Wednesday, August 31, 2005

PLAGUES!!!

Now here’s a nice light topic for you. I am reading through Exodus and the story of the plagues that God sent on the Egyptians is just gross! Really…just picture an infestation of frogs, or all your water turning to blood, or flies covering every surface in your home. Ugh. Why would God send such disgusting torments on anyone? Because they were stubborn and hard-hearted.

In order to move something that is hard - like a large stone - you require forceful means, and if the rock is very large and resistant to your best efforts, you bring in explosives. However, if you are trying to move something soft – like a nest of birds - you will use care and delicacy in order to keep it intact. Hard things are treated totally different than soft things, and so it is with hearts. In this age of tolerance, people can get very upset by a God who presents himself as judgemental or disciplinary. But let us not forget, God IS the ultimate judge since he knows what is in our hearts, and in order to develop character, you must have discipline (not punishment which is punitive, but discipline which seeks to teach a better way). It is in our best interests to have consequences for our behaviour, be they good or bad. The same leniency and grace that would cause a soft-hearted person to weep when confronted with their wrongs would also cause a hard-hearted person to assume that they can get away with even worse behaviour.

And that is why God sent plagues. Asking nicely just wasn’t working. So the question I ask myself is, what plagues me in my life? What is something that beleaguers me over and over again, making my life unpleasant, never seeming to leave me alone? This might in fact be an area that I have a hard heart in. Is there a certain type of person that just appears in my life and won’t leave me alone? Does the same annoying circumstance seem to happen over and over again? Every time I attempt a certain task or project, does it always backfire? What things irritate me to the point of frustration? These are my plagues and I want to be free from them.


Goodbye, hard heart.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

does this look like rescue to you?

I love this interpretation of Exodus 5:23 from The Message. Moses was expressing his annoyance at God for things getting worse instead of better, for not going exactly as he had envisioned in this rescue operation God sent him on. Well, the problem with us here-and-now, time-bound, earthy homo sapiens, is that we often assume that things are as they seem, that the situation is exactly as it appears, that ‘right now’ is an accurate picture of where things stand, but from my experience, that is seldom the case. The story is never finished, there are always new developments, and what initially appeared to be a setback very often turns out to be a catalytic factor in directing one to a better way.

I have sometimes been told by well-meaning Christians that what I am doing ‘looks’ like something that is associated with some form of ungodliness, at least in their mind, and I can tell they are uncomfortable with the whole thing. What the heck am I supposed to do with that skewed bit of information? Basically, they are admitting that they have a perception problem and they would prefer if I changed my behaviour so that they don’t have to adjust their limited outlook to more closely reflect the truth. Sorry, my low tolerance for small-mindedness is coming through here, mostly because I struggle with the same thing myself. Okay then. We will all encounter things that make us uncomfortable in our lives; situations that we would rather not be in because they are not conveniently resolving themselves as they would in a neatly written 156-page work of light inspirational fiction (I have nothing against this form of writing, I have done some of it myself, but it hardly portrays truth in all its bloody and painful dimensions).

Why does a raised voice make me uncomfortable? Because in my household, that was never done – it was considered a sign of uncontrolled anger and aggression. So I assumed that anywhere I heard raised voices, someone was sure to die or be horribly maimed. Then I encountered my husband’s family where yelling was just part of getting heard at the dinner table and oddly enough, no one ever lost an arm or an eye or even held a grudge. I have adjusted my perception accordingly and on occasion, will even participate in a heated discussion in that household, raised voice and all.

I believe that as God continues to reveal himself to me, I will continuously have to readjust my perception. What looks like injustice may in fact be an extension of mercy. What looks like death, may turn out to give life. What looks like a mentally unstable, unkempt, rebellious, religious cult fanatic with an anger problem may turn out to be John the Baptist. What appears to be increased bondage might be the first step to the greatest rescue operation ever (go Moses!). What it looks like is hardly relevant. What matters is what it IS and what it is on the way to becoming, and in order to ascertain this, I will have to dig a little deeper, do a little more research, ask God what he is up to, be a little less quick to judge, exercise faith instead of sight, and get to know people’s hearts. Let me see with wiser eyes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Getting Younger

I received a letter from my mother this week and amidst all the newsy bits, she included this piece of wisdom:

“Some people are always excusing themselves for their looks, etc. So I said, ‘We are created by God, made in His image and then we look in the mirror and say, I don’t like it. Where does that come from?…’ The way I see it, the growing older, balding, greying, etc., it was all in God’s plan. Besides, the fountain of youth that we would all covet for our bodies is not as important as our character that we build by allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to us the Fruits of the Spirit.”

One of my main gripes about our current society is how we have made staying young more valuable than growing old. Now there are certain things that I deem are worth fighting against as we grow older, and they include the loss of such things as strength, vitality, flexibility, bone mass, general good health, a sense of adventure and a willingness to learn. But I will not fight against the maturing process, it is indeed something that is built into the very nature of being human.

Most people have a desire for a taste of the eternal, a dissatisfaction with the temporal nature of this life, and one of the ways this manifests itself is by people trying to feel and look younger than they really are. I caught a glimpse of a television show today called Ten Years Younger that gave people a makeover to help them achieve the illusion of youth. Why would anyone want to look ten years younger? What’s the point? I am 44 years old. People tell me I look much younger than that, at least from the back (haha), but in my opinion, I look exactly like a 44 year-old because it is how old I am. I define my age - my age does not define me. I have determined to take good care of this body, mind and spirit that God has given me, for I believe them to be priceless gifts, but I will most likely get old and die (Enoch being the one exception to that rule that I am aware of, so one can always hope). The sting of death has indeed been overcome through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and I am a partaker in the eternal life God offers, but the definition of this (eternal life) is to know Jesus, not to live in my body forever. If all the energy and resources our society spends on looking younger were spent on getting to know God – wow! Just stop and picture that world for a minute.


Thanks for the encouragement today, mother. I am blessed.

Monday, August 08, 2005

WALK

I heard a story the other day about a man, an evangelist, who wanted to make an impact in a certain country, but he had no contacts in this land and therefore, no opportunities to do anything there. So what he felt he should do was visit the place every year and walk around - nothing earth-shattering happened, he just walked around. For five years he made periodic visits to the country and walked and walked and walked. During the sixth year, on one of his visits, he met a person who introduced him to someone else and this contact gave him an invitation to work with and speak to the people in this country and thus the door opened to doing the very thing he had envisioned all those years.

I found this story strangely encouraging, because most of my life seems to be spent walking around. I would love to be thrust from one thrilling adventure to another, leap from one success story to the next, have one vision after another fulfilled, but alas, many of my days are spent plodding along. One foot in front of the other, one word at a time, one conversation following another, one sit-up at a time, day after day of eating, cleaning, working, laughing, loving and encountering people in everyday life. The immediate progress is not visible in any measurable or significant way, but that is the thing about foundations – they take time to build. There is always a guaranteed reward to faithfulness, but how many times do I miss it because I can’t see results after the fourth year, get discouraged, and stop walking? The children of Israel who were walking around the walls of Jericho could have stopped at the sixth circuit around the city and gone home defeated. After all, what did they really have to show for their efforts except a well-worn trail and a lot of dust? I have now lived in Quebec for 6 years, and much of that time has been spent walking, living, listening, learning. Nothing earth-shattering. But I can feel a subtle change, mostly in my attitude, towards the people that surround me. I identify with them more, I understand them better, and I no longer feel like an outsider. These six years have planted me here and now I am beginning to see the fruit of walking in a strange land. The walls between us are starting to come down. I am now a Quebecer, not simply a visitor.

Walking is important. Not every step is the one that puts you over the finish line, but without each and every step, one would never get there. Sometimes I get into that restrictive somewhat utilitarian mindset where everything must have immediate results or measurable and obvious spiritual goals before I consider it worth doing. This is a very narrow view of life because it supposes that I am the one to judge the end, that I can in fact see where things are leading and how they will turn out, that I know which things have lasting value and which things are a waste of time. Worst of all, it presumes that life is a story about me. It is not. It is a story about God, a loving father who calls his kids to walk towards him, even when they don't see the end of the road.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

a.s.k.

I don’t like asking for things. People say men don’t like asking for directions. I don’t either, and I am not a man. I would much rather figure things out for myself, complete a project knowing that I did it myself, or prove that I can learn something new or do something I never did before by not giving up, or at least not asking someone else to assist me. There is some merit to this dogged determination, but most days I would have to say I probably don’t like giving someone any power over me: the power to say NO and thereby reject me or some part of my life by refusing my request, the power to take part of the credit and satisfaction for something I might have accomplished on my own. And most of all, I don’t like to be needy, weak, or helpless in some way; it makes me feel stupid.

This means that I also ask God for very little, at least specifically. I ask for great and vague things such as wisdom, truth, courage, strength, protection, direction, love, purity, forgiveness…you get the picture. Today I was reminded of the verse “you have not because you ask not.” Now that sounds pretty simple until you look at the context: "You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you'd be asking for what you have no right to. You're spoiled children, each wanting your own way." (James 4:2-3 The Message)

Yikes! Could part of the reason I don’t ask God for much be because I don’t trust my own heart? Some part of me really believes that most of my requests, when they are stripped to the bare root, will be basically selfish or inappropriate, so as a safety precaution, I ask for nothing other than something that I know is already approved, like the spiritual fruit list. Now what kind of a relationship is that? I don’t REALLY say and think and feel and ask for the things that are on my heart, I don’t be myself - whether I am having a bad day or a good one - but instead, I censor my words and desires in order to please this God who has already said that his love is unconditional, that he will never leave me, and that he wants to get close to me, the real me, the whole me. I hate to be disappointed – don’t we all, but the least I could do is ASK for something – something unique to Matte, something interesting and exciting and big and more important to me than I even care or dare to admit.

‘And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you'll find. It's common knowledge that "God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble."’ (James 4:6 The Message).

Let me come as a child, flushed with excitement, perhaps unkempt and dirty from play or work or a fight with my peers, but let me come with big ideas in my head and wild dreams flashing in my eyes – those things that God has planted in no other person but me. He is waiting to hear me ask for them…