Love Transforms, Love Demands

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Do you remember your first love?

Picture a sixteen-year-old girl. She’s walking home from school, her shoulders hunched, her eyes on the ground. She’s wearing dark, somber clothing. Her hair often goes unwashed. She rarely makes eye contact with anyone and doesn’t smile much. She doesn’t have many friends.

Fast forward four years. That same girl is wearing a flowing floral dress. Her head is high and her eyes sparkle. Her hair flows out behind her, gleaming in the sun as she runs across her neighbour’s lawn. He hardly recognizes her. “You’re in love,” he says. She laughs and admits that it’s true. And it has made all the difference.

Love does that. It transforms us, it makes us believe that life is good and worth living. It makes us believe we are worthy of being loved. Yes, the discovery of love, especially God’s love, transforms us.

And the Demands of Love work to continue that transformation. Love is never easy. People tend to be complicated and their lives are often messy. Loving well inevitably leads to the need for sacrifice and a selflessness that most of us resist. But we are called to love unconditionally, as Christ loved us. We are called to give much, because much has been given to us. Luke chapter 7: 36 to 47 teaches us this truth. Jesus was invited to have dinner with a Pharisee. A woman who, the Bible tells us, had “lived a sinful life,” arrived with a jar of perfume, poured it on Jesus’ feet and washed them, wiping them with her hair.

When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Then Jesus tells the Pharisee a story about two people who owed money to a moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both.

“Now which of them will love him more?” Jesus asked. Of course, the Pharisee said the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.

Then Jesus said to him, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (v. 43-47).

Have you been forgiven a little or a lot? I think we can all agree that it is the latter. Yes, we have been forgiven much, we have been given much, and we are expected to forgive, to love well, and give much in return.

Love transforms but love also demands.

 

Lessons in an Art Gallery

Untitled- Emily Carr
Untitled by Emily Carr

There was a hush on the fourth floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery as we entered, almost a reverence, I thought. People meandered quietly through the halls and rooms, taking time to study the paintings on the walls and read the commentaries and quotes from the artist’s journals. As I joined them I was aware of my own sense of awe. Emily Carr was an artist I had admired since I was a child. Her work always made me pause, drew me in, made me aware of something beyond myself.

The quotes on the walls captured my attention as well. This woman, who is famous in my own country and beyond for her depiction of the west coast region of Canada, was a woman of faith, struggling to comprehend the greatest mystery there is – the deep, deep love of an all-encompassing God.

Emily Carr’s work depicts that struggle, that striving to faith, that longing to comprehend that which is unknown yet deeply sensed. The first quote visitors to the Vancouver Art Gallery saw as they entered the exhibit was “Art is Worship.” Ms. Carr worshipped with every stroke of her brush, the swirling movement in her work drawing the eye up toward the heavens. A painting labelled Untitled, one of my favourites, is especially strong. The artist’s love of creation and its creator shouts from the canvass.

Emily Carr saw the divine in the deep dark forests of British Columbia and in the work of others, especially some members of the Group of Seven who welcomed her as one of their own. She was dumbfounded, while at an exhibit of their work, to see one of Lawren Harris’s paintings, Mountain Forms, ignored even by a priest. “Surely he would understand,” Ms. Carr wrote in her journal, “Wouldn’t the spirituality of the thing appeal to one whose life was supposed to be given up to these things? He passed right by …”

I understand Ms. Carr’s frustration. So much that is redemptive in this world goes unnoticed at best, scorned and ridiculed, at worst. Yet those things that draw us all closer to our creator are enduring. Mountain Forms was recently auctioned for just over eleven million dollars.

As I wandered in that gallery that day I was not only stirred by how Emily Carr drew us to the Divine through her work but by the recognition that we can all do the same, whatever our field of endeavour. We have all been created to express praise and adoration through everything we do, whether we work in oils or with words, whether we sweep floors or design buildings, whether our work is recognized or ridiculed. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters … It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23,24).

I was also struck by the reality that Ms. Carr caused me to praise and worship without saying a word. There was no banner declaring “Jesus saves” scrawled across her paintings yet we are able to stand in the midst of those deep dark forests and worship with her. It made me wonder, does my art cause people to worship? Does it cause them to ponder the depth of God’s greatness and goodness? Does it glorify Him? Walking among Emily Carr’s paintings made me pray it may be so.

 

 

 

Be Mine

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I ripped the cellophane wrapping off the small package with delight. The cards my mother had bought that morning were perfect. They were bright red with hearts all over them and short funny sayings appropriate for Valentine’s Day. I spent all that evening addressing the envelopes and signing my name to all the cards. All, that is, but one.

There was one card in the package that was larger than the rest. It said, “Be Mine,” and the verse inside was not funny. In fact, to me, it was so serious that my heart beat faster. This card was going to someone I thought was deserving of something so special. His name was Darryl. I was ten years old and I was “in love.”

I did not sign my name to the card addressed to Darryl because I was afraid. I did not want to admit my feelings for fear of being rejected. What if he just laughed? What if he threw the card in the trash and someone else saw that it was from me? What if he left it behind on an empty desk for anyone to see? No. I would not put my name on that card, but I would pray that Darryl would know who it was from.

Giving your love and affection to someone is a risk. You become vulnerable to being hurt, to rejection, perhaps even to ridicule. Jesus knew all about that when He agreed to be born as a tiny babe on earth. He knew that many would spurn His love. Many would scorn his affection. Many would just laugh. And then a mob would demand His death. No one would understand. None of it would look like a fairy-tale and the ending was anything but happy. It would look like defeat and it would stink of death.

But it was the greatest act of love this world has ever seen. Christ gave up the glories of heaven, took on the physical limitations of a human body and then allowed that body to be tortured and killed. He did it all so that we would be able to live in the presence of His Father’s love eternally. He did it with an anguished cry of, “Be Mine!”

Jesus was neither afraid nor embarrassed to sign his name on the card that revealed His love for us. His card was a cross erected on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem. He signed it with His own blood and when it was delivered to the world at the moment he died, all the barriers between us and God were torn down. Forgiveness was ours for the asking and hope became a reality.

It was therefore true when the apostle Paul said to the people in Rome – “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

That is a Valentine worth cherishing.

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Until that Day

operating-roomI’ve had cancer. Twice. These are a couple of things I learned:

1. Someday Jesus and I will be face to face; He is here, with me, right now.

2. All the ambitions I have, and all the fears I harbour, are insignificant in view of those two facts.

I learned those lessons as I lay on a cruciform table in an operating room, reflecting as the anesthesia took hold. I could wake up in heaven, I thought. The idea excited me, but it also made me realize I didn’t want to die. There were things I still wanted to do and see, people I wanted to continue to love and some things I needed to set right. But I knew the possibility of dying that day, or in the not too distant future, was very real. The fact that it would happen, some day, was undeniably clear.

That made my writer’s heart beat a little faster. There were articles and books I still wanted to write, plays I wanted to see on the stage. The idea of dying in the middle of it all made me squirm a bit on that cold table.

So I prayed and that wonderful peace that passes all understanding flooded through me. I realized if I was about to meet Jesus none of my fears and suddenly rather silly ambitions would matter. If He was about to take me home, that meant the purpose for my life, and my work, had been accomplished. If He chose to allow me to continue on this earth, I could trust that he would be there beside me, guiding me all the way. It was a “win, win” situation.

Then I woke up in an ICU on a respirator with my hands tied down. My first thought was, Well, I don’t think this is heaven. As my brain struggled to register the words the nurse was saying, telling me I had had an allergic reaction to the blue dye they had injected into my body, I tried not to panic. What did that mean, exactly? I was relieved when she told me they were going to remove the tube down my throat and untie my hands. Yes, I thought, that would be very nice.

Then I saw my husband’s face. Then I had a moment. It was brief, but quite powerful. What if it had been the face of Jesus? I thought of Isaiah’s reaction when he saw the Lord and cried out, “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Understatement of the century, in relation to myself, I knew. But then there is the rest of the story, in which the angel tells the prophet he has been cleansed and The Lord presents him with his life’s purpose.

I too have been cleansed and presented with mine. So I will continue to write, to live my life,  remembering those two things I learned on that operating table. Until He takes me home.

 

Go For The Gold

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A cross-country runner lengthens her stride and qualifies. Another throws himself over the finish line, even though he has fallen. A long jumper forgets about past injuries and puts every ounce of courage into competing. Athletes. We’re going to be seeing a lot of them in the days ahead, as our televisions broadcast the hour by hour and even minute by minute reports from the Rio Olympics. Millions will be watching because the stories of victory and defeat, top dogs and underdogs, are riveting. There are those who just can’t seem to lose and those who just can’t seem to win. There are those who are there as veterans, having competed many times, and there are those who are there for the first time, looking at future dates when they might ascend to the podium of medal winners. Whatever their status, whatever their level of skill, there is one thing that seems to characterize them all: focus. They are all focused on going for the gold.

Being singleminded is a quality that is referred to in the Bible many times. Throughout the history of the Hebrew people, detailed in the Old Testament, we hear God saying, “don’t be double-minded.” It was understandable they would need to be warned. People who worshiped many gods surrounded them. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, they were under the dominion of a culture that encouraged multiplicity. Walking through the streets of Rome and most of her conquered territory was like walking through a museum of idols made from every imaginable substance. The temptation to ‘hedge their bets’ was intense.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, God was also warning His people about the idols in their hearts. He was specific about some them, telling them point-blank, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:13) Even in that far-away corner of the world, the Roman Empire had brought a measure of prosperity. Goods and services were readily available. Commerce was thriving. Many had made it their god.

Sound familiar? In our culture, where ‘going for the gold’ has more than an athletic ring to it, the distractions are many and mighty. Material success is lifted up to the highest place on the podium, with production and efficiency running right behind. We depend on them to keep us safe, to keep us fed and clothed, to keep us happy. They are our gods.

The scriptures teach another way. The apostle Paul put it well, in the book of Hebrews: “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12: 1-2) As with the athletes competing in Rio, it’s a matter of focus. Like Paul, we must “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) The goal, the prize, the only gold worth winning, is Christ Himself. Go for the Gold.

 

Man Hands

Man's hand

“Definitely not a job for my man hands.”

I chuckled as I watched an episode of The Amazing Race recently. The contestants had flown off to Bali where they had to go through various tests. One of the challenges proved difficult to some of them in an unusual and unexpected way.

Bali is one of the world’s largest salt producers. The workers follow a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for over one thousand years. It was put to the Amazing Race contestants to mimic that process.

They had to wade into the ocean, draw the salt water into two hand made buckets slung over their shoulders with a bamboo beam, carry the buckets across the beach and then scatter the water onto a designated plot of sand. As the sea water evaporated the salt was left behind. It was a physically challenging event so the men had the advantage. At first.

But it was in the second half of the event that the tables turned. Once they had enough salt water poured on the sand they had to then scrape the salt residue from a trough into a basket and pour it into four small bags, sealing them by tying the top. That’s when the men discovered they were at a disadvantage. The woman who was judging whether or not they had completed the task successfully often rejected the bags because they were not full enough. That meant the knot at the top had to be very tiny.

It was managing those tiny knots that proved difficult for “man hands.” They simply weren’t designed to do such a delicate task.

As I watched them struggle with it I thought of all the times I’ve tried to make things work in my life, only to discover that I too, have “man hands.” The task before me was difficult because I was not designed to make it work. The task, in fact, had been designed by God to show me that I needed His help.

Many people say they live by the Ten Commandments. I wonder how many realize that the commandments were not designed to make us work harder to please God. They were designed to show us that we cannot achieve holiness without Him.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, for instance. Really? How can I possibly do that? Love my neighbour as myself. Are you kidding me? Do not covet … oh yeah, that’s an easy one, right?

Go down the list and you will see that none of the things God asks us to do are possible in our own strength. We need Him. Desperately.

Are you trying to tie up your life and finding your “man hands” can’t do it?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

The Most Excellent Way

The Most Excellent Way by Marcia Lee Laycock

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Yes, I know, Valentine’s Day has come and gone. But love is always worth thinking about.

“Till death do us part.” We’re all familiar with that phrase. It’s repeated in the marriage vows of thousands of people each year. It’s a vow, and a hope, and sometimes a wistful wish. Unfortunately we all know that the statistics tell us the majority of marriages don’t see the fulfillment of that vow. For many the hope of growing old with their partner is crushed in the early years of their relationship. For many more, the wistful wish turns to a bitter memory. Love, it seems, is hard to hold on to.

The uncertain climate of love in today’s society can be attributed to many things but it always comes down to a common denominator – people -ordinary, everyday people who have flaws and issues and self-centred tendencies. We are, in many ways, a hard people – hard on ourselves and hard on others. We’re not prone to forgiveness or compassion or empathy. It’s so much easier to walk away, walk by, and we’re very good at convincing ourselves that it’s okay. Everyone does it, everyone expects it.

But Jesus has said he will show us a “most excellent way.” (1 Cor. 12:31) Then he goes on, in 1 Corinthians 13, to tell us what it looks like:

“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. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1Corinthians 13:1-8).

A most excellent way, indeed, but how can we, who are so inclined to do the opposite, ever accomplish such love? We are all like trees planted in a desert, unable to thrive but, as the scripture says, we can be trees “planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3).

When we draw from the source of love itself, we can and will love truly. That source is Jesus Christ. And His way is, indeed, most excellent.

 

 

What If?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was at a crossroads in my life. I had graduated from high school over a year before and had worked hard to save enough money for one year of university. But which school and which program should I pick? There was a good journalism program in a school only one day’s drive away (Plan A), but there was a creative writing program at a bigger school on the other side of the country (Plan B). I studied the catalogues of both, my eyes often shifting from the more pragmatic alternative to the one that drew my heart. I weighed the pros and cons and added the figures over and over again. Plan B just wasn’t viable. I couldn’t afford it and the prospect of getting a job at the end of the four years was unlikely.

I chose Plan A. I lasted two years. I learned some valuable lessons and skills, but decided journalism, at least the kind of journalism I was required to do in the nation’s capitol, was not my cup of tea. Frustrated and disillusioned, it was many years before I pursued my dream of becoming a writer.

I often wonder about that choice. I often wonder, ‘What if…’

Recently I came across a video clip of famous actor Denzel Washington, talking about his faith. One of the last things he said in the interview struck me – “Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.”

And again, I wondered, ‘what if …’ What if I’d had that perspective way back then. What if I had that perspective today?

Jesus said something similar to his disciples one day – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25,26).

He also said. “But store up for yourselves treasured in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

It took me many years before I was willing to follow that advice but once I did the world became a brighter place, because I had discovered my place in it, as a writer, and more importantly, as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Washington also said something else that resonated with me – “Put your slippers way under your bed so when you get up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, start your day with prayer. Ask for wisdom. Ask for understanding,” he said.

Start with prayer. A good idea. A good Plan A.

What if? …

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What’s in Your Fridge?

Fridge

I stood staring into our fridge with one thought in mind. My brother-in-law was coming to visit. He has a bit of a reputation for being a little OCD when it comes to fridges. And mine was in dire need of cleaning out. I sighed and started, putting jars and containers that were still good on one counter while pulling the garbage can closer for those things that had been there too long. Like the bowl of left-over spaghetti, the jar of mayo long past its due date and the spicy pickled beans only my husband will eat that were sprouting a growth of light grey fuzz. The garbage can was close to capacity by the time I was finished. I sighed again. I hate throwing food away. If only food wouldn’t spoil, I thought.

A verse in the Bible came to mind – “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27).

I pondered that verse. What is the food that spoils? Possessions, money, fame, even the very paper these words are written on. All of it is fleeting and of little or no significance.

What is the food that endures? Lives changed, people drawn into the kingdom of God, people moved to live according to His purposes.

We are flooded with information from those who would push us to work for the former instead of the latter. We get those messages pouring into our email inboxes, into our living rooms via the TV, and into our brains via social media sites of all kinds. Buy this course and you’ll never have to work at that drudge job again. Spend this money now and be earning six figures a week in no time. Buy this item now and happiness will be yours forever.

But Jesus invites us to work for the food He will give us – food that will give us the purpose, the enthusiasm, the motivation to do His will in the world.

I wonder what His messages would be? Oh right, He’s already sent them. Messages like: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5).

And then there’s this one: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:31).

Good words to keep us focused on what is worth our time, our energy, our passion. Good words to help us focus on our true purpose on this earth.

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

So, have you looked in the fridge of your life lately? Are there a few things in there that need to be tossed out?

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Wishing I Could Be Jesus

Angel & Carolllers

I recently attended a funeral for a young man who died too soon, leaving a wife and three young girls. The sadness overwhelms at times and it makes me wish I could be Jesus, just for a few minutes, just long enough to say, as He did, “arise.”

But then, I realize that He doesn’t need me to do His work for Him. He has already done it. He has already said that wondrous, mysterious word and brought that young man into His kingdom, given him time to have a productive, full life here on this earth, and then brought Him home, to the place where he has wanted to be, as a believer in Christ.

Often things don’t seem right to us. The world seems off kilter and full of so much pain and suffering it overwhelms us at times. And we want to be Jesus. We want to snap our fingers and make it all better. But He has already been at work. He has a plan for this earth, for each one of us, a plan that goes far beyond what we could ever imagine. He told the Hebrew people that when they were in circumstances that were full of pain and suffering – their captivity in Babylon. Living as slaves they no doubt often cried out to God to bring them relief from all the suffering and pain they saw around them.

This was His answer – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

At this time of year some of us are in circumstances that are made even more difficult by all the joy and/or jollity around us. And sadness overwhelms.

Here are a few things we can do when that happens:

Look up. When we see all those decorated Christmas trees, look up. Look for the star or the angel on the top. And know Jesus is with you.

Look around. There are others who are struggling. Is there something you can do for them that will lighten their hearts, and yours?

Look ahead. Jesus has promised a bright future, and given us a way to know we are secure in his hand.

Yes, there are times I wish I could be Jesus. But then I remember – He is the Messiah, the Living God, our hope and our comfort. We don’t need anything else.