A Gentle Voice

They say most people would rather do the following than attend a family function with certain relatives:

  • Be poked in the eye with a sharp stick (16%)
  • Get a case of hemorrhoids (12%)
  • Swallow a live bug (12%)
  • Get audited by Revenue Canada (11%)
  • Clean the toilet (9%)

When it comes to conflict, silence or violence are too often the dead end streets we go down. There must be a better way. I usually prefer to avoid conflict in order to keep the peace. However, I’ve discovered that peace keeping doesn’t work when the situation needs to change. When a relationship is dying from lack of respect, or when someone is being hurt by a corrupt system, we must speak out, or we risk becoming an accomplice to another’s suffering. Proverbs affirms this by saying,

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. “ (Prov. 31:8)

The challenge for me is how to confront with love and gentleness. On the surface it seems naïve to think we can confront that way, however, the example of Jesus shows us it can be done. Matthew saw in Jesus, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when he wrote,

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.” (Matt. 12:20; Isaiah 42:3)

The apostle Paul similarly taught that,

“ . . . the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Tim. 2:24,25)

I believe that when we approach conflict from a heart of peace rather than a heart of war and when we speak out of a place of respect and non judgement, it’s easier to stay focused on the issues. When the accusations become personal and the emotions escalate, communication breaks down and no resolution is found.

I’ve discovered that whenever I doubt the motives of others and believe the best about myself, I contribute to the problem and often end up eating humble pie. However, if I will instead believe the best about others and doubt my own intentions, knowing how complicated the heart can be, I may find enough humility and peace of heart to get a conversation started. In conflict, communication is the goal. We are trying to add to the pool of meaning. It’s not about being right or looking good, it’s about understanding others and ourselves better.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18

Risk Valuing Others

The Most Important Thing In Life Is To Learn How To Give Out Love And To Let It Come In

“There can be no peacemaking or social work or anything else to improve our world unless we are convinced that the other is important.”  Jean Vanier.

One person who sees the value in another can alter that person’s life.  I would like to be that person to someone just as I have needed someone like that in my life.  The truth I sometimes face is that valuing others can feel risky.   How do I view other people with value and overcome the darker urge to one up them?  If I lift others up, does that mean I’m putting myself down? What if my service to others is really about needing to be a Savior to someone?

“How hard it is for people to live without someone to look down upon- really look down upon.  It is not just that they feel cheated out of someone to hate.  It is that they are compelled to look more closely into themselves and what they don’t like in themselves.”   Martin Luther King Jr.

The walls of our world are most often created by a fear that someone else’s success or prosperity is a threat to mine.   The competitive drive that motivates so much of modern society is based upon this self protective insecurity.    The divisions in our world between rich and poor, good and bad, powerful and powerless, result is broken relationship and distrust.  The end game becomes, get more power than the next guy.

Behind the falsehood, what we so often dread deep within, is the feeling that we are of no value or that we are not loved.

“When you look at all these kinds of fear, the common denominator is the fear of being pushed down or being seen as valueless or non existent. “ Jean Vanier

The antidote to fear is to grow in the understand and experience of the love of God.  Being secure in the knowledge of God as lover of my soul, overcomes the worry and strain of working at being worthy.   Then our living is free and our love is genuine.  As God fills our emptiness with his abundance of love and grace, we are able to risk loving and valuing others.

……..that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Eph. 3: 18,19

 

 

Melting into God

The Great Slave Lake can be powerful and majestic when its mighty swells are driven by the winds, or it can be bleak and frozen and still like the winter ice.  It is a marvel to me that a lake as vast as an ocean can become frozen over each winter.  Yet, it is even more of a wonder that the human heart can do that too.

The human heart can be majestic and inspiring, reaching the heights of God’s love, or it can be as hard as the rivers that turn into trucking roads in the far North.  Hardening begins subtly, like the lure of Turkish Delight that the White Witch used to captivate Edmund in Narnia. Then the chill of cynicism or the freeze of trust results in the loss of natural affection.   God’s way seems like a fairy tale, and love becomes a passing sentiment.   Simply being emotional does not mean the heart is tender.  The heart is more than emotions; it is mind, will and emotions combined.   Tenderness of heart includes being sensitive, pliable and yielding.  Puritan Richard Sibbes say the tender,  “quakes at threatenings, obeys precepts, melts at promises and the promises sweeten the heart.“

The heart of man is in such a desperate state that there is no remedy except for a heart transplant.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.  Ezek. 36:26

This new kind of heart enjoys the word of God and beats wildly when touched by His Spirit.   Yet still, my old nature threatens to undo the good work of the Spirit at every turn. It seems I live in a world where Turkish Delights are offered on every corner.  The pleasure and profits of the world are competing with the Spirit for my affections.  Who will I yield to today?   “The hard heart is like wax to the devil and stone to God or goodness.”  says Sibbes.    The one we yield to is the one who gets our heart.

Here we need the Spirit’s help.   In my struggles I discovered the simple prayer of King David,  “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me!”  In praying this, I turn my heart away from the lure of pleasure and profit and even away from the inner battle and trust in God to direct my heart to his promises.  “The highest form of prayer”, says Julian of Norwich, “is to the goodness of God.

”God only desires that our souls cling to him with all of its strength,  in particular, that it clings to his goodness.  For of all the things our minds can think about God, it is thinking upon his goodness that pleases him most and brings the most profit to our soul. “

St. Theresa of Avila
 

Approved

An inner stamp of divine approval, is like a the loving embrace of a parent who says, “You’re alright.”  This affirmation of our Heavenly Father gives us the assurance and self acceptance we need. (continued…)

The gold embossed seal on the corner of my ordination certificate says that I’ve been recognized by my religious organization and approved for the work I’m doing.   This document hangs on my wall as a reminder to myself and other that I’m qualified.   God by his Spirit does even more than this, by placing the stamp of his approval on my heart.    St. Paul says, God has… “set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Without an inner confidence that my loving heavenly Father receives me in Christ, I try to earn that approval through religious works.  However, this kind of performance faith only serves to reinforce in me the feelings of unworthiness I’m trying to overcome.  My attempts to talk myself up or have others talk me up is not enough to shake feelings of self doubt.   It is from God that we must first sense approval after which it matters little whether others do or not.  In Christ he approves and accepts me so that I am able to forgive and accept others regardless of how they respond to me.

Saint John says, “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: ……..We know it by the Spirit he gave us.  1 John 3: 19, 24. 

The lofty claim of divine favour will be mistaken by some as a form of religious arrogance.  I suppose there are times when declarations of divine approval are used to promote a kind of self importance.   Worse still, there are those who assert their divine privilege as they seek to dominate others in the name of their God. These attitudes are not the same as the blessed assurance I’m thinking of.  Rather, a genuine inner capacity to feel approved by God is a gift that results in deep humility.

Since divine approval is given freely, my response is simply to ask and receive so that my joy may be full.  In my seeking I have found it helpful to ask for mercy through Jesus and to request the Spirit to enable me to put my heart at rest in his presence.    

 

Jesus in Disguise

Being present with people in conversation and living in the moment, isn’t always something that comes natural, at least to me. Perhaps this woolgathering comes from insecurities or my short attention span. Being on the introverted side of the personality scale, I know I can be less interested in small talk and tune out unless the subject grabs me.

In an attempt to overcome inner obstacles to being present with others it helps me to remember Jesus words,

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matt. 18:20.

He is putting a value on human relationships in promising that this is a place where God shows up.

It is a worthy desire to seek after an encounter with God. Through the centuries people pursued these experiences through prayer and solitude and truly this is one of the most important spiritual paths. We discover the depth of God when we develop an inner stillness that allows his presence to be recognized and our earthly self to be quieted. However, bringing this sense of being present with God into relationships can be a challenge. We might even conclude that it’s easier to avoid relationships. Yet, God himself dwells in the perfect relationship of Father, Son and Spirit.

Being a pastor I am called upon to be with people in their difficult times, to listen and learn and see God as a present helper. However, today’s leaders are often conditioned to believe that it is the big events in front of the crowds that matter most. We might even begin to believe that one on one encounters aren’t that important in the work of God. If we think this way we will miss many opportunities to see God in the disguise of another human being. It seems from Jesus words that no encounter with another person is trivial to God.

When someone like mother Teresa says she saw Jesus in others she reminds me that God can be encountered in the ordinary interactions of life. She says,

“We try to pray through our work by doing it with Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus. That helps us to put our whole heart and soul into doing it. The dying, the cripple, the mental, the unwanted, the unloved they are Jesus in disguise.”

With this open hearted approach, self is forgotten and God is discovered in even the uncomfortable conversations of our lives.

Increasing Our Heart Capacity

Solar PanelWhen I was buying a car battery at Walmart, I asked another man buying batteries for some advice, as he seemed knowledgeable. He told me about his home solar system that generates enough power to run most of the lights in his house. However, it lacked the storage capacity it needed to carry him through the dark nights and overcast days. To be completely self sufficient, he needed to add another battery or two. I was buying a battery for a car with a parasitic drain. It occurred to me that, like the solar guy, we need to increase our soul capacity with light of the Lord, so we can shine on in the dark nights, the cloudy days and through the deep valleys of life.

Jesus told a story about 5 foolish virgins and 5 wise virgins. The five wise virgins had extra oil to watch through the night for the coming of the bridegroom; the foolish virgins were left in the dark as their oil supply ran out before the big day. We need a healthy capacity of virtue if we intend to make it through the darker days of our lives without losing our way.

You can’t just close the bag of chips, turn off the TV, get up off the couch and go run the Boston Marathon. You’ll have a heart attack on heartbreak hill. You need to train to run the Boston Marathon. Training increases our capacity to run the distance.

Training in the Christian life means spiritual disciplines like: prayer, bible mediation and solitude. These are not ends in themselves; but means to the end, of an increased capacity for service to God. Solitude may be the most challenging of these, it is for me. Without these my storage capacity is not expanding, and may be shrinking.

“Let those that are great activists and think to circle the world with words and outward works, note that they would bring far more profit to the Church, and be far more pleasing to God if they spent even half [the time given to action] in being present with God in prayer . . . Most certainly they would accomplish more with one piece of work than they now do with a thousand and do so with far less labor. Through prayer they would merit the result, and themselves be made spiritually strong. Without prayer, they would do much hammering but achieve little, even nothing at all or even cause harm.” (St. John of the Cross)

A continual development of our inner life will keep us effective and fruitful in the Lord.

2 Peter 1:5-8 “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For, if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Family Table

Research has shown that time spent together around the table is time well spent.  I would agree.  Although Bob and I are empty nesters today, we continue to have our supper meals together at our kitchen table, just like we did when our daughters were at home.  No TV trays for us, while we watch Wheel of Fortune.  Somehow, it just would not feel right to spend our meal time distracted by a show.  It’s a time when we are present for and attentive to each other.

family meal

When our kids were growing up, eating together was a priority, although meal prep often felt rushed.  I would finish my last piano student, and quickly begin to  prepare supper, while Bob and the girls came in from their early evening activities, such as volleyball or band practice.  Sometimes there would not be a great deal of time to eat either, as one or more of us would have something to attend after the supper hour.  But we had that time together.  Our meals were not fancy.  Two of my mainstays were rice and stroganoff, with a vegetable side; or spaghetti and meat sauce with salad.  I was and am a meal fixer, not a chef.  However, there we were together as a family:  sharing our day’s events, dreaming about our futures; problem solving; laughing and encouraging each other.  Those were the best of days.   Supper time was family time.

We, as a believer are invited to the Lord ’s Table.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Ah, what good company he is.  There is nothing we cannot discuss around his table, as his love for us is unconditional.  “He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies.”  Somehow, as we join Jesus around His table, fear dissipates.    Any giants we have faced during the day, seem less ominous as we enjoy our Saviour’s company.  And what he serves is delicious.  Pull up a chair, sit down, dig in.  Help yourself to seconds.  God is good.  God has the best for us around his table.  His love for us is extravagant and generous.

Today in church, I was reminded of Mephibosheth, grandson to Saul, and son to Jonathan, David’s best friend.  At  the age of five, this poor boy became orphaned, as both  his grandfather and father were killed in battle.  On hearing the news, his nurse ran in fright to hide the boy from his enemies, and in her hurry, fell, dropping the boy, who was left crippled.  What a tragedy for the possible heir to the throne.  In fear, they hid themselves away.  That is, until King David acquired the throne. He had such loyalty and love for his friend, Jonathan, that he searched his friend’s son out.   For the rest of Mephiboseth’s life, he was given a spot at King David’s table.   What a wonderful ending to a rather tragic story.

We, too,  are heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ Jesus.  When Christ died, we were adopted into his family.  There is a place at the table set for us.   No matter what our history, or what our enemies’ intentions are for us, we are safe.  God has prepared a table before us, to restore us, nurture us, to put us at ease, and to protect us.  Be at peace.  It’s suppertime.  And Christ Himself is present and attentive, and so wants to spend time with us.  Lift that fork to your mouth.  Savor your meal, and the time spent with your Lord and Saviour.   Every day is a new day, with a fresh, new meal to enjoy.  Come to his table, and invite a friend to join you.  There’s always room for one more.

 

 

 

Destiny Delayed

The summer storm fills the night air with a the rare freshness of much needed moisture. Rain falls across the windshield as we pull into the short term lot near the arrivals area our missionary friends will walk into.  We quickly scoot into the terminal and up to the arrivals board to check on the flight.   Only now does it occur to me that this will be a late night.  Most of the flights have been diverted or cancelled due to the storm.  The worst kind of waiting is when you don’t know how long it will take.  We alternate between walking the corridors and sitting among the other displaced travellers.

Our lives, it seems to me, are too often regulated by the ever present ticking clock, and so unwanted pauses are uncomfortable for me.   I  remember the carefree days of childhood where time flowed with a rhythm of play, eat, rest, work and imagine. That’s more what God’s movements are like.  God is not going to allow us to fit him into our calendars and clocks.

“OBJECTS AND EXPERIENCES ACQUIRE VALUE THROUGH THE ACT OF WAITING. . . . IF INSTANT GRATIFICATION DEVALUES, IF IMPATIENCE IS A FORM OF GREED, PERHAPS PATIENCE, THEN, IS A GENEROSITY, AN INTENTIONAL GIVING OF ONE’S TIME, A GIVING OF ONESELF.”  On Waiting, Harold Schweizer

“Master, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha blurts out.  Her confusion and grief overwhelm her as she questions the Lord’s sense of timing. (John 11)

By the time Jesus had arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days and the mourners were already gathered.  By any cultural standard that is too late.  Too late for a miracle and barely on time for a pastoral homily.

Time, chasing us like the crocodile in Peter Pan, threatens to run out on us before the opportunity of a lifetime comes along.  We think, “I’m too old and too weak or out of ideas and money, empty of hope and full of despair. Lord it’s too late for me.”   “How long, Oh Lord?” David prays in the Psalms.  However, when we are completely out of options, it is never too late for God.

HEALING IS OUT OF THE QUESTION NOW FOR LAZURUS, BUT NOT RESURRECTION! “LAZARUS COME FORTH,” JESUS CRIES. AND THE DEAD MAN LIVES.

When the plane finally arrives, I lost half a night of sleep and moved my car a half a dozen times to save money. Our guests have endured worse, having flown through traumatic turbulence that left them looking ghost like. They, like Lazarus, have passed through death and still live, happy to be alive.

Secret Service

The last child jumped out of the van and ran to the door while I waited to make sure their mom was home. Safe inside, I turned the old Chevy out of the alley and toward the church, thankful for some quiet.  The newer radio is playing some Hip Hop, with it’s red and blue screen flashing. It seems out of place next to the dim dashboard. I turn it down.  Pulling up behind a pick up, I’m waiting my turn to go.  It’s late. I want to call it a night, but then I think about the broken sink in the men’s room. How did the boys do that?  At least no one got hurt.  I’ll clean it up in the morning.  The truck in front of me is just sitting there. A guy runs up to the truck window, it looks like some kind a deal is going down. I’m too tired to really care, and I wait for him to go. In the dim quiet of the inner city community I wonder about my place in this Kingdom work.  It feels pretty obscure at times. When I signed up for this, perhaps I expected a bit more applause and some impressive results to brag about.  Then I think about my Sunday sermon text, “Jesus took the bread and gave thanks . . . . then he took the cup and he gave thanks.”

How could Jesus give thanks, and for what?  He will soon be rejected by men and hung upon a wooden cross in the garbage dump of Jerusalem.  He will be forgotten, or so it seems, and even for a moment forsaken by God, but never abandoned.  Yet, he gives thanks for the sheer joy of serving and giving himself as an offering to God.  I want to be able to do that, to serve the Father knowing he sees the service done for him in secret, and he rewards it.

happiness tree

There is a legend of a man who discovered the barn where Satan kept his seeds ready to be sown in the human heart. The man noticed that Satan had more seeds of discouragement than any other kind. When questioned, Satan reluctantly admitted that those seeds would grow everywhere except for one place. “And where is that?” asked the man. Satan replied sadly, “In the heart of a grateful man.”

  “In everything gives thanks, for this is the will of God”