Symbols

We came to Alberta to celebrate the marriage of my husband’s daughter. But while we are here, we wanted to bestow on her a blessing. Not a “thumbs up” for doing a good job, or throwing a pile of money at her to help her along. We can do that too. But what we wanted was to give her that blessing that is bestowed once in a lifetime, marking a special releasing of her as one under her parents authority and charging her to move into the future with both our and God’s blessing. To commemorate this special event we wanted to give her something special. She owns a bracelet that has those special beads on it. We went to the store to see if we could find something that would say what it is we want to communicate. But what a job! How could we condense all of what we wanted to express into one symbolic bead? How could one bead say how deeply she is loved, how immensely proud we are of her, how our hopes and dreams for her are now hers to find, how tremendously important it is that she seek out her Lord every step of the way?

The process reminded me of the cross. The symbol of God’s love for us. But I suddenly realized that while I might communicate love to my children as a collective, it is only when I communicate to them individually that I speak deeply, from the heart. And if I could give everything I had to provide freedom from bondage to them, I would. It is in that one-on-one, heart-to-heart, that all of my love can be poured out for them. The same way that Jesus poured Himself out for us. But not us – He did it for me. And you, and you, and you. Do you see? He was pouring out His love for me when He died on the cross. I wasn’t lost in the crowd. It was for me. Usually when we quote John 3:16, I hear: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not die, but have eternal life. I feel like His sacrifice was like a great discount at your favorite department store. Take advantage of it if you want to, but it was not done for me, Colleen. But I was wrong in the way I was hearing it. He did do it for me. He was thinking of me, Colleen, when He chose to stay on the cross to make sure that my sins were covered so I could be saved. His love for me was so immeasurable, that He wanted to communicate that to me in a special way that would show me the depth of His love and provide the freedom that I needed.

If I hear the word personally from 1 Peter 2:9 it sounds like this: Colleen, you have been especially chosen. You are a royal priestess, a holy woman, belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light! I am not a minion that God does not think of. He loves me! He died for me to show me His love and to provide life for me! I cannot ignore the things that He is asking me to do because I figure He is speaking to a group and I can opt out. No! He is speaking to me. He chose me!

His act of love provided a salvation that I could not earn any other way. It requires my thankful, obedient response. So, with Peter I echo his charge to all of us who have been redeemed by His precious blood:

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

1 Peter 4: 7-11

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The Promise

I am writing this from my seat on the flight to Alberta. This is the first family vacation that we have had where we have actually flown somewhere. My husband and children are flying for the first time and I haven’t flown in years. The first issue with going on this type of vacation is the preparation! Wow! Weeks and weeks of preparation. Lists to check, projects to finish, money to pay. There is so much to do! I had to look up the rules for the plane and make sure I was following them, ensure I had somebody to watch the house and the dog, apply for vacation from work, make sure I had packed everything that I am going to need while I am away.

Once I could do no more and sat down to just wait until it was time to go, I began to reflect on all the effort I had put into preparing. I was preparing for a vacation. I wondered what I was doing to prepare for Jesus’ return. Are there not things to be doing to prepare? Isn’t He more important than my vacation? Shouldn’t I be making sure that I am following His rules and packing my life with the things that He requires? Or has it been so long since He left that I have lost my sense of anticipation? Do I even believe He is coming back?

Hebrews 11: 13-16 reads: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Is it possible that we have lost sight of the promise? That our eyes and hearts have returned to the country we have left?

Noah waited over 100 years for the rain to fall. Moses 40 years to reach the Promised Land, and the people of God waited 400 years for the prophesies of Jesus birth to be fulfilled. Did the wait mean the promise was void? No. God’s timing is perfect. But in the 2000 years that we have been waiting for His return, have we become like the foolish virgins – unprepared? When He does come will we be ready? All of those people listed in Hebrews chapter 11 were considered righteous because they obeyed God. What do I need to do to ensure that I obey God? Do I even know what He is asking of me? Do I revere Him enough to seek His face and His will? Or is my heart content to have the time pass by and my soul fall asleep?

The only way to know what He is asking of me is to listen. The only way to listen is to give my heart and soul opportunity to hear. I need to pull away from all of the distractions and purposefully seek Him. I need to pray. To listen. To wait for direction. To act on it when I get it. For me, finding time to spend in these endeavors in my regular day is almost impossible. This kind of time does not simply “appear.” I need to make it happen. I need to steal away from the world and focus on Him. This requires a concerted effort. Perhaps it is time to return to the old disciplines of fasting, prayer and Bible memorization. I need to fill my lamp with oil and renew my anticipation of His return. Perhaps it will be today. Will I be ready? Will He say that He knows me and welcome me home?

 

Superheroes

I was driving with my son the other day. We were listening to some praise music, and this particular song was talking about God’s purpose for our lives. He asked me, “What do you think God wants me to do with my life? Do you think He wants me to be a superhero?” I smiled. Then I said, “It is possible!”

We all wanted to be a superhero at one point in our lives. What is it about them that we like? They help people. They recognize their gifts and strengths. They know what they need to do – they have direction and purpose. They perform amazing feats. And they get recognition as being “special.” Don’t we all want that? It is really only for childhood dreams? Were we created for simple, mundane, aimless lives? Or were we created to be superheroes?

Hebrews chapter 11 is generally considered to be the “hero” chapter in the Bible. It lists several pillars of the faith (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Rahab to name a few). These are the men and women who obeyed God and with His direction and hand on their lives were instrumental in impacting the world.

Is that the end? Did the superheroes die with the Bible? No. There have been many that have lived after. Even in the last 120 years there have been dozens that we recognize as superheroes (George Muller, Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, CS Lewis, Mother Teresa and Billy Graham to name a few). But maybe they are the “special” ones and we are not. What makes these people special? They were men and women who recognized what God gifted them to do and the purpose for which they were created. They obeyed God when He gave them direction. And they were able to impact millions of people because they tapped into the power of God. Did God send them a note in the mail and tell them exactly what He had made them for and how it would all turn out? No. He simply spoke and they listened. When He placed a passion in their heart for a group of people or ministry, they used the giftings that they were already given and followed His direction. They made themselves available to be used by God – and God showed up with power.

There is no reason why we cannot also be used in this way. But how many of us recognize the work that we are to do, and start down that road, but give up because we don’t see results? Most superheroes never see the whole impact of their actions. Even those listed in Hebrews 11 did not see the full reward. Verse 13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” And again in verse 39: “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.” The writer goes on to start chapter 12, and making reference to this list of heroes from chapter 11 he says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith” (12:1-2a).

We have been charged with the same opportunities and responsibilities as those that have come before. We have been gifted for the task. We have a specific “race” that is only for us. There is no other person that can do what God has marked out for you and I. He is speaking every hour of every day trying to give us direction and wants to pour out His power through us to impact the world. So why are we not all heroes? Because we don’t believe He will use us. Hebrews 11:6 states, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” It is time to get over ourselves and stop wasting time. How many millions are missing out because we are floating though life without purpose, direction and power? It is time to take God seriously, to start listening and obeying. God will do the rest.

Can I be a superhero? Can my son? Of course! (I just hope it doesn’t involve tights and a cape!)

Perspective

I have been to see counsellors – secular and Christian. But the one that helped me the most was my pastor. He was a man of God, and a wise counsellor. He would tell me, “It is not my job to tell you what to do. It is like you have your nose pressed up against a brick wall. All you can see is that one brick in front of you. My job is to back you up until you can see the whole wall. Then you will know what to do.” His job was to help me get a better perspective on the situation. I wish I had had more time with him. There are lots of situations that I could use a different perspective in. But he has gone on to glory already.

Perspective is important. To look at my life from the outside, I am no different than my neighbors or co-workers. I have the same stressful job, the same run down car, the same bumpy lawn and a chimney that needs thousands of dollars worth of repair. So, what is different about my life that is evidence that God is real? What has God done for me lately? He changes my perspective. I pray every time I head into work so that God will give me wisdom to do my job well and love and patience for those I work with. That is evident to those who work with me. I don’t worry about my cars or lawn, God will provide at the appropriate time. I have taken the masonry bill and laid it before the Lord asking for provision. And with all of those things going on I am still able to be generous to those God places in my path and maintain an attitude of praise – at least much of the time! Thankfully God also forgives where I fall short and I am not too proud to admit that I have failed. So what has God done for me lately? He has given me peace despite all that surrounds me. He has given me hope that my needs will be met. He has given me kindness and love for those who hate me. He has given me compassion for the hurting. And he has given me a joy that is not dependent on happy days. It comes from deep within – a result of time spent with the only One who knows me completely and loves me completely. He is my counsellor now. Those times when I get too close to the wall, He can back me up and show me a better perspective. Is knowing God all about just feeling good or does God actually intervene? Absolutely! He has performed bona-fide miracles in my life and I am trusting that He will continue to do so.

My witness to those who don’t know God, is dependent on my behaviour, not my words. Paul, throughout the New Testament tells us to have a walk worthy of our calling and to do good works. Here, in his letter to Titus he writes, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Saviour toward men appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men” (3:3-8). Following Jesus is not about adhering to a bunch of rules that, if maintained, will somehow earn me a place in heaven. My salvation is already secure. It was the moment I asked Jesus into my life. Following Jesus is about enjoying a relationship with Him. It is about knowing that I am wholly and completely loved just as I am. It is about having the confidence to walk through the fire of this life knowing that I am and will be ok since I am not alone – I am never alone. And no matter what happens, “though [you] stumble, [you] will not fall, for the Lord upholds [you] with his hand” (Ps 37: 24).

Do we really want God to show up?

Do we really want God to show up? Our automatic answer would be yes… but is that true? When God moves with power, people generally become afraid. When God met the Isrealites at Mt. Sinai, the mountain shook and the people were terrified. When Jesus cast the demons out of the men in Gergesenes, the townspeople asked Him to leave. In her book, Desperate for His Presence, Rhonda Hughey describes a night when she was present in a service where God showed up, and she became afraid. She says, “His presence was almost suffocating in its power and strength. I had mixed feelings – should I run away from it or toward it?” While we were in prayer this week for the church and asking God for His presence and power to move in our church, my husband felt God tell him that the church was not ready to experience His power. We would run away. Why?

When Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples “marveled saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”” (Matt 8:27). Until the disciples got to know Jesus and His love for them, they were afraid of the manifestation of His power. Once they travelled with Him for three years, witnessed Him die for them and rise from the dead, they finally understood. Then they were ready for the presence of God to fall on them and for His power to flow through them. They were no longer afraid – they were bold. Is our fearfulness related to the fact that we really do not know Him? Do we understand God’s intentions? Do we know His love? Are we confident in our ability to stand before Him and not be consumed?

A year ago my family was being terrorized. We begged God to intervene. And He did – powerfully. My first reaction was great relief for our trial to be over. That was followed by a sobering thought, who am I that I should live? I became afraid. I had to remember who God is and how much He loves me. He reminded me of the verses in Lamentations (3:22-23): “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” As a church, do we know God? Are we confident in our position before Him? What do we need to do to become ready to experience His power? Will God pass us by when He is ready to move because we are not prepared? Are we content to simply know God as a nice thought? Or are we ready to seek Him out and ask that His glory fill our church? God wants to come – which way will we run?