons God has for me, He would not need to use the gift of His repetition in my life.

Simultaneously, just because I perceive God to be silent does not mean that He is. My God is constantly revealing Himself. His Word reveals His character. Nature speaks to His majesty and creativity. The people around me attest to His love and care. The songs I wake up with each day speak to His personal knowledge of me. He uses other people in my life to remind me of His faithfulness and gentleness. My God isn’t silent.

God refuses to scream at me, demanding my attention! Because He has given me free will, He knows that I will often choose the simple and the expedient over the long term and the arduous. He lets me make those choices. He knows I will experience the consequences of it all. But, in His love, mercy and grace He continues to whisper to my soul, gently drawing me to Himself. With Him there is a stillness. A peace. Hope. Love. It’s easy to miss in the hustle and bustle of life. It’s simple to miss when I am downcast in heart. But it’s there, begging me to come, sit awhile, rest with Him.

Sometimes “darkness is my closest friend.” (Psalm 88:18b) But God is present. He cannot abandon – it’s not in His character. I take comfort in the fact that God has never been scared off by what I think or feel. He is close even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Coming home …

Psalm 87-1, 2.jpg

I’d been away for what felt like forever. Five months in another country was more than I could imagine. The last three weeks were thoroughly enjoyed but there was an internal clock counting down in my head. 21 days ’til I go home. 20 days ’til I go home … Stepping foot into my house, I could hardly believe I was home. Home, that place where I hang my hat. The quiet shelter my heart craves. A place of restoration for my soul.

 

He has set his foundation on the holy mountain; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Psalm 87:1-2 (NIV)

He founded Zion on the Holy Mountain – and oh, how God loves his home! Loves it far better than all the homes of Jacob put together! Psalm 87:1-2 (MSG)

 

My home on earth is a temporary one. It’s mine, right now. But it won’t always be that way. Circumstances will change. What is now my refuge may not be in the future.

I think about how much I love my home and I cannot imagine how much God loves His home. His home is with His people. He desires to be with them and there is no end to the delight of His heart when they do enter into His presence.

There’s nothing like meals around the kitchen table when we’re all home. It’s noisy, lots of stories to share. We jump in on each other, interjecting our thoughts and opinions. But the love and affection we have for each other is evident through teases and tickles, the hugs and the cuddles. Each memory precious!

If this is what my family shares, family time in heaven will be beyond my understanding. The glory of God’s presence will overshadow absolutely everything. It will be magnificent to share heaven with all who have gone before me. Saints gathered around the throne. Voices and accents blended into praise of the One who has made us and adopted us as His sons and daughters. God is there! His holiness and beauty on display for all to see. It will be more than words can express to dwell with Him.

It does not get better than being home!

Chris Tomlin’s Home

A question of character …

 

Psalm 86-10

What am I like? What kind of a person am I? Who am I when people watch me? Am I the same person when no one is watching? Character, the ability to demonstrate who I am, the qualities that define me. Given a new situation, changed circumstances, I want the same qualities to shine through.

 

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you. Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. For you are great and do marvellous deeds; you alone are God. But you, O Lord are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86: 5, 8, 10, 15 (NIV)

 

If Psalm 86 were a CV for God, you couldn’t help but be impressed. The list of character qualities used to describe God is lengthy. It’s not just a list, either. Multiple examples are given demonstrating that God not only has the attribute but He’s used it in His interactions with David, the writer. That’s strong evidence. Proof that God has been moving and active in his life.

God is described as One who hears and answers, guards and saves. He is merciful, a joy giver, forgiving, good, and abounding in love. He is the maker, great, and does marvelous deeds. He fulfills specific roles in David’s life. He is a teacher, the One who loves him, and a deliverer. God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and faithful. He is a strength giver, a demonstrator, a helper, and a comforter.

Only someone like my God could have that list of qualities like that created for Him. He is consistent in all He does. Circumstances cannot and will not change who He is. His mood is not affected by how He wakes up in the morning. His personality does not change after He fully wakes up with His morning cup of coffee. He is faithful and true – consistent in who He is.

It would be incredible to have a character quality list like this. It would be even more amazing if I could consistently demonstrate those qualities. Too often, I am blown around by circumstance. My mood can shift faster than I would like. Discouragement can sneak its slimy fingers into my heart. I can lose sight of what God wants for me. But I am so grateful that I have a Father God who loves me deeply. The same character He demonstrated to David He demonstrates to me for God’s character cannot change. God faithfully loved David and He faithfully loves me. He is slow to anger, merciful and gracious to me and I am in constant need of his forgiveness. He continues to teach me His way which is a really good thing because I have not nearly finished learning everything I am meant to learn from Him.

Thank you, God. Thank you for being the amazing God you are. Thank you for never changing, for being so incredibly faithful. Thank you for the love You lavish on me over and over again. I am so grateful to be Your child. Your tender care for me is all over my life. Thank you for all you do. You are my God! Amen.

Listen

Psalm 85-8a

It’s still. Quiet. A fan whirrs in an open window. An occasional vehicle drives past. No voices. Just the clicking of keys as words tumble around in my head. It should be easy to listen in a setting like this.

 

I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints – but let them not return to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Psalm 85:8-9 (NIV)

I can’t wait to hear what he’ll say. God’s about to pronounce his people well, The holy people he loves so much, so they’ll never again live like fools. See how close his salvation is to those who fear him? Our country is home base for Glory! Psalm 85:8-9 (MSG)

 

Too often the prayers of my mouth and heart are really busy. I am full of words for God. Much to say, little time to listen. I have to cram it all in. I ramble, adding in words just for their own sake.

I know I miss the point.

Many parts of my day are loud. Every space crammed with noise. Voices. Music. Conversation.

It’s hard to listen well in the middle of noise.

Listen. It means I have to stop talking. I need to slow down the white noise in my head that proves I’m only half-listening. I need to engage with the one who is speaking to me. I can’t be doing something else at the same time. I need to look their direction. I need to focus on what they are saying to me.

If I am this intentional with the ones I work with, shouldn’t I apply the same thing to my relationship with my Heavenly Father?

Stop. The noise. The chatter. The doing. Be still.

Sit in the silence. Listen to the gift the Father has for me.

He speaks. He speaks peace.

Listen.

 

 

Home …

Psalm 84-1-2a

We all have different definitions of home. I toured some homes this past summer. They were palaces and castles. But they were all family homes. You could see the evidence of the lives of the people who resided there. It felt a little strange to walk in, a complete stranger, and invade their space. The family mementos were on display. Everything from pictures (massive paintings and ordinary photographs), clothing (military dress and shimmering gowns), to letters and keepsakes were out in full view. It felt unusual to walk through – museum or home or both.

  

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:1, 2 (NIV)

What a beautiful home, God of the Angel Armies! I’ve always longed to live in a place like this, Always dreamed of a room in your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive! Psalm 84:1, 2 (MSG)

 

My Father’s home isn’t meant to be a museum. Museums are places with grand displays. They have valuable artifacts hidden behind glass and rope. My hands are meant to be kept to myself. I’m not to even think about reaching out and touching anything. My Father’s home is the opposite. He desires me to sit down. To make myself comfortable. To come as I am into His presence. He wants me to be so close that I feel His Father heart beating for me! I don’t think He minds if my feet end up on the couch. This is the God who wants me to be with Him.

My Heavenly Father is all about me invading His space all the time. He removed every barrier that existed that might have kept me out of His presence. My God is the One who sent His Son to earth knowing that I could never earn or deserve His favour. When all seemed to fall apart, it turned out more right than could ever have been anticipated. Jesus death was it. I was restored to my God through Jesus shed blood, paying for my sin. At the same time, the curtain which separated the most Holy of places from the rest of the temple, was torn in two – top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51) No human could have made this happen. God was inviting everyone into His presence. All are welcome. He wants me to come in!

He wants me in His presence. He delights to spend time with me. I’m quite sure that in His mind I don’t ever spend enough time with Him – not even close. He wants me to be in constant conversation with Him (Ephesians 6:18). He doesn’t want me to hold anything back. Nothing is a surprise to Him – why would I try to hide it? He is not afraid of my emotion. He yearns for me to be close to Him. I am supposed to take up residency. I am supposed to be right there with Him. It’s not a figment of my imagination. It’s the closest of relationships that my Heavenly Father wants with me.

His dwelling place is lovely! His dwelling place is beautiful! Living in His presence is life! Life more full than I could ever imagine!

 

 

 

Reminders required …

Psalm 83-18

Sometimes it all blurs into one gigantic mess. The day starts out well. Things go smoothly. Everything seems in order and on the right track. Then, suddenly, it veers into complete chaos. Out of control. A mess beyond fixing. Some days are like that.

 

Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord – that you alone are the Most High over all the earth. Psalm 83:18 (NIV)

Then they’ll learn your name: “God,” the one and only High God on earth. Psalm 83:18 (MSG)

 

In the middle of my messes, I need reminders of God’s presence. It is so easy to get bogged down in the constancy. The endless list of things that all need to be done. Multiple voices all needing my attention at the same time, each louder than the other. I lose my perspective in those moments. I lose my patience. I lose my sense of peace.

There is a place to come back to. There is peace to be had. There is perspective to be gained. It can be found in the reminder that my God is the Most High. There is no one above Him. He is in charge. He has placed all things under His feet. No one can compete with His power and majesty. He is above all and in all things.

It’s as simple as calling on His name. His name is higher than any other. There is no name like Jesus. Instead of relying on my own ability to right the ship, He is the one who is able to supply peace. I just need to call on Him. Peace for my soul will result in peaceful interactions with others. There is much that can be done when I rely on the strength and power of the Most High.

I need reminders. It is easy to forget. But my God is the One who is holding each part of my life in His hands. He is the Most High. He is the only one who goes by that name. He can be trusted. He will not let me go.

 

 

Lost in the shuffle …

Psalm 83-18.jpg

Sometimes it all blurs into one gigantic mess. The day starts out well. Things go smoothly. Everything seems in order and on the right track. Then, suddenly, it veers into complete chaos. Out of control. A mess beyond fixing. Some days are like that.

 

Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord – that you alone are the Most High over all the earth. Psalm 83:18 (NIV)

Then they’ll learn your name: “God,” the one and only High God on earth. Psalm 83:18 (MSG)

 

In the middle of my messes, I need reminders of God’s presence. It is so easy to get bogged down in the constancy. The endless list of things that all need to be done. Multiple voices all needing my attention at the same time, each louder than the other. I lose my perspective in those moments. I lose my patience. I lose my sense of peace.

There is a place to come back to. There is peace to be had. There is perspective to be gained. It can be found in the reminder that my God is the Most High. There is no one above Him. He is in charge. He has placed all things under His feet. No one can compete with His power and majesty. He is above all and in all things.

It’s as simple as calling on His name. His name is higher than any other. There is no name like Jesus. Instead of relying on my own ability to right the ship, He is the one who is able to supply peace. I just need to call on Him. Peace for my soul will result in peaceful interactions with others. There is much that can be done when I rely on the strength and power of the Most High.

I need reminders. It is easy to forget. But my God is the One who is holding each part of my life in His hands. He is the Most High. He is the only one who goes by that name. He can be trusted. He will not let me go.

 

 

Who do I stand with?

Psalm 82-3, 4.jpg

My attention is scattered much of my day. I’m pulled by a number of different forces. Some in the group are in your face – they want your attention now! One group of people need me to be firm and direct. Another group are needing my sympathy and concern. Still others are looking to blend into the background hoping no one will notice. How do I balance it all? How do I ensure no one is neglected? How do I show those who might wish to be forgotten that they are important and matter?

 

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3, 4 (NIV)

You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them. Psalm 82:3, 4 (MSG)

 

I’m not a magistrate or a lawyer. I would not be much good in a court of law. But those in my care fill a vast spectrum. Some needs are deep and seemingly unending. Others are more superficial and heal quickly. Regardless, of the depth of need, knowing there is someone who stands by your side and advocates for you makes all the difference.

I am called on to be an advocate. I’m asked to be one who steps into the gap in order to meet needs. I need to listen helping to share a burden that is laid before me. My hands are called to move. At times, it’s to right a wrong. Other moments require intervention to mend bridges. There are still other moments when I’m needed to step in to prevent disaster before it shows up on the doorstep. I’m called to share in the times of joy. To cry in the times of sadness and sorrow. To pray because usually divine help is needed.

But when I really think about the needs that I come in contact with, none compare with the truly poor and destitute in the world. I have food in my cupboard. The world’s poorest do not even have a cupboard. I was able to attend school and pursue a post-secondary education. The poor of the world are often illiterate and have no school experience whatsoever. I have a job that pays well. The developing world’s poor are frequently enslaved, working in deplorable conditions because they are owned. I am safe and I can access resources where I will be supported and protected. Those in the developing world are frequently subject to violence that instills fear and reduces their hope to smithereens. I live a life that doesn’t really know true need and desperation.

Can I bring about any change for the world’s poor? Yes. I may never see their faces or personally hear their stories but I can be an advocate right where I am. There are countless organizations who work on behalf of the poor and oppressed to bring education, justice, love and mercy to those who are in need of it most. Each organization can be supported financially. Generous hands can bless others.

I can go. Sometimes the journey cross the world. Sometimes the journey is right outside my front door. If my feet move to help someone, I am advocating on behalf of the poor.

I can have a sensitive heart. The stories of pain and suffering should do more than just tug on my heart strings. My heart should break because I know my Father’s heart breaks too.

I can pray. There is nothing like prayer. Sometimes it is simply groans that only the Father can understand. But I am called to stand in the gap for those who cannot.

I may never know those who benefit from my advocacy. But I cannot ignore the fact that God’s heart beats hard for the poor and the oppressed. My heart should not do less.

A few organizations worth checking out:

Alliance Disaster Response (CMA Canada)

Breakfast Clubs Canada

Classrooms for Africa

Compassion Canada

International Justice Mission

Food for the Hungry

Foundation for His Ministry

Kids on Track

Mercy Ships

Red Cross

Samaritan’s Purse

World Vision

 

With help from:  Blue Letter Bible

Sing …

Psalm 81-1

She sat on my knees as my fingers moved over the piano keys. Her little hands joining mine making more of a racket than any chord progression. But it was music. It thrilled both our hearts. When we started in on a song she knew, the littlest one threw back her head and sang with gusto – some parts louder and more emphatic than others. I was blessed! What fun to make music together.

 

Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob! Psalm 81:1 (NIV)

A song to our strong God! A shout to the God of Jacob! Psalm 81:1 (MSG)

I don’t always sing like the littlest one. Some days, it feels hard to sing. Joy seems to have walked out and left the door ajar. On those days, when I need to sing the most, it’s hard to feel as if the words I’m singing are the sincere reflections of my heart. I was listening to a recording of a song and the singer commented that sometimes we need to sing the song until we believe that the words are true. That’s me. I need to sing the song over and over until I am certain the words are true!

There are other times when it’s easy to sing. The words flow. The heart responds. The hands are raised high. I engage. I love those moments. My heart connected with heaven, those are moments of the most wonderful. There’s a piece of heaven revealed. I want those moments to happen more!

Father, You know my heart. You know those moments when joy overflows. Simultaneously, You know when sometimes the words barely get out. Thank you for walking with me in all of those times. I cannot live a single part of life without You walking before me. Thank you for singing over me and giving me songs that lift my heart to Yours. You are good! Amen.

Here’s some of the songs rattling around in my head these days.

Bethel Worship’s King of my Heart

Bethel Worship’s One Thirst

All Sons and Daughters’ Rising Sun

Phil Wickam’s Your Love Awakens Me

Chris Tomlin’s Impossible Things

His name …

Psalm 80-3

There’s power in a face, an eyebrow even more specifically. When the eyebrow lifts a certain way, you know you really should have stopped much sooner! Add on that certain tone of voice that tells you, “You’ve stepped in it and consequences will follow!” As if the message wasn’t clear enough, sometimes a middle name gets added into the equation. Then you really know – that’s it, there is no doubt you went too far!

 

Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. Psalm 80:3, 7, 19 (NIV, emphasis mine)

God, come back! Smile your blessing smile:  That will be our salvation. God of the Angel Armies, come back! Smile your blessing smile:  That will be our salvation. God, God of the Angel Armies, come back! Smile your blessing smile:  That will be our salvation. Psalm 80:3, 7, 19 (MSG)

 

Repetition is always an eye-catcher. The same thing multiple times means I should really pay attention. There’s a desperation in the repetition. Restore us, make your face shine on us, save us.

Restore. I usually think of a decrepit house. Overgrown front yard. Glass missing in the windows, rotten floorboards throughout. God’s not interested in a building. He’s interested in the relationship He has with me. The plea in these verses is for the restoration of God’s people. People who had wandered far from Him. People who had gotten so distracted in all of the doing that they had let their relationship slide. People who were now experiencing the consequences of the fracturing of the relationship. It’s not just the people of Israel who need a restored relationship with God. I need it – often.

Restore. In order for the relationship between God and His people to be restored, there was a need for confession. “I’m sorry for …” So often in my relationships with others, I need to be so much faster to say “I’m sorry for …” Stopping at the end of “I’m sorry” is not enough. I need to own my wrong, to truly admit what I have done that injured the person who is in relationship with me. I crave forgiveness but that does not mean that the relationship has not be changed dramatically because of my sin.

But what has drawn me to these verses is the variation on God’s name. God. God Almighty. Lord God Almighty.

God – the One who is in charge of all. The Creator and Maker of all. The One who made me is the only one who is able to restore me back to a full relationship with Him after I have confessed my need of Him.

God Almighty – the God of hosts. The God who is sovereign over all. The One who has all power and everything is under His feet. The One who sits enthroned. This is the God who also goes into the battle with me. He knows the foe I am up against. He knows that the battle for my soul is ongoing. He knows that I will fail and He is the only One who has the power to act on my behalf. His restoration after my confession is full. He fights with me. He fights for me.

Lord God Almighty – Not only is my God in charge of the world He has made. Not only is He sovereign. He desires a relationship with His creation especially with His people. He has bound Himself to what He has made by entering into covenant relationship with His people. He is worthy of all of my worship and adoration.

How amazing to be able to call on this God and ask for His restoring work and power to be acted on in my life! For Him to look my way – unbelievable. For Him to smile at me – takes my breath away. For Him to save me – to restore me to the closeness of His side – beyond my understanding. It would make so much more sense for God to only be a God of justice who cannot abide sin. It would be so much easier for Him to be the God who sees me miss the mark and then abandon me in my failure. But His grace and mercy continue to flow right alongside His justice. Therefore, in my confession I am restored into right relationship with Him and I am the recipient of His blessing and favour.

God, thank you for all of your names. They show again your character and Your majesty. Thank you for not giving me what my sin deserves. Thank you that in your righteousness, you have provided a way for me to be restored through the shedding of Jesus blood on the cross for me. Thank you for being all powerful and just while simultaneously restoring me to yourself. I am grateful beyond measure. Amen.

 

With helps from:

Covenant – http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/covenant/

Jehovah – https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?topic=BT0002287

God – www.blueletterbible.org/search/dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?topic=BT0001689

Names of God – http://www.lwf.org/names-of-god

Verse Text – www.blueletterbible.org/niv/psa/80/3/t_conc_558019

For the sake of Your name …

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I wish my name was less well known. Throughout a day, it’s said more times than I wish. Usually, I’m in the middle of one task when my name is called. The task I was concentrating on must be finished. Some things must be finished out of necessity. As my name is called, I’ve started to reply “Can only do one thing at a time.” Multi-tasking may be a lauded skill, but if I’m really going to help and truly understand, then I need to give the speaker my full attention.

 

Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake. Psalm 79: 8-9 (NIV)

Don’t blame us for the sins of our parents. Hurry up and help us; we’re at the end of our rope. You’re famous for helping; God, give us a break. Your reputation is on the line. Pull us out of this mess, forgive our sins – do what you’re famous for doing! Psalm 79:8-9 (MSG)

 

I can only imagine how often God hears His name in a day. The pleas of His people around the world rise to Him constantly. They are desperate. They are in need of a solution. They desire a God who is close. One who intervenes. One who listens intently. One who moves.

Unlike me, God doesn’t mind hearing His name being called on constantly. It’s quite the opposite. He desires me to enter His presence boldly approaching His throne (Hebrews 4:16). He declares Himself to be the strong tower that I can run to for safety (Psalm 61:3). He wants me to pray continually (I Thessalonians 6:16-18). He wants me to pray about everything – the joys, the struggles, the so-so moments – He wants to know about all of it (Ephesians 6:18). He doesn’t grow weary and He understands in ways that I never can (Isaiah 40:28). He listens to the cries of His people and He knows the struggles of our hearts.

It may feel like God’s not up to much. How can He pay attention to my needs and requests when He is listening to so many others? But He does. I can’t explain it. I only know that my God hears me and every answer to prayer that I know about is a reminder of His faithfulness. Those moments when it feels like He’s not doing anything, also have His presence tinged all over them. I may not be able to see it, but my God is intensely involved in my life and I’m so grateful for it. I’m in desperate need of His forgiveness. I cannot live without His mercy. His grace, it abounds over me in ways I cannot understand. I am grateful beyond words.

But God hears His name other ways too. He is cursed. His name is used profanely. He’s sworn with and at. His name is derided. He is seen to be far off, uninvolved, uncaring. He is scorned.

I know His heart breaks. The ones He made have a long history of rejecting Him. But He desires that every person know Him and live in relationship with Him. He does not want one person to spend eternity separated from Him.

But He gives me a choice. He will not make the choice for me. I can choose to follow Him or I can choose to turn my back and reject Him. He lets me live with the consequences of that choice – an eternity of His presence or an eternity of separation.

It all comes back to His name. What do I choose to do with God’s name? I’ve chosen to make His name the Name that is lifted high.

Father God, your name is precious and holy. A name that is above all other names. Thank you for being the Name that I can call, the Name I can run to, the Name that is sure and true. As I live, would I bring praise and glory Your name. Amen.

 

 

He is merciful …

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The wind was howling outside my windows on the night that I wrote this. What few leaves were left on the trees surely were blown far away from the tree they grew on. We’re left with stark branches announcing that we are definitely in the season of autumn. Winter is only a breath away.

 

Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. Psalm 78:38-39 (NIV)

And God? Compassionate! Forgave the sin! Didn’t destroy! Over and over he reined in his anger, restrained his considerable wrath. He knew what they were made of; he knew there wasn’t much to them  Psalm 78:38-39 (MSG)

 

Psalm 78 is a recounting of the history of the people of Israel. It includes lists of the choices they made. Some were good. Others, were definitely bad. There’s a list of miracles they saw performed. All were amazing. But the people forgot. There’s a list of the tribes of Israel. Some followed close to God. Others wandered away.

I’m not that different from the people of Israel. I make good and bad choices. I experience the consequences. I’ve seen God’s hand all around me – in my life and the lives of others. My memory is short. I forget these moments of divine intervention easily. At times, I walk closely with God. Other times, I deliberately turn my back on him.

I’m so grateful that my God is merciful to me. If He was a God who kept a tally sheet of my sins and the good things I do, my sin tally would be longer than the piece of paper He was recording it on. But He doesn’t destroy me. I experience the results of my choices. But I am not abandoned. I’m not ground into the dust. I am so grateful that God does not unleash the power of His anger on me. That would be scary beyond my understanding.

My God understands the fragility of my life. One moment all is going well. The next moment there is massive life change. God understands that I will try to follow Him, but I will fall short of His glory. I sin. Knowing all of this about me, God knew that I needed a Savior. One who would pay the price for me. Take the punishment my sin deserved. He sent Jesus, His Son, to put on the same frail flesh that is humanity. He left the expanse of eternity and subjected Himself to time. He left the strength, beauty and glory of the presence of God the Father and became a vulnerable baby – all weakness and need. He left heaven and moved into the neighbourhood with all that is common. All done out of love. All done out of a desire to redeem. All done because there is absolutely nothing I can do to be sin-less. Not only did He put on flesh, but Jesus suffered the shame and degradation of a cross. The punishment my sin deserved was death. My death. Jesus took my place. The most expensive transaction of my fleeting life was that Jesus took my place and suffered my shame so that I might experience His mercy and grace.

Yes, the wind howls. Yes, my life is brief. Yes, winter is coming. But Jesus steps into the gap. He took on frailty that I might have relationship with Him. He took on weakness that I might one day stand before the Father fully redeemed, made new. Once a day is lived it cannot be lived again. But Jesus is my access to the Father. Through Him there is all mercy. There is all grace! Praise be to God for His gift – Jesus!

The wound that needs to heal …

Psalm 77-2a

I was met at the door of my cabin with a wound that was beyond my volunteer pay grade. Immediately, I recommended that a real nurse and a real doctor should take a look at that. Some serious medical follow-up was indeed required. Lancing, medication (of the good sleep variety), time, latex gloves, packing and Polysporin all became part of the healing process.

 

When I was in distress I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. Psalm 77:2 (NIV) 

I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord; my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal. Psalm 77:2 (MSG)

 

Asaph, the writer of this Psalm, was a man who had his share of troubles. He lost sleep over the problems plaguing his heart. He aired out his thoughts to God. He held nothing back. Clearly, he suffered great distress over the circumstances that he was living through.

I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in the struggles of life. There is no person who does not experience hardship of some sort. It may be health scare. Finances boom and bust. Job security seems to be fleeting. Getting a job can be trouble all on its own. There are crises of heart and mind. Mental health and resilience are tough to come by. Around every turn there seems to be some challenge waiting to present itself.

But I love the first part of the verse. “When I was in distress, I sought the Lord…” The verse doesn’t say “on the off chance that something doesn’t quite work out.” Instead, hardships and stress are acknowledged as a part of living. But there is a degree of hope that is evident straight away “… I sought the Lord.” The answer did not come instantly. (I would love it if answers came much more quickly than they do.) But there is a long term looking that the word “sought” implies.

It’s not that God has hidden Himself off somewhere and He’s not paying attention. It’s the reality that seeing God in the middle of the trials of life is hard to do. My attention can be so easily diverted. I often attempt to solve the crisis on my own. I sometimes listen to bad advice that is offered. I believe lies about God’s faithfulness and His care of me. I get so bogged down in the circumstance and the details that I cannot find my way out. I lose sight. I sometimes just stop looking.

But God is still there. Throughout the rest of Psalm 77, Asaph continues to bare his soul and then abruptly he shifts gears to a time of remembering the goodness of his God. I need that same reminder. My circumstance may not change. But God’s presence, that’s over every single part of my life. He is unshakable and He will not let me go. I might not be the most observant person in the thick of the crisis, but I know that God cannot abandon me. If I continue to seek Him in the middle of the wounds that will not heal, I know that I will find Him. He is with me, closer than the air I breathe.

A promise kept …

Psalm 76-11a

 

I don’t really like promises. I mean, I like idea of promises, but I don’t. I have had those moments where someone’s said, “Promise not to tell,” and a moment later it’s spilling out of my mouth. I’ve also heard someone say, “I promise it’ll be ready tomorrow,” and it wasn’t. I’ve been asked to promise, “You’ll do this, right?” but it felt wrong to follow through.

Promises feel constraining. I have to do this. No really. I. Have. To. Do. This. There’s a level of pressure attached.

Promises build up all sorts of hope in the receiver. This person really will follow through. They will do what they said. They will fulfill the commitment. Hope is attached. They promised.

The problem is that tons of promises get broken. Some are small. The deadline is broken. The assignment unfulfilled. But there are bigger promises broken too. A loan is defaulted on. A marriage is tested and tried. A contract is nullified.

 

Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them; Psalm 76:11a (NIV) 

Do for God what you said you’d do – he is, after all, your God. Psalm 76:11a (MSG)

 

All of those promises are big. The contract. The assignment. The marriage. These are all huge commitments that I will do what I say I will do. There should be weight behind them. There should be the right kind of pressure to fulfill what has been asked of me. This is good.

Promises to God – those are even weightier. Promises to be faithful. Promises to be generous. Promises to live my life worthy of the calling He’s placed on me. Promises to live with integrity. These are significant promises in my world. These promises matter.

But I am sometimes glib with God. “It’ll be okay if I’m a little lax with them, won’t it?” my heart says on occasion. With that little slip, it’s often a crash course into seldom fulfilled promises.

But if I treat promises with others as a big deal and something I must fulfill, doesn’t the same apply to the Maker of the universe? In fact, shouldn’t I fulfill my promise to Him before I fulfill any others? I know the right answer is Yes, of course! So, why don’t I fulfill my promise to Him? I’ve got excuses but they’re weak. A promise spoken to someone I can see feels more real than the one spoken to Him that I cannot see. The deadline must be met. God can surely wait. No excuse is ever good enough. It doesn’t justify my actions. Rather it reveals the wavering of my heart. Am I as truly committed to Him as I say I am? Do my actions and words convey the depth of affection to Him?

I deeply value a promise kept. In fact, I hesitate to ever promise anything because I don’t want to be known as a promise breaker.

I know my God values promises made to Him even more than I can understand. How much more should my promises to Him matter? How much more should those promises be the first ones kept?

God, forgive me for the times when I promise and then I don’t follow through. I pray for a faithful heart. One that truly commits to You. One that stands firm because I have made a promise to You. Thank you for Your love. Thank you for not holding my broken promises against me. Thank you that You are the One who forgives and forgets. May I be the child of Yours that You have called me to be. Amen.

The Name that is close …

Psalm 75-1

She snuggles right in. Reading a book is one of her favourite things to do. She’s got her favourite chair and her favourite book. If she doesn’t feel like she’s quite close enough, she’ll scoot herself in deeper so she’s perfectly nestled in the crook of your arm. Then she’s ready for the book to be read. And it’s the same book over and over again. She never tires of it. Presented with other options, she always returns to the one she loves. She can’t get enough of it.

 

We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds. Psalm 75:1 (NIV)

We thank you, God, we thank you – your Name is our favourite word, your mighty works are all we talk about. Psalm 75:1 (MSG)

 

God’s Name is near. His presence is near. He is a favourite.

I often live as if He is far off. Like He is distant. Like He is less interested in what is going on in my life.

Living with the thought that God is far away is a lie. He is closer than the air that I breathe. He is Immanuel – God with us. He’s not just with us at Christmas, either. All year. Every day – God is with us.

Do I scoot right into His presence, tucking myself close in His embrace? Do I bring out my favourites to share with Him? Do I delight in being with Him? Do I pay attention to what He’s up to? Do we talk about what I see Him doing in the world? Do I still my lips? Do I listen to what He has to say? Do I hear His heartbeat? Do I experience afresh His love?

I think my life would be different if I did those things. I think I would be less worried about my wants if my gaze was aligned with His. I think I would be less consumed with petty grievances. I think my heart would break for the things that are breaking His. I think it would be easier to be still because His presence is always enough. I think it would be easy to worship deeply because there is no way I can ever express the glory due His name. I think I would overflow with gratitude and thanks because He has done for me than I have words.

God, forgive me living as if You are a long way away. Open my eyes so that I might see what You are up to and where You are moving. May my lips always be ready to tell of all of the amazing things You have done for me. Your name is great and most worthy of my honour and praise. Amen.

For those times when I’m a lot like a sheep …

 

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It was the moment I knew would come. There was the drip, drip, drip of some poor choices and a consequence of some magnitude was not far away. The standard of behaviour was well known. There really wasn’t an excuse. But there was that desire, a need, to test the waters. What will happen if ___?

 

Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? Psalm 74:1 (NIV)

You walked off and left us, and never looked back. God, how could you do that? We’re your very own sheep; how can you stomp off in anger? Psalm 74:1 (MSG)

 

I do the very same thing with my Heavenly Father sometimes. I make choices that are not His plan and desire for me. They might be choices that don’t seem to matter a whole lot on the surface. But when it comes to the obedience of my heart, the choices matter in a huge way. Once the choice is made and acted on its impossible to undo. I wish life had an undo button but it doesn’t.

Then I experience the love and care of my Father. It doesn’t really feel like it in that moment. But it is a loving Heavenly Father who lets me experience the results, even fallout, of my choices. I imagine He shrugs His shoulders while thinking “This is what you chose.” In my moment of sheep-ness, I get to live with the results.

I know God has a better plan. I know His way is perfect. So why, why do I make choices that completely flaunt His knowledge? Why do I choose my own way which often leads me to places I don’t even want to be?

My God gives me the choice. I can choose to walk in His way. It’s a narrow road. It’s twisty and unusual. Not many people are on the road with me. Or I can choose the wide road. There’s lots of people here. It feels comfortable, even good. It seems to be smooth, few bumps on this road. But it’s a road that doesn’t lead me where I would really like to be. It’s a road that leads me to destruction. (Matthew 7:13, 14)

Has God really rejected me? No. He is very present. But He knows how much of a sheep I am. I need to be listening constantly for His voice. A good sheep knows His shepherd’s voice. I need His tender care and protection. The shepherd leads His flock to places of good pasture and still water. I need His attention because I easily find myself in places where I wasn’t meant to be. The shepherd is constantly looking at His flock to help protect them against predators, pests and disease. Sometimes, this all seems invasive – I can do this on my own. But, I am really desperate to have the Good Shepherd care for me. I make better choices when I consider Him. I live more fulfilled when He is in control. He may be moving quietly, but my God is the One who calls my name and His love is more than I can ever fathom.

A good Father?

Psalm 73-1-2

The questions come in the strangest moments, when I am least prepared to answer. Why are you _____? There’s a number of possibilities that fill in the blank. Single, travelling on your own, still teaching … There’s usually a facial expression on the ask-er’s face too that’s a mixture of bewilderment and pity. Sometimes the expression is harder to deal with than the question.

 

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Psalm 73:1-3 (NIV)

No doubt about it! God is good – good to good people, good to the good-hearted. But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. I was looking the other way, looking up to the people at the top … Psalm 73:1-3 (MSG)

God is truly good to Israel, to those who have pure hearts. But I had almost stopped believing this truth. I had almost lost my faith because I was jealous of proud people. I saw wicked people doing well. Psalm 73:1-3 (ICB)

 

It’s frequently been those questions that have lead me down the rabbit trail of doubt. Frankly, in my life, that’s no rabbit trail. It’s been paved over with asphalt because I’ve walked it so often. Doubts about my marital status. Doubts about the wisdom of choices I have made. Doubts about whether I should do something or not. Doubts about risk taking. The doubt list is actually longer than I would like.

 

And then there’s the doubts about God that sneak in on the quietest of feet. Those doubts are more dangerous than anything else. They’re insipid, sneaking into the corners of my mind and heart and then burrowing in with porcupine hooks. Removing them is more difficult than I had anticipated.

Doubting my God’s goodness. That’s been something I’ve done wholeheartedly. There are prayers I’ve been praying my whole life that have still gone unanswered. Those are the prayers that have brought tears to my eyes. I’ve held them up to the Father’s throne and tagged “ifs” on them. God, if you do _____, then I will know you are good. God, if you do _____, then I will see you are faithful. God, if you do _____, then I will know you love and bless me. The “ifs” linger still and brought trouble with them. I bought into the lie that because God didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted that He is not good, to me, anyway. I have believed that his faithfulness is only extended to some. I have questioned and doubted His love and blessing in my life. These are my porcupine quill doubts.

But God is gracious and God is good. He is not limited by my doubts. He is not constrained by my “ifs.” If I look back, truly looking at the experiences of my life, I see His goodness written all over it. His faithfulness is more than I can measure. His love and mercy have washed over me again and again. He has shown Himself to me in crashing waves and peaceful seas, quiet cathedrals and park benches. His presence, constant and true, has been the pliers that have removed the doubt quills from my heart.

God, too often I’ve almost missed your goodness. I choose to look to You, Jesus, because Your character does not change. I ask You to open my eyes to make me aware of where You are moving in my life. I pray for attentiveness to see what You are doing to recognize that Your goodness and faithfulness reaches me again and again. You are a good Father and I am so blessed to be Your child. Amen.

Chris Tomlin’s Good Good Father

A legacy passed on …

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They are mine and yet they are not. Twenty-nine little ones are in front of me every school day. Sometimes they exasperate. Sometimes they are endearing. There are hugs and daily fist bumps. We talk about good things – what’s gone well today? We talk about hard things – why did you let the aliens invade? All along the way there is learning to be done. English, Math, Bible, Science, Social … all with lessons to learn and mastery to develop.

 

Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. Psalm 72:1 (NIV)

Give the gift of wise rule to the king, O God, the gift of just rule to the crown prince. Psalm 72:1 (MSG)

Give the king your good judgement and the king’s son your goodness. Psalm 72:1 (ICB)

 

But that’s not all I want for them. Every year, I pray for these twenty-nine hearts that are mine for those ten months. While I want them to grasp the material that they are being taught, there are bigger lessons than that for all of us. I want them to see Jesus. I want them to know Him better. I want them to see the answers to prayer. I want them to ask their questions. I want them to wonder about Him. I want them to be blown away by His goodness and majesty.

I want them to love Him deeper. I pray that they will develop a love of Jesus that is the deepest passion of their hearts. A love that experiences His love for them. A love that endures, that weathers the storms of life. A love that is confident that Jesus deeply loves them.

I want their worship to ring out louder. For their praises to ring out in my classroom. Praise that cannot be contained because it is too overwhelming for words. I want them to experience the passion of living life with Jesus.

I want the tough experiences too. The times where we all wonder what God is up to. The times that hurt our hearts and hopefully make us lean into God more than we have before. I want the times that make our hearts burn because it doesn’t seem fair and we are not totally sure where God is in the middle of it. I want those moments because they spur us into discovery and sometimes prompt our feet into action. Those moments test our faith and our love. I pray for faith that relies on the One who will always be there. He cannot be shaken.

As I read Psalm 72:1, my head and my heart pray it this way for my learners – “Give the [teacher] your good judgement and the [teacher’s students] your goodness.” (ICB, bracketed words mine) We have much to experience this year. Some will be remembered. Most will be forgotten. But my heart’s cry is for my students to know Jesus better and love Him more. If that occurs, I will be blessed beyond measure.

Jesus, move powerfully. You are the true words of life. You are the One who equips us for every good work that You have planned in advance for us to do. Would you move and shape in such a way that we look more like You, sound more like You and join You in the adventures You have planned for us. Open our ears to hear what you are up to. Then we will become the people You have called us to be. Amen.

The story never gets old

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Image source

She is 95. One who once was spry is no longer. The sharp memory is fading. She was an avid reader, but with fading eyesight, God’s Word is the only book she is reading now. The longing to know Jesus – that’s still there. The desire to know Him better – that’s still pursued.

 

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. Psalm 71:18 (NIV)

I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray. God, don’t walk off and leave me until I get out the news of your strong right arm to this world, news of your power to the world yet to come, Psalm 71:18 (MSG)

 

The stories of the past, the stories of God’s faithfulness, those are stories I love to hear. Those are stories I need to hear. They are reminders to me that God is present. He is moving and active. He is deeply involved and His care and passion are on display in the lives of people around me.

The stories of faith challenge my faith. What do I believe about God? Where do I see His hand moving? What kinds of things do I lay before the throne? Am I bringing Him my burdens?

The stories of faith help my faith to grow. They cause it to be stretched. They help me listen with new ears. What is God up to? Where is He moving? Am I joining Him in what He is doing?

The stories of faith spur me on to action. I cannot hear them and not be moved. As the tears roll down my face, I am reminded that my faith is not finished its development. There is more to learn about my God. There is more to experience about Him and with Him. There is more to love about Him. I do not know Him as well as I want to. My faith is not finished its stretching and growing. He’s not finished with me!

The stories of faith remind me that I have stories to share too. God’s taken me on journeys. Some have felt winding and never ending. Some have been fast paced and gone by too fast. Others are slow and plodding with steady progress in one direction. Some have felt like I have been in no-man’s-land. But each story of my faith is one that reminds me that I have a God who is with me. My God is the One who holds me close. My God is the One who has walked every journey with me.

I have a story to tell. A story of my God who walks with me all the days of my life.

Hunting after God

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I sat in the dark. A full moon overhead. All was silent. I hadn’t anticipated sitting in a blind in the dark but I had been invited on a hunt and it was an experience I wasn’t going to miss. The wild boars came. All brave and snorting, gorging themselves on the food. But then in tromped the porcupines and the boars scattered. It wasn’t a fair challenge. No boar was willing to risk the outcome. Vicious quills were no match for tender snouts! It was quite the sight to behold. No animals were harmed on my adventure.

 

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “Let God be exalted!” Psalm 70:4 (NIV)

Let those on the hunt for you sing and celebrate. Let all who love your saving way say over and over, “God is mighty!” Psalm 70:4 (MSG)

 

Do I hunt after God? Do I pursue Him? Do I make finding Him and growing in Him the highest priority in my life?

I think the answer to that is sometimes.

Sometimes I do hunt for Him. I’m convinced that He’s not where I saw Him last and He hasn’t been close to me, so I best go and find Him. It’s moments of desperation when I search, eager to see Him, urgently wanting to know His presence and His touch.

Other times, I’m happy to sit in my place, content and too often complacent with how things are in my life. I’m okay. God’s okay, so why shake the boat? We’re each in our places and all seems fine. But is it?

Sometimes I really do hunt after God. It’s not because I’m in a place of desperation. But it’s because I really want to spend time with Him. I really do want to invest in our relationship. I value that closeness and the comfort of His presence and so I pursue Him.

Lord, I confess that I’m not always pursuing my relationship with You. Too often I am complacent. Forgive me for being satisfied with the status quo. I ask for a heart that longs for You. A heart that pursues You. A heart that is passionate for You. A heart that longs for Your presence. I desire to be deeply known by You. Thank you for being the God who pursues me in love and kindness. I am so grateful to be loved and known by You. Amen.

The One who Saves

God, answer in love! Answer with your sure salvation!

 

But I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of your favour; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Psalm 69:13 (NIV)

God, answer in love! Answer with your sure salvation! Psalm 69:13 (MSG)

But I pray to you, Lord. I pray that you will accept me. God, because of your great love, answer me. You are truly able to save. Psalm 69:13 (ICB)

 

We celebrated again this past weekend. A tiny wafer. A cup of juice. Elements helping me remember the body and blood of my Lord Jesus Christ. Broken and bleeding for me. Taking my place. Suffering my guilt and shame. All sacrificed in love. All given because I was far away and could do nothing on my own to be close to God.

At some point, every person has tried something to reach God. Good works. Living a good life. Living a moral life. Being generous. The list could go on and on.

But all of it, while it may be good on its own, can do nothing about the problem of my sin. Yes, I sin. I completely miss the mark. My attitude gets in the way. I rebel in some way. I offend and hurt others. It’s all sin. It’s all missing the mark of God’s perfection. Sin tarnishes everything it touches. And unlike a polishing cloth removing the tarnish on silver, I can’t just wipe it off my record.

Only my God can truly restore. His polishing cloth was His Son. The only One who was sinless. The only One who was perfect. The only One who could bear the weight of every wrong I have ever done. He carried the load and suffered the most horrid death imaginable – a cross. He went in obedience. He knew that the suffering would be intense. He knew that it would mean separation from His Father. They had never been apart – Father, Son and Spirit – and when He carried the weight of the sin of the world, the Father could not look at Him anymore. That is lonely!

But God in His mercy and grace looked at the sacrifice of His Son and was satisfied that the penalty was paid. It was enough. It was finished. Salvation was bought with the sacrifice of the One who was perfect. What a costly redemption!

When the Father now looks at me, He sees that the penalty has been paid. He desires that I live in right relationship with Him. Confessing my sin to Him is part of the transaction. But His forgiveness is right there. Meeting me at the point of my need. His memory of my sin – that’s a short memory. He chooses forgiveness. He wipes the sin away. It’s gone, forgiven, finished.

I am so in need of salvation! I cannot do life on my own. I’m so grateful that when I call out, and it’s often, my God is right there. He reaches out to me. He is the One who comes near. He is truly able to save!

Family

God gives the lonely a home

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God sets the lonely in families, Psalm 68:6a (NIV) 

God gives the lonely a home. Psalm 68:6a (ICB)

 

I’d been in this country before. I’d travelled all around visiting a whole host of teachers and principals and their schools. But I’d never lived there. I really didn’t think I would live there. But God wasn’t subtle about His call on my life to go live on the other side of the world for a period of time. When God speaks, it is really best to obey. So, I packed my bags and prepared my very unsure heart for the adventure He had me on.

In some ways, it was exactly what I thought it would be. I was challenged. I was out of my comfort zone. I was uncertain. God was very present.

In other ways, it was exactly unlike what I anticipated. I thought I knew where I would be living. But, circumstances beyond my control completely changed the plans. Little did I know that the plans changing was exactly what my heart needed.

Instead of a quiet basement suite, I was plunked into a family. And it was perfect. They welcomed me with open arms. They made me one of their own. They told me Sunday night supper was “feed your face” meaning I needed to fend for myself and make my own meal. They stole my peanut butter and honey sandwiches. They wrote in my journal. They stormed into my room. They teased me. They laughed at me when I was cold. They wanted to see my pictures and listen to my music. They made all sorts of musical racket with me. They hunted me down if I wasn’t joining in on what they were up to. They took me to their friend’s homes. They loved on me when I was lonely. They listened to my stories about home. They helped explain my current surroundings. They became my family! I love them dearly!

We haven’t seen each other for a really long time. But every time I read Psalm 68:6a, I am reminded of God’s perfect provision for my life. Had I lived in the basement suite, I would have been so lonely. Instead, God surrounded me with the family He knew I needed. And I am grateful beyond words. He knew what I needed – a family! I’ve got a family this side and one on the other side of the world. Both of my families have been God’s gift to me. I cannot imagine my life without all of you in it! I love you more than words can say!

Blessed

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us,

I am amazed at the blessing of God in my life. There are more blessings than I can start to list off. God. Family. Friends. Health. Career. Community. Fun. Curling. Music. Writing. Travel. Photos. Memories. The list may start here but by no means is this the end. I have more blessings spilling out of my hands than I can possibly list.

 

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us Psalm 67:1 (NIV) 

God, mark us with grace and blessing! Smile! Psalm 67:1 (MSG)

 

But, I am often reminded that the blessing of God in my life is not always tangible. Some of the blessings He has for me are ones I know nothing of in the moment. In fact, there are times when I am not sure He is even blessing me right then.

I think that if I was able to see all of the blessings that God is constantly pouring out into my life, I would not be the person He has designed me to be. Any shred of humility I may have developed would be sacrificed in a moment of gloating. Any thought of thankfulness might be consumed in a belief that I’ve done something to earn it.

I can’t earn the blessing of the Lord in my life. Nothing I could do would ever be enough to merit his favour. Instead He lavishly pours out blessings on me – over and over again. I am more loved than I can understand and more blessed than I will ever fully know.

God, forgive me for all the times when I forget to be thankful. You have provided so richly in so many ways in my life. May my heart be one that overflows with a constant outpouring of gratitude to You. You are my provision and every blessing that is in my life is a gift from Your hand. May my life reflect Your generosity, mercy and grace to me.

Remember

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.

What do I choose to remember? I know I am one of those people with a bit of a steel trap for a memory. Some things go in and stay lodged in there for good. Some of what’s stored up there is absolute trivia – only good for some game where the most minute detail is needed. Other things are impressions, vague notions of what’s happened in the past. Some memories are vivid, I can seemingly transport myself back to those moments instantly. Some memories light my face with joy. Others bring an ache of sorrow, deep pain throbbing in my chest. What do I choose to remember?

 

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. Psalm 66:16 (NIV)

All believers; come here and listen, let me tell you what God did for me. Psalm 66:16 (MSG)

 

What do I choose to remember when it comes to my relationship with my God? Where does my mind go when I think about the journey He and I have been on together?

I remember where it started – a basement, a Bible story, a question, a choice – I would choose to follow Him and live knowing that I was desperate for His intervention in my life.

I remember times of His presence – a hill at a camp retreat where the sun beat on me and Jesus was very real.

I remember times of His provision – a job when I least expected one and the supply of another position when the path changed direction more suddenly than I could anticipate.

I remember times of His guidance – a trip to Africa that became three trips to Africa with an opportunity to obey in a way I had completely not understood before.

I remember times of His comfort – grief and loss have knocked on my door and I have needed the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s comfort to walk me through valleys narrow and dark.

I remember times of His silence – times of loneliness and questions. Times where I have wondered and doubted what He has been up to. Times where it has felt as though I had been abandoned.

I remember times of His closeness – a journal, cathedrals, park benches, train coaches where I have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that my God was speaking to me and all my heart could do was race with the knowledge of His presence and favour.

But I don’t just want to remember the moments. I want more of them. More of all of them. Not just the pretty ones that feel good, but the ones that hurt and cause my heart to ache and my eyes to cry. Because in the midst of all of them, my God has always been with me. He has never left me alone. He has been the Lion who has roared at the darkness that has threatened my soul. And He has been the Lamb that was slain so that I could have a relationship with Him. And He has been the Rock that my faith has been built on. He has been the Peace that has comforted and succored me. While I have felt as if He has abandoned me, that is the furthest thing from the truth. My God is the God who is present. Always present.

I need to remember. I dare not forget.

 

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. Psalm 66:16 (NIV)

All believers; come here and listen, let me tell you what God did for me. Psalm 66:16 (MSG)

The One who stills …

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It must be because I live in a part of my country that doesn’t touch a massive body of water. That’s got to be the reason why I’m fascinated by the sea. I love the sound of waves hitting the shore. I’ve got to touch it. Get my feet wet in it. I need some explanation for all of the pictures of water that I took on holiday.

 

… who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves … Psalm 65:7a (NIV)

 

… Muzzler of sea storm and wave crash … Psalm 65:7a (MSG)

In some ways, I relate completely to massive bodies of water. They are always moving, rolling into the shore. It seems that I rarely stop. There is always something that needs doing. Something I put off that I shouldn’t have. I have to keep moving to accomplish all that is needed or required of me.

Waves break on something. There’s rocks in the way resulting in a great splash (my favourite kind of picture). Waves roll up on the sandy beach, running out when the last drops of water are pulled back as they curl up on each other. Sometimes, I let myself get to the place where I’m running on empty. There’s no reserves left. I have let all else around me claim my priorities and my time. When I crash, it’s never a pretty picture. No one wants to be around for that!

Sometimes, all is calm. A still lake. The gentle trickle of a stream. It’s peaceful. The gentle lapping of water against the shore. I crave those moments of calm. I relish them. It’s a balm to my soul. Those moments seem especially designed for renewal, for re-creating, for refreshment.

The ocean is so vast. (Granted so are many lakes.) It reaches past the horizon, stretching past my imagination. Sometimes, the burdens and difficulties of my day feel the same way. They threaten to swamp me, breaching the sandbag barriers I’ve hastily erected hoping to keep the water out.

But, I come back to David’s praise of a powerful God. My God is the one who can still the sea. The One who can turn the mighty churning oceans into a placid sheet of glass. The One who can halt the waves breaking onto the shore. I can’t imagine a force that powerful.

I’m in need of a powerful God. The events of my life, the events of my world constantly threaten to overwhelm me. The demands that pull at me from all sides, the needs that are before me, all seem to spill over onto each other. It would be so easy for all of these things to submerge me. It would be so easy to give up. It would seem simpler if I didn’t have to deal with any of it. But my God is not calling me to avoid life. He’s not looking for me to abandon the place where He’s put me. Rather, He’s wanting me to be observant. He’s wanting me to notice who is really in control. He’s wanting me to notice that He is powerful and something as untameable as the waters of the earth are not beyond His grasp.

So, I’ll keep taking pictures of water. It’s my reminder that I have a very big God with very big hands. Hands that create and form. Hands that still and restore. On Him I can depend.

Those full moon moments

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There’s been a full moon recently. Interesting things happen during full moons. The ones in my care become strange versions of themselves. A lot wild. Little self-control. Much head shaking. Ever increasing levels of irritation.

It’s no surprise that those of us in charge of them ponder much hand wringing and frustration in those moments. There’s immediate commiseration. There’s some sympathy. Mostly, there’s consternation until the realization dawns, “It’s full moon.” Suddenly everything makes sense.

 

Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy. Psalm 64:1 (NIV)

 

I know David wasn’t dealing with full moon frustrations when he asked God to listen to his complaints. He was dealing with those who had clearly plotted against him. Ones who may have seemed to be friends but were now out to get him.

God listens. He hears the complaints of David’s heart.

I’m often a horrible listener. Multiple voices bombard me simultaneously and I’m desperate to focus on just one so that I give that individual or that need my full attention. God is a much better listener than I am. He is attentive to the needs of those He loves. He hears their cries. Multiple times throughout the Psalms, David acknowledge that God hears him (Psalm 4:3, 5:3, 17:1…)

But just like me, in moments of desperation, I ache to be heard. I’m desperate to be understood. I just want someone to listen to my situation so that the load is shared. I want the burden to be more than just mine alone.

It doesn’t appear that God does anything more for David than to listen. David bares his soul and points out the wrong said about him by multiple sources. He’s specific in what’s been levelled against him. And somehow in all of the hand wringing and annoyance, David remembers that God is for him. God is the one who guards his reputation. God is the one who truly has his back. God is the only one who goes before him. God is the best sounding board David can ask for.

My full moon moments are nothing like having someone trash your reputation and your life. But I know that God is the best one for me to confide in and even complain to. He listens to me. He hears my complaint. He’s not scared off by anything I experience. Rather, I can trust Him to go before me. I can trust Him to give me wisdom to deal with the situations that arise around me. I can trust Him with my reputation. I can trust Him with my life.

Steadfast

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It was a five ferry day. From the coach, onto the ferry, back on the coach, drive to the next ferry. Rinse and repeat. The rain was pouring down. The sun, long obscured, few prospects of it being able to show its face. Umbrellas absolutely necessary and at the ready. Gravol was close at hand too! Seasickness is a possibility but I’m usually pretty good. However, even “calm” seas do not always feel calm to this landlubber’s stomach.

We were boarding the second last ferry of the day when the wind really picked up. A friend of mine wanted to stay out on the deck and I didn’t think much of it until the boat pitched. I knew that I didn’t have a choice. I needed to sit. I needed to close my eyes so I wouldn’t see the tilting landscape all around me. Then, hopefully, my stomach would put itself back in its proper location and all would be good.

It really was only all good when my feet hit the shore again. There’s something so comforting to my heart about terra firma. I love the ocean, but my stomach is most at home on land.

 

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:8 (NIV)

I hold on to you for dear life, and you hold me steady as a post. Psalm 63:8 (MSG)

 

Do I cling to my God the way I cling to my survival methods? Even the word cling evokes such a strong image of having grasped on tightly, knuckles white and not wanting to let go, no matter what. Oh, there were multiple prayers offered up as I sat on the boat while it was on the not calm sea. However, I don’t know that I consistently am that quick to cling to my God.

Typically, I try my methods of fixing it all first. When that all amounts to nothing (because it usually does), then I turn my face to heaven and am reminded that the only sure place I can go is to my God. The right hand of my God is powerful. To be on the right hand of a leader is a power seat. God’s right hand upholds, sustains, endures, equips, protects.

I like the idea of being “steady as a post.” That’s a place of being grounded, dug in, entrenched, immovable. Sometimes, I get dug in over the wrong thing. But getting myself dug in with God, dug into Him. That’s a place of security. That’s a place of hope. That’s a place of sure foundation. That’s a place of knowing His presence.

God, may my hands be quick to cling to You. All else is just grasping. May my eyes be fixed on You. All else is blurry. May my mind be stuck on You. All else creates a cloudy perspective. Thank you for being steadfast and sure, the One I can count on. Amen.

Double the Listening

“Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”

I’m reading one of the best books of all time to my students right now – Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. The title character, Jacob, is never heard and so repeats everything twice. He’s desperate for attention from someone, really anyone, in his family.

While it may seem ridiculous to say everything twice, I find myself having a Jacob Two-Two like problem. My students have somewhat selective hearing too! I have a voice amplifier so it’s not that they can’t hear me. But they somehow manage to tune me out even though I’m incredibly loud!

 

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: That you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Psalm 62:11-12a (NIV, 1984)

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love” Psalm 62:11-12a (NIV, 2011)

God said this once and for all; how many times Have I heard it repeated? “Strength comes Straight from God.” Psalm 62:11 (MSG)

 

I wonder if I don’t have a Jacob Two-Two moment with God on a rather regular basis. However, I know it’s not a speaking to God issue, rather it’s a listening to God issue. Sometimes my mouth and my thoughts completely get in the way and I tune God out. I forget to intentionally listen to what He is up to. (It’s my list, don’t you know.) I deliberately ignore some of the things He says. (He can’t really be asking me to do _____?) I miss His gentle and subtle whispers to my heart. I’m so busy telling Him everything that I want to say that I lose the connection of His voice back to me.

His thoughts toward me are so very precious! His care and concern for me is more than my heart can grasp. His words to me are a reminder about who He is and what He is about. First, my God is powerful. The maker of the heavens, the moon, the stars, the incredibly complex earth, from the largest creature to the tiniest amoeba, is the One who wove me together in a completely unique way. (Psalm 139:13-16) I may have look-a-likes, but there is no other me around. And that’s only one small testament to His power. He formed the earth, He shakes the heavens, the moon and the stars do His bidding. And He is mindful of me? My God is a God of details and none are too small or too large to escape His attention. (Psalm 8:3-5)

But the thing I lose sight of the most, the detail about my God that I too quickly and easily forget is that He loves me. I have trained my ears to “hear” His disappointment in me. I’ve “heard” that I haven’t done enough. I have put a label of “unforgivable” on all sorts of things. But that’s my selective hearing. It’s my perception. It’s me putting my guilt and angst on God. These things aren’t Him at all. But they sure do muddy the waters. They make the image of my loving Heavenly Father distorted, warped, and tainted.

Instead of speaking twice, I need to definitely be listening twice. Listening for my Father’s words of love over me. (Zephaniah 3:17) Listening to how passionately His heart beats for me. Listening for the depth of His love. (Romans 8:31-39) He is speaking His love to me over and over. His incredible act of love, the sending of His perfect Son as the sacrifice in my place, cannot be forgotten. (Romans 5:8) His love is unending.

He is speaking – power and love. Those are words I am desperate to hear.

The Rock, Dependable

High Street in Edinburgh is bookended with volcanic rock. On the one end is the rock that has Edinburgh Castle perched on its outcropping. It was the perfect defence. The good citizens of Edinburgh were safe in the walled city. It kept invaders out. Attempting to scale the walls of the castle meant first having to climb up the rock wall from the watery valley below.

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Walking down to the other end leads you to Arthur’s Seat. It doesn’t really look like much. But the hill rising out of Holyrood Park is more formidable than first impression would dictate. The path starts out paved, becomes loose gravel and then finishes with the volcanic stone. It was a good climb up with great views from the top!

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As I climbed, my gaze constantly was drawn up and out. Where were my feet landing? Was the footing secure? What was the new vista that opened before me because of my constant gain in elevation?

… lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2b (NIV) 

… “Guide me up High Rock Mountain!” Psalm 61:2b (MSG)

I want to be lead up to the places I’m meant to be going. I know that God, my Good Shepherd and the lover of my soul has good plans for me and He delights in my time with Him. He wants me to experience more, to gaze on new vistas of His revelation, to abide in His presence and trust His leading. I’m not meant to stay in the places where I presently am, but I’m meant to be challenged further to see what new things He is doing. The rock of His presence is far higher than I can imagine. It’s a beautiful place to be.

Standing on top of Arthur’s Seat, my breath was taken away. The view was fantastic! But, it was really the wind that felt as if it would whip me away. Every breath I took in seemed to be sucked away before it could get to my lungs. As I spend more time in God’s presence, He wants to take my breath away too! The beauty of His majesty is something my imagination cannot grasp or contain. He desires me to be so close to Him that I cannot mistake it! He delights in our time together. My God is the One who is closer than the air I breathe! He is the rock I can depend on!

A God who Listens

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It was that high school moment every person dreads. I’d confided in a friend. One whom I thought was trustworthy. However, I remember waking up in the middle of the night and listening as my confidence became shared with the entire group in the cabin. Devastated and embarrassed, I never confided in that “friend” again. In fact, I can’t recall a single meaningful conversation with that individual after that moment when my trust was shattered.

I love David’s honesty with God. He was in the midst of battles for territory and power. He was in a tight spot. Refusing to hold back, he let God have it – both barrels blazing.

 

You have rejected us, O God, and burst forth upon us; you have been angry – now restore us! Psalm 60:1 (NIV)

God! You walked off and left us, kicked our defences to bits And stalked off angry. Come back. Oh please, come back! Psalm 60:1 (MSG)

 

I’ve had conversations of this nature with God. There have been moments where I’ve told Him that I’ve felt rejected and abandoned. I’ve given voice to my accusations and frustrations. At times, it has felt as if my trust has become unhinged. Quite quickly on the heels of those moments, I’ve felt guilty for railing against the God of the universe because I know He has not abandoned me. But sometimes my heart has felt as if His silence is the sign that He’s had enough.

 

Is it not you, O God, you who have rejected us and no longer go out with our armies? Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. Psalm 60:10, 11 (NIV)

You aren’t giving up on us, are you, God? Refusing to go out with our troops? Give us help for the hard task; human help is worthless. Psalm 60:10, 11 (MSG)

 

But just like David, I have nowhere else to go. In spite of my uncertainties about His presence, I am reminded that there is no one who can truly help me the way I am desperate for help. People can offer all sorts of advice. They can have glimpses into what might or might not work.

At the end of it all, there is one confidence that cannot be shaken. The only One who can take me through the moments of fear, frustration, anger, pain, sorrow, trial and disappointment is the God I love. His presence is there in those moments. His quiet presence is to be cherished.

Frequently, when I look back with the perspective of time, I am amazed to see how close my God was to me in the times of my deepest disappointment and despair. He absolutely gave me “help for the hard task.” In the thick of the battle, I’m often too busy coping to notice His hand. Just because I haven’t noticed doesn’t mean He wasn’t working on my behalf all along. It’s so great to know a God who is there. Whose presence isn’t determined by my emotions. My God is the One who goes into the thick of it with me, sustains me in the middle of it, and brings me through to the other side. Praise Jesus for going with me.

Of Fortresses and Faithfulness

-for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.

My heart needed a fortress this year. Many things gathered to batter my soul. I know I didn’t recognize the power of their surges against the tenderness that surrounds my heart. I bought and believed lies that were spoken. I believed them hook, line and sinker. I know that by the end of my work year, I had come to a place where I wasn’t sure that I could withstand any more. The reserves were absolutely empty.

But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God. Psalm 59:16-17 (NIV)

And me? I’m singing your prowess, shouting at cockcrow your largesse, For you’ve been a safe place for me, a good place to hide. Strong God, I’m watching you do it, I can always count on you – God, my dependable love. Psalm 59:16-17 (MSG)

Intellectually, I knew God was the fortress I could count on. But emotionally, His presence seemed farther away than I could fathom. Spiritually, I was in a place of deep silence, frustration and hurt. I remember saying to a friend of mine that I was desperate for God to show up in some sort of way, any way at all. I needed a fortress. I needed some sort of shelter. I needed a tiny injection of hope.

My first entries in my cathedral journal this summer were cries for help. God, what have you got planned? Where are You in all of this? What do You have in mind? Will you show up? Will you reveal Yourself again? Doubts were right there in the midst of the questions. I was not nearly as confident as the Psalmist.

I stood in the ruins of multiple abbeys and cathedrals. Buildings that were meant to draw attention to the majesty of God but had been ruined by the power of human might. The building was no match for the man’s intentions. Simultaneously, the building did little to truly reflect the majesty of God. God is far vaster than my mind can understand.

But those towers of stone drew my attention to the reality that God is the one who is always with me. He is the One who is the true safe tower to run to. The tower of His strength will always endure. It will never be brought to ruin. It cannot be destroyed. No human power raised against His might can possibly endure. He is the one who powerfully helps me persevere in the midst of circumstance. He is the One who is always present whether I can “feel” Him or not. He is the One worthy of my adoration and praise. He is always present and so it is possible to find a song in midst of sorrow. It is possible to find a song in the midst of difficulty. It is possible to sing when all seems hopeless. The song is sometimes sung through tears, but His presence is the reason to sing.

Bethel Worship’s Faithful to the End

Leading?

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They are the ones who cause all sorts of thoughts to run through my head. A group of learners, twenty-nine strong. Some quiet and reserved, others boisterous and loud. Some with lots of ideas to share. Others with few comments only shared with friends. They have been entrusted to my care. I want to do right by them. Desiring their best, many verbs are needed. There is a time to prod, to remind, to instruct, to coach, to correct, to train, to comfort, to encourage. I don’t get it right all the time. Sometimes I push too hard. Other times, I’m not enough. Striking the balance is a difficult and constant juggling act.

 

Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge uprightly among men? Psalm 58:1 (NIV)

Is this any way to run a country? Is there an honest politician in the house? Psalm 58:1 (MSG)

 

Regardless of the group, leading is difficult and complex. Sincerity matters. Integrity is essential. A deep humility is continually called on. Those qualities are far from being fully developed in me. I have not finished becoming the person my God has called me to be. His bright light is needed to shine into the dark places of my heart where I have yet to submit, yet to bow the knee. He’s not vindictive. Rather it is His love and mercy countered by His justice and righteousness that meet in a place where my character has no choice but to be shaped, developed, moulded and changed.

My heart’s desire is that my learners will grow this year. Academically yes. But most importantly for them to be shaped further in the image of the One who made them. That they would know Jesus more and love Him more deeply and fully! May my leading be constantly formed and informed by the truth that God is in charge of my classroom and we want to obediently follow His lead!

Tentative steps?

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

It’s that  feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s a big night at school! Meet the Teacher Night matters a whole lot. That first impression of a teacher, a person who spends a whole lot of time with a learner, is significant.

Parents watch. They know their child. There is no thing and no one in the world who matters more to them. The love they have for their child is deep, abiding, constant, unmistakable.

And I stand there. Sweaty palmed. Wondering what they think of me. Hoping I sound fun but firm, sincere but not too serious. I’ve been doing this for half my life. I should be familiar with these feelings by now. I should feel more confident. But the butterflies wage war in my middle and I wonder how it will all go. The tentative steps into the unknown with a new group are a part of the journey and half the fun.

And then I am reminded

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

While my steps may feel tentative, I am not called to be a person who lives in doubt and disbelief. Instead, I am called to be a person who confidently follows the steps of my heavenly Father. Walking with Him is the opposite of tentative. It’s a place of certainty. It’s a place of His continual presence.

And there’s this too

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

Choosing to live a life of fear is the exact opposite of what God intends for me. I am meant to live with the Holy Spirit’s guiding.

Do I always do it? That’s a resounding no! But when tentative-ness creeps in on stealthy feet, I know I have an Advocate who goes to the Father for me. He desires me to live faithfully at His side. So I never walk alone. He always goes before! Therefore the confidence returns and grace for each moment is continuously provided! Praise God for His presence.

via Daily Prompt: Tentative

Anticipate – Come see …

-Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

There’s nothing like anticipation. It’s the excitement before something new. What will happen? It’s the butterflies in the stomach that stop you from sleeping. It’s the wonders that can become anxiety and worry faster than a heart can fathom. It’s that moment of wanting to draw someone else along with you into what’s about to occur. There’s excitement tinging the air.

I used to get more excited about things. A new school year, butterflies. A birthday, a night’s sleep lost. A holiday, long awaited.

Too often, there is a cynicism that tinges my attitude. A jaded spirit that creeps in on cat’s feet stealing the joy from my heart. It’s not healthy. It colours everything in shades of disappointment.

But my Heavenly Father calls me to live with a constant sense of anticipation. I am called to seek out joy. I am called to look for the new rather than the old. I am called to have a selective memory.

My God has something new for me. It’s right there, daring me to find it. Challenging me to experience it. Begging me to embrace it with arms spread wide. My eyes are meant to be open so that I will see what God has ahead of me.

I want to find out what’s new! I want to wholeheartedly embrace God’s plan for me. I want to be part of the new thing that I’m meant to see!

via Daily Prompt: Anticipate

Educate – to learn, constantly

Farmhouse Garden Salad a blend of fresh greens,cucumbers, red onions, grape tomatoes, cheddar cheeseand croutons. Served with your choice of dressing.

If I think about the lessons I’ve learned so far in my life, the really big ones haven’t been learned in a typical classroom. That’s not to say I haven’t learned many things from my teachers, I have. But there’s more to life than a classroom.

Lessons have been learned in my family’s yard. I learned how to mow a straight line by looking at a tree at the end of the row. I learned the difference between a weed and a vegetable in our garden. I learned that perseverance matters as we picked knee-high weeds. I learned that sometimes the work has to be done more than once when we trimmed trees one summer and then again the next spring after snow came when it was meant to be spring.

Lessons have been learned in living rooms. I learned about Jesus through family devotions with all of us seated on the living room couch. I learned that it paid to be on time for Bible studies while in college – first come first seat on the couch, the rest of us claimed a spot on the floor. But sitting on the floor is great fun too. Community is a great teacher. I learned about life as my spiritual mentor spoke truth into my life as we hugged cups of tea in cold hands. These God lessons were forming and shaping my character and my heart.

Lessons have been learned in cathedrals. My cathedral journal is full of moments where God has reminded my heart of His truth. Sometimes the cathedral has been busy and full of tourists. Other times, it’s been quiet and hushed. But each time, I’ve needed to be reminded about the love my God has for me. The care and concern of His heart that will not let me go, the ways He’s shaping and molding me because He is far from finished the work He is doing in me.

The learning is far from over. I’m no different from the students who enter my room for the first time each fall. I haven’t arrived at the destination yet. God is still forming my character, making me into the person He intends me to be. And I take great comfort in that. I have much to learn and my God has much to teach me. May I be more formed into His likeness!

The State of my heart …

barren

Image source

Parch: to make or become dry through intense heat
Parched: dried out with heat, extremely thirsty

If I had to define my heart, mind and soul over the first six months of 2017, that’s the word that I’d give it. Parched. It’s been heated by and through experiences. Not just warmed up to a cozy temperature, but heated up to the point of drying out, shrivelling, curling in on itself, withering. It has felt as though there has been nothing left to give. Any drop of water that would have been sustaining was sucked out, given away, evaporated.

The end of June, with its work routines and regular-ness, could not come soon enough. I was looking for an out-of-my-regular-life experience, a place where I could go for some refreshment of my soul.

It felt as though God’s quietness was suffocating. He was so still. His moves absolutely imperceptible to my mind and heart. I knew He was there – because He never goes away. But did I see Him around me, no. Did I feel His presence, no. Did I wonder what on earth He was up to, unequivocally yes!

And so my barren wasteland of a soul and I headed out on holiday. Hoping desperately that God would show up somewhere on the trip.

One of the books of my journey was Christie Purifoy’s Roots and Sky. She writes about her wilderness experience. She states that the wilderness is “the place where God meets with us as we wander. It is the place where new dreams are born and old promises are renewed.” (p. 18)

Immediate notes joined the margin of my book. How do I define the wilderness? Hope? Despair? I wasn’t in a hopeful place – at all! Despair was coating every part of my heart. I didn’t see the wasteland I was wandering in as a place where new dreams would emerge. I had no dreams. I was hanging on to any sign of life, any sign of hope.

One day on my trip, I sat on the coach staring out the window as the heaven’s cried all over us. The weather and the state of my soul were close cousins. As we drove through the highlands, a fellow passenger commented about the water rushing down the hillsides. The rain had swollen the rivers until they were pouring out of their banks, rushing to the valley below. And God used the picture to speak to my soul. He is the source of living water (John 4:10). The water that restores my soul, that takes the ground of my heart from parched to fruitful can only be found in Him. He wants my soul to be overflowing with His water.

living water

Somewhere along the way, I had stopped coming to the well of Jesus. All my attempts to restore my parched soul had failed perfectly! I needed this reminder of rushing rivers. Jesus is the only one who can possibly satisfy my soul. He is the Giver of Hope. He is the source of life. He sometimes is so still in the wilderness that my ears completely miss what He’s up to. But He is there. In that my soul finds hope and renewed joy.

Bethel Music’s Thank you

Purifoy, C. (2016). Roots and Sky:  A Journey Home in Four Seasons. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Choosing to sing …

sing

There’s in infamous picture in some photo album in the basement. Siblings and cousins bunched together on the stairs. We were singing, having fun, enjoying ourselves. The moment was captured for posterity. The rest of them all graciously closed their mouths – they look like they’re smiling. My mouth’s wide open, you can practically see my tonsils. I just carried right on singing.

I’m not sure I have that same enthusiasm for worship. (That felt like a moment when I hit the heresy button.) But it’s true. I sometimes worship, full heart and voice. But recently, it’s been held back, somewhat reserved. I’ve felt like I’ve needed some sort of reason to sing and nothing felt like it was a good enough.

And that’s my problem. I don’t need some sort of purpose to sing. I’ve already got more reasons to rejoice than I can ever name. I’m loved – by my God, by my family, my learners. I’m warm – the house is almost too hot, the arena was heated, the heater in the car works, there’s enough warm clothes in the closet to do me for awhile. I’m fed – the pantry, freezer and fridge are all stocked. I’m safe – I sleep with great security. I’m gainfully employed – the job provides me with an opportunity to use my skills and God provides for every need.

And the reasons continue to pour out. I’m chosen – my Heavenly Father calls me by name. I’m forgiven – my sins covered by the precious blood of Christ. I’m redeemed – I am not seen as guilty, the price for my sin has been paid. I’m challenged – to live a life worthy of the calling God has placed on my life. My future is secure – the hope of heaven awaits.

I should never stop singing. I should never run out of gratitude. Complaining and a disgruntled attitude have no place here. There’s more to sing about than I can truly understand.

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast:  I will sing and make music.  Psalm 57:2, 7 (NIV)

I call out to High God, the God who holds me together. I’m ready, God, so ready, ready from head to toe, Ready to sing, ready to raise a tune… Psalm 57:2, 7 (MSG)

Hillsong Worship What a Beautiful Name

Each tear …

each-tear

There was a service today. A memorial for one who lived life full. Who loved travel and adventure. Who had a crazy sense of humour and deep and abiding passion for God and His people. Her arms were always open and hugs were just part of spending time with her. She love worship and her flags waved often as the words were lifted before the throne.

Her life was celebrated. Tears. Laughter. Joy. Pain. Precious words and memories shared.

I couldn’t help it. The tears leaked out. Those she loved and who loved her are left behind to ache.

Another service is on the horizon. Another who has entered Jesus’ presence. This goodbye has been long. What was once a vibrant mind and body was slowly stolen by Alzheimers. Where joy and vibrancy used to dwell, silence slowly took over. Where eyes once twinkled over a snarky comment or a great joke a gradual dullness invaded. Her home going is the last goodbye, one that has been coming for a while. I anticipate another round of tears. It simply cannot be helped.

I sometimes feel that my tears are a waste. The tear ducts work well. That’s been duly noted on multiple occasions. But the demonstration of that emotion seems like something I would love to be able to control a bit more effectively. However, that doesn’t seem to be God’s intention for me and my tears.

Psalm 56 has been one on which I’ve felt hung up. What, God, do you have for me in that Psalm? David’s a little vengeful at times. He’s plenty accusatory. He reminds himself on multiple occasions that God’s worthy of his trust and that He is the One who is in charge. And then today, on this day when my eyes feel swollen and tired, the Psalm hits home.

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record? Psalm 56:8 (NIV)

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book. Psalm 56:8 (MSG)

The aches are part of this life. As much as I do not wish to experience them, they are part of what living is all about. Yes, there are joys – moments of sheer delight. But pain and its accompanying hurts and griefs is a distinctive part of the journey too. God’s love is demonstrated again to me in the ways that He pays attention to the tears that I cry. They are not in vain. They are not purposeless. Instead, they remind me that my God rejoices with me but He also aches with me too. This is the God who pays more attention to me than I can ever understand. Each tear is entered in His ledger…

Lessons from Jesus and a storm

matt-8-23-24

Too often I look at the life of Jesus and lie to myself. I tell myself, Jesus can’t possibly understand the storm I’m in because He just didn’t face things like I do. That’s a total delusion. Jesus dealt with all kinds of storms. The disciples fought with each other. One of those close twelve betrayed Him. The teachers of the law hated Him and plotted to kill Him. They eventually succeeded. His family doubted Him and the ones He grew up with rejected Him because they’d known Him as a child and where He was from. Storms were just as much a part of Jesus life as they are mine.

Before the storm surprised the disciples, the all-knowing One in their midst knew about it. He knew it was on the way and He got into the boat. He didn’t try to get around it. He didn’t attempt to escape it. He didn’t cut it off at the pass before it arrived to ensure the disciples got a easy voyage. The One with the power to stop the storm let the storm come.

The One with the power to stop the storm let the storm come.

The disciples were obedient. They followed Him. Men who had fished on this lake all their lives were reduced to fear at the severity of the wind and the waves. Had they known what was coming their way, I’d guess they would have opted out. But they followed. Their master got into the boat and so did they.

In the middle of the storm, when all was reduced to chaos around Him, Jesus slept. The waves crashing on the boat, the wind howling – none of these things kept Him up. He was able to find perfect rest in the midst of the circumstances.

I think of my life and the storms that swamp my boat. I hear the waves, I see the storm and the anxiety of my heart causes my palms to sweat, my mind to race, and my heart to pound. Instead of sleep, I’m awake – wide awake. Worry wins! Fear plays the trump card and I’m down for the count, discouraged and downtrodden.

But Jesus is able to sleep in the middle of the storm. His confidence in His Maker did not change the storm, but it definitely impacted His perspective.

Jesus, I worry. I am often afraid. I let my circumstances stress and strain me. I convince myself that You can’t have been in them, I must have missed Your guidance and direction. But this boat story proves that’s not true. You knew about the storm and You waded in, proving that You are in charge regardless of what happens. You bravely waded in, reminding me that there is blessing in obedience. You waded in showing me that You will not shield me from or prevent storms but You will walk with me in them and through them. When doubt’s waves ride high, I pray for eyes that look to Yours. You can be trusted, You are faithful and true. Your peace is there for me. I may not see it, I may not feel it, I may not know it, but that doesn’t mean Your peace isn’t there. Open my eyes again to the peace You have for me. May I sleep the rest of one who knows You. May I sleep knowing that You are with me in every moment. I choose to rest in the arms of the One who knows me best. The One who has never let me go. The One who is the Lover of my soul.

Bebo Norman’s God of My Everything