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Archive for the ‘Walking with God’ Category

A few days ago I was organizing photos of 2020.

I found myself smiling as I noted that through January and February I had taken ten photos. In March I had taken thirty-three. The numbers remained high throughout the rest of the year.

There were photos of birthdays, nature, a bathroom reno, short local trips in summer, the Wonderdog … but there were also pics of my self-haircut, me sitting at my desk during online schooling, zoom pics and so many morning sunrises that I would text to my mom.

This Covid pandemic has changed our world, how we live but also how we think about things in our lives.

The small amount of photos at the start of 2020 illustrates to me how I was thinking before the pandemic in my collection. I was busy, going and doing. No time for taking pictures.

When I think of those first two months of 2020 I hear John 13:7 echoing in my mind :

you don’t understand now
what I am doing,
but someday you will

Those two months were before change became the new normal. They were the days of innocence, in a way. Days that were self-driven, self-focused.

Then the calendar turned to March and as the second week enfolded, we were faced with change … cancellations, closures and limitations on the daily, the hourly.

It was quiet, so quiet. The streets were not longer bustling with morning and afternoon traffic. The calendars were not longer directing our waking hours.

As I was organizing and editing images to move off my computer I was struggling to know which photos were worth keeping and which were unimportant. I deleted few, for each one held significance for me, of this year. Each one helped tell the story of 2020.

At the beginning of the year, I might not have saved an image of a cup and saucer I wanted to buy, but it’s message was part of my (our) 2020 year story. As are the ones of a vase of iris’ daily blooming, the many selfies of the steps of my self haircut, or the sunrise photos I would take to send my mom. All of them, together, wordlessly speak the history of my 2020 year.

Let’s back to John 13:7, “you don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

Peter had just refused Jesus desire to wash his feet. Peter, instead, wanted to wash the feet of him. Jesus, though, had a plan behind his act of hygiene for his followers. He needed them to see and understand that as followers of Christ, they (and we) could only be cleansed by his act of humility. That they (we) cannot accomplish this (or anything) on our own. This foot washing was a hint of the coming cross and how he, Jesus, would take away, would cleanse the sins of the world, through his humility.

If I have learned nothing in 2020, it was that prior to March, when the pandemic shut down our lives, we were primarily doing things in our own will. Busily working to do the will of God … but often on our own steam, in our own strength, prioritizing things as we saw fit. We spent so much time doing in our churches, in our communities, with others. Then we were forced to be face to face with the ones who God put most intimately into our lives … maybe God had a bigger plan? a different plan?

Maybe our social distancing was to remind us of our first loves? Of our relationship with God, our relationships with our spouses, our children, our parents?

In the Pulpit Commentary, on John 13:7 (including a few more verses), we read a re-wording :

If you refuse this manifestation of humble love from me, if you put your own pride between yourself and me, if you disdain this act of self-surrender, claiming to understand me and our mutual relations better than I, you have no part with me. This is a symbol of my love to you, and of what is to be your love to one another”

I truly feel that this pandemic has been an opportunity to re-set our lives, on what is important. On the value of humility, community. On the place of Jesus in our lives. On living and walking, not as we have always done, but how he desires. Remember, we only see in part, a few pics … he’s got the whole album in view!

We may not understand what he will do with this pandemic, but he does … and that is enough for me.

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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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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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If, like me, you didn’t grow up with an understanding of the church calendar (other than Christmas and Easter) you might not realize that the church equivalent to New Years happened this past weekend.

Sunday, November 22, was the Feast of Christ the King. I admit, I had never heard of it until last year, when the pastor spoke about it and his own excitement for this date rubbed off on me.

In the aftermath of World War I, Pope Pius noted that, while hostilities had ceased, true peace had not been restored to the world and the different classes of society … he maintained that true peace may only be found under the Kingship of Christ as the “Prince of Peace.”

holycommunion.org

Thus, the Feast of Christ the King.

Despite the desire for peace through the kingship of Christ, today we still live with the peace-less divisions within classes, genders, ethnicities, economic groups, etc.

We are still in need of the Prince of Peace, Christ the King.

As I looked into the Feast of Christ the King celebration for this past weekend, the gospel passage that was read was Matthew 25:31-46. This passage is that of The Sheep and the Goats, but I would call it Jesus is Gonna Set Religious Peeps, like us, on our Bottoms.

So, as with much of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is flipping the traditional understanding of religion, redemption and of himself as Messiah on the poor religious leaders.

He tells a story, not just a fanciful, fictional tale, but a prophesy of what is to come. It is a story that should reverberate in our minds and hearts even today, causing us to shake in our boots, as we consider how to care for others.

He speaks these words, communicating that if we want to serve him, we do so by serving the least in our communities, “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’” (v. 42-43)

The people were aghast, shocked with Jesus’ words, for they had not starved him, let him go without drink, not welcomed him, left him unclothed or without a visit.

It wasn’t that something wrong had been done, but that what was right (in his eyes … helping “the least of these”) had not been done.

It wasn’t a sin of commission (doing something wrong) but a sin of omission (not doing what is right).

Jesus calls us to see him as king, as the prince of peace and we are to be his agents of peace in this world, on his behalf but also recognizing that we are responsible to love him, but loving the least.

This reminds me of a curious verse in the beloved Christmas carol, O Holy Night :

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease,
sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
let all within us praise his holy name.

Christ the King, the Prince of Peace … for the slave, the oppressed … a most modern (timeless) carol.

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I am reading along in the Bible and …

WHAT DID I JUST READ?

The Lord spoke to Moses, as one speaks to a friend.

Exodus 33:11

Moses is having a one-on-one session with God … nothing too wild or crazy about that … then there is that line that makes my head shake.

I read it again … and again.

God

Creator

Redeemer

Judge

Master

Healer

Almighty

Most High

Shepherd

… friend?

I can easily see God as the warm and welcoming (and disciplinarian) father, who loves, comforts and leads my life. To see him as a friend … that is not so easy to comprehend.

I immediately sought out understanding from various Bible commentaries, most of which seemed consumed with the ‘face to face’ part … as though the physical position of God (did he appear in human form? did Moses see the face of God? how could Moses still be alive if he saw God’s very face?).

The physical was not where my amazement and imagination took flight, it was the relational. The very God of creation spoke to Moses, as one speaks to a friend.

This exchange occurred not long after God’s own people, the Israelites … tapping their toes and thinking that Moses was taking too long up Mount Sinai getting God’s top ten commandments, had a golden calf constructed so that they could have a shiny new god to pray to.

And what did Moses say to God? He intervened for those impatient, ungrateful Israelites. Moses even had the nerve to ask God to accompany them on the rest of their journey.

Moses was growing into the leadership position that God had ordained for him! His confidence, not in himself, but in the plan of God was firm.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, as one speaks to a friend.”

Now, take note (as I did) that it was God who spoke as a friend, not Moses. God set the pace. God was experiencing and wanting Moses to experience something unique, different from so many others.

Was God delighting in the faith of Moses? In his leadership abilities? Or was God delighting in his heart … was Moses heart transforming into a heart like God’s?

Kinda makes you want a heart like that … as one after the heart of God.

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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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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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