Thursday, 28 June 2012

God's Country

          A recent road trip caused me to celebrate being part of this vast, diverse country of Canada. As I traveled across the fertile plains of southern Manitoba to the rolling green hills of central Saskatchewan, I felt proud to be a citizen of this beautiful country. Canada is often listed in the top five best countries to live in the world. Canadians are blessed to live in a land with abundant natural resources, economic opportunities, and cultural variety.
    I have traveled through many of Canada’s unique provinces, enjoying the ever-changing landscape, however one common thread runs from east to west --- its people. I discovered it is not the geographical features which make up a country; it is its citizens. From Vancouver Island to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada is unified through individuals who take pride in belonging to something greater than themselves. A large part of the population are not native born Canadians. They have immigrated from other countries and especially appreciate being able to share Canada’s privileges and contribute to their new adopted home.
    As much as I enjoy being a Canadian, I am grateful to be a citizen of an even greater nation, a holy nation belonging to God. 1 Peter 2:9-10 says we can be part of "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God."
    Acceptance of God’s Son, Jesus Christ as Savior is like being granted citizenship papers to become a member of God’s nation. When we are given the stamp of salvation we are approved to receive His mercy and grace. God’s desire is to continually have new citizens added to His kingdom, and His reason is so He can show us His unmerited favor. "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." - 1 Peter 2:10 
    But we are not naturally born into God’s spiritual realm. We must make a decision to leave the territory of darkness our sinful nature makes us part of, to enter in to God’s kingdom of light. Not only can we become citizens of this glorious country, we can actually be adopted into God’s family. "He planned in love for us to be adopted as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will...because it pleased Him and was His kind intent." -  Eph. 1:5  (Amplified Bible)
    A new citizen of Canada is expected to contribute positively to the welfare of the country. They are required to become gainfully employed so they can provide for themselves and be responsible members of society. God also has His reason for bringing us into His merciful domain... "so that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light". - 1 Peter 2:9b
    On July 1st many red and white flags will be flying, declaring the loyalty of Canadians to their country. I enjoy being a Canadian, but my true loyalty belongs to God‘s holy nation, because there I am a citizen forever, where His banner over me is love.     

Monday, 25 June 2012

Gifts from the Father

    As a sailor in the Royal Canadian Navy, my father traveled to many different countries when I was a child. His homecomings after months away were occasions of great anticipation and excitement for us, not only because we were eager to see him, but because he always brought us wonderful exotic gifts from far away places. I still have many of these treasured possessions....a Chinese music box inlaid with mother of pearl....a fragrant sandalwood fan from Japan.....a toy koala bear from Australia. My father knew how to give good gifts to his children.
    In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus contrasts earthly fathers with the heavenly Father. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”
    I can imagine a ripple of laughter through the crowd as Jesus uses exaggeration to illustrate his point. No earthly father would give his child a stone or snake in response to a request for food. Out of love he would give the best he had. Therefore, if an imperfect human father can give good things to his children, we can conclude that our loving heavenly Father will give marvelous gifts to us when we ask.
    So what kind of gifts does God our Father give? He first gave us the best He had to give; the life of His precious son Jesus Christ, through whom we have forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus opened the door for us to have a personal relationship with His Father through the vehicle of prayer.
God’s purpose for prayer is not to hand over every request we ask for, it is to build intimacy between Himself and His children so we can become more like Him. He is eager to grant us our desires, as long as they line up with His will. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires  of your heart.” Ps. 37:4
    God has the power to give us whatever we ask, but if it does not contribute to His purposes for our life or has negative consequences, He may choose not to do so. When our desire is for a deeper relationship with God and transformation into His likeness, He is eager to fulfill our request.
    When my father came home from an overseas trip, I never knew what would be in his duffel bag for me, but I always knew it would be special, and often it was more than I could wish for. Likewise, in my life of faith I have often experienced the extravagant generosity of my heavenly Father, “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us...” Eph. 3:20


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Under His Wings

  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” -
Psalm 91:1, 2 & 4

I watch them in the tall shrub outside my window --- robins and finches, sparrows and chickadees --- finding shelter in its dense greenery. Perched on gently swaying branches, fluffing out feathers, they rest for a little while safe from weather elements and predators. They are alert, their bright little eyes watching, yet they exhibit an innocent trust in the haven they have found.
    Some years ago I feared I would succumb to the terror of night, arrow by day, pestilence and plague listed in Psalm 91. In one fierce storm all my earthly security was removed. My marriage, finances, reputation and health collapsed and blew away like dust. I was so devastated by such a burden of trials, I felt I would never find relief. But I sought hard after God, and in my great need discovered I was bereft but not abandoned, besieged but not alone, for the Most High God was my shelter and I rested in the shadow of the Almighty.
    Three years before the storm hit I experienced my desire for God growing like a thirst. I drank in His Word, sought Him in prayer and worshiped Him joyfully, unaware of what He was preparing me for. When the waves of trauma crashed against me, I could say with the psalmist, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
    This is no trite panacea for all problems; it is a diligently cultivated position in relation to God. Psalm 91:9 says, “if you make the Most High your dwelling --- then no harm will befall you”; that is, spiritual harm. As I have experienced, none of us are exempt from the storms of this world, yet if we make God the dwelling place of our souls  we are guaranteed eternal security. A safe place is only safe if it is entered into; it cannot protect us if we stand outside. None of us know when a life storm might descend. Delaying an intimate relationship with God to some future time is like standing outside a bomb shelter during an air attack. The bomb shelter is no use unless you are within it.
    I have watched the birds find shelter in our shrub during a storm. They land on an outer branch in a flurry of windblown feathers, then clinging with their claws they inch in toward the trunk as far away from the elements as possible. There they rest peacefully, sheltered in the shadow of a strong tree. If they should let go they could be swept away by the wind, so they lock their claws around the steady branch and are secure.
    God speaks in the last three verses of Psalm 91, describing the blessing He gives to those who know and love Him. “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him, for he acknowledges My name.”
(vs. 14) The literal translation for the word loves is “a deep longing for God”, or a “clinging to God.” He gives His pledge of protection to those who diligently seek Him and love Him.
    I like to think birds and other creatures have an innate sense of their Creator. They know how to rest trustfully, as I have observed in the little birds in my shrub. If God protects them, think of how He will protect us.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet no one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” - Jesus, in Matthew 10:29-31

Monday, 18 June 2012

Store Up For Yourselves

    Like weather-worn sentinels, a few old grain elevators still stand tall on the prairie horizon. They are symbolic of a slowly passing agrarian way of life when family farms passed from generation to generation. The modern metal elevators replacing them look cold and functional, lacking the old-world appeal and sense of stability of the distinctive slant-roof elevators.
    Years ago the sight of a grain elevator breaking the flat horizon indicated you were approaching a prairie community. This was the hub of prairie life where farmers brought their grain to be stored, sold and shipped down the rail line to provide bread for far away cities. From tilling to seeding to harvesting, the farmer nurtured his crop throughout the growing season so he could have the satisfaction of watching the golden grain pour into the elevator, knowing his family would be taken care of for another year.
    When I see an old grain elevator it reminds me to do an internal check of what I am storing up inside this life of mine. Having lived more than half my expected life span, my memory bank is full of experiences and decisions which have influenced me either away from or toward God. The prophet Jeremiah described the human heart as “deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jer.17:9) This is the natural tendency of sinful man, to fill his life with deceit and selfishness which pulls him away from God. Like parasites in an elevator full of grain, sin can infest our heart and destroy the value of our life. But when Jesus Christ forgives our sin our hearts are made clean receptacles for storing up what truly counts.
    This is what Jesus had to say about what we store up in our lives.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt.6:19-21)
    What we may desire and hoard here on earth, whether it be material wealth or the prestige of recognition, power and knowledge, will all pass away with time. Sin works on a horizontal level, deceiving us into believing this world is all there is so we need to grab all we can right now. But God’s promises point vertically skyward to heaven, where the things we do in obedience to Him on earth will be stored up as treasure which will never be destroyed. And the benefit of storing up treasure in heaven is that it is the place you will most want to be, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
    Prairie grain elevators hold the treasure of a farmer’s year of hard work. What goes into the elevator is the culmination of much time and labor and he depends on it for his future. Is your future dependent on the things of this world or are you storing up things done in this life which will have eternal value? Where is your treasure?

(Dear Readers: This blog is still a work in progress so there are a few glitches needing to be ironed out. Some of you have had problems posting a comment in the comment box. I think I've fixed that now, so feel free to comment away! I appreciate your input.)


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A Conduit of Love

             There is a story told of a young theology student given a four month assignment at an asylum for the mentally ill. One of the patients was a man suffering from catatonic schizophrenia. He could not communicate and when spoken to, he would skitter from the room like a frightened mouse. Each day the theology student came to sit with the man, not speaking or making any sudden movements, just sitting quietly beside him. Others on staff at the asylum thought he was wasting his time on a patient seemingly unaware of his presence, yet the young man continued his visits. Eventually he could say a few quiet words without the man taking flight. The time came when he told the patient he would be leaving and would come tomorrow to say good bye. The next day when the patient was brought to the common room, he went to the piano and began to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Never had the young man heard this classic piece played with such tenderness, such expression of genuine emotion. At the last note the patient flitted from the room without even a look his way. The young man sat alone for some time, moved to tears by such an unexpected gift. He realized love had found a voice to speak from a trapped and muted mind.
    The power of genuine love will flood through our lives until it finds a way to be expressed, like water through a crack in a wall. God’s love, through Jesus Christ indwelling us by the Holy Spirit, will find that unique place in each one of us best suited as a conduit to convey His love to a hurting world. If we truly have Christ living in our hearts we cannot help but show His love to others. It is what sets us apart, our unique stamp as Christ-believers, that we love one another. “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” - 1 John 4:9, 11, 12.
    There are as many different ways to express God’s love as there are individuals who are filled with His Spirit. God has created us to experience His love in our own original way, so we are called to show His love to those around us in ways no one else can do. No one else can love our mate, our children, our parents, our friends, those in need, like we do. Because God is the source of  love, He will empower us to love as we ought. It is a gift to channel His love; to be His hands, His feet, His voice, as only we can be.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Everlasting Mountain

      I used to live in a house with a view of the mountains. Every morning I would enjoy their changing aspect. Clean and pure in winter snow, verdant evergreens thick on their slopes in springtime, peaks aflame in a summer sunrise, mists encircling rocky summits above the gold of autumn. I received inspiration from those mountains because they reflected spiritual truths I needed to draw on during a difficult time in my life.
    Psalm 121 begins, “I lift up my eyes to the hills....where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
     When I looked at the mountains I had to lift my eyes above the everyday scene on the street. Taking my attention off problems on the human level and focusing on the majesty of the Lord helped me to put things in a right perspective. I was reminded that the Lord dwells in the heavens and His ways are higher than mine. I was His small creation, beloved by Him but mortal and muddled. I needed to look up to Him in dependence and often in desperation. I could not understand the reasons for the hardships I was experiencing but I could entrust my future to the Lord whose omniscient vision could see His perfect purposes for my life.
    The mountains beyond my window represented permanence, stability and  agelessness. Every morning I could depend on them being there when I woke up, and probably they would be there for centuries to come. But God reminded me that there was something even more immovable than these geological formations of rock and dirt.
    “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”- (Isaiah 54:10).  What  promises to cling to when the very foundations of my life were crumbling beneath my feet!  I was abandoned and rejected, yet God loved me with unfailing love. I was beset by problems and turmoil, yet God would not remove His covenant of peace. I was destitute and critically ill, yet God had compassion on me.
    I no longer look at mountains outside my window, I look at a wide open prairie. God has brought me to a time of peace and blessing, no longer hemmed in by mountains of trouble but in a place where I am reminded of the vastness of His mercy and the open capacity of His great heart. He is greater than any mountain and cannot be moved.
           “Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world,
                                from everlasting to everlasting You are God.” 
-  Psalm 90:2


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Common Mercies

Sunlight seeps around the edges of my bedroom curtains as I swing my legs out of bed and walk down the hall. Through the open kitchen window I hear birdsong, wind rustling the leaves and the excited chatter of our resident squirrel. I grind some dark roast coffee beans, enjoying the rich fragrance while anticipating the delicious first cup I’ll sip with my toasted bagel. I read e-mails from my children that keep me involved in their lives. A CD of Tchiakovsky’s First Piano Concerto plays while I clean the comfortable home I share with my husband. This afternoon I will drive to town to visit with a friend and do a little shopping.
    I am a recipient of what preacher and author Charles Spurgeon calls “common mercies”, those gifts God has supplied for me and every person on earth in a general sense, like sunshine, air, food, shelter and relationships. The essentials of daily life may vary for others, however everything I take for granted in my world is a result of the mercy of God. I want to make it a habit to do as Spurgeon exhorts; “daily praise God for common mercies -- common as we frequently call them, and yet so priceless that when deprived of them we are ready to perish.”
    Whether I acknowledge God’s existence or not, I am given undeserved mercy through the natural world I depend upon to survive. Even if I turn away from Him, God “has shown kindness by giving me rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides me with plenty of food and fills my heart with joy.” (Acts 14:17 personalized)
    Common mercies cause me to think of God. His amazing creation and how I fit into it speak to me of an Intelligent Designer, “for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities -- His eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20)   
    If common mercies give rise to gratitude for their vital existence, then I need someone to thank. I cannot thank a supposition of life coming from a “Big Bang” for the world as I know it. I cannot be thankful for my existence to a theory based on development of species from earlier forms. I need to thank God, who created me to express gratitude.
    Because I share these mercies with everyone else then, yes, they are common, but if I study their intricate design, singular beauty and perfect provision, then I would have to call them uncommon. Everywhere I look, every sound I hear, every scent, every touch, is God’s proclamation of how lavishly He loves me. And I am so thankful.

The Lord is faithful to all His promises
and loving toward all He has made.
The eyes of all look to You,
and You give them their food at the proper time.
You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all His ways
and loving toward all He has made.
My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise His holy name
for ever and ever.     
           Psalm 145:13, 15-17, 21


Monday, 4 June 2012

A Door Between

An Indian princess opened the door for me. I found her waiting on a shelf between the faded red cloth covers of my first chapter book. She crouched behind a tree on page one, her black braids and fringed buckskin dress sketched above the opening paragraph. With a raised hand she pointed into the belly of the book and that is why I chose her.
My mother waited patiently while I drew down volume after volume from the shelves, knowing it had to be just the right one. This first trip to our local library marked my graduation from picture books to chapter books, a momentous event not to be hurried. Each cover needed to be judged on its appeal, each tome weighed in my small hands, pages thumbed through and illustrations perused. Then came the careful reading of the first few paragraphs, a slow process for a novice chapter book reader. The perfect choice must meet all my mysterious criteria. When the Indian princess beckoned me into her world, I knew. She rode proudly home on my lap with my fidgety hands on the cover itching to let her out to begin her story.
So began construction of the revolving door between my two worlds. In my exterior world I lived contentedly with family and common surroundings. But my interior world whispered around the edges, waiting for any opportunity to grab my imagination by the hand and run. It teased my waking hours with daydreams, frustrating my parents and teachers with my lack of focus. At night it held sway, filling my mind's eye with fantastic scenes and stories until I sank reluctantly into sleep.
Now I discovered a paradise of books legitimizing the stories inside my head; books revealing the interior worlds of others who possessed the gift of describing them in words. The door swung wide for a myriad of tales to march in, populating my world with rich characters and settings often more real to me than everyday life.
Stepping through C.S. Lewis' wardrobe door, I befriended Edmund and Lucy in the land of Narnia. The great lion, Aslan, evoked a childish reverence foreshadowing a future faith in his prototype. The miniature world of The Borrowers found me prone on my bedroom floor acting out their story with dollhouse furniture. The Secret Garden sprouted my temporary green thumb and I pestered my parents for riding lessons while reading Black Beauty. J.R.R. Tolkien's wizard, Gandalf, took on the bushy gray brows and twinkling eyes of my teacher, Mr. Smith, who read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings aloud while doing all the voices.
Fed by Tolkien's intricate fantasy realms, my unfettered imagination was reluctant to return to the mundane reality of the classroom. I could not contain the words and worlds spilling out on page after page of cheap notebook paper. Gypsies and haunted forests, princesses and magic spells pushed their way through my pen, seeking form and voice in my amateur compositions.
The ravenous appetite of a new writer could not ingest enough words to satisfy a desire to express my heart. Subconsciously my vocabulary and writing skills developed with the countless books I devoured to feed my inexhaustible hunger for stories. I saw the world as one continuous tale I longed to transcribe, if only a fraction of it.
Behind the exterior world of a shy, awkward girl a parallel world teemed with all that I did not possess. Adventure, beauty, humor and high virtue stumbled for expression in my writing, like infants learning to walk. At first I hugged my feeble attempts to myself, not ready to expose them to criticism. The exercise of writing brought a satisfaction wholly my own --- a solitary catharsis not dependent on affirmation from others. But what good was a story written down if not shared? If one day mine was to be the book taken down from a shelf then I needed to let others into my interior world. The door revolved both ways.
So I released a few of my literary offspring to those I knew would treat them gently and to my wonder they were affirmed as showing promise. This changed everything. Books were the places in which I could be lost but now they became where I could be found. Reading for pleasurable escape evolved into exploring literature to learn from successful authors. Could I subtly comment on the social mores of the day like Jane Austen, create and populate whole worlds like Tolkien, craft a believable heroine like Lucy Maude Montgomery? Could I spread my own heart across a blank page for readers to either trample or identify with?
Years later, the door to my interior world still stands open for either response. It is the risk I take as a writer who chronicles from the heart. Numerous books have entered to refresh, stimulate and  feed that world. I leave the door revolving in the wind. Perhaps an Indian princess will pass through.