Conditions of Approval

My journey through the halls of City planning.


On a sunny morning in March of 2017,  I stood waiting by the elevator of the atrium as smartly dressed people passed by.   Soon our no-nonsense engineer joined me as we headed up for a preliminary meeting with Calgary city planning.  Averil knew the ropes of City Hall by I was naively optimistic about our future plans for a new church. We chatted as we made our way to the open meeting area overlooking the City Hall atrium below.  Slowly, a team of five or six friendly looking planners with binders gathered around us.   Looking back, this meeting would initiate me into the conditional world of city planning.  

When it comes to rules and details, I have an unfortunate lack of ability to pay close attention.  Looking at the instructions is what I do after the first couple failed attempts at something.

The meeting progressed and I gradually picked up that these people took details seriously and according to their rules my church project was a non starter.   They explained their reasons, 10 in all, using technical jargon that I would over time become familiar with.  By the end I was feeling like I’d been through a wringer washer .  One planner waited behind to encourage us not to give up. “There is a Mosque in the area,” he said, “they had similar issues and they did get approved.”

The Islamic Center of South Calgary is an ambitious 10-acre project about 5 km from our property. Their planning process began in 2009 and like ours was challenging.  Reading their story was an eye opener for me but it also gave me some hope. 

Our journey to building a new church began with a desire to make a difference in our city.  Sometimes God allows a season of restlessness to give birth to needed change.   The opportunity for that change came when Hope Mission from Edmonton moved into our neighbourhood and were looking for a facility to launch.  Our warehouse church in the “hood” crossed all the t’s for them and a deal was struck in the fall of 2015.  Excitedly, we began to look for land.

We eventually found our future home on Kijiji. Four acres on the east edge of the new ring road in an area called South Shepard. The land was part of a 12-acre parcel, formerly owned by the province but annexed by the city when Stoney Trail was built. To us it was the perfect gift from God for our future church home base.

The vision of Shepherd’s Gate is formed from our grass roots as a community-based church.  The question that guided us was, “What would a church facility look like if we were to move into the neighbourhood like Jesus did?” The result is a 12,000 square foot centre with distinctive roof lines, open and bright meeting spaces, and a thoughtful interior flow: a functional, rent-able, community centre church. With city planning however, even a simple design can get complicated.  The amount of engineering required on our project would eventually rival some small housing developments.

Zoning Day

Almost a year to the day after our eye opening meeting with the planning team, I was at home with my west coast architect sister Sue and my wife Sandra. We were glued to the TV watching the city council live stream.   This was our day to appeal to the elected body for permission to build.  The possibility that this could be the end of the road hung in the air adding to our agitation. There were 35 proposals before ours, but this morning the councilors were cutting them down like cord wood.  Keeping the live stream playing on my phone, we raced for city hall.  Michael our Calgary architect was the last to run in a minute before we were called.  It turned out the councilors reception to our presentation was very positive.  “It’s looking good.”, Averil whispered.  Then the city councilors did something unusual, they wrote us a by-law that very day.  We went for quick lunch and started chatting about possible land uses. Our requests were approved almost unanimously that afternoon.

Walking out of city hall and down into the bustle of Olympic Plaza,  we soaked in the moment.  Gradually, we made our way up historic Steven Avenue surrounded by century old stone architecture. On this avenue 40 years ago I bought my first bible and there I also met a man who told me what it means.  Now with my wife Sandra, we’ve been serving this Church in Calgary for 20 of those years. Soon our new building will be added to the diverse architecture that beautifies the city.   It feels good when God opens a door no man can shut.  “Man I love this city,”  I was thinking.

Three months later those same councilors approved 14 new communities for the City of Calgary. The last one approved was Hotchkiss, a Hopewell community across the road from our new property! God is up to something. 

The next phase of our project would prove to be the most difficult so far. We were going back to the planning department for a development permit. 

Details, Details

Winter was slowly arriving as we gathered at the planning department for a detailed team review.  Council had written our zoning by-law but we still needed a development permit to build.   “We try to get DP’s approved in 120 days,”  our planner had optimistically said adding, “but the complexity of the application plays a role.”

Our team having read this first report on our application, cautioned me, “The best approach is not to be alarmed about anything and listen to what they propose to do to allow this through.”

This first review was a 20 page list of 70 exhausting, prior to decision, conditions.    The most expensive parts of the review were the requirements to turn our driveway into a city road and to upgrade a provincial intersection 5 kilometers away. The intersection upgrade is a cost we will share with the mosque.

The conditions on storm water management were surprising.  “Surface ponding should be designed to contain all the flow generated from the 100-year storm events.” it stated. Yes, 100 years!  We would be digging a run-off pond and planting enough tress of various sizes to absorb all rainwater.  Nevertheless, the planning department did make several concessions which will save us over a million dollars on the project.

Within a month of this meeting our budget for consultants had to be adjusted. More conditions means more complexity and more costs. 

Winter was late leaving in the spring of 2019.  One year after our exhilarating city hall victory we dragged ourselves back to the planning department floor.  Ironically, it was April Fools of 2019 when we received our second team review from the city.  It contained 18 pages and 60 prior to decision conditions. More revisions and calculations, more drawings and more paper, lots of paper.

A builder once told me the City of Calgary has a department for the design of garbage enclosures. I don’t know about that, but I do know our garbage enclosure will be amazing!

Conditional Approval

On July 5, 2019, I was pulling my car into the Rona parking lot when my phone rang. It was Michael, our diligent and humble Calgary architect. I have some good news, he said, our Development Permit has been approved. A wave of relief swept over me as I realized we had made it through the worst of this struggle.  Still, the approval came with 47 prior to release conditions that would take another year to resolve. 

At times in this process, I felt like Moses going against Pharaoh and declaring “Let my people go that they might worship me!” This day I quietly offered a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord and called my wife Sandra with the good news.

Throughout those years our congregation experienced a wilderness wandering of our own. We had relocated to a rental spot in a senior’s club in the community, our second rental space.   In spring of 2019, we were invited to merge with Avenue Church in Ogden. This has been like a homecoming. It is so good to be back in a building we can call our own.  The say faith untried is like a muscle without exercise, ours is getting a good work out now.

As I write this it’s a warm spring day in Calgary. People are shaking off the hibernation of the first ever pandemic shut in.  All conditions are now met and we are finalizing the paperwork on our DP.  Our team pushed through the rest like football players moving the ball up the field ten yards at a time. 

Living with conditions is like driving downtown on 9th avenue when all the lights keep turning red. Conditions like a whisper in your ear say, “You are never going to get it right.” They feel like a power play, but in the end all power belongs to God. No amount of restrictions can stop what he approves, for all the promises of God in Christ are yes and amen.

I’m so grateful that God’s love is unconditional!

In a world governed by endless by-laws it can be hard to understand grace that is free. Thankfully, our relationship with God is not conditioned on our own performance but on the one who died and rose again for us, Jesus. 

This grace once grasped changes us from the inside out, as God gives us a new heart and a desire to please him.

Chapter 2

A new chapter has recently opened in our dream. It’s spring again and we are back in shutdown mode but nevertheless our church family is taking the bold first step of faith and beginning phase one of Shepherd’s Gate Center. 

Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. Psa 37:5

Watch the fly through video.

Miracles and Milestones

The  journey of Shepherd’s Gate and the replanting of our Church, so far.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Is 43:19

The behind the scenes work of God is often more obvious in hindsight.   At least, that is my experience with our new Church, Shepherd’s Gate.  What really began with an idea bantered about among friends has become a larger than life miracle with open doors we could not have predicted. 

Finding a Buyer 

Our 15,000 sq ft. warehouse was home to Evangel Church for 25 years.  We shared it with many community groups and we also rented space to local businesses.   We dreamed that one day the building would be 100% used for the glory of God.  We opened the doors to a new group in Calgary called Hope Mission.  Hope does amazing work with families and they fit so well with what we were doing, we began sharing space free of charge.  This relationship grew and eventually we offered to sell the building to Hope as their Calgary campus. 

When Hope Mission decided to place an offer on the building, the Calgary market was strong.  It was just before the oil price downslope of 2015 when the vacancy rate in commercial rentals began spiking.   The price was right, and the buyer was a great fit for the community and the timing was perfect. Today the building is 100% used for kingdom work in our city.  

Finding Land 

Developed land in Calgary is hard to find for a Church.  If there is any, it is usually expensive, around one million dollars per acre.  We needed to find enough land to build but our budget was half a million dollars!  We began to look on the edge of the city with the help of a real-estate agent.  Strangely though it was on Kijiji we first saw our lot. Four-acres of land next to Stoney Trail for $540,000, right on budget.   We jumped at the chance and closed the deal even though there was a risk that the city would not approve the zoning.   

Zoning the Land 

The property is in an area of the city that is marked for future urban development.  The city restricts all zoning applications for these areas and only makes exceptions in rare cases.  Would our case merit city approval?  At first the planning department tried to dissuade us from applying as the rules are such that they must recommend a refusal.  We decided to progress with the application hoping that the city council would see the merits of the application.  In a strange turn of events, the planning department changed their recommendation from refuse to approve.  We presented our case to the City council in March of 2018. Not only did they approve our application but unexpectedly they wrote a special by-law to accommodate our project.  It is practically unheard of that the city would write a by-law during a council meeting as they did for us.  


When we purchased the land, we knew there were plans in the area for new housing.  This is of course something we hoped for in moving to our new location.  We are a community Church. Soon we heard that in fact as new community was already being proposed. Hotchkiss is a new project of 3700 homes by Hopewell that will be practically across the road from our Church site.  The Hotchkiss application was a long shot, much like ours.  The City is generally cautious about expansion because of the cost of services that new communities require such as fire, ambulance, libraries, schools and transit.  Hotchkiss was also outside the 7-minute response time for fire and ambulance.  Approval for Hotchkiss was delayed several times but amazingly, on July 31, 2018 the council at the last minute included Hotchkiss in a list of new communities approved for development.   


The final milestone in this journey of faith is seeing our building come to completion.  We have a unique community focused design with a full-size multi-purpose gym and a soccer field that will available for rental.  Our design features a great kid’s area that can be shared by a day care during the week.  The covered patio is adjacent to the green space and will be an amazing gathering area for families.   

One challenge we have faced is the civil engineering costs of going from bare property to developed land.  The reason developed land is a million dollars an acre is because all the development work is done.  Our engineer and architects have been amazing, and we expect to build an awesome facility at a faction of the normal development cost.  Still the costs are stretching every penny of our proceeds from the sale of the building.  We need, for instance to cover the costs of a road upgrade to access our site.  Some of this road expense will be recovered as neighbors develop their land.  We are looking to our friends and supporters to invest with us and mark this final milestone in our miracle journey.

We are in the development phase and expect to begin building in April of 2019.  By God’s grace we hope to open our doors in the fall of 2019.

Would you be willing to support this project and sow a seed into the future harvest of righteousness in our City?

We are anticipating the total building costs to complete the building and land development to be $2,500,000.  We need to raise $800,000 to meet this budget and open our doors for ministry.   Here are some ways we hope to accomplish that.

a) Buy a tree for a loved one.  We are creating a memorial garden and walkway.  For $500 we will plant a tree in memory of your loved one with a  plaque.

b) Gifts in kind.  We are able to provide gift receipts to business that are willing to donate some or all of their work.

c) Volunteer labor.  Use your skills for the Lord.  We will even train you so all we need is your willingness.

d) Donate.

e) Above all, please pray.  Our help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.  Ps 121:2

Donate Now


Driving to my office in an April morning snowstorm, the music is playing and the traffic is moving. It is feeling like it’ll be a good day . . .  and that is about the time I noticed my back window was shattered and falling to pieces as I drove.   It doesn’t take much to shakes one’s confidence in this life.  A bad mark on an exam, a critical review from the boss, or a negative report from the doctor is usually enough to knock us right off our game.  Every day, its seems, there is some new affront to our fragile self-assurance until all at once or gradually we realize, we are shattering.  But my trust is in God, or at least I think it is.

On Sunday, I stood up in Church for our daily reading, thinking about the projection computer that had just broken down.  “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love, ”  I read.  (Rom. 8: 38) Nothing, means broken things like computers and windows and all the other fragmented parts of our inner lives that we can’t fix without God’s help.

“Confidence in God is the only worship.” says Father Faber.

The reality is, I don’t always put my trust in God alone and that’s why problems rob me of my blessed assurance.  Underneath the surface of my declaration of resounding faith is a lingering question,  “Will God really come through for me?”  When this question is settled in the depth of our souls, something unshakeable is supporting us.  Trust in self is a snare that we often don’t notice until life gives us some perspective.   The Psalmist experienced this reality check when he wrote,

“Your favor, O LORD, made me as secure as a mountain. Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.”  Psa 30:7

There is very little that is sure in this life. Riches flee, beauty fades, power is given to another and fame lasts for 5 minutes.  “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”, says the preacher, except of course, if our confidence is in God.  When God is our confidence, nothing can be lost for all that matters is secure in Him.

“it is when a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely. If we have been learning to worship God and to trust Him, the crisis will reveal that we will go to the breaking point and not break in our confidence in Him.”  Oswald Chambers

Lord, if all things around me shatter and storms rage, may my hope rest secure, unbreakable in your great love and strength.

Do not be afraid of sudden terror
or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
for the LORD will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being caught.

Proverbs 3:25–26 (ESV)

Crackling Logs

“The little strength remaining in  the soul is like a spark hidden in ashes” Thomas a Kempis

Our TV fireplace with it’s warm orange glow and crackling logs doesn’t change the room temperature, but with a little imagination you can almost believe there is heat.   Add a few candles and  some background music and  you create  an instant cozy room with no smoke!

In the hearth of the soul there is a God-like spark but it is buried in the ashes of our fallen self.  Unless God introduces his holy fire into the hearth, there is little that is truly God-like within me.  What we need is a glowing flame that burns with love toward God and warms the whole house.  Thankfully God has not left us without hope. It is said about Jesus that “ a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” Isaiah 42:3  God is carefully watching over us to protect the small fire within and rekindle it.

When the fire lies dormant and all that’s left is a “spark in the ashes,” it’s tempting to substitute real flames for something fake.    It is hard to admit when my spiritual life has been reduced to burning embers and my human efforts have produced so little effect. If I resort to faking it and imagining the feeling of being warm, I can make a good impression but the fruit of genuine love will be lacking.   I can visualize heat, but when my prayers are cold and my heart is self-absorbed,  no one is warmed.  It’s the placebo effect.

Spiritual fervor is never at its lowest as when the hype is at its highest. The thrill of the sense world blinds me.  With self-satisfaction I underestimate the frailty that lies behind the curtain of my pretensions. The spiritual crumbs of  an emotional high won’t satisfy my deeper cravings.  God, by your grace re-light a holy fire. I offer myself on the altar of my heart as a whole burnt offering.

The prophet Elijah called down fire from heaven, but first he called upon God’s people to choose who they will serve.  (1 Kings 18:38)  The choice to be made is between the selfish desires of our own will and God’s desires, the will of the flesh and the will the Spirit.  When that choice is settled and a holy fire is rekindled there will be a fresh awareness of the light and heat of God’s presence. In the heat of this fire,  new character is forged and impurities are removed.

Lord, you are the fire that burns without consuming.  We know the fire is catching when there is smoke and tears.  This smoke is the loss of our old nature and it can be a painful process.  We are not, however, so consumed by His fire as to lose ourselves completely. God you do not annihilate us in consuming us, you liberate us.

“Oh!  Fire above every fire, because You are the only Fire who burns without consuming, and consume all sin and self-love found in the soul, not afflicting her, but fattening her with insatiable love.”  Catherine of Sienna, Dialogues

Optional Christianity

Talking to a Sunni Muslim women recently, I was curious about her practice of Ramadan.   She shared that not drinking water all day was the hardest part;  and that the fast in Calgary, is from 3:40 am to 9:40 pm.  She explained that all Muslims are expected, once they reach puberty, to participate, but there are a number of exceptions such as health and pregnancy.   I pointed out that Jesus anticipated that Christians would fast also.  She was curious whether Christian fasting included not drinking water  like Sunnis do.  Oh, I replied Christian fasting is optional, people can do whatever they want.  

This got me thinking about our Christian practices.  Jesus spoke about fasting and prayer often but he also warned against basing our religion on external exercises.  “When you fast Jesus said, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.” (Matt. 6:16)  All traditional spiritual disciplines whether solitude, silence, fasting, bible reading, prayer, worship, giving and others, can become forms that are empty of spiritual reality.  Yet, without them, it is impossible to imagine a person will make much true progress in their Christian faith.  Just as Ignatius had his “Exercises” and St Benedict had his “Rules”, we need our own set of practices tailored to fit the rhythms of our life.

Imagine playing for a sports team where workouts were optional.  Or, suppose a dietician recommends a diet of chips and pop, where vegetables and fruits are non-compulsory.  Picture learning piano from a teacher who said practice is elective. Have we turned the grace of God into freedom to do what I feel like? How often do you feel like taking up your cross daily to follow Christ?

James said, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (Jas 2:17)  

In other words, every person whose life exemplifies what it means to be a follower of Jesus, develops a set of compulsory spiritual practices to follow.

How do you practice your Christian faith?  What “rules” do you live by to give structure to your spirituality?  Do you feel it is helpful to have patterns of daily spiritual practice?

Good Hope

It took some courage to open up and share their story of struggle with me.  A heavy cloud seemed to surround us as we spoke and it felt like all the exits were closing.   At those moments when words are not enough, and only listening matters, it is a struggle to remain positive.   When the sun is shining down, the birds are singing, the bills are paid and no problems seem to plague us, we naturally feel hopeful.  Having hope when it appears all hope is lost, can be a soul crushing challenge.  When it feels like nothing is left, still there reason to hope in God.  Hope in God is like a shaft of light from the heavens that transcends our darkness.   In the words of Helen Keller, “hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.”  The promise to us from God is, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Rom 8:28)

Hope in God gives us the ability to look at the garbage of our lives and see compost, a fertile future in the Lord.

Hopeful people do what is right even when they don’t see how it will all work out for good.  Like Caleb, the Old Testament man of faith, they believe the promises of God and they are not afraid even though there are giants in the land.  If obedience was easy and it’s rewards were immediate, then everyone would do good.  Lot’s of people have wishful thinking but hopeful people take action. Someone has said, “hope is the ability to hear the music of the future, faith is the ability to dance to it today.”  May God gives us ears to hear and faith to dance.

Hopeful people are patient and willing to wait for the best things. They treasure most those things that last forever. If we put all our hope in the passing treasures of this world, we will be disappointed again and again. Naturally, we want to feel secure and know our needs will be met. Beyond necessities however, the expectation that this life will deliver on a promise of true happiness and joy will lead to much dissatisfaction. There are eternal treasures reserved for those who hope in God, who choose not to long for the pleasures of this world. Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Treasuring love, pursuing peace and practicing the virtues of generosity and kindness, will enrich our lives in ways money and things never can.

Hope is hard work and takes great patience but good things do come to those who wait.  Hope in God, He is always faithful.

How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.  Psalm 146:5

Dressing Up

“You look snazzy,” I said to a young boy as he arrived to church. He was often dressed in a costume and came in this day looking sharply dressed in a suit. “I’m a Man in Black,” he said. The briefcase and sun glasses should have been an easy clue. Pretending and role-play is a form of learning for children, they say. Children, acting a part are trying out a different identity to see how it fits. In some sense we are all role-playing, as Shakespeare says, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women mere players.”

What do we make of this yearning to imitate? Is it all child’s play, or is something more meaningful going on? Does authenticity mean never aspiring to be like someone else? In reality, don’t we learn more about our true selves when we look at the life of another?

The stories and examples of the best life models help us discover who we can become and to see ourselves anew. Imitation is a form of admiration that can bring out the best in us.

The finest example of imitation is found in the person of Jesus who said, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:29) Jesus’ life was lived out in intimate connection with the Father who sent him. So deep was this connection that he said, “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45)

Jesus, has invited us into the same kind of imitation that he experienced with his heavenly Father. He said to his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) In these verses he is saying in effect, “the way you see me live in relationship with my Father, live that way in relationship with me and you will be my ambassador.”

Not only are we invited to openly accept the forgiving grace of Jesus, we are called to become like Him in every way.

Here is where the challenge of being a follower of Jesus leaves many behind. This is where I have stumbled so many times. We can only honestly be like Jesus when our desire for God brings about a radical inner change of heart. Too often I have attempted to put on the spiritual life as one puts on a costume only to find I have no inner ability to live the life without God’s grace.

Imitation that results inner freedom requires that we put off our old false self in order to put on the true self found in Jesus. (Rom.13:14) This loss of ourselves in God is the path of genuine self discovery, but loss can be painful. At times we may feel adrift, empty, or disoriented. I find solitude and reflection gives me perspective and anchors me in the reality of God.

Kempis beautifully states,

“Indeed, by loving myself badly I lost myself; by seeking only You and by truly loving You I have found both myself and You, and by that love I have reduced myself more profoundly to nothing.” (Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis.)

For whoever would save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 16:25)



  • A marked change in appearance, character, condition, or function;
  • Biology – the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly,

A white butterfly danced across my path the other day.  As record warm temperatures bathe our city, nature is changing and blooming early this year.

Like nature all around us, we yearn for change and aspire to fullness of life.  I know I do.  Metamorphosis, is radical change and it represents the possibility within each of us for new beginnings. Real change always starts within, but it affects everything else once it truly happens.

Like the caterpillar, the human soul is born with a capacity for something as radical as transformation to a butterfly.  I imagine as a caterpillar it must be hard to believe that such complete reordering of life is possible.  But the caterpillar doesn’t question, rather it follows the instincts of nature.  It eats and eats and then wraps itself in a leaf with a mile of silk forming a cocoon.  Now, “the caterpillar begins releasing enzymes that literally digest nearly all of its own body.  What’s left inside the chrysalis is mostly just a very nutrient rich soup from which the butterfly will begin to form.”  Amazing!

In the spiritual experience the inner working of divine grace, along with the compliance of the human will to God’s, makes change possible.  We are not meant to remain earth-bound among the crawling creatures forever.  Jesus, uses the image of the new birth to show that those who receive him are reborn,

“ not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13

“A man is raised from the earth by two wings,” says Kempis, “simplicity and purity.”  Purity is like simplicity and together they are the pathway to inner life change.  The best kinds of peanut butter, in my view are the kinds with just one simple ingredient, peanuts.   The opposite of purity is to be double minded and to love many varied and changing things.  The pure of heart aspires above everything to be in union with the one eternal good that never changes, God.

Where there is impurity there is complexity and a lack of clarity.   One of the inconveniences of ageing is the loss of clear eyesight, not to mention forgetting where you put your glasses.  It can be frustrating not being able to read the label on a can or jar of peanut butter.  How much more frustrating it is to be unaware of the spiritual realities within and around us.  Jesus linked purity with clarity when he said, “Blessed are the pure on heart for they shall see God.”  Matt 5:8.   When he spoke in parables, Jesus understood that people were unable to comprehend the direct impact of divine light.  It is easier for us to see the stars and the moon than the sun, because the intensity of the sun would blind us. “Oh that we had ears to hear and eyes to see,” cried the prophets.  Impurity in our souls is like cataracts on our eyes.  Spiritual realities seem preposterous to our blind carnal minds.

It seems that one of God’s preferred methods for removing impurities from our hearts is the fire of suffering.   Like gold that is refined by fire, so our faith is tested and purified by trials of various kinds.  We are in need of patience and endurance in all our earthly difficulties.

 “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:4

The painful experience of metamorphosis is the necessary price of becoming a butterfly. But oh how wonderful it is for those who attain it.  Through death and resurrection, we are becoming butterflies.

Life That Lasts

I recall singing that old hymn, “Where the Roses Never Fade” at funerals. Tears fell down as people gathered to say their last farewell to a lost loved one.  During those times, when words never seem enough, I’m always grateful for the promise of a life that never ends.

I am going to a city 
Where the streets with gold are laid,
Where the tree of life is blooming
And the roses never fade.

We pass through many shadowed valleys here, and the soul is weighed down by the grief and loss of all that fades in this life.  What comfort it is to lift our souls up, and to look for the roses that won’t fade.  

“Too many people feel like emotional robots these days, and are not willing or able to engage in the ups and downs of life.” says psychologist Betty Phillips.   “This emotional numbness,“ she says, “feels like the phrase from Shakespeare, ‘creeping in this petty pace from day-to-day until the last syllable of recorded time.’”  The antidote to emotional barrenness, is found in our ability to smell the roses, and experience a full range of emotions such as joy and love in beauty.

The roses that don’t fade are the great spiritual virtues such as faith, hope and love. By desiring and pursuing these qualities within us, we will discover the life that lasts.

 “A man is raised from the earth by two wings–” says Kempis, “simplicity and purity.”  

The soul is transformed like a butterfly when it looses itself in Christ so that it may gain heavenly wings.  The Messiah proclaimed in his suffering, “I am a worm, and not a man.” Psa 22:6.  We understand from this that Jesus on the cross was reduced to the likeness of sinful man, the worm, in our place.   Because of Jesus, like the butterfly, we who were the worms are becoming people of righteousness.  This transformation happens when we learn to despise all that is passing and hold on to what is eternal.  Teresa of Avila says,

Oh, to see the restlessness of this charming little butterfly, although never in its life has it been more tranquil and at peace! May God be praised! It knows not where to stay nor take its rest; everything on earth disgusts it after what it has experienced, when we are transformed like the butterfly, having risen from the cocoon, we never again find a permanent resting place in this world. (Interior Castle)

Nevertheless, our new freedom brings with it new desires and the enjoyment of the things that last:  eternal qualities such as faith, hope and love. These qualities are the nectar the little butterfly now drinks.  

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  John 12:25

Faith inspires in us to see beyond our immediate situation and its passing troubles.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Hope gives us an ability to rise above our dashed expectations and remaining optimistic about what is still possible.  “Hope is not disappointed,” says Paul, for it trusts in the ultimate goodness and mercy of God.

Love finds a way to heal and restore everything that is broken.  Love conquers all.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.  1 Corinthians 13:4

Going Somewhere?

Sometimes we can feel like life is going nowhere.  It is like the realization, when someone is travelling, that he has passed this way before, and he wonders, “Am I just going in circles?” Once in a while I look at myself and lament how little I have moved or changed on the inside, for all my going.   Every day around the world more than 8 million people fly somewhere and billions are spent in air travel.  Unless we honestly ask ourselves “Where am I going?” and I mean internally, in a spiritual sense of going and growing, we are in danger of moving a lot but going nowhere.  Jesus said, “I am the Way”, or in other words, in him we are truly going somewhere to Someone and to an eternal destiny.

The way of Jesus, the narrow road, is an inward journey of the soul, an exodus out of our weary burden of sin.  His way is the second exodus that far eclipses the first. He frees us from cruel slavery of the task master that refuses to let us go.  His way leads out through the testing of the desert, and into the paradise of the promised land.  His cross is our Passover and his resurrection is our new life.

Leaving is half the battle.  Just as Israel left Egypt but still longed for the pots of meat and bread, so it is hard to let go of this world and its temporal comforts.  We despise the daily miraculous provision of heavenly bread, when we go to the world to fill our hunger. We also forget what cruel burdens accompany those pleasures.  The apostle Peter, before he denied the Lord, was “warming himself” by the fire.  In a similar way, when we seek to warm ourselves by the pleasures of this world rather than heavenly consolations God supplies, we are also easily tempted to say like Peter, “I don’t know him.”

The way of Jesus is a journey of faith.  The pilgrims of the past all left not knowing where the path was leading.

“And he (Abraham) went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Hebrews 11:9,10

These pilgrims chose the difficult path knowing that it leads somewhere beautiful.  Like Moses who left Egypt, “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Hebrews 11:26

What we are being called to leave is small, in comparison to the eternal gains of knowing Jesus and the eternal joys at the end of the road.  Leaving our earthly burden’s behind, we are able to climb to the highest places in God and to taste his eternal pleasures.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,  which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Prov. 4:18

This is not the popular road nor is it the easy path, and at times we may feel like we’ve taken a wrong turn.  However, with the inner companionship of the Spirit to guide us and the word of God as a flashlight on the path, we will make our way home.

“Your word, says the Psalmist, is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psa. 119:105



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