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Archive for the ‘Walking with God’ Category

Last spring, as we were packing up our belongings, our lives, in preparation for our move from a larger property to a townhome, I would wander our garden, drinking in the changes we had made, the flowers, shrubs and trees I had planted.

There was one tree that I remember standing in front of for quite awhile. It was a magnolia tree, planted a number of years ago, after receiving it as a gift one Mother’s Day. Once just three to four feet tall, it reached well above my height to over twelve feet in height.

Magnolias are my favorite tree (along with Japanese maples, Forsythia, Dogwoods … okay, I love trees that flower, have colors beyond just green). They are an ancient tree, believed to pre-date bees (pollination was done by beetles). Their flowers can be white, pink, coral or the creamiest white. Mine was pink, with large, sturdy ‘teacup’ flowers. They smell of spring and bloom early in the season. As they lose their petals the ground underneath appears to have experienced isolated snowfall.

It was as though that tree represented the very growth and changes of our family, and I remember standing in front of it, mourning my loss of this history holder, this memory of a gift from the ones I love the most.

I probably mourned this loss over all others when we moved.

Then, this spring, while driving home one day, my eyes were opened wide to see that there was a magnolia just in front of our townhouse. Actually, the street is lined with them … dozens of pink flowered magnolia trees right in front of our new home.

I smiled every day as they decorated our street with visual beauty.

Coincidence? I think not.

“He delights in every detail of their lives.”
Psalm 37:23

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People have often faulted the Bible for inconsistencies. Rarely in the lessons or the life of Jesus is this true.

Recently though, as the Easter story was read at church, I found what seemed an inconsistency as a verse was read and another popped into my mind.

The verse read was John 13:33:

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”

The one that popped into my mind was just a few verses away, in John 14:3:

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

On first glance it would seem that Jesus is giving contradictory messages to his disciples (the audience he is addressing in both accounts).

As I investigated these verses I learned a few things. In the first verse, Jesus address “my children”. This is a tender address, and this is the only time Jesus ever addresses his disciples this way. It is akin to saying my darlings and is usually reserved for use with children.

It is as though he is saying is that it is not their time to go with him … that they are not ready. He knows what is to come in the following hours … the suffering, death. That is his lot, not theirs.

They lacked maturity, courage … shown after his arrest when they fled and hid, completely denying their close relationship with him.

Ah, then in the second passage, as tenderly as the one who addressed them as “my children” he continues his parental love and care, much like we might do if we were leaving our children with a babysitter. He gives assurance that he will return, that he is always with them.

I loved what I read in the Pulpit Commentary, on the first passage, which actually brings the two together (as did my mind, initially thinking they were contradictory). Restated, as though Jesus himself were the one to expand on the grander connection of these two verses:

“The time is not yet come for you to enter into my glory; you cannot yet come, you have to continue my earthly ministry, to prolong the testimony which I have given concerning God, and which God has given concerning me. The time will come when “I will receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also;” but now he prays, “though I am no more in this world, these are in the world holy Father, keep them” (John 17:11).

So folks, as the Eastertide season (from Easter Sunday to Pentecost) continues, as we continue to consider Jesus’ resurrection from the dead … we need to be reminded that we still have purpose in being here, in being left behind, as it were. But, there is a place, personally prepared by Jesus himself, and one day we will be with him in that place.

Until then, we have the assurance that Jesus is still interceding on our behalf.

“though I am no more in this world,
these are in the world holy Father,
keep them”
John 17:11

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It’s that chill inching up your back, that voice that you thought you heard in a crowded room, that unbelievably peaceful feeling that forces your breath out … nice and slow.

Social media can’t do it, the news can’t do it, shopping in a favorite store can’t do it, Netflix can’t do it either.

It’s the little, unexpected moments, feelings, breaths that remind us that we are not, not ever, alone. That there is a presence so grand, so intimately aware of … us. It stalks us, hunts us like a hound, embraces us like a loving father, yet whispers to us like an intimate lover.

In the midst of the most busy public place, the most chaotic arsenic hour before a family dinner, in the most turbulent moments of a day, the hairs in our ears bend and sway with the breath of the breather of our life, whispering to our souls …

I am here
You are not alone
You are mine
You were made with a purpose
and I love you

Just the hint of his presence, made known to only us, in his own timing, gives us hope, confidence and a sense of what has been called a hedge of protection … all around us.

A number of years ago a friend introduced me to a song, on a not so good, chaos-filled day. Though I couldn’t hear the words of it, without my emotions pouring down my cheeks, I listened to it over and over as I was reminded to breathe … to inhale to my lungs capacity, then to exhale completely … as though my life depended on it.

Since then, at various times of craziness, I will be spinning myself into a tizzy and hear the words “breathe, just breathe” and I will be reminded that the giver of my very breath is whispering to my soul through this song …

and my life begins again.

“And the LORD God …
breathed into him the breath of life;
and man … the woman,
became a living soul.”
Genesis 2:7

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I think it was Oreos that said the best was in the middle (or maybe it was a middle school …).

Not long ago I heard the perfect story about the middle, at the perfect time.

The story goes like this …

  • the middle of the Bible is the Psalms
  • the middle of the book of the Psalms is chapter 118
  • Psalms 117 has the smallest number of verses (2)
  • Psalms 119 has the largest number of verses (176)
  • There are 594 chapters before Psalm 118, and 594 after it
  • 594X2=1188
  • Psalm 118:8 is the middle of the Bible
  • Psalm 118:8 tells us”

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord
   than to trust in man.”

So cool, right? What a beautiful story of God ensuring that the the very middle of his Word be such a significant verse.

Except that it may not actually be the center of the Bible, as there is the Catholic canon and the Protestant canon, some versions end up with a different middle and, well … the numbering of verses is not necessarily original.

So, it’s a cool story, but maybe not one to put too much stock into … except …

Except that I was introduced to this story when I was was struggling with the issue of trust.

So, Psalm 118:8 may not be the center of the Bible, but it is definitely the central message that God had waiting for me.

We (when I say ‘we’ I really mean ‘I’) often and so easily put our trust in all the wrong things … all the temporary things. We put our trust in our wealth, our health, our friendships, our family, our spouses, our jobs, our abilities our (name it … it’s right there on the tip of your tongue).

The thing is that there is only one solid, unwavering, always loving us, trustable one, and that is God.

After being reminded of this verse, I found myself asking of myself:

“can I trust in God alone?
can I trust in God if the ‘ifs’ of life happen?
can I trust in God if he is all I have?”

He is my middle, my center … I might need to say this on repeat for the rest of my days, but the best really is in the middle.

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Today followers of Jesus greet one another with the words,

“He is risen”

and the response is:

“He is risen indeed”

So, what does that traditional greeting mean?

It is in Luke 24:34 where the pair who had met the risen Jesus, announced to the other disciples:

“It is true! The Lord has risen”

In this statement is announced the miracle of Jesus overcoming death and rising from the grave … but, there is more to this.

Jesus rising from the dead, overcoming death … death, the major tool of Satan himself … means that Jesus has defeated death, Satan, evil … sin itself.

He is risen means that we know how this story ultimately ends.

In the rising of Jesus from his death bed, we can have confidence that in the end everyone who follows Jesus lives happily every after, for EVER! We can have confidence of life without death, disease, heartbreak, pollution, floods, cruelty to animals, environmental disasters, evil human leaders, starvation, homelessness etc., etc., etc.

He wins! Jesus is our living hope! Death and Satan are defeated!

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

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The way they looked at each other made others blush, envying the affection between them.

This couple had a love that showed in how they worked together, talked to and about each other, the sparkle in their eyes … that gateway to their souls, proclaiming that what others saw was real, authentic love.

I remember the shock that I felt in every fibre of my body, mind and soul when I heard that he had left her, left their family for the arms of another woman.

How could we, who believed in the love they were exhibiting, be so wrong? How could a love that seemed so real be such a sham?

This memory from the past came to my mind as I participated in communion, last weekend.

There is a reckoning, a getting real that happens when one is being invited to participate in communion.

Often there is a moment of opportunity to privately deal with our sin-stuff prior to participating. This opportunity always tugs at my heart, for I know I do not come to the communion table EVER with clean hands and heart.

You see we can shower and dress carefully, shave and ensure our make-up is applied expertly. We can shake hands and smile warmly, with seemingly abundant joy emanating from us. We can sign up to help with an outreach event, a dinner for the homeless, childcare during church. We can place our tithe in the basket, or direct deposit our giving. We can offer to pray to our social media friends. We can dine with the pastor …

But, when we come to take communion, to share in communion, share in the taking of his body, his blood …

None of what we do matters. None of how we look to others matters …

Like the seemingly perfect couple, it is who we are when we stand with the one we are linked to, in a convenant relationship.

It is who we are when stand before our God. How we pray, speak to him … when no one else is around. How we represent him, when no one is looking.

He knows our hearts. He knows we come to the table dirty.

We simply have to recognize that it is only he who can make us clean enough to come to his table.

“But the Lord said to Samuel,
“Do not consider his appearance or his height,
for I have rejected him.
The Lord does not look at the things people look at.
People look at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

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Spoiler alert! It didn’t happen.

As I sat in a church service, I heard the invitation that has become a regular phrase in churches,

“invite your friends and family to our event at the church …”

All of a sudden I found myself wondering where this model of evangelism originated, because I was pretty certain I had never read of Jesus inviting people to church/synagog.

Jesus invited people to come, but not once did he say, “come to church.”

Jesus invitation to come was come to me.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:44

“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus made it abundantly clear that it was not through an institution that salvation be attained, but through a relationship with him alone. He spoke this to his disciples and followers, to the crowds as he shared his sermon on the mount.

He also shared the (his) salvation message while simply living life. He chatted with the Samaritan woman (one who his cultural group would not be talking to), while taking a drink and a rest at a well. He was speaking to people when a paralysed man (therefore, a sinner) was lowered through the roof, for him to meet and heal. Of his disciples, there were fishermen, a tax collector and a political zealot.

It would seem that when Jesus came into a new town, he dined, socialized and stayed with whoever would invite him to stay.

In response to Jesus having dinner at Levi’s house (along with other tax collectors and sinners), the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked his disciples, (Mark 2:16-17):

“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

He came to call people to follow him, but one had to admit they were sinners in order for a conversion to occur. Those who were already religious may have forgotten their own sin (don’t we all?).

Such was the case when the woman, caught in adultery, was brought to Jesus. He was challenged by the scribes and Pharisees with the Law of Moses which said that such a sin was to be punished by stoning. He responded by inviting the one without sin to throw the first stone … they all walked away.

This story was not just for, or about the scribes and Pharisees, though. It concluded with a question and a directive for life. Jesus asked the woman who condemns her, to which she replied, “no one.” Then Jesus says that he doesn’t either and to go, and sin no more.

Jesus spent time with the religious, but he also spent time with those who did not darken the doors of the church/synagog. He spent time in the synagog/church, but he also spent time where the non-church goers would have been.

Jesus said, “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)

For we have to go to them to know them. We have to know them to make disciples of them.

So, what about church? Who is the church?

We are. We, who have been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1) are the church of Christ. We bring the church to the sinners, not the sinners to the church. It is we who are the ministers, the disciples. It is through relationship that the Spirit, who lives in us, speaks … in whispers and shouts … to the lost.

 And Jesus said to him, 
“Today salvation has come to this house …
For the Son of Man came
to seek and to save the lost.”
Luke 19:9-10

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