Moving Forward in Faith

Lisbon street

 

I’ve never been much of a planner. When writing, I rarely outline the story. I do eventually make a timeline of sorts, once I get into it, but that’s about it. I love the excitement of not knowing where I’m going.

Both in writing and in life, this can have some interesting consequences. Many times I’ve ended up in places I would never have even thought about, let alone planned for. When I was travelling in Portugal many years ago, for instance, I was sitting by a fountain looking at a map when a young man approached and asked what I was looking for. I told him I wanted to go to the Castle of San Jorge. He offered to take me there. Yes, I did hesitate for a moment, but, being a rather naïve university student at the time, I agreed. The young man said he would take me a way that no tourists would normally go. That sounded exciting.

It wasn’t until I found myself in the oldest part of Lisbon, moving through streets so narrow the sun did not reach them, and surrounded by loitering men, dirty, raucous children and old women cooking on open braziers, that I realized perhaps I should have thought more carefully before saying yes. All was well in the end, we ascended a steep stone stairway and emerged into bright sunlight, at the gates of the castle.

It was only in looking back at that time that I realized what a risk I had taken. And I thank the Lord for His protection. I was of the mindset that I could take such risks because I believed God would protect me. Perhaps I should have remembered an old Irish proverb – “Trust God but don’t dance in a small boat!”

In life, as in writing, it is wise to be at least a little bit prudent in planning for the future. Yes, God will lead and direct and we should trust Him, but we should also realize that He gave us a mind with which to think, and plan. This doesn’t mean that we make plans and than ask God to bless them, but rather that we open our minds, our eyes and our ears to see and hear what God might be planning for us. If we are attentive, we will discover that He is leading and guiding in all aspects of our lives, confirming the direction in many ways.

When I get an idea, in life, or in writing, I let it sit for a while, watch for further direction and advice that might come from other believers, or from the reading of God’s word, or some other reliable source. Then I move forward in faith and confidence and see where He will take me.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

As we move into 2018, why not discover the excitement of not knowing where you’re going?

 

Advertisements

Did Someone Say Christmas?

Did Someone Say ChristmasPhoto by Kimberley McClafflin

Yes, I’m looking forward to it. I love all that Christmas is, and symbolizes. I love the tree with its tinsel and baubles; I love the presents tucked under it; I love the lights that decorate it, and I love the food – turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing and of course, home made pumpkin pie. I most especially love the fact that my family will gather to enjoy all these things with me.

All of these things are wonderful, yet they can be a distraction from the real message of Christmas and I wondered how I could connect them in my mind with the truths of the season.

The tree, for instance. Not all Christmas trees have needles. One of the most beautiful Christmas trees I’ve ever seen was a spindly birch decorated with tiny white lights. That tree often reminds me that Christmas is not the same for all people – many have different traditions and ways of celebrating the birth of the Saviour, but the Christ came for all, no matter their nationality, language or ethnicity.

As I thought about the lights of Christmas, I remembered that Jesus called himself the Light of the world in John 8:12. Isaiah 60:1 tells us to “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” John calls Jesus the true light that gives light and Ephesians 5:8 tells us we ourselves are “now light in the Lord.”

And the Lord himself is our food, our nourishment. He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry…” (John 6:35). “For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).

And what about the presents? We know Jesus was God’s gift to us, a gift that ‘keeps on giving’ because once we have sought his forgiveness and accepted the sacrifice he made for us, He lives in us. If you have not accepted Jesus as your brother, your friend, your saviour, you have left a priceless gift unopened. That gift is offered to us all at no cost. All you have to do is say yes. Christmas gives us all a new opportunity to celebrate the gift of God’s Son, the gift of the forgiveness He has offered to us.

The tree, the lights, the food, the presents. As I began to connect all the trappings of Christmas to the truths of Christmas, I realized that it’s just a matter of seeing what is really right in front of us at any given time, and connecting it to the mercy and love of Christ.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given … And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Front coverChristmas_Cover_for_Kindle  Love in the Room & Christmas are now available on Amazon or from the author. Email vinemarc@telus.net

 

 

 

The Light Within

Small Pond 2
Small Pond

The Light Within

The view outside my living room window was pretty – golden trees reflected in shimmering still water, a rippling line left now and then by the resident muskrat or slow-moving duck. The picture, though always changing, has become quite ordinary to me, but as I watched on this particular day, the morning light moved steadily across the pond and began to light the tall poplar trees as they waved golden leaves in the breeze. The light, that seemed to somehow come from within, turned the ordinary scene into a glorious show of colour.

I couldn’t help but think of a dear friend and brother in Christ, who had just passed away in a tragic accident. I remembered the day my husband led him to Christ, at an evening Bible study. They were down on their knees in a small apartment, surrounded by people he didn’t know, yet his desire to know God gave him courage to say, yes, he wanted to ask Jesus to be part of his life, right then and right there. The change in our friend Bruce became immediately obvious. He went from being an “okay guy” who was a little rough around the edges, to being one remarkable by his constant smile and eagerness to help anyone in need. That’s what he was doing on the day he died.

Like those trees outside my window, Bruce went from ordinary to extraordinary because the light of Christ had entered his life, making his witness glow from the inside out. During the days after his death, as the news spread, we constantly heard stories of how Bruce’s smile had brightened the day, or his helping hands had made a significant difference in someone’s life. He became a living example of the scripture that says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Bruce was not a rich man. He didn’t leave a lot behind, but he left a sure and wonderful legacy – the desire instilled in us all to be like him. Like Jesus himself, Bruce’s humility and genuine love for others left us pondering how we too might act in the same way. His sudden absence has a left a hole in our lives but we know it will be filled again when, one day, we will see Bruce in all his glory, standing with the other saints beside his Saviour.

Bruce was a gift to us, to our church, to our community. His is a story that I am pleased to tell, as a writer of faith. I am encouraged that there are many more lives that glow from the inside out, lives whose stories are testaments of unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. I am blessed that I have been tasked to tell them, be they the stuff of real life, or the elements of fiction.

As a long-ago writer, Frederick M. Lehman, said in the old song, The Love of God –

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made;

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the loved of God above

Would drain the oceans dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.”

 

A Message Just For One

An interviewer once asked Mother Theresa why she gave her time and energy, indeed her whole life, in the face of the millions in need. The misery was so pervasive, the interviewer purported, how could she possibly hope to change it? I found it fascinating that, at first, the tiny woman did not understand the question. Her focus was so fixed on the dignity of each human being that even if she could help only one, she believed it was worth giving her whole life. I believe that is the focus of Christ. He says it himself in the story of the lost sheep – the shepherd leaves those who are safe to rescue the one that is lost.

I once thought about what it would be like to be lost while walking through the jungle in Papua New Guinea. It made me shiver, even in that tropical heat, to think about trying to find my own way in that place. The jungle was thick with hidden dangers – vipers, poisonous spiders and centipedes, sago swamps full of thorns the size of stiletto knives and leaches almost as big. I had no idea which plants were edible and which were deadly. I had no idea where to find fresh water. I had no idea which of the many paths would lead to a safe place and which would lead deeper into danger. I did know that in only a few short hours darkness would descend and I didn’t even want to think about all the things that would come out then! But because I had a guide to lead me, that walk through the jungle was like a stroll in a park. Well, almost.

Consider one who is spiritually lost. He’s in a frightening place full of hidden dangers, unknown paths and lack of nourishing food and water. It’s a place of constant stress, with nowhere to turn, no way out. Then the guide shows up – suddenly there is someone to point out the pitfalls, someone to shine a light on the path, someone opening a door into a comfortable room with a feast spread out on the table. Imagine the sense of relief as the lost one follows the direction and accepts the hospitality of the rescuer. Imagine the peace.

As people of faith we too are like guides in a jungle full of dangers. We have the means within our hands, within our stories, within our lives, to lead others to a safe place, a place full of light and living water. Eugene Peterson has said, “We live in narrative, we live in story. Existence has a story shape to it.” And so, it is within story – our story, that love, nobility and truth live, waiting to be revealed and understood.

And even if only one makes it safely through the jungle of life because of something you have said, or shown them, or written, that is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Of Fish and Crushed Dreams

Fishing

We are all dreamers. We dream of the future – where we might live or travel to, of times with our children or grand-children, perhaps even of accolades and awards. Sometimes it feels like our dreams are close to coming true. But sometimes our dreams are crushed. Our life looks like nothing but a pile of pointless efforts. Sometimes all the sacrifices seem to have been for nothing and we come close to giving up on all the dreams.

I think that was the state the disciples were in, when Jesus was crucified. The hardest day in their lives was probably the day before the resurrection – that very long day when they were in hiding, fearing that they too might end up on a cross.

Imagine the dreams the disciples had – dreams perhaps of the glory and acclaim they would have as his disciples when they came into their own in his new kingdom. It was an earthly kingdom they were dreaming of, that did not include the brutal rule of the Romans.

Imagine what they’d sacrificed – they’d left their homes, families, their livelihoods – the fishing nets that supplied their food; in Matthew’s case, the money collection stall that made him wealthy; in Luke’s case, a fulfilling and lucrative medical practice. They’d allowed Jesus to turn their lives upside down. And now what? He was gone and it looked like it had all been for nothing.

No wonder Peter said, “I’m going fishing” (John 21:1). He’d given up on the dreams. He didn’t know what to do with himself, so he went back to what he knew – casting his nets, and he took some of the other disciples with him.

But look at what happened – in the last part of vs. 3 of John 21 it says, “but that night they caught nothing.” Then, early in the morning, when they were heading back to shore empty handed, a man calls out to them – “friends, haven’t you caught any fish?”

Imagine the tone of their voices when they say no. But the stranger tells them to throw their nets on the right side of their boat. And you know what happened. The nets were so full they couldn’t haul them in and then they recognize Jesus.

I love this next part. Jesus has made a fire and is cooking fish. When the disciples arrive, he says, “Bring some of the fish you have caught.” I can just imagine their bewilderment as they struggled to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them.

I think he was trying to tell them that he had more for them to do than just catching fish, more for them to be concerned about than just making a living. He was telling them He would provide for them. The story wasn’t over. In fact, it was just beginning.

Noted author and counsellor, Larry Crabb wrote – “God is always working to make His children aware of a dream that remains alive beneath the rubble of every shattered dream, a new dream that when realized will release a new song, sung with tears, till God wipes them away and we sing with nothing but joy in our hearts.”

Yes, sometimes our dreams can look like their dead, but lift up your head. Jesus is there, with a better plan.

Sign Up to receive the Spur by email http://eepurl.com/BOkO1

Three Things

Gorillaby Marcia Lee Laycock

It’s somewhere in Africa. A young woman sits cross-legged on the ground, surrounded by tall grass. She has been told to sit very still. She can hear snuffling noises and now and then a grunt. When the massive head of a gorilla pokes out between the grasses, she is tempted to leap up and run. But she has been told that would be disastrous so she sits quietly. The gorilla approaches, moves around her, touches her hair, sniffs her shoulder. She remembers the instructions she was given: “No sudden movements. Don’t make eye contact.” She tries not to think of what those massive hands and arms could do to her. She tries to relax her shoulders. Slowly.

Another gorilla approaches, then another. They investigate her, sit close by grooming one another before slowly ambling away. The young woman lets out her breath and smiles. The adrenalin coursing through her body makes her laugh out loud. She knows she has just won a great victory over fear.

I have spoken to many Christians lately who seem to be afraid. The world is changing around them and many of the changes go against their own beliefs and morals. Chaos seems to reign on all sides. They feel helpless, unable to control what is happening.

But Jesus has told us that He has “not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). It is these three that will help us overcome: power that comes from One who defeated death itself, love from One whose very nature is full of it, and a sound mind from One who has given us His own wisdom through His Holy Spirit.

Jesus Himself never fell prey to fear. He was willing to walk into the darkest of places, confront the darkest of enemies, because He knew that the One who was in Him was greater than all the world. We have the absolute assurance that that same One is in us, working through us and that nothing can stop His purposes from being accomplished on this earth.

God has promised to redeem His creation and one day all of it will be made whole again. There is the possibility of redemption of all that is ugly and evil and all that fights against God in this world, because of what happened on a cross at the base of a hill in a tiny country then called Palestine.

The good news is that He has given us a part to play in that redemption, given us work to do for His kingdom. That work cannot be done in a spirit of fear. 1 John 5:4 says – “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

This is the work we have been given to do: “Go therefore and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). May He find us faithful.

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10).