Sunday, December 11, 2011

Check out "Lineage of Expectation: an Advent Blog"

In case you've wondered where I've been this lovely month of December, check out my Advent Blog. This is where I have been and will continue to post until Christmas.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Grace in the Form of Yellows and Oranges


Originally posted on the RPCC Women's Ministry Blog.
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This past weekend I attended a retreat/conference in Wisconsin. After quite a few long weeks of work and the daily grind, I was looking forward to being out of the city, hearing good teaching, and spending time with old friends and the Lord. I did, in fact, sit in on some good sermons. But the one that struck the longest chord was based on Isaiah, Chapter59

Now, if you know anything about Isaiah 59, you know that it is a dark passage, definitely not the makings of a feel-good sermon. In an accusing tone, Isaiah paints a very bleak picture of Israel’s sin. He provides an illustration of the world’s wickedness, describing both natural and habitual sin. It’s a dark; things are bad and getting worse. All there is left to do is hope. And then we get a glimpse of something better to come--flickerings of the Lord at work.

The speaker described the scene as a canvas full of dark purples and browns, with Isaiah coming alongside the people saying, “Don’t worry; the Lord has some yellow and orange to come.” The beautiful thing is, we never appreciate or really see the “yellows and oranges” without all the dark, dreary mess underneath.
When I heard that, I about wept. The image clicked; my eyes opened. And the chapter wasn’t even over yet! I am not going to expound on the passage, I just want to share that visual. The deep, depressing mural of humanity, made beautiful by Light!

It’s amazing to see how the Lord speaks into our circumstances. I had been waiting and waiting for some sort of acknowledgement that I was not in this desert alone. I thought maybe a Psalm would speak to my heart or something from Romans or James. No, it took a dreary passage in Isaiah to remind me that God’s plan is one of redemption and justice; that we need to recognize the sin and depravity in our lives before we can even begin to understand His deliverance. It takes the evil and oppression of verses 1-15 for the judgment and salvation of verses 16-21 to make any sense.
Isaiah 59 closes with these words of promise: 

 20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion,
   to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
            declares the LORD.
 21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the LORD.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Still Small Voice


This was originally posted on the RPCC Women's Ministry Blog.
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I don’t know about you, but this past week I’ve seen some dramatic reflections of God’s character in His creation. One might comment that this is how things ought to be. After all, the Lord created the world to illustrate His glory and establish a relationship with us. He took joy in designing the intricacies of every living thing and forming the void into a complex and beautiful landscape. But I think the more telling part of my observation is the fact that I noticed it. So often we are blind to what is right in front of us.

 This past weekend I went camping with some friends. We go every year at this time—despite the threat of inclement and unpleasant weather—because we go to celebrate Sukkot. Sukkot is one of the three feasts the Lord commanded Israel to observe in the Old Testament. Sukkot means “feast of booths” or “feast of tabernacles.” It is a time to remember the Lord’s presence with the Israelites while they wandered in the desert and His desire to dwell with them. It is also a celebration of the harvest and the Lord’s providence. 

So it was half-way through Sukkot and we were camping, dwelling in the very temporary shelter of nylon tents. The first night the wind howled like I had never heard it before. It whooshed among the tall trees around us, filling the air with sound. Now, I love to camp. I love sleeping in a tent. But that night I could not sleep. I admit I was a little scared that a branch might break off and hit us, or that the tent fly would fly away . . . but then I realized I was too fascinated to sleep. The wind reminded me of God’s power, the strong force of His hand. And at the same time, His protection. I felt very much like an Israelite in the desert, fully dependent of God while being surrounded by things unknown. A powerful reminder.

The next morning, the wind was still as strong, but in the daylight it seemed less daunting. After a beautiful day (although we found out there was a wind advisory for the whole area), we went to bed that night not knowing what to expect. And something amazing happened. There was silence. Peace. Stillness. And then the gentle sound of rain. It reminded me of that passage in 1 Kings when God says to Elijah,

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1Kings 19:11-13)

I wasn’t able to read those verses till I got back on Sunday afternoon, but they still resonated. I know there is more back-story and context for this passage, but I take such comfort in verses 11-13. How many times do I feel like I’m yelling to myself, “What are you doing here?” It reflects doubt and uncertainty. But when the Lord asks the same question with a gentle whisper, how should we respond?

We so often desire for the Lord to speak in flashes of light and a thunderous voice; for the answers to life’s questions to be apparent and pronounced. God does send the strong, loud winds to speak to us, but their message is not always what we wish. Wait and seek the stillness this week. Allow God to whisper His peace and direction into your life, as only He can.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Traveling Through His Mercy


Originally posted on the RPCC Women's Ministry Blog
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“Not all who wander are lost.” 

Deep in his beloved Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote these words about the mythical history of his imagined world. They are provoking words, pertaining to movement and hope—very appealing thoughts, in this stir-crazy world.

Oftentimes, the Christian life is called a journey. Some call it a walk. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul calls it a race. I think that many of us travel the Christian journey at more of a wander than a sprint. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, in his book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture says, “Yes, we're on a journey. But not all movement is progress toward the Promised Land (Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, after all). The difference between progress and wandering seems to depend on whether we can trust God to deliver us from bondage in the place where we are.”

This week I felt very much like I was wandering and very much lost. Tolkien’s words did not ring true. I did not feel like I was making any progress and I was definitely forgetting to trust God. I’m sure we all have days like that. But if you’re like me, that’s not much of a consolation. It took a long El ride on the Redline for me to remember that God never promised to remove us from hard situations. Like Wilson-Hartgrove points out, His promise is to “deliver us from bondage” no matter where we are. That bondage, as much as we wish otherwise, is sin and its effects on our lives.  Without release from that sin (by the power of Jesus’ sacrifice), we will remain lost.

Thinking of bondage and releasing brought an image from Scripture to mind: that of Abraham and his son Isaac. In Genesis 22, Moses recounts the story:

 1After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 2He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." 6And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.
 9When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 12He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." 13And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called the name of that place, "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."

This passage of Scripture is read each year during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As a fresh year begins and God’s people are yearning to be written in the Book of Life, it is a story that reminds us of God’s mercy.  And we are all very much in need of God’s mercy. Without it, we are bound like Isaac and awaiting death. 

Abraham was not wandering when he took his son up to the mountain. He was not lost. But he was at the mercy of His Creator. He was following instructions, relying on the covenant God had made with him. For in Genesis 15 God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the heavens. At that moment it looked like this promise was about to literally go up in flames. But with great faith, Abraham trusted in the Promiser, Himself.  He believed in God’s deliverance and walked according to that belief. He had no idea what was going to happen but assured his son, “God will provide.” And God provided. An angel stilled Abraham’s hand. A substitute became caught in the bushes. Isaac was released from his bonds. A right and true sacrifice was offered in his stead. 

We are on a similar journey, moving from situation to situation, called and nudged to go here or there. And yet we so often wonder if we are lost or making progress. Fortunately, this passage of Scripture reminds us that God is a God of mercy. Whether we are in the “desert” or moving towards the “Promised Land,” may we have the faith to daily hear and obey the One whose promises are true.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Power of Place


This post can be seen in it's original form at the RPCC Women's Ministry Blog.
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To tell you the truth, I don’t spend much time thinking about Heaven. 

I’m sure it would be a good thing if I did. But honestly, most of my thoughts are focused on the mundane things of this world. Clothes, Money, Transportation, Food, Music, Art . . . Some of these things can be Spirit-filled, right?

It’s times like these that God—in His infinite wisdom and mercy—decides to show me an image (or whack me over the head, is more like it) that all but forces me to consider His Kingdom.  Let me try to explain the picture:

Before my parents got married, they used to spend their summers volunteering at a camp in Port Sydney, Ontario. It was a beautiful place, deep in the woods of Muskoka. Children were taught to love the Lord, relationships were nurtured, characters were strengthened—all in the presence of God’s creation. When I was seven years old, my parents decided to return so that we (my sister, brother and I) could experience camp for ourselves. Since that summer, my family has returned year after year. For fifteen years I was a camper and then a counselor. My brother and sister can’t remember a summer without camp. 

I can easily count camp as one of my favorite places on Earth. And it is a treasure I hope to one day pass on to my own children. But it is not just the majesty of God’s creation that draws me to that place. There is a legacy of stewardship, faith and compassion, reaching back almost ninety years, that that fully mirrors the kingdom of Heaven. 

When Jesus walked the Earth, he would travel from town to town along the Sea of Galilee telling parables about His Father’s Kingdom.  31He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)

This past summer, my family made the traditional trek up North. (Sadly, these last few years I have not been able to join them. But that has definitely not stopped me from praying for all the campers and staff each summer.) My brother spent an especially long time there this time, devoting additional time to camping and canoeing with friends. On his way home this week, we got to spend a couple hours together. I peppered him with questions; he shared breath-taking photos and awesome stories. But when he had gone, I couldn’t stop thinking about the images that had been planted in my mind. Literally, slideshows were playing through my head. And it made me think of heaven. 

It was startling at first. I thought I was going crazy. But God has a funny way of reaching us where we are. Slipping into our thoughts and revealing His majesty and might. I don’t think heaven is going to look exactly like northern Ontario, but the wholeness and fulfillment I feel when I think of that place must be a tiny hint of what it will be like. 

Some of my favorite authors have spent a great deal of time thinking about heaven. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien came up with entire worlds to describe their imaginations.  Madeleine L’Engle delved into the fields of Microbiology and Physics understand God’s Kingdom. Jesus, himself, spoke of heaven in stories. He knew that our feeble minds would never be able to understand completely. He gave us pictures to help us imagine. 

When I do think about heaven, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with God’s faithfulness. From the dawn of time, He has been calling His children to Himself, preparing the most beautiful place for us! And if that weren’t enough, as receivers of His grace, we have been given His Spirit to live in faith and love here on this Earth. Such wisdom!

1The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.

 3 Though an army encamps against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me,
   yet I will be confident.

 4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

 5For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.

 6And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! 8You have said, "Seek my face."My heart says to you, "Your face, LORD, do I seek."

 9 Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! 10For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.

 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.

 13I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Psalm 27

Friday, September 2, 2011

Faces

I submitted this post for the RPCC Women's Ministry Blog, but thought it would be nice to post it in full:

Have you ever stopped to think about your face? The face of your child, your spouse, the stranger next door? No? Well I have. At least recently, that is.

This past weekend I traveled to Michigan to visit my mom’s side of the family and enjoy some much needed rest outside the city. Within minutes of sitting down at the kitchen table my aunt and I started chatting about our respective family history research finds. I had some new records to show her; she had some old photos to show me. Faces floated before my eyes. Some I recognized, others were unfamiliar, but distinctive features show up throughout all the generations.

As I sat there playing history detective, I was reminded of Psalm 139 where it says,

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.

On this earth, we are known by our faces. We recognize our friends because of their loving smiles. We remember historical figures by seeing their faces on money, stamps, and the sides of mountains. Celebrities, often airbrushed, are branded by their appearance. So much emphasis is placed on the captured image. Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Picasa—they are all there to share and promote our faces, to tell the world about who we are and who we want to become.

Recently I had the opportunity to see an exhibit of Yousuf Karsh’s photography. An immigrant from Syria, Karsh quickly gained standing as a photographer in the 1930s and ‘40s. In 1941 he took an awe-inspiring photography of Winston Churchill. Almost immediately his career as a photographer of “exhilarating people” was buoyed, marking Karsh as a celebrity himself.  He photographed thousands and thousands of famous people, yet what strikes me most is that he never tried to glamorize his subjects. His uniquely chiaroscuro style is indeed moving, but each portrait tells a story of the person’s character, struggles, and fame. While some thought this style too driven by propaganda, he defended his art, saying that he was trying to capture something truthful, not trying to change people’s minds.

Karsh’s photographs are a mesmerizing look at the human form and an insightful look at the human spirit, but thinking back at that afternoon in the gallery, an interesting thought popped into my head. Would Karsh have photographed Jesus if Jesus were still walking the earth? Even better, what would Jesus have looked like in Karsh’s photo? Not, what color eyes were his eyes and how long was his hair? But, really think about it. What does Jesus look like? How do we see Him?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul paints a picture, so to speak. Explaining Christ’s humility, he says,

Christ Jesus:  6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

For Jesus, taking on humanity wasn’t about getting a nice body, but humbling himself before the Father’s will.

I’m sure Jesus had bad hair days, maybe a pimple or two. Perhaps he had Mary’s eyes and smile. 

When I look at old family photos, I look for familiar traits—characteristics to identify age and relation. We don’t have baby pictures of Jesus that some shepherd-turned-artist painted in Bethlehem, or an Instagram of Jesus’ first miracle. But even better, we have Scripture that has captured His very nature and character. When we think of Jesus, a blue-eyed, blond-haired portrait from dusty Sunday School walls may come to mind, but what we really see is Himself—love incarnate, redemption embodied, and peace made complete.

So many places in Scripture speak of God’s face. Us seeking, Him shining, us seeing, Him hiding. There is one such passage that everyone knows, but whose context not many consider: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. 

 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, 
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  
2 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 do not have love, I am nothing.  
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,  
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; 
where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. 
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. 
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 

Paul is speaking of Christ’s body, the church, and how we should act. For now, he says, “we see only a reflection” (a photograph if you will), but when completeness comes, “we shall see face to face.”
Can you imagine? Face to face with Jesus! Way better than even the most pristine portrait or fuzzy digital snapshot.

Spend some time today thinking about what Jesus looks like—and pray that He shows you (more and more) who He really is.

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