Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Intervention

I still don't have all the correct equipment to stay warm during a Saskatchewan winter. As I enter my second Christmas season here in Canada I have a closet full of adorable knitted caps and scarves--some even with matching mittens--that I toted with me on our move from the United States. But the idea of looking cute in these winter fashions has had to fly out the window in favor of a less adorable wardrobe which helps me stay warm in the frigid temperatures.

I have a pair of "driving gloves" I got for a Christmas present when I lived in Oregon a few years ago. They kept the early morning chill off my hands in Eugene, but up here in the frozen tundra, that's a different story.

Last year I discovered how useless these gloves were here in Canada when I wore them as I braved subzero temperatures walking home from choir practice. When I got back into the warmth of my house, at first I couldn't feel my hands. Then gradually they began to ache as the life crept back into them.

It hurts to thaw out.

One of my favorite Christmas carols is "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus". The invitation of the first verse is so sweet and simple.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

This last week after I was at a service where we sang it, I felt a weight inside of me -- kind of a longing. Although it ached, I didn't want it to go away. I could feel my heart opening up to places inside where I am still waiting for Jesus in deeper ways. The warmth of God's Spirit was touching on frozen hopes and dreams within my heart.

It hurts to thaw out.

Christmastime is a season when God regularly does an intervention on me. When I finally slow down and listen to His voice I can hear Him asking me in deeper and deeper ways "Will you make room for me?"

My answer each time is "Yes!" And each time I revisit this place with God, the frozen places within my heart begin to melt and I am renewed.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Come, dear Christ. My heart invites you afresh and anew to be Lord of my life. Rearrange and remove whatever you need to make more room for your presence.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Connoisseur of Christianity

I heard a story once from a missionary who was returning to the US after being in Mozambique for an extended time. She said the culture shock didn't fully sink in until she took a trip to the local grocery store. As she looked at the racks and racks of choices just for bread, she became paralyzed. She was unable to make a choice. Just days ago, the only bread she had was the loaf she bought several times a week from the local village woman. Now she could get it with sesame seeds, whole wheat, rye, white, enriched or all natural, etc.

We North Americans live with such abundance at our fingertips. There's so much to be thankful for, but there are trappings that come with the plentiful supply.

When something is readily available, it's becomes easy to get picky with how you like it. Coffee is a great example. Ten years ago, people would have thought it absurd to pay close to five dollars for a made-to-order cup of coffee. Today we think nothing of it.

It's entertaining to sit in a Starbucks and listen to people's orders for their drinks. One of my favorite quotes about this topic is from the movie "You've Got Mail". Tom Hanks' character is writing to Meg Ryan's character about people who order at Starbucks. He says:

"The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino."

As funny as this quote is, it contains some truth that applies to other areas of life besides coffee ordering.

We live in a region where Christians are free to worship. Churches abound. Books and CDs and DVDs are simple to access. We do not lack for spiritual food. But in this abundance, it's easy to become picky eaters. We start deciding why we don't like certain churches, or don't enjoy the company of certain Christians the same way we choose our favorite brand of cereal.

I'm not knocking discernment. We need it more and more. The core truths of Christianity should never be watered down or compromised. This is something different.

Sometimes Bible believing Christians can lose out on great fellowship because they let their personal preferences get in the way.

When I was a toddler, I was a VERY picky eater. The only thing I would consistently eat was strained banana baby food. My Mom was just thankful I was eating so she regularly gave it to me. When she took me to the doctor for my check up he was horrified because my banana diet had turned my skin yellow! He (not so nicely) told my Mom she'd better find a way to get me to eat a balanced diet for my health's sake.

I admit, as I am living in a largely Christian area, I find myself picking and choosing a little too much in the area of my spiritual food. If I'm left to my own devices, I would probably still eat a spiritual diet of lots and lots of the same thing. God help me.

I want to be a vibrant, well-rounded Christian who can appreciate the many different giftings and expressions within God's people and His kingdom.

Growing up, my family would gather together every Thanksgiving and the table was loaded down with food. My eyes were set on the dressing, my favorite. But along with this wonderful concoction there were other dishes that I did not like as much. My grandma put a tiny bit of these foods on my plate. "Try just a bite," she said. "You never know, you just might like it."

I think I'm going to take my Grandma's advice in the area of my spiritual food as well. Who knows? I might just end up finding something I really like!

God, help me not reject what other Christian brothers and sisters bring to the table. Give me your grace to receive what they have and in doing so become more well-rounded and healthy in my own spirituality. Amen.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Contemplating Greatness

What makes a person great? I've been thinking quite a bit about that lately. I have this pull in me to really have my life count for something. When I think of what that might look like, my thoughts usually come around to something visible that people would know I did or was involved with. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be linked to something great, but it's a really close cousin to wanting to be famous. Fame is fickle and we all know that not everyone who is famous is great.

There are acts of greatness that the world applauds: discovering the cure for polio, being awarded a purple heart for bravery, winning a gold medal in the Olympics.

But the more I think on this topic, I wonder if some of the biggest acts of greatness are often things that the masses cannot see -- maybe no one sees them--except God.

The person who is slandered and refuses to speak evil in return, the husband or wife who faithfully cares for a spouse whose health is failing, the long suffering parent who continues to believe for their prodigal to return, the friend who is loyal even when that loyalty is not returned -- all of these are acts of greatness.

While visible acts of greatness often bring acclaim, invisible acts don't. A person does the right thing seemingly without notice--no headlines, no praise, no award--at least not here on earth.

I read a quote last week that said something like "A person's character is best seen by how he treats another who cannot help him in return."

I want to be a person with this calibre of character. Perhaps there will be tangible things people remember me for, but more than that, I want to be someone who is willing to serve no matter what the return. I believe this makes God glad and that's the greatest thing of all!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Falling into Faith

I've been thinking a lot about faith lately.

I friend told me a story about someone she knew who is really believing for a miracle of healing. Amidst her declarations of healing, her health has continued to deteriorate to the point of almost certain death. In this situation this person will not even hear of the possibility that this might be the time God brings her to heaven. She continues to declare she is healed.

I believe in healing. I believe in standing for a miracle in faith. But I wonder, is there a point where my refusal to consider any other possibility causes the situation to turn into one where I'm hanging onto my agenda rather than to God?

I want to be strong in my faith. I don't want to be one of those people who is afraid to even believe for impossible things because he doesn't want to risk disappointment. I want to ask, I want to believe God for big things. But how am I going to behave if those things don't happen the way I prayed they would?

I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow down and worship an image of gold. These men were God's cream of the crop prophetic voices in a wicked Chaldean culture. Their response to Nebuchadnezzar before they were thrown into the fire stands out to me.

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18.)

These three guys had seen their share of miracles. They knew God could get them out of the furnace. But they also knew that it was God who got to ultimately decide that, and no matter what He chose, they were going to serve Him.

So I wonder if those words of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego might be what a true prayer of faith sounds like. "God I want you to heal me, I know you can. I'm believing for that. But even if you don't I'm going to worship you."

When I was in my late twenties I had an acute attack of pancreatitis. I wound up in the hospital for almost 10 weeks and had two surgeries and lots of tubes sticking out of me. They never found the cause, they simply treated the illness at hand.

During that time, I prayed, I believed, I had friends try to cast demons out of me, I worshipped, and finally at my wits end I surrendered. I came across a verse in Psalms 73:25-26,28--"Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart they may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good. I have made the Lord my refuge that I might tell of all his works."

In my case, once I surrendered I began to get better. But I don't think that's a given.

Surrendering isn't always a pretty process. There's some inner wrestling involved when you surrender your agenda to a sovereign God. But oddly enough, I think surrender brings freedom. I think surrender is extreme faith. It's letting go of whatever I'm holding onto and trusting God to catch me.