A Taste of Heaven in the Holy City

Photo by Marcia Lee Laycock

We had been in Israel for some time and I was getting a little tired of visiting all the cathedrals and churches our tour guide led us too, but on this particular day he stopped at the entrance of St. Anne’s Cathedral and turned to us.

“If you like to sing,” he said, “this is the place to do it. The acoustics in this church are remarkable.”

I stepped over the stone threshold of the building and immediately my eyes lifted to the vaulted ceiling. The architect and builders had done their work well. The dome above seemed to float, every beam and arch leading the eye up toward heaven.

Then I heard the singing and for a moment I thought I was there. The sound seemed to come from everywhere at once. I could not understand the words but I recognized the hymn. As our tour group crowded in behind me I stepped forward and saw that the source of the beautiful sound was a quartet – four Korean men standing in the centre of the sanctuary, directly below that magnificent dome.

Almost as though we had been directed by a choir master, we all began to sing. “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, and there proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

We had just begun the chorus when another group, from South America stepped in and joined us, singing in Portuguese. Then another group, this time singing in Spanish. My heart and soul swelled as I envisioned that day when we will all stand before our Messiah.

To see His face; Oh, to see His face! To be in heaven in the presence of this kind of pure and powerful unity – the longing was overwhelming, and I began to weep.

As we quietly left that place, the scripture I had read that morning, Hebrews 12: 22 -29, sang in my mind – “But you have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Finding Your Way Home

Image by dave canning from Pixabay

I was returning to Canada, on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when I had the first dream. As most dreams are, it was confusing, full of images and scraps of sound that, though vivid and realistic were disjointed and without logical sequence. I had another similar dream on the bus taking me to my hometown back in Canada, then another on the train north, taking me to the isolated fishing lodge where I was to work for the summer. The dreams were full of foreign scenes – orange-tiled roofs and dark-skinned children from Spain, cheese shops and narrow streets from France, soaring mountains and towering cathedrals from Switzerland.       

The trip from Lisbon to my destination in northern Ontario took about 36 hours. By the time I arrived I was disoriented, but had no time to think about it. I went to work immediately and didn’t have a chance to relax until later that day when I went for a swim. Floating on a small raft, I soon was dozing in the warm sun. Again, dreams filled my mind with disorienting images and sounds. Then my foot slipped off the raft into the icy water. I woke with a start, staring at a landscape that shocked me. There were no red-tiled roofs or foreign languages, no Gothic cathedrals or cobblestone streets. My eyes opened to rugged cliffs and swaying pines. I knew I was not in Spain, but where was I? Then I realized, “Oh. Canada. I’m home.” Home – the place where I was safe, where everything was familiar – the landscape, the culture, the language.

We all need that place called home. We need to know we are safe and surrounded by what is familiar. But sometimes we can feel as though we are living in a foreign land, surrounded by strangers speaking words we can’t understand. Sometimes we feel so out of place that every day is a struggle, a battle to believe we belong. The battle is real because the truth is we don’t belong. We weren’t made to live in this world of corruption and chaos. We were made to live in a climate of joy and praise, in the presence of God. Anything less will make us feel disjointed, out of place. Anything less will leave us with a longing for home.

Our home is not a place, not a city nor a country field, not a valley nor a mountaintop. Our home is with God.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1,2,NIV).

Peace with God brings us home, no matter where we are, no matter what our circumstances. Jesus brings us to that place. Follow Him and He’ll lead you home.

Been There, Done That, Burnt the Tshirt

The Cross

My daughter’s eyes glistened with tears that were about to spill over. “I just feel like I’m never good enough for you!” She blurted.

My husband had just been chastising her for her messy room, but those words stung him to the heart. He gathered Katie in his arms and assured her that he still loved her, would always love her, no matter what. Then he helped her clean up her room.

Many of us feel that we aren’t good enough. The thought may come when we fail in some way, or when we see “friends” go off together, leaving us alone, or when we are passed over for a promotion at work or an award we felt we deserved. There are many circumstances in life that make our heads drop and our shoulders slump as our self esteem sinks to new depths. These feelings can lead to frustration, anger and even depression. The pressure to be perfect is self-defeating. You know you can’t do it. You know you never will. So what’s the point in even trying?

But, the good news is, as a famous theologian once said, God knows us best yet loves us most. He knows all our failings and weaknesses, all our bad motivations and self-serving decisions, yet He still, as my husband did with our daughter that day, wraps us in His arms and tells us he loves us, no matter what.

He can do that because, when we acknowledge Him as our Saviour and Lord we are able to receive His forgiveness. Then He wipes away all that is flawed and ugly in our lives. He took all of it away the day he was nailed to a cross in a faraway place called Palestine, over 2,000 years ago. In the moment we accept the forgiveness He offers us through that ultimate sacrifice, He clothes us in His righteousness. We become holy, not because of what we do, but because of what He has done. That’s why he was able to tell that thief on the cross beside Him that He would see Him in Paradise that day. The man was forgiven because of his faith in the One whose sacrifice tore the curtain in the temple and made the very ground tremble.

Once we grasp that concept, the self-deprecating feelings of never being good enough fade away. When we understand the depth of His love none of our failings can defeat us. When we know we are loved and accepted we are able to lift our heads and straighten our shoulders. We are good enough for God. Nothing else matters.

Jesus didn’t die for those who were already perfect and righteous. He died for the ungodly. He died for you and me.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

 

What’s Holding You Back?

City on Fire

I glanced at my cell phone, pleased to see it was our youngest daughter. “I need some advice,” she said.   My heart fluttered just a bit as I put the phone on speaker so my husband could listen too. My fears were quickly dispelled when she said she’d been offered another job, in another city. We listened as she explained the situation, giving us the pros and cons to leaving or staying in her current position.

“It’s a good opportunity,” she said.

“But?” My husband responded.

“But I like where I am now, like the people, like my church, like my friends.”

Those were all good and valid reasons to keep her there. “But what do you sense God saying?” he asked.

My daughter was quiet for a moment. “I think He wants me to stay,” she said. “So I guess it’s a no brainer. I’m staying put.”

There’s a story in the Bible, in Genesis 18, about a family that had to decide weather to leave or stay.  It’s a well known story about the destruction of a city and the warning God gave to that family. He sent three angels to tell them to leave. Some of them refused to go. Lot and his wife and two daughters left only when the angels took them by the hand and led them out of the city.

It made me wonder why they hesitated. It’s hard to know what was in their minds, but I’m thinking their prosperity in that place was probably a big factor. Lot and his family had become comfortable where they were, in spite of the fact that the city was so full of evil God wanted to destroy it.  

That begs another question. How could a “righteous man” be comfortable in such a place? No doubt Lot’s life was full of testing and compromise. You can’t live in the midst of evil and not be affected by it. Yet he was reluctant to leave. Was it fear of the unknown? Was it doubt that God would really destroy the city? Or doubt that He would really take care of them if they left? Or was it simply that he liked where he was too much to leave.

It’s a frightening thing to think that we would like living in a place of sin but sadly, we all do. We like our “momentary pleasures.” We like our secret fantasies and those things that taste sweet in our mouths. We like our sin too much to leave it.

But God is faithful. He will lead us out of it, if we let Him. Staying where we are will lead to death – the death of spiritual life. Moving forward in obedience, in repentance, is the only thing that will lead to life.

What’s holding you back?

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Love Transforms, Love Demands

heartredwhite

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.

 

Be Mine

heartredwhite

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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I Am Not a Writer

light-on-the-path
Light on the Path

For many years, indeed, for as long as I can remember, my identity has been totally and inextricably bound up in being a writer. It’s not just what I am, I told myself, it’s who I am. Sadly, over the years, that perception led me to a place that was filled with stress and burden. In fact, it became like a prison in a way, a prison of my own making.

Today I am declaring (with thanks to Ted Dekker), that no, indeed, I am not a writer. Every time those words enter my consciousness I feel the chains fall away. I don’t have to produce. I don’t have to publish. I don’t have to succeed. It is not who I am.

I am, in fact, a daughter of my Father in Heaven, the King of this universe who demands nothing of me but that I accept His forgiveness, return His love and let that love flow through me to others.

Yes, I believe He has given me the task of writing as a means to spread that love and a way to discover more and more about Him myself, but writing is what I do, not who I am. It’s all a matter of perspective. When my perspective is correct, I am free to be who I was meant to be and then to do what I was meant to do with joy and a sense of freedom. When my perspective is not correct, what I do becomes a chore – I worry about marketing and sales instead of praying for the hearts and minds of my readers; I fear not being able to produce the work I should (the blank page terrifies me); when someone points out a mistake in a published piece I feel humiliated; when my work is rejected I become depressed; when I don’t win a contest or award I become angry and cynical.

Yes, I admit, all of these things were happening to me. I knew these feelings were wrong, I struggled against them, but I couldn’t deny they were real. And all of it was beginning to crush my creativity. It became a struggle to produce. The joy was being bled away.

So, it may seem like a counter-productive thing to do, but I have decided to declare this statement to myself every morning when I sit down at my computer: I am not a writer. I am the daughter of my Father in Heaven who loves me. Nothing else matters. When those words have sunk deep into my soul, then, and only then, will I write.

So, will you join me?

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22,23).

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

abstract-painted-heart-doodles

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.

 

 

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.