Untimely

Sept. SnowIf you live anywhere in Alberta Canada right now you’re probably moaning. We had our first heavy snow in September. The ground is layered with the white stuff again and it’s only the first few days of October. And more is on the way. Looks like we’re in for a very long winter. Again.

It seems it’s harder to take when it’s untimely, doesn’t it? It leaves us feeling that it’s somehow  unfair. We don’t deserve this. Who’s got their hands on the controls anyway? And what does he have against us?

When life throws us the unexpected curve ball we usually look around for someone to blame. That someone is often God. After all, he could change things. He could reverse the disaster, stop the car accident, change our boss’s mind and even perform a miracle for all to see. So why doesn’t He do it?

Scripture tells us He will, doesn’t it? We’ve memorized some of the verses like Psalm 34:19 & 20 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken.”  Or Psalm 91:15 – “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”

The great theologian Matthew Henry says: “No substantial injury occurs to the saints. Their real self is safe; they may have flesh wounds, but no part of the essential fabric of their being shall be broken.”

So what is our “real self?” As Matthew Henry suggests, it is not our corporeal body but our spiritual essence. That, once it is sealed in Christ at the moment of salvation, can never be broken. And that’s all that matters.

James 4:14 tells us that our life “is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” But our souls are eternal. There the true treasure lies, for there God resides. And when trouble comes, as it surely will and often in an untimely manner, being able to turn to that God, not to blame Him but to draw strength from Him, is an astounding gift. This is how people like Joni Erickson Tada can still praise God even though she was paralyzed in a tragic accident when just a teenager. It’s how Daniel Ritchie, a man born without arms can say, after reading Pslam 139, “I was no longer who people said I was. I was who God said I was,” he says. “It was at this time that something even more amazing happened.  I began to see others as wonderful, too.”

Yes, we may feel cheated and angry when life dumps the unexpected on us, but breaking through that sense of entitlement and bitterness to the realization that God has a deep and enduring plan for our life, even when it feels like it’s been torn apart, will lead us to a life truly worth living.

 

 

 

When Things Heat Up

Fountain

“Whew, it’s hot out there!” We’ve been hearing that phrase a lot lately as the thermometer keeps rising. Many areas have seen record breaking heat waves in the past while. It has meant that we are keeping our blinds drawn and our water bottles full.

I’ve never been a heat-loving person. I was raised in northern Ontario (no, I don’t mean one hour north of Toronto, I mean at the meeting point of two of the biggest Great Lakes, Huron and Superior). Then I moved to the Yukon, just a short distance from the Arctic Circle. When it was suggested that we pick Papua New Guinea as our destination during my husband’s sabbatical year, I wrinkled my nose. That’s tropical, isn’t it? No, no, no. I don’t like heat.

But God has a way of getting us to where He can work with us, so we began making the necessary preparations to leave for PNG. One of those items was a visit to the mission’s doctor to begin the series of inoculations we would need before leaving. He was a chatty fellow and asked how I was feeling about this idea. I admitted I was worried about the heat. “I get head aches,” I told him.

He shook his head. “You Canadians! You just don’t drink enough!”

“Excuse me?”

“Water,” he said. “Drink enough water and you won’t get headaches.”

Could it really be that easy, I wondered? It didn’t take long to discover how correct that doctor had been. As long as we drank enough water we were able to tolerate the heat reasonably well.

That memory made me think of a wonderful story in the Bible about the necessity of drinking water – the kind of water that leads to eternal life. The story is in the book of John, chapter 4. Jesus had been travelling and stopped to rest by a well. When a woman came to draw water, He asked her for a drink. The woman was startled for two reasons – she was a woman and she was a Samaritan woman. Both would ordinarily prevent a Jewish man from even acknowledging her existence, let alone speaking to her.

Then this – “Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13, 14).

Intrigued, the woman wanted to know more but Jesus had more to teach her. He revealed His true identity to her and within minutes she not only had a new purpose, but her life was changed forever as was the lives of many in her village because of her testimony.

Living water – the teachings of Jesus are indeed a “fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” And we have access to that living water any time we want it.

Yes. It really is that easy.

 

 

All of Us are Hungry

bread

All of Us Are Hungry by Marcia Lee Laycock

I grinned as the commercial advertisement began. I’d seen variations of it many times on TV. They always involve well-known celebrities, and the scenario is the same. I especially liked the one in which actor Robin Williams appears in the middle of a football huddle and tells the players to “get out there and make balloon animals” and “kill them with kindness.” Then someone hands him a Snickers™ chocolate bar. When he takes a bite he turns back into the real football coach. I also like the one in which Mr. Bean lands in trouble with a bunch of Ninja Warriors until he eats the chocolate bar and becomes one of them again. The tag line is always the same: ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry.’

The first time I saw one of these commercials I thought of a time during my first pregnancy. I hadn’t had much for breakfast one Sunday morning and by the time our church service was over, all I could think about was the fact that I needed to put something in my stomach. My husband and I went to a local restaurant and ordered quickly. Then he began talking about our finances. I tried in vain to follow the conversation, to no avail. Finally, I said, “I can’t wrap my brain around anything, especially our finances, until I’ve had something to eat!” There have been occasions since that time when my husband has jokingly said, “I think you need a Snickers™ bar.”

When you get right down to it, we are all hungry for the same things – love, acceptance, fulfillment. None of us will feel that we are able to live up to our true potential until we feel that those longings have been satisfied.

This has application in our spiritual lives as well. In one of his recent sermons my husband put it like this: “You can’t know yourself until you know Jesus.” It is only by getting to know Jesus that we begin to understand who we truly are as His dearly loved children. None of us can be our true selves until we are filled with the Spirit of Christ. Then and only then are we free to become our true selves, a being created in His image. Like the various characters in that TV commercial, it is by taking in, ‘eating’ His word that we grow in that understanding. Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”

Wandering around in a state of constant hunger is neither good for our physical nor spiritual selves. We need to be fed. We have been provided with a bountiful banquet of spiritual food that will sustain us. All we have to do is open a Bible and read.

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).

I’m Sorry

Maybe it’s because the winter has been hanging on, the spring has been long in coming, and the fact that the blizzard on Good Friday prevented my girls from all being home for Easter, that I’ve slumped into a bit of a pity party lately.

To be honest, that party has been dragging on too, like this winter. I recently sent out a newsletter to twenty-some wonderful people who agreed to pray for me and my writing/speaking ministry and I just whined and whined. The discouragements have gotten the better of me lately.

I was in the midst of my ‘poor me’ thought processes the other day, when we skyped with the refugee family we are hoping to sponsor. They looked and sounded like they’ve been through a long winter too. But they’re in Bangkok. Living in a 12 x 14 foot room with three kids who can’t go outside for fear of all kinds of evil. No, there’s no winter in Bangkok. Just tyrants and brutal police and overcrowded detention centres and millions – yes, millions – of refugees who can’t go home because it’s worse there.

I’ve been on the edge of tears for weeks, for my own selfish reasons, but when this lovely, intelligent, gentle soul leaned forward and said quietly, “Please, we beg you, if something happens to us, please, please, take care of our children…” my breath caught in my throat and my silent groans, for once, were not for myself.

So I need to say I’m sorry. To you who have prayed for me, to you who tried to make me smile and you who have wondered why I haven’t, to all those whose suffering is real and unimaginable, and most of all to my God.

Forgive me.

I will try to do better in the days ahead.

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.