Love Your Neighbour

I am a passionate person. Ask my friends and family – they’ll tell you I have opinions about things and I don’t hesitate to share them freely. To be honest, it has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion but, thankfully, it has also allowed me to be a voice for those who have none.

The raging debate between Christians regarding whether to re-open their church doors or leave them closed during a pandemic is dividing congregations across our communities. Both sides make excellent points, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that is causing me to sit up and take notice of how I myself engage in this topic.

Jesus has called us to love our neighbour as ourselves. So just how do we love our neighbour well during a public health crisis? Is church attendance essential to being a Christian? Is the gathered body of Christ a priority when the current health recommendations are to be apart?

Wonderful questions worthy of vigorous debate.

Here’s the problem I am currently struggling through. 

I’ve noticed the tendency to measure spiritual maturity in relation to which side we fall on. And of course, we raise an eyebrow at those who don’t agree with our point of view. Those who want to gather are seen as immature and selfish people who are not living out Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. Those who are unwilling to gather at this time and choose to follow health guidelines are seen as cowards who are worshiping the government instead of Jesus.

Why are we doing this to each other?

“If you think church is a building, you don’t know Jesus.” 

“If you don’t want to gather with other Christians, something’s wrong in your walk with Christ.”

Two sides of the same hurtful, destructive coin. 

Can I offer a third way? What if we do the thing Christ-followers been called to do for centuries? Ephesians 4:2-6 says, 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Tim Keller once said, “The church is not a museum for pristine saints, but a hospital ward for broken sinners.” Of which we all are. No one has the corner on perfect righteousness except Jesus. We are all wrestling through stressful circumstances with no real end in sight. Some have accepted pandemic life and are patiently waiting it out. Others believe if they were to do that, they would be compromising their beliefs. Is one more spiritual than the other? Some suffer struggles made significantly worse by isolation and are desperate for meaningful human interaction with their church family. Some suffer anxiety over possibly spreading the virus to the vulnerable and are paralyzed by the thought of a group gathering even if it means missing out on a part of their life they hold dear. Is one closer to Jesus than the other? We have been isolated from one another for so long, stuck in our echo chambers where it’s far too easy to paint the other side in a negative light. We have forgotten the call to be completely humble and gentle, to be patient, to bear with one another in love.

When presented with the opportunity to sin by self-righteousness and smug attitudes, let’s run the other way and choose to love our neighbour well – including our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue. Instead of passing uncharitable judgment on those whose needs and desires do not align with our own, we can praise the Lord that the body of Christ is made up of many different parts, and that each part has a purpose and a role in fulfilling the call of Christ to the greater community at this particular time in history.

Lord, forgive us for calling someone else’s faith into question when they don’t see this the way we do. Give us wisdom, patience and deep encouragement as we learn how to love our neighbour well in this difficult time.

(image: mine)

And Now, A New Year

The tree came down this week. It was our very first real tree as a married couple and I didn’t mind the mess of the needles one bit. I’ve been warned that I’ll still be finding them in June!

Our area has been under a no indoor/outdoor gatherings restriction for the past month, so Christmas was very different for our family. I fully expected no indoor gatherings, but the no outdoor gatherings rule was tough to adjust to. Once the shock wore off and the sadness blew through, I made the decision not to let my anger at the whole situation rule the holidays. For us, “making the best of it” meant organizing Zoom gatherings and leaving lots of space in our home for play and rest. Although I missed my people desperately, in the end, it was a gift. The slow pace, the long stretches of nothing on the schedule — after a long year of abrupt changes and periods of adjustment, it was beautiful. And every pine needle I find in my living room for the rest of 2021 will serve as a reminder of the difficult and wonderful Christmas we shared.

And now, 2021. 

Already — a shocking year. This morning at the breakfast table our almost 8 year old asked why God lets people die if He knows we’re going to be sad about it. From our first experience with the death of a pet or a loved one to the very end of our days on earth, we grapple with the hard questions that have no simple answers. Our discussion this morning revolved around the freedom to choose and what life would look like if that simply did not exist. We talked about how God knows things we don’t know — that’s why He’s God and we aren’t. And we were honest about the existence of suffering: the Bible doesn’t promise a pain-free life, but it also shows us that very good things can come from going through very hard things. As we were talking, a passage from 1 Peter popped into my head.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. 

This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 

1 Peter 3:3-9 (NIV)

These past twelve months have given us plenty of opportunities to live in a constant state of outrage. It’s exhausting! But the good news of Jesus is the oasis in the desert, quenching my anger-parched soul with fresh, clean, cool water.

In this broken world, there can be no true flourishing apart from Christ. He is the inexpressible and glorious joy that fills our hearts when it seems all is lost. He is the One in whom we put our trust. The hope He gives cannot be dashed, the love He offers cannot be lost, the peace He brings cannot be disturbed.

The most beautiful thing we can pursue this year is to grow in our faith in Christ. May it be the kind of faith that transforms both us and the places we find ourselves in! 

Happy New Year.

January Sky

The Christmas Plate

I don’t remember exactly where I got it. A second-hand store I think, a few years ago. But as soon as I laid eyes on it, I loved it because it was beautiful to me. Whenever I saw it, my heart swelled and my mind swirled with all the memories of Christmases long ago, when I was little and full of wonder and delight.

It bears a print of Currier and Ives’ “The Homestead in Winter”, with an old white farmhouse and a small red barn, the home of the little brown cow standing out front. The bare trees stretch their gnarly black branches into a wintery morning sky near a little, half-frozen pond surrounded by brush. In the centre, a couple drives a red sleigh with two white horses and a man in a blue coat carries an armload of wood, followed by his faithful dog.

The vintage gold-rimmed decorative plate hung on our wall for one or two Christmases then was somehow lost in my house, missing the next Christmas entirely. And then one day the following spring, I found it! My heart sang!

It hung on the wall for another Christmas, bringing me a sense of home once again.

One night a few weeks ago after the kids were in bed I carefully hung it up in the kitchen and smiled. I said to my husband who was in the other room, “I’m going to take a photo of my plate, just in case it gets broken sometime.” With four kids under the age of 10, things happen.

The next morning, one of my sweet kiddos immediately noticed the plate on the wall. “Mom! Where did we get that plate? It’s beautiful!” I lifted her up so she could see it on the wall and explained a little bit about it. And then, an amazing turn of events. Less than 8 hours later, I heard a loud crash, followed by a small sobbing mess of that same child running down the hall towards me.

“MOM!” she bawled, “I broke it! I broke your special plate! I’m so sorry, Mom! It was an accident!”

My heart sank, both for her and for my sweet Christmas plate. I gave her a hug and we went to inspect the damage.

Sure enough, there it was – on the kitchen floor, clean in two. One tiny chip was missing. We picked up the pieces and set them on the table, and then I held her for a minute.

“Mom, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to…” her voice trailed off as she buried her head in my shoulder.

“Sweetheart,” I looked her square in the eyes, “I know it was an accident. And you know what? It’s just a plate.”

“But it was your special plate!” she wailed.

“Yes, it was special to me and I am very sad. But you know what? I know it was an accident. And it’s just stuff. You are more important to me than stuff! I love you. Besides, I think we might be able to fix it.”

She dried her tears and clung to my neck for a few more moments.

Last week I pulled out the superglue and managed to put the plate back together without gluing my fingers to it. It hangs in our living room now, away from the scene of the incident (just in case!). From afar, it’s good as new. But if you look closely, you can see the crack — and I don’t mind one bit.

I keep telling the kids that things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. This Christmas, more than any other year, I’m praising the Lord for His living presence in my life! Right there with me in the middle of broken plates, dashed hopes, fears and uncertainties, stress and anxiety, grief and pain. His grace sustains me in every moment because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1), born through the hard reality of labour and delivery to unlikely parents in a stable of animals. 

He entered a world that didn’t even recognize Him — a world sick with sin, riddled with the stench of death, hopeless to save itself. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace laid His glory aside to live, die and rise again so that we could be reconciled to God forever. Sin and death defeated, not just once but for all eternity! Lord, let your Kingdom come!

This Christmas, we certainly don’t have everything we want. But we have everything we need.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Merry Christmas. The Promise-Maker keeps His promises! May your heart prepare Him room this week.

The Christmas Plate

Even From the Very Beginning

The excitement of Christmas always arrives in our home around the middle of November. We talk about the things we’d like to enjoy together, and the discussion always circles back to why we’re celebrating in the first place.

Does the Christmas story start with an angel’s visit to Mary? In some senses, yes. The events are set in motion by a striking interaction between a strange visitor and a young girl. But these moments were planned long ago, before there was time.

This year we’ve begun tracing the thread of the coming Messiah through the Old Testament.

“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman
and between your offspring and hers
he will crush your head
and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

The first glimpse of future where sin and death are vanquished. Keep reading and you’ll see more glimpses of hope.

Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

And Isaiah 9:6 —

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”

For some reason, I’ve found myself lingering in the book of Joel, and even here I’m seeing Jesus.

“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
  that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
(Joel 2:26-29)

Thank you Lord! What a relief! In a world that feels random and chaotic at times, I am on my knees in worship of the One who has always had things in the palm of His hand.

Especially this year, I have desperately needed these reminders that the Kingdom was always coming, from the very beginning. It was always planned, from long ago. Jesus was always on His way the first time – and even now we can be confident that He will come again the second time. God is the ultimate promise-keeper. He will do what He says He will do — without fail. He always keeps His promises.

Jesus will come again in glory to bring His Kingdom in all its fullness.

In the waiting, we are Kingdom people in a world in need. We invite others into the life Christ has brought – into the reality that is beyond our wildest hopes. We live according to the ways of the King of Kings, the One who has come and is coming back again. 

He is the source of eternal hope, peace that passes all understanding, deep joy, and real love – the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Joy to the world!

A Full Moon

This is the second in a weekly series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

***

The most remarkable thing happened this week.

The full moon rose in a clear sky.

Most months I don’t really pay attention to the phases of the moon, but the first full moon in fall is my favourite. Paired with the brilliance of rose-gold sunrises and brilliant coral-red sunsets, a harvest moon on a clear, warm night is just one of the most incredible beauties of the year.

We got the kids out of bed the other night and took them to the backyard to catch a glimpse.

“Whoa, that’s huge!” they marvelled.

We stood for a few minutes in the chill of the evening, barefoot on the grass, soaking in the beauty of the night sky. Then it was back to bed.

As I was tucking them in for the second time, one whispered, “Thanks for showing us that cool full moon, Mom.”

My heart swelled. “You’re welcome, sweetheart.”

This morning I peeked out the window to see the moon was full and pale, on its way to bed, with Mars for its sidekick. “Hey kids, come check this out!” I said.

At first they couldn’t see it, but then their eyes filled with disbelief. “That’s Mars?!”

We pulled out an iPad app that confirmed our suspicions and they rushed off to tell their dad what they had seen.

It was remarkable to see the gorgeous harvest moon and Mars in the morning light, but it was even more remarkable that these created things point our family to the One who made everything and holds it all together.

Especially this week, when the grief of loss and disappointment grips us at different times in different ways. We’re rolling along through our new and very different routine when all of the sudden we remember that this pandemic life isn’t what we signed up for but here we are and what do we do with all these big feelings?

Creation serves to remind us that this life is not some random collection of pointless events that end the hollow emptiness of death. There is order and design delicately woven together with intricate, breathtaking beauty. Isn’t it a gift that we’ve had to spend so much time outside in the past six months?

Yesterday after another amazing ruby-red sunset, my 9 year old daughter teased me, “Mom, I know your favourite season is fall. Every time we drive anywhere you’re always like, ‘look at the beautiful colours! Or look at that awesome sunset’! Like, we get it! You love fall!”

I laughed, but I just know that one day the kids will remember their how cheesy mom loved to show them things in nature. And I hope that in 20 years when they see an ordinary hillside suddenly ablaze with fall colours or sit under a giant harvest moon, or look up to notice even a tiny star winking in the darkness, they’ll remember these little moments when heaven touches earth and makes the ordinary extraordinary. I am praying that this collection of memories, paired with the things we’ve taught them and the experiences they’ve had will remind them that there is more to this life than our difficult circumstances.

In the words of my wise mother, “This too shall pass”. For millennia, the world has turned on its axis and revolved around the sun. And every generation has faced its challenges, some much more devastating that our current experiences. And yet, stories of hope and resilience shine through. Why is that? Because God did not make the world and abandon it. He is here, He is working. He always has been and always will be.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV) spoke to my heart this week: 

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

In Him, all things hold together. Think about that for a moment. If He is the key, even now, even in this moment in history, we have nothing to fear.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Harvest Moon, October 1, 2020 – from my backyard.

Garden Lessons

I don’t garden because I am any good at it.

In fact, you might say the opposite is true.

Nearly everything I planted this year got eaten by insects, birds and critters, drowned by torrential rain and hail or wilted by weeks and weeks of extreme heat, despite repeated waterings.

A few weeks ago I noticed a business meeting taking place in the backyard between three robins and two magpies. So strange, I wonder what they’re doing, I thought. The next morning I opened the curtains and scanned the fence. This year I planted a beautiful giant sunflower, even tenderly nursing it back to health after the wicked wind broke it in half as a young shoot. Toothpicks and packing tape, a stake and some twine and she found the strength to grow five feet tall. 

My eyes searched for the large flower, ready to bloom as it followed the sun from dawn til dusk. Except, it wasn’t there. The stalk stood tall and strong, but the entire flower head was gone.

Maybe it was the Gang of Five. Maybe it was that grey squirrel I caught digging in my peas on my deck. Either way, the sunflower will not bloom.

Sigh.

Rabbit and squirrel food. That is what I grew this year. 

My beloved rose bushes, the ones that grow heavy with roses from June to October, were the victim of some sort of insect that ate the leaves into lace. I tried watering and feeding, and in a last-ditch effort to bring them back to life, I pruned them down to the ground a few weeks ago. I knew they might not make it, but it was worth the risk.

This morning I stepped outside to soak in the freshness. It’s a chilly fall-ish morning with the promise of a warm, golden, late summer afternoon. The growing season is slowly winding down, but these little rose bushes never give up. One, two, three new shoots.

They even have buds.

I don’t garden because I am any good at it; I garden because it reminds me of things my heart knows are true, in nature and in life.

Even when I don’t see it, I know He is working.

The sunflower stalk still stands, three smaller flowers popping out from the leaves. The rose bushes are steadily filling out with smooth shiny leaves and precious little buds. Pansies I planted two or three years ago have re-seeded themselves and are spreading through one corner of my flower bed, thriving with yellow and white and purple joy.

It makes me think of that passage in Isaiah 35 (NIV) —

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.

No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,

    and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Thank You Jesus that You do not abandon us in the darkest and most difficult seasons of life. You are the Life-Giver! We live in the now and not-yet, where glimpses of resurrection fill our hearts wth hope. You breathe life into what was dead. Wilderness and deserts won’t last forever. Burning sand and thirsty ground will pass away. Desolate jackal-haunts will be transformed into lush, fertile land.

This world and our life in it is incredibly beautiful, and at the same time, filled with imperfection and evil. I can’t pretend it’s not the case. I’ve just learned that some of the most faithful missionaries from my childhood church are enduring one of the deepest griefs imaginable. Please pray for them as they mourn.

Following Jesus does not guarantee a pain-free life.

But it does guarantee that pain will come to a permanent end. Gladness and joy will overtake us. Sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Hallelujah!

Resilience

All These Things

Forts. Lego. Cooking. Dress up. Sidewalk chalk. Twister. Family walks in new parks. Bug hunting. Tree climbing. Lawn bowling. Kite flying. Bike riding. Kids learning to read, learning to use the potty, learning to get along. Creating and exploring, losing teeth, discovering new interests, building life skills. Socially distant Saturday visits and FaceTime celebrations. Online church and school. Growing a garden, washing dishes by hand. Bounding down the sidewalk. Jumping through the sprinkler. Wading in the tall grass. Home haircuts. Home cooking. Chasing backyard butterflies, bunnies and storms. Drive-thru pancakes and coffee dates. Drive-by birthday parades. Gathering around the table, around the fire, around the Bible. Reorganizing the basement.

Reorganizing our priorities.

When the pandemic hit and the lockdown unfolded, we were worried about what we might miss out on.

But I can see now that we had nothing to worry about. God’s goodness washes over us in the most wonderful ways!

This week I found myself lingering in Psalm 27. When my eyes fell to the end I was deeply moved (v 13-14):

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

I barely slept two nights ago thanks to the intolerable heat and a little one who was dealing with nighttime fears. And in the soft early light when one of the kids woke up our youngest (long before he —or I — was ready) I laid on my bed feeling desperate for some bit of blessed quietness and rest where there was none to be had. Jesus, give me strength for this day! I prayed. Frustration. Exhaustion.  Desperation.

This morning my eyes fell to a social media post from a friend that told the heartbreaking story of a young woman who was murdered because she would not enter into an arranged marriage with a man of a different faith. And then another story of a young woman who was kidnapped, violated and forced to marry her abuser who is four decades her senior so the law would protect him. Violence. Injustice. Oppression.

The constant demands of raising a family on a tight budget in the middle of an isolating health emergency. Anxiety from a bleak economic outlook. Grief rising in the face of horrifying headlines and personal pain. These things challenge my determination not to live a despondent life that throws its hands in the air and proclaims, “it’s no use!”, a life that ignores the suffering of others in favour of my own comfort. In those very moments, Jesus’ words echo in my head: In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)

We remain confident in this: we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. There is a better way. A richer, more wonderful way that brings hope in the darkness. A way that leads to life! Our troubles will not overcome us.

No matter what we’re facing right now we can choose to place our hope fully in Jesus. Because of Him, we have eternal life that cannot be shaken or taken away! And we see God’s goodness on display not only through Christ’s life and death, but in the precious life He graciously gives to each of us.

As we wait for the Lord, let’s choose to live each moment with confidence in His Word and by the power of His Holy Spirit, pouring out His love out onto those He has placed in our lives. We are His handiwork, created in Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do! (Ephesians 2:10) May we walk in His truth today and preach His good news to our world-weary hearts.

a word of comfort kid art

The kids set up an art show called “A Word of Comfort” one day. My heart!

Such a View

We honeymooned on Maui.

It was late when we landed, nearly midnight by the time we loaded our suitcases into our rental car and set off on the 40 minute trek down a winding road to the piece of paradise we’d call home for the next week. The car headlights revealed rocks, palm trees and the yellow lines of the road as travelled down the unfamiliar route surrounded by thick darkness. Being in a new place, we inevitably got lost for about fifteen minutes. Prayers and frustration abounded – but thankfully our exit finally appeared and we found the condo tower.

I was exhausted, relieved and ready to go to sleep.

The next morning we decided to hop into the car and do some sightseeing. Retracing our steps towards the city, my jaw dropped. Like Dorothy opening the sepia-toned farmhouse door to reveal the technicolor land of Oz, our back-tracking drive held the most breathtaking views I’d ever laid eyes on.

As we drove the very same twisting highway in blackest night just hours before, we were oblivious to the stunning scenery that was there all along. But now we could see. Our highway ran along the coast, revealing small beaches and groves of trees in between vistas of wide open, sparkling green-blue ocean stretching out as far as the eye could see.

I had no idea that the darkness was hiding such beauty.

We live in a culture that prizes comfort and convenience regardless of the cost. Suffering is seen as unnecessary and pointless. But in my experience, my own suffering has often sent me sailing into the love of the Saviour who also suffered, knowing that He has already been through it all and stands in victory over sin and death.

Is it possible that the dark nights of our souls are the very things that Jesus uses to reveal His beauty to our hearts? I can’t pretend to understand why certain things happen. I’ve recently read through the book of Job and it’s unsettling to realize that God is God and I am not. After all Job went through, losing everything and having friends who constantly blamed him for his suffering, he stood firm and refused to curse God. He questioned the Lord and the Lord answered with “where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?”.

God revealed Himself in Job’s suffering. He showed His authority and sovereignty over all creation.

Job’s response to God is astounding. You’ll read it in Job 42:2-6 —

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Job remembered that God is God and he is not.

Consider that for a moment. Our ears can hear of God, but when we finally see Him, it’s a whole other thing.

We’re driving down the highway in utter darkness – and dawn breaks to reveal the majestic ocean view we’d been missing all along.

When Job saw God face to face, his reaction was to repent.

The suffering we are facing in our lives, the things that feel so difficult and unfair, the things that we can’t imagine anything good coming from – those things we desperately want to erase or undo – they are terrible. They are heartbreaking. They are the valley of the shadow of death. And they are also the places where God is present and moving. The places He is revealing Himself in unexpected and surprising ways. Through the most difficult seasons of our lives, we see His face.

I have long thought that we need a solid theology of suffering if we’re going to remain faithful to Christ in this sorrow-laden world. A popular version of Christianity teaches that suffering is exclusively a result of our sin and the devil. Another acknowledges it as a byproduct of a fallen world, with no real purpose or meaning other than to be patiently endured until it’s our turn to catch that train to Gloryland. Some feel that if they entertain the thought of suffering they will somehow bring it upon themselves, and others cannot reconcile the idea that God is good and bad things still happen.

But even in this uncomfortable topic, there is truth to be discovered.

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” (Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering)

Jesus, let that be true of me. Let me see Your face in those places that are so painful and difficult. You are my Redeemer. Thank You that Your Word reminds me of who You are!

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” (Job 19:35)

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Help me not to waste the hard times, Lord. Give me such a view of You that it lifts my soul out of the pit of despair and wraps me in the arms of the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Ocean View

Our ocean view (Maui)

Radical Love

The sun came up a few mornings ago and immediately disappeared behind a large band of dark clouds. 

They aren’t storm clouds. In fact, these clouds are notorious for ushering in warm weather as they arch across the sky. When I first moved here thirteen Augusts ago, I didn’t understand the clouds at all. They were so different than I was used to! The shapes and colours didn’t mean the same thing that they did back home. It has taken me a while to adjust to a different kind of sky.

We’re all adjusting to a different kind of sky these days. Life in a pandemic, even life in the year 2020, has new restrictions, new realities, new requirements, new definitions… it all feels a bit disorienting.

There’s an old hymn that has been ringing in my heart. I think back to my growing up years in an aging country church plunked right down in the middle of a field, hot summer sun beating down, ceiling fans spinning fast enough to lift the old roof right off. The windows were wide open, carrying voices raised to the beat of an ill-tuned piano, fingers dancing across the keys without thought for flats that were supposed to be naturals and naturals that were supposed to be flats.

We worshiped with gusto. I can still hear the blessed voice of one of our elderly ladies soaring over everyone else as we sang,

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain
Will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul 
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!

Some hymns simply fill me with nostalgia; others are stalwart reminders of an incredible truth my heart needs to hear even after over three and a half decades wrapped up in the love of Christ. I’ve recently learned this hymn was written by a Sunday School teacher who devoted her life to teaching youth about Jesus. Priscilla Jane Owens never left her hometown of Baltimore. She put down roots in her church and committed over fifty years of her life to teaching children and youth in her Sunday School classes, penning hundreds of songs that taught Christ’s love. This song was based on Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV) – 

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus bridges the gap between a holy God and unholy humans. He is the mediator. He is the One through whom we have access to the Creator of all. Because of Jesus, we have eternal hope. And when we build our life on Him, ultimately we cannot lose. We have been given a gift that cannot be taken away, a treasure in heaven that cannot be stolen or destroyed.

1 Peter 1:3-8 (NIV) says – 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Society’s growing hostility to God and His Word brings a sense that we are in the middle of an ocean where the strong tides are lifting and the cables are straining.

It’s not a new thing for Christians to believe things and live in ways that are incompatible with the culture they’re in. Even Jesus promised “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16). When we choose to follow Christ and live the way He calls us to live, we can expect suffering and loss. We can expect to be misunderstood and possibly even cancelled.

But Jesus also said, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world!” (16:33).

His way is not our way. 

Jesus doesn’t manipulate us into believing in Him. He doesn’t uncover our sins for the world to judge us and cast us aside. Jesus doesn’t cancel anyone.

When He taught about being the Bread of Life, many people turned away from Him because it was too hard to understand or believe. He asked the disciples if they wanted to leave too. Their reply has always struck a chord in my heart:

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

May those words pierce our hearts and bring us to life today. 

May they give us the courage to be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. To get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. To be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave us. (Ephesians 4:2-3, 31-32)

May we live out this radical love of Christ today with our families, in our churches, in our communities and in our world.

My view of the sky one summer morning.

Something To Hold On To

Raise your hand, or rather blink twice, if you’re tired.

Like, deep-down-in-your-bones tired.

Under normal circumstances, when a crisis hits we ride the wave with a surge of adrenaline. Things tend to settle down and we find our feet again, bumped and bruised but still standing.

These are not normal circumstances. We’re facing a global situation with no quick and easy answers.

Some areas are loosening restrictions, but this pandemic experience has changed things. I find myself noticing whether or not the characters in the fictional television show I am watching from decades ago are appropriately physically distant from one another. And I’m annoyed when I see an out-of-province license plate, even though there is likely some pre-lockdown explanation. Is that person wearing their mask correctly? Did I just hear a sneeze in the grocery store? I’m temped to criticize everyone and everything around me, to become suspicious and fearful, to look for someone to blame.

Up until this point, the novelty of it all made it interesting. We know we’re living in an historic event – a different sort of 9/11 moment. We can feel it changing the world around us as we watch, wide-eyed. Science fiction movies feel more realistic than what’s unfolding before our very eyes, and we can’t look away. Adrenaline pushes us out of bed in the morning and through the day to maximize this newfound “free time”. We’ve  jumped into a juggling act of working (if there is work at all) and schooling (if there are children) multiple children from home. We can do this, right? Yeah! Go team!

We have Zoom meetings, Youtube church, porch visits if everyone is healthy, monitoring for symptoms and cleaning surfaces we never imagined cleaning, sifting through free online resources, grocery store navigation, mask-making, bread-baking, veggie-growing and the dull ache that comes from adjusting to a new normal forced upon us by an invisible enemy.

Fast forward nearly 60 days.

Less smiling on the street, less grace in the line-up. We are battered by the rough-and-tumble news headlines. The novelty has been replaced by gloom. We miss each other. We need each other. We are sad for the things we’ve had to miss and we miss having things to look forward to. We need healthy food, good sleep and lots of exercise. We need hugs and love and care. We need to gather with other Christians and sing of the goodness of God in worship together. We need to visit our grandparents and let our kids visit theirs. We need a good cry and a lot of prayer. And while some of these things are impossible at this time, we long for their return.

In the waiting, I am finding I like to fill the time with work, coffee, walks, television, movies, cooking, conversations — all good things. But as the weeks roll into months, I am realizing that adrenaline and activities will not carry me through this pandemic. Positive thinking and favourite songs aren’t quite cutting it. I need something that will truly make a difference, something life-giving, something to satisfy my weary soul.

Colossians 3:1-4 popped into my head this week.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (NIV)

As a follower of Christ, I have been raised with Him. My life is hidden with His. He IS my life! There is something more to hold onto, or rather, be held by.

What a relief to know that I don’t have to try harder or be better at all the things on my to do list.

To rediscover that my hope is not based on my circumstances.

To see God’s faithfulness in the midst of my personal uncertainty and the global anxiety that attempts to rule my day.

The words of Psalm 62:5-8 wash over my heart, bringing clarity and encouragement:

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.

Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
 
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.”

Will we accept the invitation found in these ancient, beautiful words? Find rest in God. Trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him. Written thousands of years ago, they pierce the darkness of this season with the Light of the World.

Thank You Jesus that You have brought us eternal encouragement and good hope! (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

river refuge

A river refuge