Sunday, August 31, 2008

Love in Purest Form

Proverbs 31:28 (New American Standard Bible)
New American Standard Bible (NASB)Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
28 Her children rise up and bless her;

Saturday morning at 10.00 usually finds me in a three way phone conversation with my brother Rob, and our mum in England. We catch up on each other's news and that of the village where they live.

Since Mum had a stroke 5 years ago, she has recovered amazingly well and we are grateful, but she still finds conversation hard. She enjoys listening in, laughing in all the right places, and participating a little in conversations mainly carried by Robert and I.

I've been meaning to book a flight there for weeks. Mum is 82 this year and time with her is precious.

So today after we talked, I sat at the computer and booked up at last. Then I called back to tell them.

Robert had already gone back upstairs to his flat, and Mum answered the phone. I could hear the joy in her voice when she heard that I would be there on October 18th. "Oh, my dear friends," she said in her sweet voice with the Dutch accent, "I will have to make a note of that."

I smiled, as that was what she would have done, although not now, as writing is also very hard for her. But it was a glimmer of Mum before the stroke.

I told Mum that I would call Rob on his phone upstairs. He didn't answer, but I left a message on his anwering machine.

A few hours later, Rob called to thank me for my message. He told me that when he went downstairs, Mum had remembered to tell him I'd called, and she told him the right date.

"Yes, Belinda," he said, "Mum does sometimes come out with little gems."

And he told me of something that she'd said on Thursday.

Mum has a weekly shower with the help of her Helping Hands lady, but her feet don't get the attention they really need. She has bunions, and her toes overlap one another.

For some time, Robert, who is her main carer, has bathed her feet once a week.

He lovingly soaks them in a bowl of warm water, and kneels down, which is very hard for him as he has a back problem, to gently wash between her toes. Then he massages her feet with special moisturizing foot cream.

On Thursday, Mum sighed as he did it, tut-tutted, and said, "It's terrible that you have to do this."

Robert said to her, "Mum, how many times did you bath me and wash my feet when I was little?"

And Mum said, "Yes, but that doesn't count."

And in that sentence is the essence of motherhood. Love doesn't keep score; no charge.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
by International Bible Society
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

The Invisible Woman~Nicole Johnson, 1999 Miss America:
Sent to me by a friend a few days ago; it seems to fit this post and I add it for those that haven't seen it yet.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Highway to Holiness

It's been a challenging couple of weeks for me since returning from vacation and there has been much opportunity for God to hold up a mirror where I could see myself in plain view.

I picked up an adage years ago, and though it is not scripture per se, I think it is consistent with its teachings. I often return to it in order to make sense of what is happening to me and around me.

"God offends the mind to reveal the heart."

I had occasion to be offended of late, and trust me, what was in my heart came gushing to the top. Whether that gushing be good, bad or indifferent, when our hearts are offended, what's in there is going to show. What showed in me wasn't very pretty. I was shocked at my own inability to stand against the onslaught. But I knew that before God could deal with what needs to be changed, first I had to see it.

Another thing I've picked up along the way is that God is not so much concerned about my happiness as he is about my holiness. It's not that he doesn't want us to be happy, it's that holiness (walking in pure and unadulterated relationship with him) is the one and only key to a deeper and lasting happiness. I want the full goods and if being unhappy today means that I have a more open and free relationship with Him tomorrow, then bring it on. If being happy today means I miss that, then forget it. But it isn't easy. And it isn't pleasant. But it does lead us to a higher plane.

I was reading in Isaiah this week and Chapter 35 was of great comfort. I saw it as applied to my own desert of a heart and was thrilled by the promises contained therein while yet surrounded by the darkness of a deep valley. It was like finding a beautiful lily along the pathway that threads through the valley of death... I picked it, put it in a vase, and now I share it with you.. It's worth it all, dear friends. It's worth it all.

Isaiah 35
Hope for Restoration

1 Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
2 Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
the splendor of our God.
3 With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
and encourage those who have weak knees.
4 Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.”
5 And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind
and unplug the ears of the deaf.
6 The lame will leap like a deer,
and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!
Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
and streams will water the wasteland.
7 The parched ground will become a pool,
and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land.
Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish where desert jackals once lived.
8 And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness.
Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways;
fools will never walk there.
9 Lions will not lurk along its course,
nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers.
Only the redeemed will walk on it.
10 Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
They will enter Jerusalem[a] singing,
crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
and they will be filled with joy and gladness.

Isaiah 35 (New Living Translation)New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Please Pray

I just became aware, through a link from my friend Alan Yoshioka's FB page, of the terrible persecution of Christians in the Indian state of Orissa.

Please pray with me for our brothers and sisters in India who are in a maelstrom. They need our support in prayer. Please let's think of them whenever we can and lift them up, praying for courage, grace, and the ability to witness faithfully to those who are their persecuters.

The Fame of His Name

Proverbs 16:20 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

20 Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,
and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

I'm late this morning friends. I can only echo Bob Crachit in Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol, and say that, "I was making rather merry yesterday sir."

It was late last night as I finally sat down with my laptop on my lap, I promptly fell asleep--and woke up at 1.00 a.m. without a thought in my head to write about! Since I can't tell you "Whatever he says," unless he does, I decided to go to bed.

This morning though, I know exactly what to write about so here I am, with a quick word, aided by the considerable talents of Chris Tomlin and his wonderful song, "Famous One."

We sit across from eachother at breakfast each morning, Paul and I, and pray. Over breakfast, he often asks me what I am doing that day. When he incorporates the anticipated events of my day into his prayer, I love it.

Last week there were two meetings in particular that were pretty important. He and I prayed about them, commiting them to the Lord.

At the same time, my Marathon of Biblical Proportions reading schedule had me in the book of Isaiah. I had been reading the prophetic warnings to the people of Israel about not forming alliances with neighbouring nations when they battled their enemies. It was clear that there was a choice to be made, for them and for me: Either trust God or trust your own resources.

I haven't lived this long without learning the smart choice. I know by now that it is wise to do your best work, with all the strength God gives you; then leave the outcome in his hands. But we do need these reminders.

So I went from home and into those situations with freedom and trust. And God answered prayer and blessed the work of my hands with fruitful and successful outcomes.

The funny thing was though, after one of the meetings, when my boss turned to me on the way to the parking lot and said, "Well done Belinda," I smiled and said, "Thank you."

As I drove away, I wished I had thought to say, "Praise God."

I want to be a person who declares the fame of his name. I want to remember to acknowledge the one to whom the credit belongs; The Famous One--Soli Deo Gloria; to God alone be the glory!

Chris Tomlin--take it away...

Psalm 4:8 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

8 I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O LORD,
make me dwell in safety.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jazz--Maybe God is Trying to Tell You Something

Jazz--it was the topic for our writers group meeting; and although I never did get the piece written, if I had, I would have tried to capture a scene from a movie that I love, The Colour Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker.

There are several scenes in that movie that speak to me powerfully even 20 years after seeing them for the first time, but this is my favourite--at least today.

...It is the Deep South, Georgia in the 1920’s; a Sunday morning, and the summer air is sultry and heavy inside a church built on the edge of a swamp. The church folks, dressed in suits and ties and Sunday dresses, fan themselves, hoping to catch a breeze from the open windows. I bet that a fly buzzed lazily overhead, a mild distraction from the black robed minister up in the pulpit. "All us been prodigal children, one time or another," he shouts down at the congregation.

...There is another sound and it is coming in through the windows on the breeze. Lazy, sensuous, the music seems to personify the very sin that the minister is talking about--a honky tonk tune.

“But I’m telling you children," he continues, gripping the edges of the pulpit, almost as if he is preaching to himself, as indeed he is, " It’s possible for the Lord to drive you home; drive you home to truth!“

A woman’s voice wafts in on the breeze, competing for the ear of the worshippers.

“Sister,” she is singing, “We’re two of a kind; soul sister...”

It is evident that the attenton of the children and some of the adults is no longer on the sermon.

A large black woman in the congregation takes charge of the situation and urges the choir to sing, "God's Trying to Tell You Something," and that's when something happens that is indescribable, although I am sure that Alice Walker did it beautifully in her book.

Here is a clip of the scene, which I cannot watch without the hairs on my arms standing up. It is the story of the call of the Father, the One who waits with arms open for all of his children and maybe especially, for the wayward ones.

Psalm 42:7 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Object lesson from a Chiropractic Bench

My chiropractor gets me to cooperate. I take a deep breath, fold my arms across my chest, or drop one of them down the side of the bench. She presses in and the tricky adjustment is made. I feel relief, albeit with pain at times. She often says “Stellar movement today!! “ I tell her she must have Irish blood, knowing how far I have to go to be truly flexible, as we both work on the legacy in my body of years of emotional tension.

But there are other times when my cooperation and her strength are not enough. She then has to rely on the special features of her expensive bench. She warns me that she is about to let the bench do the work of moving my body down so that the necessary adjustment can be made. For those of you who know, it’s a little like the bottom falling out, even if it’s only at one spot. I wait, prepare myself for the noise, the drop, the plop, and then relief comes. I am grateful, but almost embarrassed that she had to do things that way.

I have found myself musing upon this experience as an object lesson. I can be cooperating well with God in the adjustments I understand Him to be making in my life. We make progress slowly, and usually I can feel part of the process and rhythm of His movements. But once in a while, it feels like, no matter how well we communicate, He has to let the bottom drop out in a situation or relationship. I get a jolt, even if I sense it coming. It feels noisy inside, and I have almost a sense of shame that He had to do things that way, that He had to use circumstances around me to force a better reaction within me.

When I feel the relief and see the fruit of the change, I am grateful, but it can still feel traumatic and awkward. Then I step back from my feelings and see what He has done. He has been telling me to make level paths for my feet, to build the foundation of everything in my life on Him. I have been doing my best. But it has been shaky and tense in some situations and relationships. Then the bottom drops out for a while, and I am on a new level. I am more grounded, and more flexible.

I couldn’t allow my chiropractor to do what she does if I didn’t have absolute faith in her ability and judgment. The same of course goes with God. But it still shakes me up (and down) when the bottom drops out. I am discombobulated until I feel that new sense of stability and rightness, that better foundation for my being.

As I drive around I often play the song, “Jesus, you’re my sure foundation, I know I can stand secure.” It has a strong beat, an uplifting tune, and it strengthens my spirit as I listen and sing along. And often I am reminded that in order for God to build that sure foundation, He has to drop the bottom out for a time, to take me to a deeper level. May we be ready to embrace His work, not panic when He needs to shake us up (or down) so that we will be more stable and sure, and stand secure, on level ground.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Love Is...

I've been thinking a lot lately... about thinking.

There is a common adage which says "I think, therefore I am". This packs so much in a single statement. The way I choose to unpack it today is to realize that how I think, becomes who I am.

In her beautiful blog yesterday, Joyful quoted from 1 Corinthians 13 and I would like to refer to the verses just prior for this post...
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
I Cor. 13:1-3

I have found lately that I can control my thoughts as one would change a channel on a T.V. I find myself slipping into ungratefulness or criticism. Thanks be to God that He prompts me through the Holy Spirit and I can catch myself and take charge of what is running through my mind.

It's almost fascinating. One can live as a Christian, do all those things listed above (speak in tongues of men, prophecy, fathom mysteries and have great faith, be generous and sacrifice one's LIFE), yet have missed what it's all about...LOVE.

And the funny thing is that the verses that follow, about what love is, do not say "Love FEELS patient, or kind, or never FEELS like envying." Rather it says "Love IS patient, kind, DOES NOT envy" and so on.

There may be a cavernous gap between how we feel and how we are to be, yet love IS...

It's all about context. Like DC Talk sang "Love is a verb."

I think there is a great lesson there on self discipline. I hearken back to Mother Teresa again and her example. Did she always feel like serving? Did she always feel compassionate toward those she ministered to, or was she sometimes tired and overwhelmed by the needs?

Yet her life was marked by a sacrifice of love. Her face is known world wide as a face of love, careworn and gentle.

I believe she chose her thoughts, as best she could, and so must I, as best I can, with the grace of God to help me each step, each thought along the way, to be thankful, to be uplifting, to be kind and other focussed.

Surely there is life in these choices, for all of us, in families and community.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Global Village

Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek it's own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails;... I Corinthians 13: 4-8 NASV

I received in my inbox this week a picture of the ocean. Waves extended to the horizon, yet close to shore, they churned in white foam. Various shades of blues and whites were captivating. On the beach were 4 persons holding hands, two female, two male of various ages. One was Asian, one European, one American and one was African. In bold black letters, written in the surf were the following words:



I was drawn to this photo on several occasions. Somehow when the world is reduced to a village of 100 people, it doesn't seem as vast. I think of my neighbours on this earth. We become a community. We share privileges and responsibilities. We are individuals with needs and strengths, joys and sorrows. It doesn't seem too far to stretch our hands across the water.

In the People's Republic of China, not to far from the Yellow Sea, another international community was represented. The Olympic Village in Bejiing hosted many athletes from all over the world. I had the privilege to watch many spectacular sporting events. Men and women devoted to a sport, supported by family and friends and communities, striving for their personal best, on behalf of their nation.

I was struck by a few things. On the men's marathon, there were three runners out front for the last hour of the race. When they came for refreshment in the last 6km, the lead runner, Samuel from Kenya received water as he passed. Behind him, Jaouad, from Morocco didn't take any water. Samuel took his fill and passed it back to his competitor. Jaouad was able to cool himself by splashing water over his head before tossing the twice-used bottle to the side. What a tribute to the human spirit and what athletics can do to bring people together. Kenya reached out in love to Morocco. Love is kind.

Prior to the sprints and relays, many of the competitors were "high-fiving" one another. What a spirit of community. The camaraderie is a testimony of good-will. Love does not act unbecomingly.

Finally, I was impressed by Adam van Koeverden's performance. He carried the flag for Canada, received much media attention, and in his first kayak race, I believe the 1500M, finished 8th. He was expected to win gold. Right after the race, he turned to the cameras and said, "I'm sorry."

Later in an interview he acknowledged that many journalists said he didn't owe an apology to his country and that it was unnecessary. Adam said, "I didn't have to say, 'I'm sorry'. I knew that I could and should and I wanted to. It wasn't my best performance and a lot of people have supported me."

Love does not seek its own.

Further in the interview Adam shared that he grew the most as an athlete in the 48 hours following his disappointment and before his performance in the 500M. He confessed he didn't sleep well the night before his final race. He did his best. For himself and his country, he received a silver. A great race. As a spectator, and along with many supporters, I cheered him all the way. I was impressed with his interview following his silver-medal performance. He said of the Australian who earned gold, "He deserved it, he worked hard and trained hard. He had a good race. I trained with him and call him my friend."

Of the competitor from Great Britain who received bronze, Adam said, "Really it should have been the two of us who got silver. In a race, 3/100 ths of a second isn't much, not even a stroke. He raced well. I respect him and he worked hard." Adam van Koeverden showed love to those whom he raced with.

Love does not brag and is not arrogant...but rejoices with the truth. He gave tribute to those who also earned medals. In another interview with Diane Swain of the CBC he said, "I want to give back in my short time in the spotlight. " He was thinking of others.

In yet another interview when he was given praise for his victory. He said, "I'm the one in the boat, but a lot of people have given and sacrificed for me to be here."

He thanked both his parents, brother, canoe club and his local community. He even thanked the strangers who have given to him. What a humble display of love to others as well as a mighty contribution to the global community.

These are national heroes. They are applauded and respected. However there are many unsung heroes.

Yeterday at church, the children sang a beautiful song before going out to Junior Church. They sang, "Man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart." How true.

We have the choice to love or not to love many times a day. God sees our heart. He sees what no one sees. He sees those of us who may never live, even a moment of our lives, on national television. He knows our motives and our actions. He calls us to love.

Let us love the ones God places in our paths today.

The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause of stumbling in him. 1 John 2: 10 NASV

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Hebrews 13:12-13 (Amplified Bible)
Amplified Bible (AMP)
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
12Therefore Jesus also suffered and died outside the [city's] gate in order that He might purify and consecrate the people through [the shedding of] His own blood and set them apart as holy [for God].
13 Let us then go forth [from all that would prevent us] to Him outside the camp [at Calvary], bearing the contempt and abuse and shame with Him.

Here is a little song that I wrote thirty years ago, based on these verses. I pray that it blesses someone today and encourages them not to be ashamed of bearing the name of Christ.

I ask for courage Lord,
That I might dare to go
Outside the city walls with thee,
And despised for thy sake be.
My weakness well you know,
I fear what men might say,
Please teach me how to bear your shame,
And be worthy of your Name.

Dear Lord you went for me,
Outside those walls so long ago,
My shame you suffered there for love,
That your blood might make me whole.
Don't let me now betray that love
--or value this world's vain applause,
But teach me how to bear your shame,
And be worthy of your Name.


Long ago, Jesus went outside the city walls and was crucified, an outcast, for our sake. He calls us now to come outside those walls with be willing to be despised by the world for his sake.

Since I wrote these words I am older and more solid in my faith but I still care far too much for my reputation and far too little for my Lord's.

Dear Lord, I thank you for opportunities to die to the vestiges of pride that cling to my heart. Please train my heart to care only to bring glory to you!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wonderfully Complex

Both Belinda and I belong to The Word Guild - an organization of Canadian writers who are Christian. As members, we are part of a listserve, which emails I read regularly, but respond to very few.

There was an exchange yesterday, though, that I couldn't help getting into.

A little background: There is a weekly question provided to the listserve which is intended to create discussion and promote community. This week's question was "What are your dreams?"

One young man wrote in that he would like to write an autobiography (and other writings) from a very unique perspective - as one having high-functioning autism. He also mentioned in his email the possibility of being "cured" of autism.

Belinda repsonded to that by saying that she thought it was interesting that he had mentioned being cured, "when I would consider who God made you to be a gift."

Another writer responded to that quickly and simply - saying to Belinda (with a smiley attached)that she would have to explain that comment.

That immediately implied to me that either the person could not understand how anyone could think of someone who is "afflicted with autism" as being any kind of a "gift", or that there was an understanding many others have that view and it merited an explanation.

As the mother of one very special young man who is considered to have "high functioning autism" (or Asperger's Syndrome - I refuse to call it a "disorder"), I couldn't help adding my two cents worth to the discussion and wrote a response. I felt like I knew exactly what Belinda meant, and couldn't help saying so.

Hours later - in the middle of the night - I was sitting here at my computer with no idea of what to write for the blog this morning. I heard David rooting about in the kitchen for something to eat (it's nearly 3:30 a.m. We keep odd hours :o) ) I called to him. "Hey Dave, come here and listen to what I wrote about you tonight." I read the email exchange to him and he smiled his dear, goofy grin."That's EXACTLY true," he said emphatically and gave me a high five. (Truth, and exact truth at that, is very important to him.)

Instantly, and with great relief, I knew I had my post for this morning. (I want to go back to bed! :o) )In that email response, I think, is a message for all of us in accepting ourselves exactly as God made us - not that there isn't room for improvement in terms of our behaviour and the way we think! But without further adieu, here is what I said with a few minor edits...

If this lurker may be so bold, I think I know exactly what Belinda means...I wrote an article about my son last year. The editor inserted the following subtitle: Following His Dream: David's pursuit of an engineering degree despite autism."

David didn't like that title. He said, "It's not despite my autism, it's BECAUSE of it!" He views his autism as "who" he is, an absolutely integral and inseparable part of his identity. It comes with challenges, yes, but also with a huge set of enviable strengths. It's something he wouldn't change, even if he could. (Thank God, because we really like him just like he is!)

David says that if there was a "cure", he wouldn't take it. He is offended when people want to pray for him for healing, because it implies to him that God must have made some kind of mistake when He put him together. And he doesn't like it at all when autism is referred to as a "disorder", preferring the term "syndrome" for obvious reasons.

David maintains a 90's average with a full course load, in a course of study he was advised by Disability Services at the university, not to take. "Too stressful for someone like you," they said. And if he insisted on pursuing it, they suggested he take only three credits a semester instead of the usual five. David looked at that suggestion with disdain. "If God wants me to take this course," he said, "then I should take 100% of it, not 60."

He requires a lot of support - something we thought we would be providing for the rest of his life. But David surprised us last year by showing us that he was perfectly capable of assessing his own need and building his own support system around himself. We're very proud of him! Sure there are challenges. He can't cross a busy street without a traffic light to assist him and sometimes walks 30 minutes out of his way to get to a class that is directly across the street. He can't bring himself to take a cab or get on a city bus, and requires hours of coaching from his parents or one of his siblings in order to be able approach a prof. for help, or to fill out an application. When he developed a very painful infection around an impacted wisdom tooth last year, he could not bring himself to go the emergency room at the hospital which was only blocks away, and waited instead for his dentist-uncle to come by the next morning. Even small decisions are often agonising and anxiety is a constant companion. But his strengths are amazing.

He has a fine mind - a very unique and logical perspective on the world. He amazes us with his profundity at times and his relationship with God and growing understanding of His ways is something we should all have.

I hope that somewhere between these lines you can find at least part of the answer to what Belinda meant... (though I'm sure she will do a much better job of explaining it herself!)Blessings, Susan.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!" Psalm 139: 13-17, NLT.

By Susan Stewart

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sharpening the Saw

Ecclesiastes 10:10 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

10 If the ax is dull
and its edge unsharpened,
more strength is needed
but skill will bring success.

I love to cook and am never more happy than when in my kitchen, chopping and slicing and preparing something delicious. My friends all seem to end up there sooner or later, seated at the table chopping fruit or vegetables as we laugh and talk and drink cups of tea.

For Christmas, Susan gave me a set of good quality kitchen knives. They sit on my countertop, stored in a wooden knife block ready for duty. I thank her in my heart every day as I select this one or that to use, depending on the task. A good tool is a wonderful thing.

I still remember the first few days I had them; slicing through meat or vegetables with delightful ease. I looked for things to chop just for the pleasure of using them. What a difference it made to use a good sharp knife--every job was so much easier.

Reading Ecclesiastes 10:10 a day or so ago, a verse about a dull blade, I thought of my work. Just like my kitchen knives, our skills have the potential for dullness.

It is easy to get into ruts, be complacent; or tolerate personal weaknesses instead of making the effort to overcome them. Sharpening an ax or knife though, involves some friction or even grinding. If blades could talk I am sure they might protest. But how much more useful they are afterwards.

God uses circumstances or people to grind away at the rust on our blades. It is never comfortable and that is one of the tests. But energy and life infuses our work when we are "in the zone;" working in harmony and partnership with God.

The honing of my blade will make me more useful in the hand of my Master, therefore, I will rejoice in it.

Proverbs 27:17 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
17 You use steel to sharpen steel,
and one friend sharpens another.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Let Your Words be Few

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
2 Do not be quick with your mouth,

do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.

"God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." It is an admonishment I need, and not just when coming before God.

Oh, to master the art of Few Words. Why is it that just when I've made a simple point and all is going well, I invariably go further, say more; and dig myself a hole I would like to vanish into? You would think that I would learn. Apparently not.

I already had this theme stirring in my heart when I opened up my little green note book and read something that my friend Frances said last year, when her husband Brian shocked--I mean surprised, her by bringing home the dog now known as Muttworthy.

Brian said, "Well, you were hinting that you wanted one."

And Frances said, "You mean if only I'd kept my mouth shut, I wouldn't be picking up poo right now?"

As I recall, during that particular phone conversation, Frances broke away to yell to her daughter, "Summer...Summer! I can smell poo; check the crate!"

That little story seems to fit this topic exquisitely.

Last night at cell group, someone mentioned the nuclear bomb and the devastation wrought as a result of that invention. Another person reminded us of nuclear medicine and energy. The way it is used is the issue. It made me think of the gift of words and how we take for granted the ability to communicate with them; such a complex ability and with power akin to the nuclear bomb. It stands to reason that the more powerful the tool, the greater the care it should be handled with. Yet I can bandy words carelessly.

I like the word "circumspect," and all of the synonyms for that word, including, "careful and sensible; marked by sound judgment; discreet." The opposite of circumspect? Rash!

Rash is not good where words are concerned. I long to be circumspect.

Dear Lord, please teach me to measure my words carefully and to take into my heart all of the teaching in your WORD about words. You went to such lengths to give us the guidelines. Help me to absorb them and make them mine.

Proverbs 25:11 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson 11-12 The right word at the right time
is like a custom-made piece of jewelry,
And a wise friend's timely reprimand
is like a gold ring slipped on your finger.
Proverbs 12:18 (The Message)
8 Rash language cuts and maims,
but there is healing in the words of the wise.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Words and Waiting

I love words. They help me so much. I can delight in discussions about their meaning, quibble about them when they are used incorrectly, laugh hilariously at some turn of phrase and some second meanings that touch me somewhere deep within. They are a special language for me with certain friends. They are one of my love languages. I delight to use them to bless others, and to receive them in a similar way. And they are also a great source of hurt to me by their lack when I need them, and by their deliberate use in a negative way.

And they are one of God’s love languages to me. To all of us, of course, in His WORD, but especially to me in a variety of ways. Special words from scripture and words from songs and poems have lit up my path. Prophetic words have blown me away. However they come from God, they speak deeply within me, to His spirit alive in the depths of my being.

They especially help when life is a struggle, when I feel like there is such a gap between God’s promise to me and the reality of my life. Since that has been more of a constant than any other state in my life, they are really a lifeline to give me hope and a future. I imagine that may be truer for most people than they might like to admit. Words were all I had to give to a strange young man sitting in church this past Sunday. During communion time, I heard him say out loud “I’m not real”. As I came back to my seat after communion, I touched him on the shoulder and said “You ARE real. And Jesus is real.” He looked me in the eye and gave me the sign of peace.

Last week, as I tried to figure something out about a job others urged me to apply for, God spoke to my heart as I was waking after a troubled sleep. He said, “Make straight paths for your feet. Take only ways that are firm.” I have considered these life verses, knew they were from Proverbs, but hadn’t checked out their exact wording. When I did, I found three similar verses:

Proverbs 3:6 “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 4: 11 “I guide you in the way of wisdom, and lead you along straight paths.”

And the closest one:

Proverbs 4: 26 “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.”

I pondered the exchange between level and straight, and then ruminated upon my preference for level in the context I struggle with now. I remembered the many lovely paths I have walked on, and how much I dislike straight ones. It is the winding roads that appeal to me, the winding staircases, the bends in the paths in the woods. Our lovely new steps down to the river wind around. From across the river they look beautiful, almost like a spiral staircase. They fit the terrain, and connect with the natural beauty they wander through. I look forward to walking up and down them because of their delightful direction and shape. They are not “straight”, but they are appropriate, and they are LEVEL. Therefore when anyone walks on them, their feet are safe, and their steps are sure, and their way is firm and solid.

In the midst of my ruminations last week I read S.D. Gordon in Streams in the Desert:
“When we learn to wait for our Lord’s lead in everything, we shall know the strength that finds its climax in an even, steady walk. Many of us are lacking in the strength we so covet. But God gives full power for every task He appoints. Waiting, holding oneself true to His lead – this is the secret of strength. “

“An even, steady walk…is the secret of strength.” Yes, certainly that was part of what God meant with the words to me to take straight paths and firm ways. He wants to keep me steadily moving in the direction which He has already set me on. He wants me to be level and steady, for steady is one of the dictionary meanings of level. And this reading helps me to recognize that I will grow stronger as I walk in this even steady way. Just as we all find that when we do our physical walking. Even if we are tired when we start out, we are refreshed and rejuvenated, strengthened in our bodies, hearts and minds, after our walks.

But when God spoke this last time He said “straight”. He misquoted His own words from scripture! In so doing He drew attention to the other source of strength – in those other verses - acknowledging Him, and trusting His lead. Of course I found that level is another meaning for straight in the dictionary. But it also first means without deviation. Even if my path curves to fit the landscape of my life, it can still not deviate from His plans for me, His way of wisdom.

And just as I can intuitively know the meanings that apply to my story as I read God’s word in Scripture and the words in the dictionary, so I can know the ways that are the firm and steady ones that follow His leading.

May it continue to be so for each of us this week. And for those of us who are waiting, may His words give us strength.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Our posts will now appear early in the morning (and should be there by the time people get up and look for them). In so doing, there will some changes in who posts on which day. So that you know when you can expect to hear from each of us:

Sunday Belinda
Monday Joyful Fox
Tuesday Ang Cat
Wednesday Meg
Thursday Belinda
Friday Belinda
Saturday Susan

Faith Girl is an occasional poster and we look forward to her posts whenever they appear.

Listen and Be Strengthened

"For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. 2 Cor 13:4

"And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." 2Cor 12:9

"He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30

I'm still enjoying Brennan Manning's book "The Importance of Being Foolish". This quote from page 132 excerpted from writing by Dietrich Bonhoeffer says,
"Satan's desire is to turn me in on myself to the extent that I become enslaved and become a destructive force in community. The thrust from Jesus Christ is the opposite - to enhance my freedom so that I can become a creative force of love. It is the spirit of self-centeredness and selfishness versus the spirit of openness and self-sacrifice for the good of others."

I read this and think "Ahhhh YES!!!"
This is truly the battle. And it's sometimes a ferocious one, where I must step forward into the light and make the good choice every time, especially when I don't feel like it, because the far reaching effects of the selfish decision in the moment, could be shattering.

Yet through all the scriptures listed I hear the call to wait and listen. How can we operate in His grace when we haven't partaken of it. I know that sometimes it's a moment by moment call, but we must have eaten of the Bread of Life for the strength to follow. We must be abiding in the vine for the fruit to be evident.

Stop and listen, abide, wait, be weak, He is strong.

Let go...


Help me Lord, each moment to do this, for then it's not me, it's You and only You can make anything good come from me.

Type in "Larry Norman, The Tune, youtube" into your search engine and you'll view a unique presentation of a song about how we get out of tune and have to listen...
Enlarge the screen if you can to watch. Larry always put on a good show.

Thank you God for your never ending patience and presence, in Jesus Name...

Larry Norman's "The Tune"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Kingdom of Heaven Belongs To Such as These

They want my attention. Two little boys, soon to be three, clamoring and revelling in my affections. I sit on the trampoline. They run around me in circles, squealing in delight. One does a seat drop and looks quickly to me for approval. I wink. It is enough. He does it again and waits for my words of affirmation or a reassuring smile.

Then they frolic like puppies, tumbling, standing, wrapping arms around one another, giggling, and beginning again. I move back from the fray and open my book. A few minutes pass. They notice. It's not enough that I'm with them. They want my undivided attention.

One places chubby hands on either of my cheeks, his bright smile doesn't waver as he grasps my face. "Mom, I wuv you," he says. I'm smitten. Again I put my book down.
"I love you, too," I respond.

Soon we move from the trampoline and the day goes on. It doesn't matter where I go. They want to be near. Following and adoring.

Evening comes. Children gather round the campfire on the beach. They roast marshmellows, preparing for smores. Excited voices tell stories. Two pyjama-clad little boys on pint-size chairs, gaze adoringly at three older siblings and a neighbour girl from home. She adds a new delight to our week-end cottage get-away. Lanky husband stirs the coals with a stick. The sun is setting across the lake, it's red glow sits low on the horizon.

My husband looks over and nods towards the sun, I nod back. No words pass between us but we know it's time. He stands, "O.K. guys, time for bed."

A few tears fall, before two little boys yield reluctantly to Dad's gentle persistence. I turn my attention to the older ones, still needing affection from their parents. I listen, nod, and encourage all efforts of toasted marshmellows, tucking them between graham crackers and chocolate.

Husband returns. We talk and listen. The sun's pink has faded, darkness descends, waves lap gently on the shore. Little ones sense our distance. One cries out, the cry carries to the beach. I come to cuddle and softly soothe. "Are you scared?, I ask.

"Yah," he says as he plays with my hair. "Big scare me"

"It's o.k., Mama's here. I'll stay with you a while." I stroke his head. He holds my hand and smiles at me, the other cuddles close. I lie between both until they calm.

I understand. It's simple, really. Their joy is in my presence. They feel peace when I am near.

I think of our Heavenly Father. How He must delight with our affections, adoration, and worship. All day these two little guys have given me their affections. I have received the gift of their complete trust and love.

May I bestow such reckless abandon in my delight of my Heavenly Father's nearness.

I understand completely why Jesus says, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19: 14 NASV

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Balance

*Proverbs 25:20 (The Message)
20 Singing light songs to the heavyhearted is like pouring salt in their wounds.

It is tempting to read the Bible selectively, picking out favourite passages to read or memorize, especially when they confirm a point I want to make, but balance is found in the whole picture, not isolated sections.

And so, this week, as I determine to shine light on my path and that of others, trying to take myself less seriously; I feel I need to give some balance--because it's there in God's Word.

Proverbs 25:20 reminds me to be sensitive to someone who is struggling through a dark tunnel. Their need may be for someone to sit with them or simply listen, or to give space so that they can work things through. They don't need someone urging them to laughter or to count their blessings.

Somewhere this week I heard laughter referred to as "carbonated holiness." I loved that! It's one of the tools in God's toolbox.

Love compels me to learn to choose my tools carefully.

1 John 3:18-20 (The Message)
18-20My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Child is Born!

Susan most joyously announces the birth of her newest grandson...
Owen Edward Prock
...weighing 8lbs 13oz, and arriving at 1:38 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2008. Mom and baby are doing great. Grandma (a.k.a. "Mommy'sMum", is EXHAUSTED!!)
Thank you Ang for covering the blog tonight. Beth will be delighted in the words that were inspired by the birth of her son this night.
A quiver FULL of boys! (This is their fifth boy.) ALL the glory goes to the Lord Jesus Christ!
Blessings all, Susan

And we, your blog friends are celebrating with you, Susan; and Beth, Mike, Mikey, Matthew, Nolan and Gregory.

Welcome to the world and waiting hearts, Owen. We stand ready to love you.

Friday, August 15, 2008


She stood in the window high above me, smiling and seemingly calm. She was flanked on either side by another daughter and a friend.
We called up with excitement "How's she doing? Any baby yet?"
"Not yet" was the answer, but she's working on it, labouring....

We sent our love and prayers and walked away, my daughter and I, our hearts full. Mine was full with the vicarious range of emotions that the pains of childbirth, expectation, trepidation, compassion, exhaustion and wonder. My little girl was just gloriously excited that a baby was being born.

I wonder what goes on in heaven at these times, birth moments, a new life, tiny body, fresh, untainted spirit, potential, hope.
Does the heavenly host revel this much when a soul is born into the kingdom, or even more?

Being born a first time, and then a second, eternity set before us, perilous, wondrous, overwhelming. The beginning of a journey is most often filled with hope.

Sometimes labour is hard and drawn out. It seems that the new life pressing to come forth is hindered. Cervix is widening, painfully, slowly. Not unlike a soul's birth or character being formed, the heart's opening can be too narrow or unwilling to allow the newness of hope to come forth. The soul too comfortable in the warmth of the familiar is unwilling to reach into the bright unknown.
Yet God's persistent hand reaches in and grasps hold of this hesitant one and gradually, firmly draws a squalling, frightened child into a new place. And really, once we clean off the gunk of the journey and press in close to the Father's heart, it's not so bad.

Bright and kind of loud, but a place of discovering, moving, feeding, being sustained by a new source of life.
And love as never known before. Being held, caressed, fed, sung to, protected, gazed upon and nurtured.
Doesn't our Father God do all these things for us? He sustains and nurtures us every moment. Sometimes we don't recognize His hand. But that may be because it's cradling us close and we've forgotten, become too comfortable in His embrace.

Lord open our eyes to the wonder of your parental care over us. How you clothe and feed and love and sing to your children. Give us the courage to move forth into the places of new birth that you want to take us.
Thank you for this sweet reminder tonight.

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
1Cor.15: 58

"The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing."
Zephaniah 3:17

Praying for you Beth...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Of Clouds and Silver Linings

Romans 13:12 (New International Version)
12The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

It was late as I drove home after dropping off two friends at their homes and it was already dark. Up in the sky shone the brave moon, bright over the hushed fields and the still busy road. A dark little cloud drifted aimlessly as if it had lost its way on the sea of the night, but suddenly its edges were silvered by the hiding moon.

I understood then, that the adage, "Every cloud has a silver lining," does not mean the same thing as another old proverb, "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." Both, I used to think, meant something similar; that to every bad thing there is a grain of good if only you look out for it; but suddenly I saw something else. The true meaning is that even though dark clouds may temporarily obscure the light; it is still there, and every cloud is lined with silver on the other side, because of it.

Driving to work the next morning, I pondered my aim of a couple of days ago, to travel "light." Some people may think it an easy concept. In fact it is not. What draws me is the idea of a toughness and grit that does not give in to despair; looking difficulty in the eye and staring it down; with a smile that lights up the heart, and lends courage to others.

I noticed as I went through that day, a general contagion of joy. As I tried to unravel two mysteries at work, I had fun with the people with whom I connected over the phone. I felt their spirits lift as they responded almost subconsciously. Even my grandchildren in the evening laughed and joked more than usual as we read stories together.

I thought about the heroes of our faith in Hebrews chapter 11, that crowd of conquerors who either saw the fruit of their faith on earth or in heaven and I thought that although I am far from worthy of hero designation, my aspiration would be to have that "something" that the weird bunch called the "others" in that chapter had; the ones who went around in animal skins, were flogged and tortured, wandered in deserts and lived in holes in the ground. They were all commended for their faith in spite of not receiving what had been promised; at least not on earth.

I want to banish self importance and easy offence; to see the true situation but not give in to it. Yes, I guess I want to be a hero like "the others"...

Nehemiah 8:10 (New International Version)
10 Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not Just Curiosities for a Museum

Do you remember the times when God has made things so clear to you? You wrestle through a decision, seeking His guidance, and you get it without a shadow of doubt. He did that for me about my decision to apply for the Master of Divinity in Counselling at a seminary. At the time I needed unmistakable guidance because there was a powerful mentor in my life believing God was calling me in a different direction. It was a season in my life when I was working through how I made decisions in relation to others, and was learning to listen to God’s voice deep within my heart and match it against the voices of others outside of me. It was a threatening time, and it was new territory to trust my heart and the voice within me.

Today I read some lines from C.H. Spurgeon which reminded me of that day.

“There is nothing Christ dislikes more than for His people to make a show-thing of Him, and not to use Him. He loves to be employed by us. Covenant blessings are not meant to be looked at only, but to be appropriated. Even our Lord Jesus is given to us for our present use. ….do not treat God’s promises as if they were curiosities for a museum, but use them as everyday sources of comfort. Trust the Lord whenever your time of need comes on.”

The details of how I “made use” of Christ that unforgettable day are too personal to share. But in a beautiful, whimsical and unmistakable way He spoke to me and confirmed the leading of my heart. And I needed that knowledge. Oh how I have needed it in the days, months and years that have followed. I look at the long journey I embarked on to fulfill that goal and I wonder if I will make it. There seem to be endless valleys to go through, mountains to climb and battles to fight. But His promise and His word to me keep me daily as my comfort. And they provide me also with heavenly equipment for the journey and the battles, described by Spurgeon in the same excerpt. Today I take courage from these words, and trust they bless you too:

“We have all heard of swords which were made useless in war; and even of shoes which were made to sell, but were never meant to walk in. God’s shoes are of iron and brass, and you can walk to heaven in them without their ever wearing out; and His lifebelts, you may swim a thousand Atlantics upon them, and there will be no fear of your sinking. His word of promise is meant to be tried and proved. …How can God say no to something He has promised?”

As I wrote this I read Belinda’s comments about lightening up, which is my constant desire and intent, as I scour the floor of the basement of my own heart. And I meditate again upon this amazing God I know who gives me laughter amid tears, and joy in the midst of pain. And I guess I continue to know that they must always go hand in hand. Somehow the iron and brass shoes (kind of a crazy image, eh, if we think literally about them) God gives us are indestructible because they are forged in the fires of pain and struggle, and somehow the lightness He can give us makes them wearable. How’s that for homemade theology?

Spurgeon himself, in the next day’s reading, speaks of God’s rod blossoming with sweet flowers and nourishing fruits. Think of that story of the blossoming rod from the Bible. How’s that for a comic image? Only God could do that.

So even as I have meditated on the sure word of guidance God gave me several years ago and how I have often resented the trials that have come since, I know deep within my spirit that they were also love-letters from God delivered “in black-edged envelopes”, as Spurgeon says. They are the treasures of darkness, the blessings from the storm, the good things in the bad things. And because of them I am being made into the kind of person who can fulfill the kind of work that He is leading me into. This is our great mysterious God whose ways are not our ways, whose thoughts are not our thoughts. He will meet us in our ways and thoughts, and speak to us through His promises, and He wants us to “use” Him to bring us into our destinies, but always He is teaching us through everything that His promises are not like curiosities in a museum, they are always Yea and Amen. He, the Alpha and the Omega, uses our trials to make us take those curiosities out of the museum of our Sunday School theologies, and forge them into the shoes and lifebelts that will carry us through all the journeys and oceans of life.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Let There be Light!

Proverbs 15:15 & 30 (New International Version)
15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

30 A cheerful look brings joy to the heart,
and good news gives health to the bones.

Tonight at our cell group, on the DVD we were watching, something Dr. Del Tackett said, grabbed my attention. He was talking about a time when his son opened a closet door.

"Stop!" he said to his son, "Do that again."

His son must have thought he'd taken leave of his senses, but he opened the door again.

"That's it," yelled Del, "See? It's light in the closet."

He went to the closet, got inside and closed the door. It was dark. He opened it and the light flooded in.

The zany behaviour was all because Del saw something profound in that moment: Darkness does not overtake light, but light overtakes darkness. The darkness in the world will shrivel before the blaze of light if only we shine brighter.

There is another applicaton of that thought. For days I've been thinking of a different kind of "light," more along the lines of "keeping things light;" not allowing despair, hopelessness, panic or negativity to gain a foothold, in situations where it would be easy to do so.

I applied Del's analogy to my thoughts on keeping things light, because in that case too, the darkness will be chased away by "light."

This past Saturday, I had an appointment at 8 in the morning with a dental implant specialist who was going to drill into my jawbone as a step in the process of having a tooth implanted in three months time, after it has all healed. Strangely, I was anticipating having fun during the appointment.

At my previous appointment the office staff had urged me to go in my pajamas because of the early hours. "He will love it," they said, referring to Dr. R.

I didn't go in my pajamas, but the visit, as I expected, involved much lighthearted banter and laughter. One of his office staff slept in and didn't show up for work. He suggested to his assistant that they make signs for the person for when they arrived, saying, "Wonderful to see you," and "It's so nice that you came in." We all anticipated her eventual arrival with smiles. It could have been different, with everyone in the office grouchy about it. Instead, I had, as I expected I would, a great time and great treatment.

I've been trying to be more intentional in building lightness into my responses and choosing not to go to basement of my heart with a tough situation. After all, my despair is not going to help change one thing, but my hope and energy; my faith in God, will.

So here's a challenge: Have a light day; you might like it as much as I did; and maybe, like me, you will want to adopt the attitude permanently.

Proverbs 17:22 (New International Version)
22 A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Summer Heart

Sometimes I get too comfy in my life. I slide by doing the things that must be done, raising children, being a wife, dabbling in my giftings and reading good novels.
All worthy pursuits, enjoyable, lovely to me, yet not without their challenges, except the novel part. The most difficult part of a great book is either the finishing of it, or it slipping from my fingers as my head droops weary into the pillows and my eyelids close despite valiant efforts to read just to the end of this chapter...

It's summer time, both the time of relaxing and ruts.

I've been getting up later, doing less housework, playing more with my kids and relaxing. Sounds good doesn't it.
It is.
My recent realization is that I've been living a summer life for a while. Some seasons (like the school year) require that I get up earlier, but it's not about that.

If I break it down, I think it's about diligence, pouring my all in, doing it for others, not myself and living outside my own head and heart. I think that's how Mother Teresa lived, if I can even begin to imagine what she was like. She seemed to be so other-focussed. That's what a life of service flows from is that fountain heart of giving instead of taking, generosity instead of selfishness and compassion rather than self centredness.

There has to be a frequent checking going on to evaluate which well my actions are springing from.
Within the past year, our Pastor preached a sermon describing how our beliefs motivate our values, which in turn influence our actions. He set these three points up in a pyramid as follows:

a c t i o n s
v a l u e s
b e l i e f s

Everything actually seems to spring forth from what we fundamentally believe about God, others and ourselves, about anything really. This resonated with me. If I believe deeply and fundamentally that God is who He says He is and that He really wants us to love Him first and then others as we love ourselves, then my value system will support this and my actions will confirm what I say I believe.
To my chagrin I often have to question what I truly believe, because my actions don't always support my talk.
I know that in my heart of hearts I believe in God, in His only Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was crucified, died and was buried and on the third day He rose again, is seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us, and that one day He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
My difficulty is breaching the gap between belief and what comes out of me at times.
I know I am being sanctified and I see the work He is doing. It is like my joyful friend said to me the other day, that to change the direction of a ship, the rudder slowly begins to swing that great vessel around(depending on the size of the ship of course), and the turn can take an awfully long time, but yet it is being accomplished.
What springs to me from just even saying that is this. If I am a ship and am such a great vessel that I take so long to turn, then there is far too much of me. Let Christ increase and me decrease that the turning and sanctifying be effective and timely.

One of my favorite writers is Brennan Manning. In 2005 he wrote a book called "The Importance of Being Foolish - How To Think Like Jesus".
He identifies how we are preoccupied with security, pleasure and power and calls us out of these self focussed pursuits to live as "a community of Christians who would live under the sway of the Spirit, men and women who would be human torches aglow with the fire of love for Christ, prophets and lovers ignited with the flaming Spirit of the living God." (excerpt from the introduction of the aforementioned book by Brennan Manning).

I am struck by God's mercy and so often astonished that He still wants anything to do with me at all. But He seems to have more to complete in my life, and I am so grateful that He will take the time. For He is patient, slow to anger and rich in mercy.

I love you my King and my God. Build in me the beliefs that will fuel all I value so that everything I do only shows who You are.
Thank you for your molding and forming of this vessel. I am grateful beyond belief...well maybe not beyond, but grateful right deeply into all that I believe. Increase Lord...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Holy Fool

A poem was read at Faith Community Church in Alliston on June 8. It struck such a deep chord in me then, I asked for a copy. Within me I knew I would share it with my friends at whateverhesays. The time for sharing has come.

Holy Fool

I am a fool
I look beyond reason
I stray beyond logic
I dance when I should cry
I weep when I should party
I am fool of joy for the things I don't know
I am past caring about the things I do know
I love someone I've never seen
I admire people who I know are a mess
I hope things are fragile, I just don't trust stability
I long for the future and I love each step toward it
I walk the earth but I dream of the heavens
I know I am special because of my ordinariness
I find chaos confusing and confusion creative
I am of no influence yet I strive to make a difference
I have no voice yet I shout from the rooftops
I live a life that's a joke with a serious punchline
I am a poet who's lost for words
I love the world that turns its back on all that matters to me
I want to embrace the people who want to hurt me
I pray for those who hate me
I serve one who knelt and washed feet
I live for a deity who died for me
I am an innocent because I know what I've done wrong
I am free because my heart's not my own
I am strong because I am broken
I found God in a "Godless" place
I am a faithful rascal
I am an ordinary radical
I am a fool for God

By Mark Berry

Mark Berry's poem touched some very deep places in me. I am a holy fool.

Some lines that really resonated with me are: "I stray beyond logic, I weep when I should party, I am past caring about the things I do know, and I admire people who I know are a mess, I walk the earth but I dream of the heavens, I know I am special because of my ordinariness, I am of no influence yet I strive to make a difference, I am an innocent because I know what I've done wrong, I am free because my heart's not my own, I am strong because I am broken, I am a fool for God"

I have grappled with some of these truths in my life for a long time. I have wondered at what makes me a holy fool and have not always been content with being such. Ironically, I wouldn't want it any other way. Although I marvel at the deity of Christ and am awed by the enormity and magnitude of His very being, I have been proud, even self-righteous.

As I have come face to face with my own frailty, my human limits, and my sin, I have also become aware of my need for a righteous and holy God and the forgiveness that only He can give. His mercy and grace is sufficient in every area where I lack. His abounding love is enough. I have many regrets and am very aware of my blundering efforts.

I can embrace the journey because of Him. I realize that I need to come to this place of humility so I can become more used on this earth. There is no room for self-righteousness if we are to love as He loves.

Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, And His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100: 3-5 NASV

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Be Nice

On summer evenings I love my village walks with Molson.

The path I take leads past some older houses, with old fashioned porches, surrounded by old fashioned country gardens filled with such flowers as lilies and hollyhocks, black-eyed-susans and forget-me-nots.

I admire the wooden porches; some weather worn, others freshly painted, but all inviting. On the porches are carefully arranged wooden rockers or perhaps wicker chairs and loveseats with bright cushions.

"Come sit or rock awhile," they seem to whisper, "Come sit beneath the wind chimes with a good book, or a friend and a cup of tea."

I love the play of light and shadow as the evening breeze sighs through the leaves of the trees.

Hanging above the front door of one house, is a sign bearing a simple message that I have been pondering. "Be Nice," it reads.

What a good message to take to heart, I think.

I would add three more exhortations to make a mantra that, if heeded would make a better world:

Be nice
Be kind
Be gentle
Be generous

Sometimes our focus is on being other things than these: Being right; being smart; being wealthy or even healthy. I have even said to others that if there is a choice between being nice and being right, we have to choose being right. But we can be right and nice.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being wealthy or healthy, etc., but I believe that a successful life is found in my list above. These qualities are not the domain of the brilliant, witty or rich; anyone can have them, or aspire to. They are the seasonings on the feast of life, for although they may not change what is on the menu, they add to its enjoyment.

It takes intentionality and effort to change from our automatic responses to situations and choose a nicer way of being. A favourite passage from Colossians 3 likens it to putting on clothing. As we decide what to clothe our bodies with each day, so we can choose what to clothe our hearts with.

Colossians 3:12-17 (New International Version)
12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Friday, August 08, 2008

What is "That"?

The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Proverbs 4:18 ESV

Two precious weeks of rest and restoration are drawing to a close. We returned this morning from the Maritimes, after driving 24 hours straight through to get home in time for a beloved little grandson's first birthday. We have had so many experiences and taken in more of the wonder of God's creation than I ever would have thought possible in two short weeks.

We have scrambled across rocks and felt the salt spray on our faces on deserted areas of our eastern coast. We have seen vistas of beauty that at times took our breath away. We have descended to the black depths of a Cape Breton coal mine, and ascended heights of grandeur along the Cabot Trail. We met people who have instantly enriched out lives, some of whom we will never forget. We have tapped our toes to the infectious music of the Maritimes performed live. We saw wildlife, including two moose (one almost too close for comfort!), deer, a nestful of young osprey (close enough to photograph pretty clearly), whales cavorting off Cape Breton, seals poking their heads playfully up amidst the waves, and countless birds and squirrels. What an adventure!

I simply want to thank God for a time away that was as wonderful as one could imagine. Even in the midst of car troubles (we left an alternator behind in New Brunswick, and drove home with a brand new one!) his hand was evident every which way we turned and in the unfolding of this interlude of rest and refreshing.

The best part of this trip, though, was coming back. Back to our network of family and relationships. As much fun as it was to be away, the most exciting moments of the trip where when we were turned toward "home". Those last 24 hours of driving back to where God has placed us to live out our calling in time and space, just flew by. We have so much to be grateful for - our family, our friends, our church family, our jobs.

I've been thinking alot of late about the following verse of scripture:

12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of THAT for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.. Phil. 3:12 ESV (emhasis mine)

I've been wondering what "that" is, in the "that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" and hoping I'm not somehow missing it in all the scurrying about and living of life that I do. Getting away for two weeks can change your perspective, though and has certainly given me a new outlook. I'm not sure how well I'm doing of taking hold of "that", but I do know that I'm here where I'm supposed to be, and that "THAT" --the extraordinariness of God's calling on my life-- is smack dab in the midst of all these relationships -family, friends, vocation, and in the day-to-day things that he has given me to do.

"That". Could it be it's in the rhythms and flow of ordinary life? Is this where God's glory is revealed in the wonder of where he has placed us and our response to his unfolding plan for our lives?

I think so... I really do.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Room of Days

Proverbs 2:6-11 (New International Version)
6 For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
7 He holds victory in store for the upright,

he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
8 for he guards the course of the just

and protects the way of his faithful ones.
9 Then you will understand what is right and just

and fair—every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,

and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
11 Discretion will protect you,

and understanding will guard you.

I closed my eyes to listen with full concentration. The music finding its way from my laptop, through the wires and into the ear buds in my ears, was so beautiful that it took me to a place in my imagination; a room in heaven. The Room of Days is what I named it in my thoughts.

I saw a room in which all of our days, just like photos in an album, could be looked at; the choices we made in them seen by the ones whose days they were; many choices, made in split seconds. For instance; to be kind or not, to follow a selfish course, or to sacrifice time and energy for others.

Each day starts out as a blank page of possibility and from the moment of waking, the choices begin, choices to do it right; or do it dysfunctionally, moment by moment, scores, if not hundreds of small choices in a day.

I think that if room existed, it might hold more regrets than not. I'm glad it is only in my imagination.

But the thought of reviewing our days reminds me of a practice I once read about, called the Evening Examen. It is a ritual of reflecting each evening on the events of the day, turning them over mentally--looking at those small choices made, while opening up the heart and soul to the Holy Spirit. It seems a good very thing to do, but I confess that in my busyness, I rarely take the time to do it.

Today though, is a day in which it feels important to do so and to thank God for his Presence from start to finish.

I started the day feeling such a need for God. I didn't want to consider weighty matters without him. My work involves people. Sometimes it feels as if the people get buried under an avalanche of paper, but that is just a red herring. You could burn the paper and the people would still be there, and people matter; very, very much.

So I prayed, even though I was far too rushed. And I took time to open my Daily Light and read my daily Marathon of Biblical Proportions reading (still behind but in the race). And God spoke, and I felt like I got that part right. That's the wonderful thing, we can always say, "From this point, I'm going to do it right." We may fail, but we keep trying, and when we do get it right it feels so good that we just want to keep doing it that same way. Today was like that.

I read a post on my friend Joanna Mallory's blog this morning (God With Us: Finding Joy; the address is ) and some words in her post were very meaningful to me:
He hasn’t sent us out on assignment with only our wits and resources. Remember, He’s given us the Holy Spirit as Counsellor, Comforter, Reminder of His Word.

I went forward with these words, and those from Proverbs 2 and 3, singing in my heart, and I felt God with me all through the day. I felt his truth and justice flowing.

In the Room of Days, this one would shine.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (New International Version)
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make your paths straight.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

An Ever Present Reality

The guest preacher unexpectedly turned in the middle of his talk and addressed us – the visiting missionaries – He said the Lord wanted to say 2 Corinthians 12:9 to us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This man knew nothing of us. We were visiting the church where I had been part of a women’s multi-denominational prayer and study group before we went to live in Uganda. That was our only connection. It was the last Sunday of a six month furlough. I had expected God to speak to us in some special way. But what did this mean?

Of course it’s THE verse for all of us. His grace IS sufficient always. And always it seems we tend to live as if it isn’t. Why were we, now, in our fifth year as missionaries, needing to be told this? No more clues came, even when we were prayed for later in the service. The usual prayers were prayed which were comforting. The preacher said nothing more.

But out in the foyer as we moved in opposite directions, I caught a look behind his eyes. “He knows something he can’t say”, I thought to myself. I had a sense of foreboding. What was going to happen when we returned? Was there something terrible about to happen which God was speaking to? Why else would He insert such a message in the midst of a sermon about another topic by a preacher who knew nothing of our situation? I believed God wanted to get our attention and assure us of His care for us in the days to come.

We returned to our home in Uganda. There was a sense of unease about our compound worker. He had never liked the highly educated clergyman we had hired to keep our projects going in our absence, and, hopefully into the long term future. This man had always put him down, treated him, his own countryman, as a servant, while we, the white people, honoured him as a friend, and still do.

In a few weeks it was clear. Thousands of dollars of our funds had been embezzled by this man, without remorse. We fired him. He launched a hate campaign against us, twisting personal information into lies, inciting the hatred latent within the administration of the church we served, who resented our scrupulous management of funds on projects, not allowing them personal access to designated money. Now the people on the hill were split – our friends, the honourable Christians, were horrified at this betrayal, yet, having tried to warn us of this man’s character, in some ways not surprised. The others – well – they were almost envious that this man had got away with something they hadn’t.

The administration asked us to let them handle the “trial” of one of their own. We trusted them. It turned into a kangaroo court. We were blamed for the misfortunes that had come upon us. Hateful letters, ridiculous demands, violations of written agreements followed. Warnings that the man we had hired and fired was capable of much more evil. We had two young children. Our work was not wanted except by those who needed it and had no voices to speak. It was time to shake the dust off our feet.

We left Uganda three months after we had arrived back. Other missionaries said we were fortunate to do what we did – sell our furniture and vehicles, get out with our lives and thirteen duffel bags full of our prized possessions, mostly books. Missionary friends took us in locally while we cleaned up. We heard from Canada that the home we had bought several years before would unexpectedly be available to us within a few months. Our children were even looking forward to going to live in Canada.

Indeed, His grace was sufficient, moment by moment, day by day, week by week. And so it has been in all our days here in Canada, in the years since. Those who always loved us kept in touch. The new administration has invited us to come back anytime. Our daughters are now there visiting, being blessed by those who loved us. His grace continues.

That Sunday morning God spoke of something that we all should know and trust in all the time. Yet our unbelieving wounded hearts find it so hard to do. Yesterday I read the following words by Prebendary H.W. Webb Peploe, quoted in Streams in the Desert:

“God cannot make it any more sufficient than He has made it; get up and believe it, and you will find it true, because the Lord says it in the simplest way: ‘My grace is (not shall be or may be) sufficient for thee.”

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Be Lifted High

I spotted an unfamiliar face in the crowd that had gathered for a barbecue; the first party at a new home for people with intellectual and physical disabilities .

Outside in the bright, warm sun of the summer day, vans and cars lined the driveway. Someone had set up lawn chairs out on the back deck, but they were deserted; everyone seemed to prefer to gather inside, in a large, bright room off the kitchen. Guests always seem to gravitate where they will!

I introduced myself to the one person there I didn't know, the young man I had seen when I walked in, and as somebody picked up a guitar and began to lead the group in some worship songs, he told us that he'd been reading the psalms. It was obvious from his expression as well as his words, how much they meant to him. He told us of the musical instruments that the psalms mention and how we are to worship God with singing and all kinds of instruments and how God is enthroned on our praises. Since I too, had just almost finished the book of psalms, we had instant common ground.

Sometimes you meet someone who is "connected," you know; and he was. He was just a man who loved God and wasn't afraid to say so. It just came out so naturally because that was who he was.

He was short, and slim of build, and he wore blue jeans and a red shirt. His dark brown hair was neat and short and his features showed that he had a syndrome labeled as a disability; Downs Syndrome.

I've been thinking of him since then, and how he was such an example to us. And I thought about him again this evening when I felt weak and inept and inadequate.

Paul is away with 7 others on a missions trip in the north, so tonight, hosting our small group, something we always do together as a team, I needed to manage alone.

God provided a driver to pick up the two non drivers from Bradford; my friend Frances. I was grateful for her help, but still, preparing sandwiches and snacks, showing a DVD and leading a discussion, felt like a lot. Praise God, David came to my rescue and took care of the technological aspects of manning the controls for the projector and DVD player, I was so grateful for his help.

Still, when we sat down afterwards to discuss the topic; the authority of God and the State, I felt ill prepared and mentally fuzzy. Again I leaned into my friends who weren't fuzzy at all, but held a good discussion.

Returning from the drive to Bradford afterwards, and while washing the last few dishes and putting away the remains of the meal, I thought about the new friend I met at the barbecue.

He and I are passionate about God, and that is a flame that burns in us, although we might be weak in other ways. In spite of that, God uses us.

As I tidied up, I hummed a song that has been on my heart and in my head for the past few days; Be Lifted High. The words are so beautiful and I love the version by Leeland, which you can hear him sing on You Tube. Me and my friend, we want to lift him high, so that he, not we would be seen.

Be Lifted High
------Michael W. Smith

Sin and its ways grow old
All of my heart turns to stone
And I'm left with no strength to arise
How You need to be lifted high

Sin and its ways lead to pain
Left here with hurt and with shame
So no longer will I leave your side
Jesus, you be lifted high

You be lifted high
You be lifted high
You be lifted high in my life
Oh God
And I fall to my knees
So it's you that they see
Not I
Jesus, you be lifted high

And even now that I'm inside your hands
Help me not to grow prideful again
Don't let me forsake sacrifice
Jesus you be lifted high
And if I'm blessed with the riches of kings
How could I ever think that it was me
For you brought me from darkness to light
Jesus, you be lifted high

You be lifted high
You be lifted high
You be lifted high in my life
Oh God
And I fall to my knees
So it's you that they see
Not I
Jesus, you'll be lifted high

Oh Jesus, you be lifted high
Oh you be lifted high
Oh you be lifted high in my life
Oh God
And I fall to my knees
So it's you that they see
Not I
Jesus, you be lifted high