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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

As a child I loved it when my mom would hand me what was once a tidy ball of yarn that had gotten loose in her knitting bag or scattered across the floor. She would ask me if I could untangle it for her. Or my grandmother would do the same with a necklace, whose chain had knots.

I would eagerly take on these problems, these messes and straighten out what was knotted. It was a game, a challenge for me where I usually had success and I loved it.

Problem solving has become my life. I have used this skill in my profession, helping students learn in unique and creative ways. In the running of a home, utilizing form and function. In childrearing … in so many ways. In helping in so many situations and circumstances.

Give me a problem, a puzzle, a challenge, a mystery. Invite me into your struggle, your situation, your sorrow. Let me untangle that knotted mess of yarn that is that part of our life.

What I am not good at is acknowledging when I cannot solve the problem, when the mess is tangled beyond my problem-solving capabilities.

Recently I ran into a snag … problems that I simply could not untangle. This failure of ability (for it was not a failure of desire to solve the puzzles) was getting to me. I looked at it from every side, tried to see if moving things would help. Yet, I was quickly faced with the reality that all problem solvers hate to face …

the tangled mess was out of my ability to straighten it out.

This self-acknowledgement wore on me, for that which I love to do and do well, I was powerless to accomplish.

Besides, I am a follower of Christ, a believer in the power of Christ in me … I mean doesn’t Matthew 7:7 say “ask and you will receive” … and Mark 11:24 says, “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you”?

Of course I am taking those one-liners out of the context of the Word, as a whole … rubbing my Bible-Genie making my one wish. But, what I ask is so desired, so good, so sincere …

Then I saw an image. It was the one at the top of this page. It was the mess of the first screen that got me … as soon as I saw it, my eyes did not see a pile of letters, but a pile of yarn, twisted and knotted … a problem waiting to be solved.

That was the problem I was dealing with.

Then the reminder … the God-response … not the I love you, for I simply do not have the capacity to not know that God loves me, or others. It was the two words,

I know

He knows.

He knows the knotted, tangled, ugly messes of our human lives. He knows that situations that break our hearts, that mess with our confidence, that even make us question if we are still in his will.

He knows.

“Be still, and know that I am God”
Psalm 46:10

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Ever been mad? Like so upset and angered that your heart was beating so violently that you could feel your entire body vibrate?

My grandmother, in times like that, would have said that she was so angry she could spit.

We have all had such an experience of emotion. We have all been, at some point, angry enough to spit.

There was such a time that is still restlessly settled in my mind. I remember the feeling that my heart might just beat right out of my chest. I remember the pounding of emotion and blood flow in my head. I remember the combination of anger and sadness and despair and defeat.

I remember the words of the text that sent me reeling … words that communicated

one step forward, two (dozen) steps back.

History invades the present, darkness falls on rising sun, temporarily eclipsing the light.

The inky intent of sinful man is always to blot out the light.

I was searching, seeking for light … as if crawling in desperation for understanding of the whys, for hope to come from the shadows.

what more can he say,
than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge,
to Jesus have fled

The words stopped my obsessing, my perseverating over the ache in my gut, my heart. What song were those words from? Why did it enter my conscious?

How Firm a Foundation … words penned over two hundred and thirty years ago … words and a message with lasting power. As I read them I was reminded that my physical and emotional shaking were not more than skin deep … for my foundation is deeper still, firm in the care of my Savior.

Then, the words of the prophet Nahum (1:7):

“The Lord is good, He is a fortress in time of distress, and He protects those who seek refuge in him.”

Reminders of my firm foundation, the fortress around me, the prayers of those who are faithful …

the anger fading with the rising light of Christ’s love and promise.

Not today Satan.

“That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

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Do you know how to pray? Where does faith come in? What about doubt? Is it okay to pray for miracles?

When I encounter someone with a prayer request, I immediately offer to pray, then, when I begin to actually speak to God, when I enter consciously into his presence … I stutter with my words.

Perhaps it is because, in coming to him, I recognize how much I need him, how great he is, this one to whom I bow my head.

I have a friend who is struggling in a marriage of abuses and unresolved traumas of the past. When I pray for her, I long for marital healing, for a rebuilding of this broken relationship, for miracles.

Yet, I also have a friend who never received such miracles. Recently we re-connected and she caught me up on the end of that marriage. She said, of the separation, the struggles with that marriage, it is exceedingly more wholesome than the way it was. No miracles, no reconciliation … yet she now has peace.

My brother is now undergoing treatments for cancer. The prognosis with treatment is good … the effects of the treatments are horrific. When I pray for him, I long for miraculous healing, that the effects of the treatments would not cause the damage and pain anticipated.

How are we to pray? What do we say, what do we not say? Are miracles on the table? How about … selfish requests? Do I have enough faith? What about my doubts? Does God alter what the natural world, his plans because we pray?

do you know how to pray?

The Bible has a number of recommendations:

  • ask and be thankful (Philippians 4:6)
  • confess your sins, pray for each other (James 5:16)
  • God will hear our prayers (Jeremiah 29:12)
  • pray so you’re not tempted (Matthew 26:41)
  • call on his name and be saved (Acts 2:21)
  • forgive others (Mark 11:25)
  • pray in secret (Matthew 6:6)
  • confess sins (1 John 1:9)
  • devote yourself to prayer (Colossians 4:2)
  • be faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12)
  • believe and don’t doubt (James 1:6)
  • with confidence (Hebrews 4:16)
  • pray without ceasing, rejoice, give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Then we get thrown off by verses of such black-and-white absolutism …

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).

So … we ask and God gives?

Well … yes … and no.

It is blind hope to read this verse and see only the part we want … I will do whatever you ask in my name. What follows is really the main point … so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You see we do not pray to God, except that it comes through his Son. It is the blood of Jesus that has made us right with God, therefore it is through him that God hears our prayers.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Sure it is, until we pause to think about what we are praying for and through whom our prayers pass.

Ellicott’s Commentary speaks to this verse in a reckoning manner :

“The prayer of Gethsemane—“If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done,” should teach what prayer in the name and spirit of Christ means. We commonly attach to our prayers, “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We do not always bear in mind that this implies an absolute self-sacrifice, and is a prayer that our very prayers may not be answered except in so far as they are in accordance with the divine will.

When I think about prayer, really think about it, I come to one conclusion … I pray because it is the only ‘help’ I know. There is nothing I can do to change circumstances.

So I offer up my requests, in faith, along with my praise and thanks, trusting the only wise one will either change the circumstances I pray, or that he will change my heart to be more like his own.

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Though the Easter weekend has past, somehow it could almost feel like it never happened.

I have to admit that I didn’t do too well with my lenten sacrifice. I had intended that each day I would read a number of chapters in John, starting with the death of Lazarus and going to Jesus’ arrest in the garden. Despite having the time, with self isolation and social distancing becoming a reality, contemplative reading was not something I have done much of these weeks.

The one lenten practise I did maintain was a frequent, silent praying of what is known as the Jesus Prayer,

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

I put an image of it on my phone’s home screen, so I saw it every time I went to turn my phone on (and man, have I turned it on often during these days of Covid 19 updates and breaking news).

I have been constantly reminded, in the lead up to Easter, who I am in relation to Jesus. What he has done for me.

Then Easter, during this season of Covid 19, came … and went. No crescendo of voices on Easter morning, no large family gatherings, no face to face Easter embraces and greetings of “He is risen” to respond, “He is risen indeed.”

Yet …

The words of song, the words of an ancient creed, have been mulling in my mind for weeks …

The first writing of the Apostle’s Creed was in 390AD …

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

In this time of Covid 19, in the light shadows of the Easter weekend, we are called to the question,

what do I believe?

And the words of this Creed echo in my mind, in my heart. For this is what I believe is the essential belief of we, the Easter people. The people who follow, not blindly, but in faith of the one who died for our good … both here on Earth, but even more so, for the eternity that awaits us all.

So, my soul sings what I believe, reaching a solo crescendo … one reached by millions of followers throughout the ages.

We all have to answer the question of Pilate,

“What shall I do, then,
with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

And I believe what I believe
is what makes me what I am
I did not make it
no, it is making me
it is the very truth of God
and not the invention of any man
I believe it

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When the day is as dark as night.
Give thanks to the Lord.
When the pieces of life are strewn near and far.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
When the silence is deafening to your ears, your heart.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords …

His love endures forever.

When anger, and sadness, and fear dominate.
Give thanks to the one whose love endures.
When pain is inside, outside, everywhere.
Give thanks to the one whose love endures.
When the answers are no, nothing.
Give thanks to the one whose love endures …

forever.

To him who shows us wonders,
who showed his majesty in his creation,
who showed his wisdom in all that he made,
who showed his details in the little things of all that live,

only his love endures forever.

To him who is still leading his people through
the wilderness, the storms, the mountains and valleys …

forever.

“He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.”

(Psalm 136:23-26)

*a re-writing of Psalm 136 … a collaboration between the Psalmist and I

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When we moved to British Columbia I was introduced to mountain climbing … okay, not like real mountain climbing, with ropes and crampons and carabiners … more like a hike, with a backpack, water, snacks and a camera.

Growing up on the East Coast of Canada I had encountered rolling hills that showcase the beauty of autumns foliage and the great big sky. Here on the Pacific Northwest one often only has to open their door to be reminded of their grandeur and how they hog the horizon.

It isn’t until you have encountered a real mountain that one learns to climb.

Lately I have been writing about what to do once a season of wandering, of climbing steep and rugged mountains in the form of struggles, sorrows and other difficulties, through a series starting with now what.

Once we have managed to get to the other side of the mountain climb, it is tempting to keep moving forward and not ever glance back at the climb that you survived.

But, that climb of ours might be just the story of encouragement that a fellow mountain climber might need to hear. Our sorrows and struggles might just be the hand on the small of the back of one who believes that they simply cannot go on.

When I look at the past few years in my life and the lives of those closest to me, there is a trail of hurt, life-altering illness, job loss, depression and instability that touched every area of our lives. I have referred to that season as annus horribilis (as QEW did in 1992) or horrible year, but it would be more accurate to refer to it not as one year, but years.

As I look back at that time, I could have lived in fear … for the possibilities for hope were nowhere in sight. Yet, during that time, I was surrounded by a bubble-wrap-like peace … a peace that surpasses human understanding.

Was I secured because of my closeness to God? was it because I am always faithful to him? A resounding, NO.

That peace was beyond my knowledge, beyond my means, beyond my deserving … or, more accurately, my lack of deserving. It was and is a peace that is available to all. I was, quite literally, at the end of myself, my abilities, my knowledge.

It was because there was nothing within me that could do anything, that I had just trust the only one who could.

There were no voices in the middle of the nights, no message in the clouds, no ghostly touch on my shoulder … just peace … that surpassed my understanding.

I would be driving to work, or laughing with a student about a math problem, or cleaning the toilets, or making dinner and I would stop, amazed that I was still standing, still breathing, still functioning. Chaos was swirling around me, from every side, and yet … I felt peace.

Don’t get me wrong, I also shed buckets of tears, I lost my temper with loved ones, I resented individuals and I begged for mercy … yet, I felt peace.

My very real mountain taught me how to climb. Though I did not ask for it, did not want it, would not like to ever climb it again … I learned, oh how I learned.

Sometimes we climb great mountains and never fully understand why they were put in our way, why we were forced to sacrifice so much. Maybe it was so that we could know peace that is beyond our understanding, so that we can share that peace with others, just heading up the mountain.

“Then you will experience God’s peace,
which exceeds anything we can understand.
His peace will guard your hearts and minds
as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working
Even when I can’t feel it, You’re working
You never stop, You never stop working
way maker
miracle worker
promise keeper
light in the darkness
my God, that is who you are

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Esther by Minerva Teichert

I remember being a little girl and hearing the story of Esther and thinking how lucky she was to be chosen as queen.

She has been called the reluctant, unexpected and chosen queen (among others). She was not, by birth, in line to be royalty, but she was chosen.

Esther was a Jew, living in Persia, with her relative Mordecai, because her parents had died.

Let’s stop here.

This was a tough reality for Esther, who was orphaned, by her parent’s deaths. We do not know how old she was, or what caused their deaths, but this young woman had been left alone by this tragedy, saved by her relative Mordecai who adopted her. This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Then the king (Xerxes), got rid of his queen, Vashti, because she refused his request to dance at his party for his drunken friends (keep this character in mind, later). His advisors wanted to make sure that this would not become normal wife behavior, so they had him issue a command,

“every man is master of his own house; whatever he says, goes.” (Esther 1:22 MSG)

(boy did he get a surprise when he chose Esther!)

Then they gathered “… beautiful young (virgin)) women into a harem (for the king to choose a new wife from)” (Esther 2:3)

Let’s ponder this …

These woman did not choose to enter a beauty contest, they did not choose to compete for the position of queen … she was apprehended, a prisoner, who would be chosen by the king after he would have done a test run on her (aka had sex with her, or also known as, raped her).

This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Then came the events initiated by Hamen, who was eager to eliminate the Jews.

Mordecai advised Esther, “don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:13-14)

Esther sent back her answer to Mordecai: “Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I’ll go to the king, even though it’s forbidden. If I die, I die.” (Esther 4:15-16)

She was ready to obey, but wanted to ensure that she was fighting for her people, with her people behind her. Her wisdom and leadership were shining in her decision-making.

What followed was her appearance before the king (at the risk of losing her life, for doing so), dinner parties for the king and Haman, then her standing up to Haman, by sharing with him how Haman was plotting the destruction of Mordecai, Esther and her people … all while risking her very life.

This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Yet, through all of these struggles, through all of these horrific events, Esther walked the bumpy road she was forced to walk … in complete respect and obedience for the advice of her adopted relative, Mordecai.

(“she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up” Esther 2:20).

Then she gets the honor due her … right?

Mordecai the Jew ranked second in command to King Xerxes. He was popular among the Jews and greatly respected by them. He worked hard for the good of his people; he cared for the peace and prosperity of his race.” (Esther 10:3)

The book of Esther ends with the above verse. It’s about … Mordecai! Sure he would seem to be a wise and virtuous person but … the book is called Esther!

She lived her life out as a trophy wife to a rich king, whose wisdom and personality equal that of a gnat.

This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Yet, this is the type of road that many walk. We all know far more Cinderella’s whose prince never comes, children are never granted, life is hard, poverty extends for their lifetime and yet … they walk, head held tall, because they know that they are royalty, that they are children of the Prince of Peace … and that peace that passes understanding is the crown that is unmistakably atop their head.

For the road to royalty is not about the road you walk, but about who is your King.

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Just the other day I knew it was really coming.

As I drove around the corner and down the hill the valley was blanketed in fog … autumn morning fog.

It was beautiful! On that overcast day, the shadows replaced the clarity of the mountains, hid the lower part of the road, allowing only towers and mountaintops to be visible. The scene was one of black and greys, of varying degrees.

Autumn fog is hauntingly attractive. It also makes me desire a cozy blanket, a hot cup of refreshment, my wonderdog and a book on my blue sofa by the window.

Autumn fog settles on me like a weighted blanket, whispering ‘slow down … take more time … just listen.’

I like to think of this whispering fog as a reminder that even when my view is obstructed, when I am confused and unaware of what is ahead, I can rest … I can still relax, be refreshed. I can be confident and content that what is unseen by me is being looked after.

When I see that blanket of fog, I hear the words of Paul say,

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

That fog is like the unknowns of my life … what will tomorrow bring? how will heath play out in the future? will my children have happy and productive futures? will they seek God? … and so many more humanly unanswerable questions.

But, like the giants of the Old Testament, named in this chapter … Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Moses and more … I have available to me faith in a God who has it all covered, like a blanket of fog on the valley. It is faith in him that allows me (us) to rest, to have confidence, in what we hope for … assurance in what we can not see.

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Mark Twain said many things about politics, but it is his words (above) that have caught my attention these past few days.

One might think that I am referring to a scandal uncovered about a politician, or how dark politics is because there simply could not be an honest man involved in such a power-hungry sector of society.

This time, that quote seems to resonate in the memories of those who knew, knew of, or lived in the constituency which Canadian Member of Parliament, Mark Warawa served. For his fifteen years of federal and fourteen in municipal politics.

Last week it was announced that Mark, with his wife at his side, lost his brief battle with cancer … and gained an eternity with his Savior.

Though I struggle to believe the words of politicians, or believe that their intent is ever anything but political power-seeking or posturing, Mark was a politician who was different, whose integrity was a light in an area that can seem so dark.

As I listened to his colleagues (from all parties) speak their memorials in the House of Commons, there were qualities that kept coming up … kindness, welcoming, generous, strong faith, honest, humble. As I read comments online from his constituents I found them to be the same. These are not normally qualities listed of one who is a politician.

Every time we saw Mark (or Diane) in public, it was as though he was seeing an old friend. That is how he made everyone feel … valuable, worthy, intimate.

Just months ago, as hubby was struggling in illness, Mark invited him out for a coffee, for conversation … an opportunity that again reinforced value, worth and intimate friendship (and blessed the heart of this wife).

In his own farewell speech in the House (just over a month ago), Mark challenged his colleagues and friends to, above all else, love each other.

On his Facebook page, announcing the end to his earthly life, is written:

“Mark’s favourite verse was John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Within that verse is the willing sacrifice of service, performed with the greatest serving of love, which results in life eternal in the constituency of the souls of heaven, lead by a gracious and generous king. This is Mark’s new home.

Well done good and faithful servant.

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Why did Jesus take his disciples into Gethsemane to pray?

He knew they did not understand the gravity of that night. He knew they did not understand the cross he was to bear (literally and figuratively). He knew they would not stay awake with him.

So why did he take them into the garden that night? And why was he so obviously disappointed when they did what was natural, after a long day, after a feast?

I expect that Jesus was, quite simply, so sorrowful … he knew that one of his own was to betray him, that his human body would be tortured and broken, that he would die, that his father would turn his face from him … all so that these men, and humankind thereafter, would have the freedom to choose to keep watch or sleep.

I expect that he also had a lesson in mind for them … for us.

The Gospels tell us of Jesus responses to their garden napping:

“Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 4“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41

“Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 3Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:37-38

“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Luke 22:46

As we read the commonalities of the three passages there are three things that stand out to me:

  1. When Jesus asks why they are sleeping (and not ‘with’ him), I wonder if Jesus is reminded of a night when he was sleeping, and his disciples were sorrowful? That night on the Sea of Galilee, when the waves were rocking their boat, their world. When they were certain of their demise. And Jesus strolled across the Sea of Galilee and the waves calmed. He had been awake when their very life was at stake.
  2. After finding them asleep Jesus directs them to watch and pray. This is the lifejacket of every follower of Jesus … keep your eyes open, don’t get lazy in looking around, in praying. We stay awake to pray, we also pray to stay awake. We are more than mortal beings who need physical rest, we also need spiritual rest, but that rest comes through connection to God.
  3. Jesus tells them the consequence of not watching and praying … temptation. This, Jesus knows, is the reality of being fully human … the temptation of the flesh over the good intent of the God-infused spirit. In Romans 7:25 we see that Paul laments this reality, when he states, “with my mind I serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin.” Thankfully, for the disciples, as well as us, to follow Jesus is to live under his grace.

It is interesting that John’s account of this event did not mention those things. Instead, John reflects on the prayer of Jesus, for his disciples. This makes me wonder … were all asleep?

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” John 17:13-19

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