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Inside-out BearI’ve been thinking about how the Lord turns our lives inside out for the benefit of others, if we let Him. The treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, are some of the most powerful ‘ministry tools’ we have. It’s not easy to do, of course, because we have our reputations to uphold. 🙂 But whoever saves his life will lose it, and whoever loses it for Jesus’ sake will find purposeful, abundant, eternal life.

A few weeks back, I was getting dressed and had something quite bizarre happen. I put my camisole on, then a blouse over top. As I was brushing my teeth, I noticed that the blouse was inside out! I laughed at myself, thinking how stunned that was. So I took it off to reverse it, and the camisole was inside out too!! Now I was really laughing. But then I heard the Holy Spirit say, “just like your clothes are inside out, I want you to turn your life inside out.” 

Isn’t turning our lives inside out the least we can do, in view of God’s mercy? Jesus, God covered in flesh, turned Himself inside out for us on the cross. I’m praying about what turning myself inside out means. I guess it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing for everyone, but the principal is the same.

I had a discussion with a friend from church recently and she told me about her brother, who is gay. It was a beautiful conversation. She talked about how she couldn’t help loving her brother’s boyfriend, even though she didn’t think she’d be able to. One of the things she mentioned that really impacted me is that Christians who have a gay loved one are often ‘in the closet’ about it at church. I guess they feel shame and a sense of fear of what other Christians will think. It shouldn’t be like that. If we can’t be honest and open in the family of God, where can we be?

And that ties in with turning our lives inside out. Allowing God to use our life as an open book lets others see the miracle of His healing power. Lots of things stop us from being this vulnerable. Fear is a big one. Personally, I couldn’t do it before because I was paralyzed by shame. Shame is like cancer. It was lodged there right at the core of my identity, tainting everything about me, continually metastasizing & causing all sorts of secondary problems. How Jesus healed my shame, I’ll never understand on this side of heaven. But healing is so much more than focusing on the individual struggles we face. It requires His touch in the very centre of who we are. That’s why simply trying to change our outward behaviour doesn’t work. If it did, we could overcome sin by our own efforts. Sinful behaviour is the visible evidence that we need radical heart surgery. God alone can go that deep, healing the whole person.

Sometimes He heals instantly and completely, sometimes healing is a life-long process. Whatever is most beneficial from the standpoint of eternity is what He does. And He doesn’t always heal every malady or problem. I wish He did! I would love to be able to taste food, to smell flowers, to live without the musical accompaniment in my left ear. (all results of a head injury I sustained six months ago – my survival is a miracle) I wish He would completely remove every longing my flesh has for things that displease Him. 

And you know what? I’m confident that He can do all the things I’ve mentioned, and more. And He is at work in me, changing & molding and transforming me all the time, making me fit for service. I don’t want my focus to be on ‘getting healed’, because if it is, I can’t focus on Him. And if I’m not focused on Him… what’s the point?

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Indelibly Marked

incdutyHave you ever watched the PBS television show, Antiques Roadshow? The basic concept of the show is this: A team of experts and appraisers travel to a city, set up in a large venue such as a convention centre, and invite people to bring in their antiques, collectibles and family heirlooms to be appraised. Sometimes people bring an object that they think is valuable, and it ends up being worthless junk. At other times the item turns out to be extremely valuable, beyond the owner’s wildest dreams.

The Bible says that when God created the earth and everything in it, one part of His handiwork stood apart from the rest – human beings. “Then God said, ‘let us make man in our image, in our likeness’…” (Genesis 1:26) When God created humans, He marked us with His likeness, His “maker’s mark”. You could even say that we bear His “hallmark”, in that at creation, humans were pure. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God in the Garden of Eden, the purity of God’s creation was corrupted, and we see the results in the world today. Corrupted though it may be, God’s image still marks us indelibly. Even people who say they don’t believe in God usually have an innate sense of right and wrong. Paul talks about this in Romans 1:18-23:

“But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.”

What Paul is suggesting is that disobedience has its roots in our view of God and of ourselves. Considering what happened in the Garden of Eden, this seems to be true. The serpent planted seeds of suspicion and mistrust in Eve’s mind. This caused her to see God differently, and to question His motives. As a result she pushed God off the throne and took matters into her own hands. We know the rest of the story. “People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him…” Paul goes on to say, “they traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand”. In other words, we have a built-in tendency to accept (or even prefer) counterfeits – idols – though ‘the real thing’ is obvious and readily available.

If disobedience has its roots in our view of God, then a good question to ask on a regular basis is, “How great is our God?” Though God has nothing to prove, I think He provides plenty of opportunities for us to see how great He is. Some of us miss these opportunities because we’re too busy or we’re not paying attention. Others are so ensnared in pride and rebellion that we refuse to give God His rightful place in our lives. Our anthem is “my way or the highway”. Unfortunately, we don’t see the inevitable head-on collision coming until it’s too late.

God loves us and He has our best interests at heart. When we want something and He says, “no”, He isn’t trying to deprive us, He’s trying to protect us. His perspective on our lives takes into consideration factors we aren’t even aware of. The thing we think we want could end up destroying us. There are also times when God says “wait”. This can be at least as hard as hearing “no”.

When I struggle with giving God the ‘final say’ in my life, I find great comfort in knowing that though He didn’t sin, Jesus was tempted and tried. The night before His crucifixion, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Like us,  Jesus had desires. Unlike us, He consistently submitted them to God.

Lord, help us to worship you with our submission and obedience, even when we don’t understand. We choose to believe that You know what’s best in every circumstance of our lives.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5,6)

Journey-mates

istock_000003621683xsmallThe journey we’re on in life isn’t meant to be walked alone. From the earliest chapters of the Bible we learn that God made us to be in relationships. After creating a multitude of animals and the first human being, He said, “It’s not good for the man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion.” (Genesis 2:18, The Message) He created Eve to meet the need in Adam’s heart and life for companionship – a need that no animal could meet.

We usually think of the above passage of scripture as referring only to marriage, but it contains a principle with broader implications. Part of how we bear God’s image is in this need for connection and companionship. We know God is intensely relational, partly because He has existed as the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – from before the beginning of time. But perhaps more significantly, we know it because of the enormous price He paid to repair our fractured relationship with Him. He longed to restore fellowship with His lost image-bearers so intensely that He came, willingly, and died for us on a cross. This is what Jesus means when He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NIV)

Once we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we become journey-mates with Him and with all other Christians, regardless of ethnicity, skin colour, language or background. The wonderful thing about journeying with Jesus is the way He’s able to take any life, any person with a willing heart, and turn that life into something worthwhile and God-honouring. He doesn’t pick and choose His journey-mates, opting to walk only with a select few: He will take anyone who is willing to “walk the walk” with Him. This is the same attitude we should have towards each other. What will the journey with Jesus be like? Read what He says:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28, The Message)

Going to seed

 

petunia-seeds1Walking like Jesus walked means being open to interruptions. Not just open to them, but expecting them. Have you noticed that He was never too busy for people? Those burning questions we ask – “why am I here?” “what’s my purpose in life?” “what is God calling me to do?” – can be answered in one phrase: We’re here to go to seed.

When you hear the phrase “going to seed”, what image does it conjure up? If you’re into gardening you probably picture a straggly looking petunia, well past its prime. By the time something has gone to seed, we write it off as old, unattractive, barren. But going to seed is exactly what Jesus did, and what He calls us to do.

Think about the plant analogy some more. God is the Master Gardener. He plants us where He wants us. He waters us, feeds us, prunes us. Under His care we grow, absorbing and reflecting His light. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, as Psalm 139 puts it. But our purpose is more than skin deep. God wants us to reproduce, just like a plant – by going to seed, a process of dying in order that new life can spring forth. Listen to what Jesus said as He looked toward the cross:

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24, NIV)

Some of the deepest satisfaction in life can come from knowing that we’re going to seed. Every day we have fresh opportunities to sow seeds on God’s behalf. Whether or not we do depends to a large extent on our attitude. Do we see others as “bit players” in our life, there to meet our needs, or as precious individuals whom God has placed in our path, so that we can bless them? The next time you are served by someone – for example, at a restaurant – consider the possibility that God may want you to serve them.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~ Jesus, speaking to His disciples
(Matthew 20:26-28, NIV)

The three-legged race

max-176341I haven’t thought about three-legged races for ages. In fact, it’s been so long that I couldn’t even remember what they were called. I was talking to a friend about the different gifts we have in the Body of Christ, and how they fit together according to God’s plans and purposes. As we spoke, I suddenly saw this image in my head of two people running side by side, rather clumsily, with the left leg of one tied to the right leg of the other, adjacent arms draped over each other’s shoulders for support. If any picture is worth a thousand words, surely this one is. 

There are a few interesting things about the three-legged race. For starters, calling it a “race” is probably a bit misleading. The objective is ostensibly to cross the finish line first, but doing so doesn’t require speed as much as it requires cooperation.

Another thing that becomes clear after a few failed attempts is that being paired with someone of roughly the same height makes your job a lot easier. A large discrepancy in this area pretty much guarantees that you’ll crash to the ground before the finish line. As a result, watching a mismatched pair can be pretty comical, as long as no one gets hurt.

The Bible often uses “the race” as a metaphor for life, and more specifically, for the Christian life. For example, in Hebrews 12 we are admonished to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul tells us to “run in such a way as to get the prize”. To the Galatians, who had been led away from the simple message of salvation by grace through faith, he says, “you were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” Even the Old Testament mentions the subject. In Ecclesiastes 9:11 it says, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong”. Doesn’t this contradict our culture’s notion of independence, competition, and hard work – the “you can be anything you want if you work hard enough” belief system we have in North America?

“So what’s wrong with that?” you may ask. Actually, there’s a lot right with it. The foundation of our country was poured by people who believed in hard work and sacrifice, and they believed that God would reward them in due time. It’s worth remembering that many of them came from countries where their “lot in life” was pretty much determined by their parents’ class background. No amount of hard work could lift someone in 19th century England from being a scullery maid at Buckingham Palace to being the Queen.

What comes to mind when you think of a race? Do you have visions of super-fast, uber-muscular athletes running at the Olympics? I guess that’s what I think of. I was one of those sporty girls growing up, and my family was (and is) pretty competitive. The expression, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”, might exaggerate somewhat the degree to which winning mattered, but only marginally. Being first, winning, and being the best were all highly prized in my family.

So when God talks about our life being a race, what picture do you think He has in mind? When He tells us to “run in such a way as to get the prize”, is He telling us to trample over anyone who gets in our way, to do whatever it takes to cross that line in first place? Of course not, you say. You’re right, He can’t possibly have that in mind, because God’s ways and His priorities are upside-down compared to ours. He says things like “the first will be last and the last will be first” and “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave”.

The three-legged race can add much to our understanding of what God means when He tells us to “run in such a way as to get the prize”. Here are a few characteristics worth pondering. The three-legged race:

  • cannot be run alone, unless you have three legs;
  • is less about speed than it is about timing and coordination;
  • is easier if you are “equally yoked”;
  • can result in pain and/or embarrassment if you aren’t;
  • requires cooperation and a unity of purpose – you must be heading in the same direction;
  • takes humility – when pride rears its ugly head, you’re bound to end up on the ground;
  • isn’t well suited to rugged individualists;
  • has as its main objective not falling over. Crossing the finish line is secondary;
  • is a learning process. Early attempts at moving forward together will likely be clumsy and uncoordinated. You will improve with practice if you don’t give up.

Once we become children of God, there’s a way in which we are joined together just as if we were running a three-legged race. Romans 12:4, 5 says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Our purpose in life shifts radically once we become part of God’s family. It’s no longer about me, my goals and desires, or even my happiness. It’s about being part of a coordinated, unified effort to share God’s love and His message of salvation with the world. 

Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD
(Zechariah 4:6)

istock_000008220916medium1Although my family didn’t attend church while I was growing up, we did have one tradition that echoed our protestant heritage. Every Sunday dinner, we said grace. It was a prayer that many of you will recognize: “For what we’re about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful”. In my young mind, I thought that somehow, reciting these words – hands folded, eyes closed – was a necessary accompaniment to roast beef and yorkshire pudding. It was a special meal, true enough, and we ate it at the dining room table instead of in the kitchen, using the good china and silverware. It never crossed my mind to consider why we didn’t ask God to make us truly thankful for dinner the rest of the week.

Now that I’ve grown up and have had the life-altering experience of falling in love with Jesus, these early memories are especially precious to me. I love to imagine that although I had no real idea what I was praying or to whom, God was smiling down on the scene in our dining room each Sunday. He knew that one day I would know Him well. He knew that as I surrendered my life to Him, I would be thankful in ways that would’ve been incomprehensible to me not long ago.

If you think about the words of that prayer, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. It’s easy to say, “for what we’re about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful” when you’re anticipating something good, delicious or desirable. But can we pray the same words when what we’re about to receive is unclear or frightening? We think we know what will happen tomorrow – we make plans, expect certain things to happen in a certain way. When things don’t go as we had hoped, it can be pretty unsettling. We may even feel annoyed with God. “Lord, don’t You love me? Then why don’t You (fill in the blank)?” Can we trust Him enough to surrender our plans, fears and doubts, and let Him use the hard, barren seasons of life to change us? Can we accept the words of Romans 8:28, “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”, when the things He is working in and through are deeply painful?

Maybe the issue here is really about control. Who is in control in my life? Am I ‘god’, or is God in charge? Do I trust Him to order my steps, not just in words, but in how I react when I don’t get my own way, when I don’t understand what’s happening and I wonder where He is? Our life on earth is a tiny blip on the radar screen of eternity. This is where we learn to trust God, to love and give and serve with gratitude for the life He has given us. It’s the training ground for our real life, which begins after we die.

Lord, make us truly thankful in every circumstance. Help us to understand the inexpressible magnitude of Your love for us, a love that always has our best interests at heart. That doesn’t mean our lives will be free of pain and suffering. What it does mean is that You will be with us in every trial, every dark hour, and that You really do work all things for the good of those who love You and are called according to Your purpose – Your purpose, not ours. As much as we might like to think that His purpose revolves around our comfort and well being, God’s perspective is quite different. He sees the big picture in a way we can’t possibly comprehend. He is much more concerned with our growth and transformation than He is with giving us everything we want in this life.

Have you recently received something in your life that is unwelcome – bad news, sickness, the loss of a job, a broken relationship? One of the keys to getting through life’s hard times is to keep your focus on God. A favourite scripture of mine is Hebrews 12:2 – “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus was in very nature God, but He humbled himself, coming to earth as a human being. He understands our weakness; the Bible describes Him as “a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering”. As He approached Calvary, the scriptures say, “and being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly…Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42,44)

Jesus knew that His submission to God’s will was necessary to fulfill a larger plan. If you find yourself in a dark valley, facing a cup you don’t want to drink, pray for deliverance, but even more, pray for endurance. God will carry us through life’s valleys if we continue to trust in His goodness. When we view challenging circumstances this way, we can find real comfort in the words Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Omega and Alpha

istock_000000391369xsmallLife is so bizarre sometimes. Here we are at the end of 2008, moving into a new year. I had a terrible year in a lot of ways, but God turned everything around in the most unexpected way. In fact, He used a near-catastrophic accident to wake me up to see just how blessed I am. I struggled through months of serious depression, and just as I was starting to get back on my feet, I had an accident that could have ended my life or left me disabled. But it was through this accident that God showed me some very important things.

He showed me that I really am loved – by Him, by my family and by my friends. People from church fell over themselves to help me, bringing meals, driving me to appointments, visiting me – really taking care of me. As a result of the accident, I’ve had some wonderful, priceless time with my elderly parents. Another thing God showed me is that life is so precious. Every moment is a gift from Him to be savoured and treasured. Nothing matters more than our relationships. Things that troubled me before my accident were put into perspective rather quickly at the realization that God had protected me and spared my life. What could have been an ending for me became a new beginning in God’s hands, a sort of divine wake-up call to fix my eyes on Jesus, to live my life with purpose and an attitude of gratitude.

What delights me is that the whole situation has God’s fingerprints all over it. He loves to work in unexpected ways, through situations that look hopeless or impossible. Think of the death of Lazarus in John 11. Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick, but instead of rushing to heal him, he stayed where he was for two more days. By the time he reached Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. There was no question that he was dead. When Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away, Martha protested that the body would smell. In response, Jesus said, “did I not tell you if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” He then raised Lazarus from the dead. Nobody expected this to happen or thought Jesus could do it. The whole reason He waited before coming was to show God’s glory. He did something impossible. So what seemed like an ending, an omega, turned into a beginning, an alpha – and not just for Lazarus, but for all the people who witnessed his rebirth. That is incredibly exciting. I know God spared me not just for me, but for people around me. They witnessed a miracle first hand. Never stop praying and believing for the salvation of your loved ones.

We all have endings and beginnings throughout our lives, but with Jesus, nothing is ever final. What seems like a catastrophe or a dead-end can be a new beginning in God’s hands. It’s all about perspective. I’m doing my best now to look for Jesus in every situation, no matter how hopeless it may seem, because I know He’s there. What is faith if not the expectation that God is working on our behalf to turn bad things around for good? Lazarus had been dead for four days and his body smelled, but this didn’t faze Jesus. He isn’t put off by the stench of the dead, buried parts of us either. He will take the ashes of our lives and change them into something beautiful and lasting, if we let Him. I hope the coming year will be one in which your faith and hope in Jesus is strengthened. The Lord bless you and keep you.