A SEASON OF CONTRAST
It is a cold evening as I make my way to the barn. The ground is covered with snow. Long gone are the magnificent colours of autumn days; winter is upon us. The water in the rabbit's cages begins to freeze before I have even left the barn and already three frozen ice buckets have cracked. I can just barely see the outlines of the sheep in the outside pen. Choosing to lie down on the icy cold frozen ground, their heads turn as they silently watch me enter into the barn. Maybe they are hoping they won't have to get up.
Once inside the barn, the sheep get up and stumble in as they realize that it may just be worth the effort. I offer up some icy cold water from the well but their eyes tell me this isn't what they had hoped for. Feeling guilty, I throw them a few flakes of hay to munch on.
Snack finished, the sheep move back outside and once again prepare to lie down on the frozen ground. It is more than just a skilful process but a moment to enjoy, watching as they drop to their knees, sliding each slender leg under their expansive bellies. Snuggling under their long fleece coats, they settle. "Sorry to have disturbed you."
Winter is a season of sharp contrasts. We hate it; yet it comes as an old friend with wonderful memories. Nothing escapes its impact. Despite its harshness, each new snowfall softens everything it touches, hiding the greys and browns of this time of year. On and around the farm, in the woods, the animals are warmed by their timely thickened coats. Its bleakness imposes times of warmth and comfort as family and friends gather around fires with hot chocolates, steaming cups of coffee, gentle conversations, gift giving...much like walking through cold uncomfortable times in our lives forces us to become intimate with the saviour. There is not a cold bleak place we can go where He has not been and felt also the paradox of winter. He came as a baby in a manger but reigns as a king. His words were simple but His message magnificent. He gave us a priceless gift in exchange for our simple hearts.
Like the surprises that lie hidden in the barren landscape of winter, God brings light into the darkness of our world, into our lives for those who patiently wait. His gentle loving presence will warm our hearts in the mid bleak winter of our lives. Through this bleakness, we see what is of true value. We will set aside that which we once loved. What we thought was of no value, becomes priceless- His presence, His comfort, His promises. He comes into our midst to bring us peace. Thank you Lord.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
They seemed energized by the new snowfall as dogs chased cats, cats chased rabbits. All was well until I spotted my barn cat Danny, crouched motionless beside a bush and on the other side of the bush, a rabbit quietly sat. I anticipated at any moment Danny would pounce and the struggle would begin. Danny is our favourite barn cat although we choose to ignore his passion for killing. Hoping to prevent this all being played out before my eyes, I yelled his name, sending Hank, my border collie, bounding out to investigate. I was able to get to the rabbit and realized he had already been victimized. On his cheek, the flesh was torn with blood spilling out onto the snow. As Danny had obviously missed in the first struggle, I believe his strategy was now to wait until the rabbit had weakened before proceeding. I swept up bunny to bring him inside, once again thinking how unfortunate...'another distraction in an already busy day.' I could see that I was going to have to rearrange my day. But was it really a distraction? Sometimes what we think are distractions, are purposeful events in our day, chosen for us to learn from and what we think is the inevitable: our obligations, schedules, things that consume us, are merely distractions.
I like what Cheryl from Transparent Shepherding says: Day to day thoughts and happenings often fall by the way-side untouched to reasoning behind it all. The book of Ecclesiastes says "...there is a time and purpose for everything under Heaven." To me this means nothing, NOTHING goes unnoticed by our Heavenly Father, no matter how large or small we may think it is. With this in mind, how much more should we consider (and reconsider) our every thought, action, reaction etc.
It does not matter as much whether all the thoughts and events of our day are God ordained but how we choose to deal with them. How do we decide what are the distractions in our day? I wish I could tell you but I do know that just that morning, the Lord had been impressing upon me to order my steps wisely. According to C.S. Lewis, when we choose to become a Christian, some of the things we want to do, turn out to be what we call wrong and we must give them up. Some of the things our self does not want to do, turns out to be right and we need to do them. So when all the demands have been met of this new life, we are hoping that the poor 'natural self' will still have some choices and time to get on with our life. It will always be a dilemma which causes us concern, uneasiness and guilt each day when we approach it this way. (Mere Christianity) However, Christ says to hand over that 'natural self' and He will give you a new self. Dare we give Him our whole self with all our wishes and desires?
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply to shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind." Mere Christianity
When things, people, ideas unexpectedly come our way as we happen upon our journey, and we see these as great interruptions to our lives; we have probably taken the new day we have placed in God's hands away from Him. He is no longer in charge and we are apt to get distracted.
There are times when the distractions in life are more than just annoying but place themselves squarely in our path as we attempt to go God's way. Feeling the call of God to the Lisu people of China, Isobel Kuhn pours her heart out to J.O. Fraser because her parents will not let her enter the mission field. He began by telling her how lonely the life of a missionary can be.
After he finished, she told him about her mother's determination to keep her at home, and he heard her out in silence. When it seemed that he wasn't going to say anything more, she ventured to ask if he would underline a verse in her bible to take along when she went to bible school-if the Lord opened the way. He turned to 1 Peter, chapter 5. Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist- He underlined the last words twice, then stared out across the ocean.
Finally he said, "Miss Miller, I have sensed that Satan is opposing you and working through your mother and your brother. We are taught "whom resist" when it comes to obstacles produced by the Devil. I think that this should be your stand. I have a prayer that I often use when I run into problems; If this obstacle be from Thee, Lord, I accept it; but if it be from Satan, I refuse him and all his works in the name of Calvary."
(Nothing Daunted. The Story of Isobel Kuhn)
Isobel was to remember this advise and it served her well at crucial times on the mission field to the Lisu people.
Well, my day was reordered, bunny was cared for, and Danny was...sigh...Danny disappeared into the woods to hunt yet again. I will feed him an extra large supper in hopes that he won't want rabbit for breakfast tomorrow. I had planned for three more blogs before Christmas but this one sneaked out- hoping that it was not a distraction.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Mr. Boberg was a Swedish pastor, editor and a member of the Swedish Parliament. One day while he was enjoying a walk, a sudden thunderstorm appeared out of nowhere. When the storm subsided, he looked out at the clear sky over the bay. Hearing a church bell in the distance, the words began to form in his heart:
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Through the peace following this fierce storm, God spoke into his heart, the words of this hymn which continues to speak to us today.
Several days after this story, I was travelling to church as I prayed for my friend and her unbelieving husband. The words of a hymn that I sang in my childhood came to me. It was a hymn I hadn't sung for many years and I had some difficulty remembering all the words. Finally after piecing them together, I remembered it to be, "My Faith Looks Up To Thee" by Ray Palmer (1808-1887)
My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou lamb of Calvary, Saviour divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day, be wholly Thine!
May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!
When life's dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow's tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.
When ends life's transient dream,
When death's cold sullen stream over me roll;
Blest Saviour, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!
Almost immediately, yet another memory came to me. When I was a child, in my home, on the top shelf in my front hall closet, was a beautifully patterned old cloth bag and inside this bag was a dozen worn and tattered blue hymnals. I was always drawn to this bag and when my mother wasn't home, I would climb to the top shelf and open it, examining these little blue hymnals with the tiny print. At intervals, the Women's Missionary Society would meet at our house. To prepare for this meeting, the house was scrubbed and polished until spotless; a white cloth perfectly ironed, was brought out; and the dining room table was set with the best teapot and an assortment of brightly patterned teacups, all carefully arranged. My mother's best baking was brought out at the last minute. Just before the ladies of the Missionary Society began to arrive, my father, sister and I were banished to the basement for the duration of the meeting. My sister and I monitored the progress of the meeting by the muted sounds coming down through the heat ducts. But our best moment came when the women opened those blue hymnals and began to sing loudly the hymns my sister and I knew well. That was our cue to giggle uncontrollably throughout each hymn selection. When the last of the singers left, my job was to pick up the hymnals and return them to the bag which I placed on the top shelf of the closet.
Shortly after, through a series of events, a letter came into my possession, written by Mr. Palmer, dated November 26th, 1870 and written from 49 Biblehouse, New York. In this letter, Mr. Palmer writes, " I had no thought of writing a hymn for others. It was born of my own soul-an experience of my profound feelings and finished I remember with tears at the time and I do not remember that any person ever saw it till two years later....I will only add that more than one instance has it come to my knowledge in which while reading this hymn, a soul has first received its redeemer and a very great number in which it has been the dying song of holy souls. For which all glory be to the dying Lamb himself who is the substance and charm of the piece."
A story, within a story, within a story and what is the common thread throughout? Today, God continues to speak through these words born out of solitude. Out of a thirsty heart longing, flows something powerful...feelings of love, words of love, deeds of love. The story has always been about one moment of honesty, one thirsty heart, one saviour, and one drop of blood. We see such a moment as Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross: "Today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke23:43) Longing was met with longing: one was of faith and the other of love.
My mother didn't share with me in words how she thirsted after God. Instead, as a child I remember how perfectly she prepared for these missionary meetings. I remember how she faithfully took us to church every week. I remember our family's commitment to God. I may have begun my search for God through my mother's faith but only alone could I have met him and then truly said:
My faith looks up to Thee,
O Lamb of Calvary, Saviour Divine!
Now hear me while I pray, Take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly thine!
For those loved ones that have yet to meet the Saviour... alone, in one honest moment, I pour my heart out in prayer that they would thirst after Him, that they would come to Him, that they would know His love. Amen.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I would soon trudge out to the barn through the mud to feed my sheep. I sometimes wonder why I love my life in the country with my animals. There is something satisfying for me about pulling on my smelly barn clothes and going out to the barn on what might look like a cold miserable December day...it isn't that at all. It is a secret...it is my secret. The sheep look up at me, waiting...waiting for me. They know me and I know them well. I study their stunning coats made of various colours and textures. I make sure to run my fingers through some of their coats as they pass by me. I stay to listen to hear the rustling as they pull apart their flakes of hay. I watch how after testing the water with their noses several times, they drink deeply and the water level in the bucket goes down surprisingly fast. I am deeply thankful to observe these what you might think, small and insignificant events in my day. It is all very simple stuff, isn't it?
Our Christian walk can seem anything but simple at times...so many bible verses and which one do I use for this time. Is God really listening and what does he want me to do? Yet, it is simple. The ancient editors of the "Book of Psalms," chose a rather simple Psalm to begin.
Happy is the man who has not walked in the wicked's counsel,
nor in the way of offenders has stood,
nor in the session of scoffers has sat.
But the Lord's teaching is his desire,
and His teaching he murmurs day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water,
that bears its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither-
and in all that he does he prospers.
Not so the wicked,
but like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand up in judgment,
nor offenders in the band of the righteous.
For the Lord embraces the way of the righteous,
and the way of the wicked is lost.
The imagery is simple but touching. The man, he walks...he stands...he sits, always choosing to simply follow God's teachings. It is a thoughtful life...a simple life despite its distractions. He murmurs as he goes "which is what one does in a culture where there is no silent reading." We meditate. Again, such a simple thing. How will we prosper? Will it be with wealthy possessions? It will be the rich knowledge that we awake to at dawn's first light, that we know who we are and place our new day in His hands, receiving all He has to give us. He "embraces" us. The Hebrew translation is to "know." He knows you. He really and truly knows you and that is getting close to, if not, the meaning of life...the meaning of this new day. HE KNOWS YOU. Simple!
MY kitty, Golda, runs to the door every morning to go out. It is her thrill, her duty. This morning as usual, she went out into this bleak December day. Shortly after, I glanced at her and gave her the option of returning into her(MY) warm, cozy living room by the fire. But no, she continues to sit on the front porch step, watching..... She just might miss something on this bleak December day. She is happy. "Happy the man" as he walks...stands...sits.
Blessings to you on this bleak December day. Pam
Sunday, December 7, 2008
What Can I Make of Christ?
The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, "This is the truth about the universe. This is the way you ought to go," but He says, "I am the truth, and the Way, and the Life." He says, "No man can reach absolute reality, except through Me. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved." He says, "If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise. If anything whatever is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away. If it is your eye, pull it out. If it is your hand, cut it off. If you put yourself first you will be last. Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right. Your sins, all of them, are wiped out. I can do that. I am Rebirth, I am Life. Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food. And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole universe." C.S. Lewis, The Grand Miracle.
WAS IT ALL A DREAM? WONDERED Shasta. But it couldn't have been a dream for there in the grass before him he saw the deep. large print of the Lion's front right paw. It took one's breath away to think of the weight that could make a footprint like that. But there was something more remarkable than the size about it. As he looked at it, water had already filled the bottom of it. Soon it was full to the brim, and then overflowing, and a little stream was running downhill past him, over the grass.
Shasta stopped and drank-a very long drink-and then dipped his face in and splashed his head. It was extremely cold, and clear as glass, and refreshed him very much. After that he stood up, shaking the water out of this ears and flinging the wet hair back from his forehead, and began to take stock of his surroundings.
The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
Only some will hear His call and answer. There is no doubt that sometimes it takes one special person, in one special place with just the perfect word. Whatever word or group of words that catches our attention, there has to be that seed of love already in our hearts. As we choose, the seed will grow and it will totally change us as it totally changed the lives of the disciples. People love either the light or the darkness and this love controls their actions.(John 3:16-19) Those who love the light become sons of light. We are invited to stand in the light, breathe in His life, eat of His bread, drink of His water. It is a new rest, a new vine, a new life. Drink deeply, dip your face in and refresh yourself as Shasta did for the Voice provided. From the fullness of His grace, we have received one blessing after another.(John 1:16) Like Abraham, other men of faith such as George Muller and Hudson Taylor cried out to Jehovah Jireh and He met their needs. They placed everything they had on the promise of God, the Lord will provide. As Paul said, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him."(Rom. 8:32) His blessings, one after another remind us, He is real...not a dream. He will be more real than life itself.
But again, some of those who choose the light will fall away in time, returning to the things of this world. The temporary things of this world, sometimes seem to be all we need. However in time, colours fade, paths diverge, things lose their lustre and we are left alone. Understand that we don't immediately "forsake all and follow Him." It takes time to learn to be His disciples. Slowly we will learn to trust Him as we feel His power in our lives. The way of faith,as it was for Abraham, continues to be no easy option but a conscious bending of our will.
Let Your Actions speak
When my little friend came down the corridor to go home, very few words were said. Her thoughts were implicit in her actions. She simply acted. She knew a mother and father were waiting for her. As we go our way, it is not just about what we believe but what we do. We believe to act and in acting, our belief grows. Jesus did not enter into our lives to have us just believe in Him. Instead He speaks: "Come and see"(John 1:39); "Come and drink!"(John 7:37); "Come and dine!"(John 21:12) Come and enter in. Come and walk with me. Spend time in my word and in my teachings. You must enter in with everything you are. Hold nothing back.
C.S. Lewis writes,"What are we to make of Christ? There is no question of what we can make of Him. It is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story." He has invited you to become like Him-What will you do?
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Abraham said, "I and the lad will go...we will worship...we will come back." With each painful step up that mountain, Abraham, man of faith, faced a time of decision, testing and maturing. He waited for his God, Jehovah jireh as he and Isaac walked together. When God provided the sacrificial ram, there is no record of what Abraham said but he must have felt the Father's love in his heart.
Where is God?
I am sure that most people would agree that we humans strive to know God. Throughout history, man has repeatedly asked, "Where is God?" Answering to a call of god to sacrifice his beloved son, Abraham and his son slowly climbed the mountain. As they went, the only thing that sustained him was a promise deposited into his heart: "through Isaac your descendants will be named."(Gen.21:2) The stone alter was built, the wood arranged, the sacrifice bound and yet there was only this pressing inner conviction that God would provide. The words echoed out from Isaac's mouth, into their empty and lonely place, as it has through time, "WHERE IS THE LAMB?" Yet despite this, He remains an enigma, a mystery....and I ask myself why, as many continue to search. We are a worshiping people. It is our nature. And when we don't know who that god is, we turn our gaze inward.
From the moment we are born, a struggle begins within us as thoughts of self dominate our lives: thoughts of pride in our achievements and possessions; our earthly passions; our goals and plans. We become lost in ourselves, worshiping ourselves. The dilemma is that we were created to worship Him, the one true god, our creator. This is our sin and with it, we can never know the Father as we were meant to...knowing His love.
The essence of God is revealed to us throughout nature, in His colours, textures, odours and sounds but we cannot inhale, see, touch and hear enough of His beauty around us to be satisfied.(Rom.1:20) His goodness is played out for us in history but it is only in the presence of Jesus Christ that the image of the invisible God is unfolded for us to see...to follow.(Col.1:15) He gave us His perfect and holy son to walk among us, teaching us how to love. We learn of the Father through Him as He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father."(John 14:9) If we can grasp that we are His children and reach out for His forgiveness by believing in His son, we will establish a new identity for ourselves. In Him we learn of ourselves. As we lean on Him in our weakness, He makes us strong. He knows our sins but can also see deep inside to our heart's desire. He calls us beautiful. He is our loving father. This rich identity deposited into us, grows as we continue to walk with Him. His goodness is daily. As His spirit speaks to us through His word, in our hearts. He continues to call to us.
A Tender Heart Hears
I think back to when I worked on the northern coast of Newfoundland and Labrador for the Grenfell Association. Our hospital was situated in St. Anthony, a small harbour town at the tip of the northern peninsula. Life was simple there. The fog was a common occurrence as it flowed inland into narrows along the coast and back out again. Our lives were ordered by its coming and going. It affected the day to day running of the hospital as the small sea planes carried patients back and forth between their outport homes and the hospital. Sometimes patients were forced to remain in hospital for days until the fog moved out to sea.
Working night shifts in the children's ward at the hospital, I spent many mornings watching the sun rise over this quiet little harbour town. Just before dawn, the fishermen would start there outboard motors, making ready to head out to check their nets at sea. We would watch out the window as long as we could until the harbour and the surrounding houses became visible before beginning our morning duties.
One early morning, the hospital lay quiet as the sun had just begun to rise. We had several little children who had been waiting for the fog to clear so they could return to their homes. Just as I was about to begin my work, I heard a "SWISH...SWISH...SWISH" and coming down the corridor was a little girl, no more than five years old that was scheduled to leave on the plane that morning to return to her home. At dawn's first light, she had gotten up and taken her outerwear; dressed herself in her jacket, pants, hat, boots; and to her mind, began her journey home to her mother and her father. In tears she was taken to her room to be washed, redressed and fed. That night she again lay her outer clothing by her bed as the fog had stubbornly refused to leave. Many tears were shed and we tried our best to console her. I wish I could return to that morning and looking into that little girl's eyes and with a much gentler heart received from life's journey, I would tell her that she would go home. Her tender heart's desire was to return to the call of love in her heart.
One thing do I ask of the Lord,
it is this that I seek-
that I dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the Lord's sweetness
and to gaze on His palace.
To be continued...
Monday, December 1, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
"And he said, I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee. Exodus 33:18
Moses' request was not idle curiosity but true adoration. But instead of coming in majesty and splendour in the way we might expect, He came in goodness and kindness. "And He said, I will make all My goodness pass before thee and will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee....And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth."(34:6) This was not just one brief glimpse of who God was but a continuing thread throughout His walk with His people until He became flesh and lived among us. Some could not even recognize Him because they waited for a King clothed in splendour but He came in meekness: born in a shepherd's stable among the livestock; from a humble family; walked among common men-people of greed, adulterers, hypocrites, liars....to die on a cross. His might was seen in His walk as he performed miracles, not in power and majesty but done in love and service for us. Today He can be found in the weak, the poor, the lonely and the insignificant. In speaking of the Jesus who laid His hands on the children brought to Him, William Barclay writes:
" There is a loveliness on Jesus Christ that anyone can see. It is easy to think of these mothers in Palestine feeling that the touch of a man like that on their children's heads would bring a blessing, even if they did not understand why....Further, to Jesus no one was unimportant. Someone would say, "It's only a child; don't let him bother you." Jesus would never say that. No one was ever a nuisance to Jesus. He was never too tired, never too busy to give all of Himself to anyone who needed it."
A number of years ago, I asked the Lord why, when I was younger, I never heard His voice. I was very angry with Him for not helping me to follow a life consecrated in service to Him. Instead, I had wandered a great deal and wasted so much time. In my confusion, I came to Him late. He brought to my mind a memory I had long forgotten.
I grew up in a home where life was simple. We ate plainly, our weekly schedule seldom varied and our home was quiet with few visitors. One day my mother was minding the little boy who lived next door, David. That morning David and I played together. Across the street at the edge of town in a small group of houses where people often came and went, lived a little boy, Brian. Brian was to my mind, a gentle little person who rarely said much and let the more vocal children tell him what to do but he grinned a lot and I liked him. I didn't see him often but that day, he came to play with us. Near noon, my mother called us in for lunch. It was to be quite an event for me as we were to have hotdogs and chocolate milk which normally was reserved only for parties. Before I turned to go in, I looked at Brian and he shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "I am sorry too." In my little heart, I wanted so much to invite him but I was an anxious child and hesitated to ask my mother if Brian could come to lunch. When I arrived home, I managed to tell my mother that Brian had been playing with us too. She responded with,"Well why didn't you invite him?" I was thrilled and skipped out of the house to find him but he had gone. I remember walking down the driveway and stood staring at his house, hoping he would appear. Maybe I wasn't allowed to cross the road; I can't remember but as I turned to walk back, I remember feeling such disappointment that I had missed him. In the little heart of a five year old, I loved Brian and felt sorry for him.
As I thought about that memory, I grieved with tears over failing to invite that little boy to share our lunch. I know it must seem ridiculous and insignificant,and I too wondered why this memory should cause me such saddness and I asked the Lord to explain this to me. I felt God telling me, "I was there, in your heart as you longed for Brian to join you. I gave you your tender heart as mine is tender....and what you feel, I feel even more deeply. I was there then and I was there many more times as you walked your path."
"I was the lion," And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. "I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you." The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
God gives all of us many opportunities to be persuaded by His goodness. Search your minds for the times in your stories, His glory has been revealed in the tiniest details in your lives. We may sense God's presence, hear His voice, see Him in a symbolic object and in His beauty around us, but we cannot see Him face to face; except in the goodness of Christ. His glory comes to us each day. His mercies and goodness remain hourly each day.
His goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
Monday, November 24, 2008
"A golden light fell on them from the left. He thought it was the sun. He turned and saw, pacing beside him, taller than the horse, a Lion. The horse did not seem to be afraid of it or else could not see it. It was from the Lion that the light came. No one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful.....And of course he knew none of the true stories about Aslan, the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-the-sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia. But after one glance at the Lion's face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn't say anything but then he didn't want to say anything, and he knew he needn't say anything.
The High King above all kings stooped towards him. Its mane, and some strange and solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all round him. It touched his forehead with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared."
The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis.
Are you like me and hunger for the mysterious presence of God .... seeking some tangible presence of the unseen world...the lustre of His glory and the intimacy of His presence? We think of radiant light, deeply stirring music, warmth of colours, all the insignia of majesty, symbols that express what our words fail to express, and the presence of ancient days. It may be that you have never visited such a place but have gone to that Heavenly Court that exists in your mind....where the mysterious presence of God resides...where His glory resides. This was Moses's cry: "And he said, I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory."
Many years ago, in my early twenties, I spent many hours walking the streets of St. John's in Newfoundland. I loved exploring and studying its many oddly shaped and coloured buildings. I followed crooked streets which trailed down to the harbour where the fishing boats came from Spain, Portugal, France, Russia, the islands of St. Pierre and Michelon. Then I would walk up to Signal Hill past the Queen's battery which had guarded the harbour in days past and always finished my day of exploring at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist.
The basilica sat on a hill and from it one could see the colourful city spread out beneath it. Standing at the entrance to the basilica, under a huge granite arch supporting a marble statue of St. John the Baptist, one could look across the harbour to the narrows where many sailors had passed through over the years.
Coming to the massive doors of the sanctuary, one entered in. Out of a brightly lit sky, I came into a damp, darkened and what always felt like an ancient space. At the entrance, sitting in marble fonts was the Holy water. As you dipped your fingers into the water, your mind spoke, "I have come," and you placed the sign of the cross on your forehead. Sitting down, I would gaze at the images of saints- exquisitely carved from marble, touches of alabaster, candlesticks of bronze, the Greek monogram of Christ from the catacombs, and so many more adornments. Most of the images in the stained glass windows, I recognized from my childhood. As I continued to gaze at these magnificent windows, I could hear the gentle cooing of the pigeons outside. Making my way to the front alter, I would sometimes have to side step a bucket, placed there to catch the drips from a leaking roof. At the front of the high alter was the carving of "The Dead Christ." I always sighed as I sensed its mood of dignity and peace. Nearby, the lamp next to the tabernacle remained always lit. In one of the corners was a grouping of statues made of chromed and gilt plaster with the Virgin Mary at its centre. This had been a gift from the Portuguese White Fleet that had visited St. John's for 400 years. It is a touching tale of human perseverance as these men spent long days in their dories until sunset, when they were summoned to the mother ship where they would spend hours splitting, gutting and salting the day's catch. In the mid 1950's, 4000 Portuguese fishermen carried this statue of "our Lady of Fatima" up to the basilica and presented it as a treasured gift. In 1974, the last of the White Fleet, "the Novos Mares" left St. John's harbour for home. Many of the ships had already burned at sea while returning home over the years. But the "Lady of Fatima" remained, reminding not only the Portuguese fishermen but the Newfoundlanders of the union of humanity with God's son in the mother of Christ.
But the most precious sight for me was watching the people enter in. As I lingered, preparations for mass would begin, another mystery. People of all descriptions would come with weighty burdens and leave them in this sanctuary where many before them had left theirs....and they came, kneeling.... as if they were whispering into the very ear of the Lord himself... a place of mystery. The word basilica means royal hall, designating it as the dwelling place of the King of Kings. I wonder how many of those who stood at the door of the basilica believed they were entering into the glory of God.
I too stand at the entrance to the unseen world and sometimes hear myself whisper, "can this be real?" Can we measure the reality of our experience by the deepness of our longing for this external home. I sincerely believe that everything I have done in my life has been in one way or another, to search for this home. C.S. Lewis writes of this longing for the presence of glory much better than myself.
"In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you- the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name."
Deep within us, placed there by our creator, is a longing for the eternal presence of the glory of God. The mystery of entering into His glory is not the sanctuary..... it is the call of Jesus in our hearts to enter into His eternal presence. From the unseen, He calls out to us, but inside this mystery lies another. We begin by yearning to be in His presence; yet are not content till we desire only His thoughts for our own. He speaks to us, "Tell me your sorrows." Tell me all. Learn to value that place and time you go to meet with Him, in your home, in your garden, in your car, while you walk.... in your mind. Be like Joshua; place yourself near His glory and remain there. Be like Moses and beseech God to show you His glory.
"Now show me your glory," Exodus 33:18
...to be continued.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
As Shasta travelled in solitude that dark night, every breath he took, was filled with fear. How he saw himself and his life was to quickly and dramatically change with the spoken words: "I do not call you unfortunate." Like Shasta, how do we lift our gaze from our inner misery to consider the possibility that reality might be somthing different than what we suppose it to be.
First... consider that our ability to assess our present circumstances is affected by everything that has come before, in our lives: our relationships with our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers; our successes and failures; our physical attributes and so much more. The memories that we pull from the past, have been shaped by our limited reasoning ability and further coloured by engaging our imagination. We brood over these poor unfortunate circumstances from the past. For example, if you were poorly treated by a certain young man,you might believe that all young men are not to be trusted. When you were also young, you may have been teased and told that you were unattractive; you might never believe that you are the beautiful young woman that you have grown into. Missing the loving attention that you should have received from a mother or father,you might go through life searching vainly for that love but never feeling truly loved. So before you decide that life, fate, God has been unfair to you, know where you have come from and what rules your heart.
The second thing that possibly leads us to poorly assessing our unfortunate circumstances is that, while you are a unique individual, so are those around you. While we enjoy the companionship of those who share similar beliefs, habits, goals, interests, it is rare to really understand another human being, their innermost thoughts, because we are all so complex and have all travelled different roads.
My husband and I, despite our love for each other, find it challenging to travel together. We just returned from Nova Scotia where we took some time to see some of the countryside after attending a conference in Halifax. I loved exploring the musty old churches, visiting an old graveyard, going from one used book store to another and finding the restaurant that served the best Atlantic fish chowder; he enjoyed the Amercian destroyer in the harbour, searching out all the Subaru's in Halifax, studying the lines and riggings on the tall ships, and settling for ordinary fish and chips. At home, his pace moves him quickly through his day's agenda, a driven man. I, in contrast, spin in circles, pausing frequently to reflect. However when we travel, it is I who becomes purpose driven, packing as much of the new sights and sounds into my world incase I never come there again. He slows down, relaxes, unwinds. Neither of us venture too far from our zones of comfort. You get the point...we are different in some... many ways.
The point of true confusion arrived when we went for a drive down the coast and had to decide which road to travel on. I was desperately longing to wander along the coast exploring all the outports. He wanted to take the main road which sort of ran by the coast. Gazing out at the sea, takes my breath away and at times moves me to tears. Even though it has been many years since we have lived there, my memories of living by the sea remain vivid and meaningful to me. I had promised myself that I would take away new memories of the seascape and its way of life . Well.... we ended up taking the faster road and I intensely pouted, feeling wounded and my poor husband didn't quite understand the reason for my unhappiness. It was at this time, that God checked my attitude by suggesting to me that perhaps things were not as they seemed. He was right. My excessive feelings were not to be trusted. My husband apologized for not understanding and I moved on to just being with my husband and enjoying his company. And I think that was really what this time was suppose to be about. We enjoyed the rest of our time together there and my hope is that we gave each other something that counted, that will make a difference in our relationship. With his perspective and mine, hopefully we both saw a larger view. The point is that we do travel on different paths and it is difficult to know another person's thoughts, shaped by their memories, as it is difficult to know God's thoughts, His plans for our lives. We just may not see things as they really are. If God is God, we must be content to go where He leads.
This leads us into one more important thought about assessing our unfortunate circumstances and that is: his design for our lives is perfect and we have yet to see the completed workmanship. Ravi Zacharias, in his book, "Walking From East to West," remembers the exquisitely beautiful wedding saris he saw as a boy growing up in India. With vibrant coloured, gold and silver threads, patterns are woven into fabrics which would make one think "they came from the perfect mind and the perfect pair of hands." Listen to his description of meeting a master weaver.
"I walked into a building and then into a little side room. In typical Indian fashion, the surroundings leave very much to be desired, but the final product is nothing short of a work of art. Essentially, a father and son team makes each sari. The father sits on a raised platform with huge spools of brilliantly colored threads within his reach. The son sits on the floor in the lotus position. The team wears basic and simple clothing. Their fingers move nimbly, their hands work, and their eyes focus on the pattern emerging with each move of the shuttle.
Before my eyes, though it did not appear so at first, a grand design appears. The father gathers some threads in his hand, then nods, and the son moves the shuttle from one side to the other. A few more threads, another nod, and again the son responds by moving the shuttle. The process seems almost Sisyphus-like in its repetition, the silence broken only occasionally with a comment or by some visitor who interrupts to ask a question about the end design. The father smiles and tries in broken English to explain the picture he has in his mind, but compared to the magnificence of the final product, it is a mere lisp. I know that if I were to come back a few weeks later- in some instances a few months later- I would see the spools of the thread almost empty and a six yard long sari, breathtaking in all of its splendor.
Throughout the process, the son has had a much easier task. Most likely he has often felt bored. Perhaps his back has ached and his legs have gone to sleep. Perhaps he has wished for some other calling in life- something he might find more stimulating or fulfilling. He has but one task, namely, to move the shuttle as directed by the father's nod, hoping to learn, to think like the father so that he can carry on the business at the appropriate time.
Yet the whole time, the design has remained in the mind of the father as he held the threads. In a few days, this sari will make its way to a shop in Delhi or Bombay or Calcutta. A lovely young lady with her mother will note the saris on display. This one will catch her eye and she will exclaim, "Bohut badiya (how grand)! Khupsurat (what a beautiful face)!" A sari with a beautiful face, because a grand weaver has purposefully designed it. Before long, it will be draped around her, beautifying the lovely bride."
If we could only see ourselves and our circumstances through God's eyes, we may not call ourselves unfortunate because we are part of a beautiful plan.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
There is an amazing transformation that takes place when we walk in His presence. We become startled with the depth of our feelings of love for Him. These new feelings are but the sublime inner response to HIS love, forgiveness, and kindness. With few or no words, he simply presses them into our hearts. From then on, there is no holding back. We willingly throw ourselves into His keeping. Deep inner convictions are spoken into our beings. Know and be humbled that He has searched the world over for those of us who will walk with Him. Bonds of loyalty are formed and "we know that we know that we know Him...." and faith is born. This is the heart beat of our walk with Him and upon this foundation, the road ahead will be built on....that first love.
As we walk on, we will learn to hear His voice as He guides, teaches, comforts, and inspires us. He even comes to tell us how we should pray to Him. Although He is never more than a heartbeat away, we sometimes are mystified by how he answers our requests. We might be left wondering if He has heard us but these times call for courage. His strength and goodness will never fail us. Press on in faith. We will begin to experience a growing strength of character as we give Him our complete trust . How he decides to answer our prayers may surprise us but they will bring us to a place of happiness that we have never known before. I know this to be true in my life.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
Each day as I walk to the barn, I pass by a small Sweet Gum tree that most people would not even notice as they approach our house. As all the trees on and surrounding our farm have finished displaying their colours, having lost their leaves, I have noticed that this little Sweet Gum tree has stubbornly hung onto its leaves. Its red and orange leaves catch my attention every day and I admire its tenacious spirit. And each day the little tree continues to hang onto its leaves, I ask God to give me such a courageous spirit to move on, within my life. May He do the same for you.
There is still more to come....
Monday, November 10, 2008
Come every winter, I am aware of how the clock is ticking. How many more winters can I walk out to the barn and tend to the sheep, deworm them, trim their nails, carry the hay down from the loft...and mostly alone as my number one helper Charlotte, is so far away. The options for us to live, become fewer as we get older. Life becomes more difficult with physical challenges in some ways and yet much simpler. There are less places to go to, less people to talk to and we are careful to set goals that we know are important to us. This is a good time in our lives to fine tune our listening skills for God. It's not that we shouldn't have fine tuned them earlier in our lives; it's just that it's easier now.
Taking our options away, for whatever reason, is like traveling in the dark. We may have lost our youth, health, job, home, friends, self-who we once were, and in short, we are left to experience our vulnerabilities and in some measure...we are alone. And in the solitude of this darkness, we are forced to listen which is so essential if we are to continue on our journey with God. We have to be able to leave the atmosphere of praise and worship, the company of other spirit filled Christians, to go out into our homes, out into the world, where in all honesty, the spirit of God sometimes seems to evapourate. But you need to move past that...move on...move on! The Christian journey is a process and God expects us to move on with faith and not in fear. He wants us to know that he is always here with hope. But we must listen to his quiet voice or the convictions in our hearts.
I would like to finish this post with a favourite passage of mine from C.S Lewis's, "The Horse and His Boy." The scene is where little Shasta with no home, no friends at his side, fearing that he might run into the enemy, is lost.
And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.
What put a stop to all this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he really had no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.
The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it. But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him. That couldn't be imagination! Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.
If the horse had been any good- or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse-he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop. But he knew he couldn't make that horse gallop. So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him. At last he could bear it no longer.
"Who are you?" he said, scarcely above a whisper.
"One who has waited long for you to speak," said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
"Are you-are you a giant?" asked Shasta.
"You might call me a giant,"said the Large Voice. "But I am not like the creatures you call giants."
"I can't see you at all," said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, "You're not-not something dead, are you? Oh please-please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!"
Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. "There," it said, "that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrow."
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and he had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beast howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.
"I do not call you unfortunate," said the Large Voice.
"Don't you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?" said Shasta.
"There was only one lion," said the Voice.
"What on earth do you mean? I've just told you there were at least two the first night, and -"
"There was only one; but he was swift of foot."
"How do you know?"
"I was the lion." And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued.
"I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you."
"Then it was you who wounded Aravis?"
"It was I."
"But what for?"
"Child," said the Voice, "I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own."
Who are you?" asked Shasta.
"Myself," said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again "Myself," loud and clear and gay; and then the third time "Myself," whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.
Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet, he felt glad too.
The mist was turning from black to gray and from gray to white. This must have begun to happen some time ago, but while he had been talking to the Thing, he had not been noticing anything else. Now, the whiteness around him became a shining whiteness; his eyes began to blink. Some where ahead he could hear birds singing. He knew the night was over at last. He could see the mane and ears and head of his horse quite easily now. A golden light fell on them from the left. He thought it was the sun.
He turned and saw, pacing beside him, taller than the horse, a Lion. The horse did not seem to be afraid of it or else he could not see it. It was from the Lion that the light came. No one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful.
Luckily Shasta had lived all his life too far south in Calormen to have heard the tales that were whispered in Tashbaan about a dreadful Narnian demon that appeared in the form of a lion. And of course he knew none of the true stories about Aslan, the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-the-sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia. But after one glance at the Lion's face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn't say anything but then he didn't want to say anything, and he knew he needn't say anything.
The High King above all kings stooped toward him. Its mane, and some strange and solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all around him. It touched his forehead with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared. He was alone with the horse on a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.
To be continued...
Friday, November 7, 2008
Because I love this time of day in the barn, sometimes I linger longer than I need to. I always feel a sense of contentment and amusement as I stand in the midst of the sheep at feeding time. With mouths bulging with hay to overflowing, they glance up at me as if to say, "this is our favourite time of day too." Eyes soften, muscles relax and everyone begins to settle with a sigh. Some will shuffle over to me for a sniff or scratch.
As the sun's light disappears, the barn lights are turned on, pouring out of the windows and doors into the darkness, an image I love. Have you ever travelled in your car at night, starring into the windows of brightly lit houses? It's like peeking into people's lives. Are they watching television, doing homework, talking together? 'Oh look, that family is gathered around the table!' These are their homes where they are safe, cosy, warm and free to be themselves. It's not just that I'm nosy (well maybe just a little) but to me, these are glimpses into people's lives that remind me, that we are all travellers, needing to come home.
About 1700 years ago, a troubled young man, named Jacob, running to save his life, lay his head down on a stone rock, under a starry sky. In his dreams, he saw a ladder sitting upon the earth and reaching into heaven. As angels of God were ascending and descending on it, the Lord, God of Abraham, stood by his side and promised to give him a home and a future. Terrified, Jacob realized this was indeed a holy place as he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:17) This was his father's house and Jacob had come home. God stood beside him and he was no longer just Abraham's God or Issac's God but from now on, He would be Jacob's God!
For many of us, there is no perfect home to come to. Today, we find ourselves too busy to sit down at the table and share a meal and the day's events. No longer do we finish our days with bed time stories and prayer times. Sunday mornings, going to church as a family has been replaced by Sunday hockey schedules. Sons become disappointed with fathers; daughters become disappointed with mothers. We don't look at each other when we talk. We decide that we can't trust our secrets with family members but we decide to share them with strangers on the internet...they will listen. The house fills up with unspoken dreams and worries and we sit staring at other people's lives on television.
But along comes Father God into your life and he stands beside you. It might be in your kitchen, your bedroom, the barn or out under the starry sky. You may not see but Jacob's gate is there. He comes in power to sort out your problems-no matter how big or small, to teach you things you barely understand, to listen-really listen to you, to heal your broken hearts, and to set you free from the things you can't seem to walk away from. He will pour His great strength out onto you until out of you will flow His goodness. Your mind will be expanded with His thoughts. You will become a kinder and gentler person but willing to run further, faster and harder for anything He asks. You will be a new person, if you lose yourself in Him. He is the gate to heaven, your home.
Stomach's full, the sheep begin to move out of the barn to lie down in the darkness, under the stars. They don't mind the darkness or even the coyotes calling in the distance, they remain still and quiet, starring out into the night. The worries of the day fade and they allow their bodies to rest. I wonder what they are thinking as they stare out into the night. Like my sheep, you need to "stare long and hard into the mysterious might" so that you will come to know the deep things of God.
I pause at the door of the barn before going out. Nothing is heard but the soft sounds of the night as I finally close the door. Good night sheep. Thank you Lord. Jacob's gate remains open.