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).

A Simple Grace

SeedsThere are times when trying to wrap my head around all the difficult theological issues in the Bible gives me a headache. There is so much I don’t understand, so much that seems incomprehensible, so much that etches a thin line around my tiny speck of faith.

But then there are moments, like a while ago, when I sat with a cup of good coffee in front of a comforting fireplace and watched as a tiny girl dressed in a red snowsuit skated an elegant loop around the pond across the street. And I am so thankful for all the small graces, the atoms of hope that form and design my days like the multitude of pixels in a digital photograph.

I don’t need to understand all the theological questions, though it is good to stretch my brain to try. All I need is that simple faith, the smallest drop of faith, as the scripture says, even as much as the size of a mustard seed.

Jesus compared His kingdom to that mustard seed as He wandered the roads and byways of Jerusalem and beyond. He said, “It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches” (Luke 13:19).

Notice the parts to this little story. The man took the seed – he was willing to receive something from God. Then he planted it – he took action and used what God had given him. As a result the plant grew into what God had intended it to be. And finally, the birds came and made it their own – the plant was useful and appreciated.

I love that last phrase – it’s one of those atoms of hope for me because it speaks of purpose and usefulness and blessing. That tiny seed buried in the earth resulted in a flourishing plant, part of a beautiful garden that brought joy and peace to those around it. That gives me hope for the tiny seeds I have spread and planted in my lifetime. I may not even be aware of most of them, but God can use them to bring about His purposes.

Can we see a parallel in our lives? What it is that God wants to give us that will follow the same pattern? Has he offered you the ability to teach, to write, to speak? Has he offered you what you need to nourish your children and family for the future? Has he gifted you with a personality that He intends to use to attract people to Him? Has he opened the doors of heaven and invited you to be a prayer warrior?

What steps do we need to take to make ourselves open to receive these small graces? The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:21 – “Those who cleanse themselves … will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”

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.

 

 

A Piece of My Heart

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A Dramatic Sky

Anyone who has traveled has felt it. Many of us have said it and heard it said: “That place has a piece of my heart.”

I felt that way a few days ago when a friend sent me a link to a video about a Bible dedication in Papua New Guinea. It shows a man praying as his village is about to receive God’s word in their own language for the first time. My husband and I had the privilege of attending two Bible dedications while we lived in PNG and both were experiences I’ll never forget. Seeing the emotions and heart-felt response of the people to the scriptures was inspiring.

When I received the video and saw it streaming with no sound for the first few moments, I was immediately taken back to that place – the sights, the smells, the sounds. I remembered the chanting of the men who surrounded our plane as we landed in the village, singing a song of welcome both to us and to their new Bible. I remembered the old woman carrying the first box of Bibles in her bilum (string bag) and being told she had been given the privilege because she had prayed for this moment for many years. I remembered the look on a young man’s face as he clasped his Bible to his breast and said thank you.  

I was a little surprised at the intensity of these memories as I watched the video. It’s been twenty years since we lived there. But yes, a piece of my heart is still there and there are times when I long to go back.

I’ve felt a yearning like that at other times too, a yearning for heaven. It has hit at odd times, at a funeral once, in the middle of a magnificent forest another time, as I stared at an incredibly beautiful sunset not long ago. That longing surprises me because, unlike Papua New Guinea, I’ve never been to heaven. But a piece of it has been placed in my heart, because One who lives there has put His Spirit in my heart. And I long to be where He is.

Some day I hope to go back to PNG. Friends are working on a translation of the New Testament that will be done soon and it’s one of the things on my bucket list to get there when they dedicate it to God. I hope that happens, but there is no guarantee.

Some day I hope to get to heaven, and thanks be to God, I do have a guarantee that day will come. Jesus Himself has promised to meet me there. The said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). 

Yes, there’s a piece of my heart in heaven and one day my heart will be made whole again.

 

 

 

 

Happy All the Day?

PJM_2238

We used to sing an old hymn in the small church where I became a believer. It had some great truths in it, truths about what happens at the moment you decided to ask Jesus to be your Saviour and Lord. The hymn itself was written by Isaac Watts way back in the 18th century. But the chorus was added later, by a man named Ralph Hudson, in the late 19th century. It’s the chorus I had trouble with.

It reads: At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away – it was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day.

That last phrase always made me stop singing because it just wasn’t true. I’m not often “happy all the day.”

But there are times when Jesus sure does make me smile.

Like the other day in our tiny church when a woman struggling to pay her mortgage told us about talking to a bank representative who said, in a lovely French accent, “You just have to trust God, Madame.” My friend just about dropped the phone. She had been thinking a lot about that very thing. How could a bank representative in Montreal know what a woman in central Alberta had been thinking? She couldn’t. But Jesus could and does.

Or the time I wasn’t able to get up off the couch in my living room because of the chemo treatment I’d been given. It was a long grey week until a beam of light slipped in and touched a tiny spider plant, making it’s small white blossoms glow and flooding my heart with hope. I knew it was Jesus, just letting me know He was there.

Or the time we were about to advertise a washing machine for sale. My husband felt God telling him to give it away, so he called a neighbour and asked if she might be able to use it. She choked up on the phone. Her washing machine hadn’t been working for over a week and she had no money to replace it. “How did you know?” she asked.

And the “coincidental” fact that several people became part of our congregation just as we were able to purchase a building – people with certain skills, like a realtor, a builder, an electrician, a cabinet maker, just to name a few.

And then there are those emails that come from all over the country and beyond, telling me that something I wrote was “just what I needed to hear today.” And that question, again, “How did you know?”

And then there are those many answers to prayers that are only between me and Him.

No, I’m not “happy all the day.” But Jesus sure does know how to make me smile now and then.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, … to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations…” (Ephesians 3:20).

 

Enough

Nativity sculpture

It was a small cast of characters, but it was enough.

There was an ordinary man, a carpenter, forced to take his very pregnant young wife on a long journey just when she was about to give birth. The imposed census had made refugees out of everyone in their country so the small town was overflowing with weary travelers. Their accommodations that night were rough but the heat from the animals would keep them warm and it would be enough.

There were the shepherds, hunkered down in the fields with the bleating of their sheep around them. Perhaps they had a small fire going – enough to keep the chill of the night at bay. And then there was that angel. Just one, but it was enough to make those shepherds shake with fear until he told them why he was there – to tell them “tidings of great joy.” And then, just to emphasize the point, a “great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God …” (Luke 2:13). That was enough to make those shepherds want to find out if what the angel had told them was really true. It was easy to find the place – the light of that unusually bright star was enough.

It was enough too, for those strangers who came, later. Rich men, they were, with enough resources to give expensive gifts to a small baby found in very humble circumstances. Perhaps they wondered if they really should, but seeing that star stop in that specific place was enough of a sign for them. They laid the gifts by the manger and worshiped the tiny king wrapped in swaddling cloths. The expensive gifts would be enough to carry him and his family to safety in Egypt.

Yes, it was a small cast of ordinary characters playing out the greatest drama ever known to mankind that clear night in Bethlehem. Did they know He would be enough? Did they know that His birth would become so renowned it would be enough for men to make it the pivot of history? Did they know that when he had grown into a man just a touch from his hands would be enough to make blind men see? Did they know that the words from His mouth would be enough to calm a raging sea and raise the dead? Did they understand that He was the One whose death would be enough to wipe their sins away, enough to cause the gates of heaven to be opened and the curtain to the holy of holies ripped in two?

Perhaps they did not completely understand, but the light of the world had come and yes, those men would learn, as millions more beyond them through the centuries, that Jesus is enough.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government wil be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of this government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6).

A Perfect Choice

Mary

Have you ever wondered, “Why me?” It’s usually something we think when things aren’t going well, when we feel like we’ve been singled out for some misfortune. It’s a rare thing to think of this question in terms of being chosen for a special honor, being singled out for some blessing.

I wonder if Mary asked herself, “Why me?” After the angel Gabriel was gone, after the startling moment when he announced her destiny, I wonder if she went home and wondered why she of all women was chosen for such an honor? I imagine the glow from that angel lasted for some time. I imagine it was a long time before Mary was concerned about the negative side of things. Perhaps she never was. Perhaps that’s why she was chosen.

Mary was ready to receive whatever God had for her. She didn’t try to get out of it, as Moses did when he pleaded with God to choose someone else for the job (Exodus 3:11- 4:13). She didn’t ask for another sign, as Gideon did when God called him to fight against a mighty army (Judges 8:36-40). She put no conditions on her obedience, as Barak did when God told him He was going to give him victory over his enemy (Judges 4:8). Mary didn’t doubt, as Zehariah did when Gabriel appeared to him and told him he would soon have a son (Luke 1:18). She simply agreed to do what God wanted her to do, no matter how impossible or difficult it seemed. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she said (Luke 1:38)

The angel Garbriel addressed Mary as “you who are highly favored” (Luke 1:28). The Greek word used for highly favored, “charitoo,” is used only one other time in the New Testament. It is used in reference to the body of believers, in Ephesians 1:6. The word literally means filled with grace, freely bestowed with all the richness of God – His love, His mercy, His grace and His power. We, like Mary, are God’s perfect choice for the job at hand. How do we respond to such a name? Are we pleading to God to accomplish His will through someone else, like Moses, or asking for more, like Gideon, or putting conditions on our service, like Barak?

God became one of us, to show us how to respond. He became a man to help us understand that we are highly favored, full of grace. This astounding fact is hard to live with. We are much more inclined to react with fear and doubt. But if we, like Mary, see ourselves in the right perspective, as servants standing in the glow of angels, as men and women not only bowing before the cradle of Christ but in the shadow of the cross, we can and will fulfill our destiny.

And then, like Mary, we will say, “My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1: 46-47).