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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

It is mid day, just days after the the celebrations of the holidays (I won’t say how many or few … for fear I may be befriended by my Christmas-all-year-adoring friends) and the sky is darkening already. The day began with the most spectacular sunrise, filling the sky with pinks, oranges, corals, even almost reds … and in my heart I heard my father’s voice red sky in morning, sailors take warning.

As I sat in my living room, amid boxes of Christmas decor, carefully packed away for next year, I felt as if that beautiful sunrise was a foreboding … but that could also be due to my recent check of the weather forecast … ten days of rain are coming.

January is not my favorite month of the year, whether clinical or psychosomatic, I seem to struggle with a seasonal downturn in my mind and spirit. Rain does not help this reality.

Though I am not one who listens to Christmas tunes in July, hangs the lights just after Halloween or keeps the tree up until epiphany, I long for Christmas to last all year.

It is in January when my annual heart’s cry is similar to what we might find in the pages of Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,

“It is winter in Narnia,” said Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long…. always winter, but never Christmas.”

The season of hope and peace and joy and love has been replaced by rain and dark and flu season and reminders of the pandemic. It is the season of …

almost, but not quite.

That is where we are … almost, but not quite. Christ has come as the babe in the manger who grew up to die on a sinner’s cross so that we might live with the Spirit. But … he has not come back yet and that is what our souls are reminded of when the Christmas season ends … for it should never end.

We have sung our carols of hope … now we have have to put their lyrics into practise, to live the hope we sang even when the morning skies are red with warning. This is the hard work of Christmas, living it day in and day out, even when there are no festive advent chocolates to sweeten the walk.

January is not where I expect life or Christmas to be found. And that is my personal challenge … to look for, to be the vessel through which the hope of Christmas can, unexpectedly, be found.

Today is known as Tweleth Night, or the eve of Ephiphany, when many Christians celebrate the Magi’s arrival and confirmation that the new babe was the reincarnation of God. It marks the end of the Christmas season … yet,

maybe

if we have experienced the hope, peace, love and joy of Christmas,

if we, like the Magi,

still seek Him …

Maybe we can have Christmas every day of the year … even when the rain clouds come.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman from his poem, “The Work of Christmas” 

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For the New Year I had started writing a post, but that didn’t feel right. So I started a second, got to the end and it still didn’t feel right. So I started again, resulting in Friday’s post A Lament to Start 2021. I kind of love when that happens, because I feel like I am not writing simply what I want to say, but what I am led to communicate.

This is the second post, when I got to the end, then my fingers began tapping in a different direction, a different message from what I had planned.

Hesed

A Hebrew word. Wikipedia says “the word is used of kindness or love between people.” Our world could all use more of that!

But, Hesed is more than just kindness … and love itself has so many meanings … no, Hesed is grander than these.

In the Bible, like Wikipedia, Hesed is often translated as lovingkindness but it is also translated as a steadfast love. Does this make things clearer? Maybe, maybe not.

To understand Hesed we need to understand the unconditional, compassionate, covenantal, generous, merciful, loyal, permanence that is all part of this steadfast love,

The steadfast love of God is not offered/given as a payment for good behavior, not an owed obligation, but freely and without any pause in the delivery of it.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

It is this steadfast love, this hesed, that means we live under grace (which is undeserved) rather than judgement or wrath. Hesed is the definition, the fulfillment of the good news of the grace offered to such a worm as I (Psalm 22:6) by one who knew no sin (1 John 3:5).

Hebrew scholar Dom Rembert Sorg wrote that hesed is “really the Old Testament reflex (reflected image) of ‘God is love.'”

And this hesed, this lovingkindness, this steadfast love is available to us all!

Could we be more blessed, more fortunate, more … prepared for a new year and all of the good, bad and ugly that awaits us, provided with this grace, mercy and love? We not only have a new year ahead, but we are not entering it alone, unempowered, lost.

We have the firm foundation of steadfast love that never ceases!

And that makes for a Happy New Year!

“Life is dear, but God’s love is dearer.
To dwell with God is better than life at its best;
life at ease, in a palace, in health, in honour, in wealth, in pleasure;
yea, a thousand lives are not equal to the eternal life which abides in Jehovah’s smile.
In him we truly live, and move, and have our being …”
Charles Spurgeon

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Lord, thank you for a new day, but especially for a new year.

We come to you today, the start of new year, because you are our God, our Creator and Redeemer. There is no other like you. You were and are and will ever be … and we bow humbly to you.

We are tired, we are all tired … but you know that.

What a year our world has walked through. The new normal has affected every area of our lives from our jobs, to shopping, to school, to recreation, to socialization, to hygiene to even church. Change is always wearying, but these changes … God, it’s kind of gotten to us at times. Yet, when we look at the suffering of others, who have experienced mourning, who have experienced natural disasters, who have experienced warfare during this pandemic, we feel selfish … our new normal is nothing compared to those challenges. Yet … you know. You designed that our minds and bodies and souls work together, that we humans be together … and we thank-you for offering yourself for our rest.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

We are discouraged, we have all been discouraged … but you know that.

Lord, it has seemed that bad news has been the theme of the year. Whether it was racial injustices or riots, politics, fires, natural disasters, homeless refuges around the world and famines … we are discouraged. Our social connections have decreased and when we looked to social media for connection, anger and fear have made social media less about connection and more about division. We simply need a little good news.

” … the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1)

We are longing for loved ones, we have all missed loved ones … but you know that.

Loneliness is pandemic in our world, God. Out of fear of and protection from Covid, we have been keeping our distance from others. Our children have not been having play dates, our teens have missed going to events with peers, our young adults are missing socializing, our elders … Lord, so many are so very isolated, so very alone. We ask that this new year might be one of reunions with loved ones … we implore you to make a way out of this lonely desert.

” … do not fear (loneliness), for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

We need you … we often don’t realize or do anything about it … but you know that too.

God, we need you. If anything has taught us this in our life, this pandemic year of new normal has been our motivator. When we are tired, you give us rest. When we are discouraged, you have given us good news. When we are lonely, we only need to seek and you are there. As the doors to our church services have closed for in person worship, we have encountered the challenge of choosing to connect online, in podcasts. As all that we know of worship services has been stripped away is your plan that we come back to YOU, rather than to the practises that have been our habit, perhaps these practices have even become the focus of our worship, rather than the specs with which to see you?

“God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

We leave these heart cries with you, trusting you to gather our tears. We trust you with our sorrows and what you will allow in and through them.

You are our God and we will serve only you.

* With our first breath we cry out … crying out is a most human response. Lament is a crying out to God. It is a declaration to Him of our sorrow, discomfort, sadness. It is being real before the God Almighty, announcing to him what he already knows … it is a step of faith, an indicator of intimacy and trust. Trust to share our pain and to leave it in his holy hands. To lament is to acknowledge God for who he is, it is to cry out our distress, then it is to leave our tears, our heartaches, our sorrows with Him … an act of full trust and confidence. It is to cast our cares, our worries, concerns and anxieties on Him … for He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

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Approximately one hundred and sixty years ago, Emily Dickinson wrote a poem illustrating hope as a bird.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -



And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -



I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

This metaphorical description of hope is as “the thing with feathers”, a “little bird” whose song is heard sweetest in the midst of the storms of life.

It is one of Dickinson’s most popular poems and I expect it is because the truth of her descriptive words resonate in the hearts of those who read it.

Hope … that ethereal quality that is available to us all, that gives sustenance to unfed souls, that keeps us vertical when we think we might drop and that never asks anything in return.

The apostle Paul said, “hope is as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19) and that it “does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5).

Today, this first Sunday of Advent, 2020, we need this hope. We need to be reminded that it flutters all around (and even, in) us. It will not disappoint. And this year, this pandemic year, hope is sweeter than ever.

In the book of Isaiah (40:31), is another feathery metaphor of hope :

“those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

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Yesterday, all of the children from the elementary campus of the school where I work, were out on the track, singing and being filmed for the Christmas presentation. This year their presentation is being filmed, to be broadcast for loved ones to see, from their homes, workplaces, or seniors facilities.

The Christmas concert will be different, because of the pandemic … but the concert will still happen … the children will still sing and dance and recite and act, the loved ones will still smile and laugh and beam with pride … different, but will still happen.

Listening to the radio the other day, I heard the comment that “the churches are closed, but the bars are still opened” …

and I shook my head.

Where we live, smaller, live church services have halted again (as Covid numbers, particularly as hospitalizations have increased significantly). This is a disappointment for those who were so thankful to be able to worship together, but …

this going back to online only church services does not mean that the churches are closed.

There is a passage, recorded in Matthew, that confirms how very open churches can be … if we personally know who has built the church.

Jesus is chatting with his disciples. He asks them first, “who do people say I am?” (v. 13) The disciples respond with John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Now … Jesus knew what others said, because he knows all. I think what he is doing here is, as always, is teaching the disciples an important truth.

The passage continues with another question:

Then he asked them, “Who do you think I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
“God has blessed you, Simon, son of Jonah,” Jesus said, “for my Father in heaven has personally revealed this to you—this is not from any human source. You are Peter, a stone; and upon this rock I will build my church; and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever doors you lock on earth shall be locked in heaven; and whatever doors you open on earth shall be open in heaven!”

Matthew 16:15-19

The answer of Simon Peter,

“The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

You see, the disciples were his disciples. They walked and talked and ate and slept with him. They were his people … and he was their teacher. They had a personal relationship with Jesus. The others, the people who Jesus first inquired about, they just knew OF him, the disciples KNEW him. Theirs was a personal association.

Jesus then goes on to speak of building his church on this rock, but I (and many commentators) don’t think that Jesus is referring specifically, or just, to Peter … but to all who can answer the question,

“Who do you think I am?”

with the words of Simon Peter, with the words of one who knows him intimately, personally :

“The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Churches who are built on the bedrock of the intimate knowledge of who Jesus is, as “the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” they are not closed, but always opened …

and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.”

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In the Pacific Northwest it is storm season. The torrential rains and the strong winds appear usually from November to December. Some years the impact is barely noticeable, whereas other years they provide enough impact for headlines such as STORM OF THE DECADE (or CENTURY).

While listening to the weather forecast this morning I heard about successive storms expected to hit our coast over the next few days …

and I got so excited!

Just like last evening, while out with a friend for a walk and coffee. When we started walking back to where our cars were parked (three or four blocks away) the heavens opened up and lightening flashed brightly in the distance. We sought temporary refuge under an awning, enjoying the light and sound show until the rains eased.

It was spectacular.

Just like the ones to hit our coast, just like all such storms, it eventually passed.

The next morning I awoke to a bright sunrise … the calm after the storm.

Storms in our lives … the kind that flatten us, leave us with more questions than answers, the kind that can skew our hopes and throw our future plans and dreams up in the air … those storms aren’t as delightful or entertaining as a thunder and lightening night sky performance.

Yet, like thunder and lightening, like wind and rain, these storms of life come and they eventually touch us all.

I don’t have wise and life-changing words for such storms. I cannot say that the loved one will be healed, that the money will be there, that the stress and anxiety of your life will dissipate.

I can tell you, from my faith and experience of the storms of life and of the God of all … you are not alone. Even when it may feel that you are out to sea in a dingy, paddling with all your might (or curled in a ball in fear) … you are not alone. He is with you.

When you pass through the deep, stormy sea, you can count on me to be there with you. When you pass through raging rivers, You will not drown. When you walk through persecution like fiery flames, you will not be burned; the flames will not harm you.

Isaiah 43:1-2

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“Just linger for a moment or two” I heard myself say. “Carole, you’ve gotta learn to linger.”

Five years ago, life was different.

Our oldest daughter was preparing to her first apartment, next daughter was living at home while studying at a local university and our youngest was still in high school, where I worked. We lived in a large home, on a sizeable property that demanded of us constantly. Hubby worked nowhere near just a forty hour work week as a pastor in a local church and his job trickled down into seen and unseen responsibilities for myself. It was our first year in a few with no International students as part of our home and family.

I was tired, perpetually tired.

It seemed that I was constantly in demand, in motion. I was either cooking, or driving, or working, or weeding …

and now …

life is different.

Our oldest two daughters are out on their own, our son still mostly living at home, sometimes working out of town, currently working locally. I still work the same hours, but it’s different. Hubby no longer working over full time as a pastor, now working a couple of part time positions. We sold our large property for a townhouse close to everything.

Life is … simpler, quieter, less demanding.

But, learning to linger … it does not come natural after years of living based on the urgent. The growing pains from a life of busy to less slow are very real.

In my adjustments to this new way of life and living, I am beginning to learn to linger … but it is a learning, a process of slowing oneself down.

It means pausing to smell the flowers, to listen, to ponder, to wonder.

It also means pausing in my day and lingering in the awareness of the presence of God. To put the book, the phone, the keys down … maybe even closing my eyes, and letting God know that I know he is right there, with me.


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I think that one of my favorite chapters in the Bible is John 15. It begins with the vine and branches, migrates into how the world hates the disciples and ends with the work of the Spirit. Though they may have three different titles, they are all about abiding.

Charles Swindoll says that to “abide” with God (the vinedresser) is being at home with him. I love this translation for it feels warm, connected … it feels like a choice.

Indeed, abiding is a choice.

Often the verse of focus is John 15:5 :

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you are at home with me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing …”

But verse 8, where Jesus says how it will be known if we are at home with him is equally important :

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

An apple tree cannot produce oranges, A grape vine cannot produce tomatoes. And a branch that is intwined with others, but not attached (not at home with) the vine, produces nothing of the fruit of that vine.

Though we may produce fruit in our lives, it is only because we are attached to the vine … at home with God.

I was remembering recently at time when, as a teenager, I met someone, who was sure he knew me from somewhere. He asked where I worked, and I told him I worked at Tim Horton’s. His eyes lit up, as he then named the location where I worked. He said that he went there frequently and always knew I was a Christian because of how I treated the customers.

As I remembered that story I found myself wondering … is whose I am still evident to a stranger? Can strangers identify me by the fruit of how I live my life? can family and friends?

is it obvious that I am at home with Christ?

I can only hope that the fruit of my living is Him. This comes only as I allow Him to produce the fruit of my connection to Him.

There are many who claim that name of Christ, but the fruit of their lives does not indicate that they are at home with the Lord. Our fruit is in what we say and also in what we do. We know this, because we can easily see the contradictions in their lives.

The most evident fruit of the spirit of God is love … if what we see from ourselves or others who claim the name of Christ is not love … they are not at home with Christ.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

“God didn’t want me to do more for Him.

He wanted me to be more with Him.”

― Bruce H. Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine: Breaking Through to Abundance


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As Jesus stood on a mount, delivering his sermon to the crowd, he taught them about how to live. Primarily what he taught was that our hearts should be pure, that we do good especially when no one is looking, that God is God.

In the midst of this Sermon on the Mount is a profoundly simple yet … profound instruction on how to pray.

The Lord’s Prayer has been called “a prayer of prayers”. When we prayer, whatever we pray, we are praying the Lord’s prayer.

I have heard of elderly people, immersed in their own world of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, who sit, lifeless, in a chair much of the day. Then, when they hear the familiar words of the Lord’s prayer they come alive again, reciting what they learned generations ago (this is also a good reminder to ‘hide’ God’s word in the hearts of our children and of ourselves).

“The function of prayer is not to change God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Soren Kierkegaard

It changes me … prayer changes me. If I am ‘real’ and honest when I pray (and how can I not? for God is not hearing my words so much as my heart) transformation of my mind and heart take place, drawing me closer to the heart of God himself.

When we are low on words. When our human aching cannot muster a whisper. When there is nothing left but the groaning of my heart … I pray, as Jesus taught:

This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is

the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13

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I have nothing left. I am just at the end of my rope … at the end of me.

Those were my words, my prayer, in the midst of a time of struggle, a time where I didn’t have the answer, the solution, the ‘fix’ for the problem.

As I spoke the words, at the end of me, an odd sense of relief was felt from within out. It was as if my verbal confession freed me from invisible, self administered chains. It was as if this was the most wise next step.

Baffled, that this peaceful feeling could accompany the equivalent of waving the white flag in defeat, I then remembered to whom I was praying.

“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 

1 Peter 5:5b

Pride … such a human disease of pandemic proportions! And I am not always so quick to admit that I have been infected. I think I need to do all the fixing, the solving, have all the answers. Then, along comes reality and my pride takes a hit … reminding me that there is a higher power, a greater one, who has a plan and purpose that can come of the chaos in my life … and he doesn’t need my efforts, so much as my obedience, my reliance on him.

“Coming to the END of MYSELF and all SELF effort…seems to be the very point that God steps in and shows HIMSELF to be more than ENOUGH.”

John Paul Warren

That peace that accompanied my forfeit … that was God, as I submitted my ‘power’ to him. I still was worried, I still had concerns and I still had more questions than answers, but I had been reminded that I was not alone, that I did not have to do anything … except trust, stay close to him.

“God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.

Matthew 5:2-3

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