Friday, February 29, 2008

Answering the Call

by Susan Stewart

Let us go up and take the land for we can surely do it! Numbers 13:30

Those were Caleb's words as he returned from scouting out the promised land. He chose to focus on the promises of God and his ability to bring them to fruition rather than on the size of the obstacles. He was confident in God's ability to bring them through, in spite of the negative voices around him.

It's Friday night. I've had a really full week, both at work and at home. I spent an extra long day today, complicated by things like staffing shortages, sewage backups and one distraction (most of them legitimate) after another. The "to do" pile grew far larger today than it was yesterday. I've run out of places to stack things as the piles of paper threaten to overwhelm me. I think they are like Belinda's Amish friendship bread; they keep multiplying and I have no idea how! (I wish I could give some of them away to my friends like Belinda keeps doing.) It's been just as interesting at home this week, with a number of family issues to deal with.

I have been looking forward to the weekend. An invitation to tea with some very special friends on Saturday, some precious time with my teenagers and grandchildren that evening, and a family celebration in Windsor on Sunday. It's my dad's 84th birthday, possibly the last one we will be able to share with him. My sister has organized a little celebration in the party room of his apartment building.

Just an hour ago I received a call that told me my plans for the weekend are seriously in jeopardy. A last minute staff cancellation is leaving us with two giant holes in the schedule. Holes I may have to fill.

I have no idea what God is going to do. I know that my plans are not his plans and that his ways are much higher than mine. I am hugely tempted to fall into a deep sense of disappointment, even to grumble and complain, but I've had enough experience being his friend to know that I will only end up being sorry for that in the end and having to eat humble pie for doubting him.

The challenges facing me for the next few days (in fact the next few weeks) are looming like huge giants. They are not going to win. There's a promised land out there. A land that can be seen and enjoyed only when clothed in a good attitude - an attitude of trust and quiet confidence in a God who loves me and wants only the best for me. I can see that land, a land full of joy. Like Caleb, I'm going up to take it.

"...where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy." Psalm 65:8b.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Prayer--More Powerful Than We Dream

Numbers 16:47-48 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
Eugene H. Peterson
47-48 Aaron grabbed the censer, as directed by Moses, and ran into the midst of the congregation. The plague had already begun. He put burning incense into the censer and atoned for the people. He stood there between the living and the dead and stopped the plague.

Paul and I are still slowly digesting Watchman Nee's little book, Sit, Walk, Stand, a tiny bit at a time over breakfast each morning. We must seem like very slow readers, but we want to absorb this teacher/preacher's thoughts and consider them well.

We had just finished reading Watchman's words about the great legacy to the Church; the name of Jesus, in which we are invited to pray, when I read in the book of Numbers chapter 16, verses 47-48, the story of the plague that was judgement for the sins of the people and which was stopped when Aaron the priest, burned incense before the Lord and atoned for the people.

The image of Aaron, standing between the living and the dead was such a vivid picture of the ministry of prayer that we are called to if we follow Christ.

1 Peter 2:9 (New International Version)
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

We believers are a royal priesthood, according to 1 Peter, and called to stand between the spiritually dead and the living and stop the plague of sin through prayer, which is symbolized by incense, rising to heaven.

Watchman's words on praying in the name of Jesus were sobering. He says that the authorization to use that name is "a fruit of obedience to God and of a resulting spiritual position known and maintained."

When God knows us because we show up daily to know him and be known of him, he can trust us with his name. We won't then be like the exorcists in Acts chapter 16 who tried to use the name of Jesus over some people in the grip of evil spirits, only to have the spirit call out, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?" I don't want to be written off by the forces of hell as a weak link, out of connection with the source of spiritual authority and power, one whom they need not worry about. I want to cause a stir because I carry Christ in me and with me.

The name of Jesus is backed by all the power of heaven. So I have renewed my commitment and efforts to pray as faithfully as I can for those God has given me to pray for.

About four weeks ago we started praying for some of our nephews. One of them is John, my brother's 20 year old son in England, who has been drinking heavily enough to be concerning since alcohol addiction is in our genes. On our weekly phone call just after we began to pray, Robert said, "John hasn't had a drink for a few days." Last weekend Robert said that it was now 3 weeks since he'd had a drink--and John said it's the longest he's gone without a drink since he was 14. Coincidence? Maybe; but I don't think so. I thank God for what he is doing in John's life.

God in his mercy and grace hears and answers even the weakest prayers when we least deserve it, but to engage fully in the unseen spiritual battles that rage all around us, we need to go deeper and closer to Jesus. He has given us his name to use.

Revelation 5:8 (American Standard Version)
8 And when he had taken the book, the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More than We Ask or Imagine

It is Tuesday--cell group evening--cell group without Paul who left on a business trip on Sunday; Paul who is the technical part of my brain.

I push my way in through the front door, laden with rustling bags holding crusty Calabrese bread--fragrant and yeasty, a cake to celebrate a birthday—and a favourite ice cream—Iditarod.

The butter chicken made the night before is soon on the stove warming, the rice heating in the microwave and green beans steaming. Darkly delicious coffee drips into the waiting glass carafe, redolent and promising.

I wrestle the screen into submission, sweating with the unaccustomed effort of hoisting it on high.

People begin to arrive. Laughter, plates clattering, cutlery distributed, many hands loading plates with plentiful food, spreading soft bread with pale yellow, salty butter. Latecomers arrive, they too gather plates of food and soon, replete, with coffee or cold drinks in hand, it is time for session 5 of the Alpha series.

I tell the traditional Alpha opening joke. I’ve never thought of myself as able to tell jokes but over the past few weeks it’s been fun learning. People erupt into laughter as I get to the punch line and I realize that I’m enjoying this—me telling jokes—unbelievable.

The moment I’ve been dreading has now arrived; the moment in which I hold two remote controls in my hand and hope the DVD player and projector will work. All along I’ve hoped that Susan will rescue me, but no, she is coaching from the sidelines.

“You can do it,” she is saying. And I don’t even realize that I’m pointing the “wands” (thanks Dave for the funny word for these things) at the screen instead of the machines they’re supposed to operate. Susan helpfully tells me to where to point them. I’m very stressed.

“I can’t do it. I NEED your help!” I say testily, forgetting that we are at cell group where we are all supposed to be loving and kind.

“I’m not your friend any more!” I hear myself declaring, realizing as I do, that I have regressed to the level of a four year old.

Lesley-Ann is laughing. I suppose it would be funny to me too, if I wasn’t having a panic attack.

What’s this—the screen is filling with a picture. Susan is coaching again from her chair, “Select the language; choose the session, you can do it.”

I feel like I’m being coached through labour and about to give birth to a very big baby that I wish would go right back where it came from.

But the session is starting. I DID IT! And I feel relief mingled with reluctant pride that I really did do it. I conquered the remote controls—let’s forget I was pointing them in the wrong direction entirely. I feel as if that baby has been pulled out of me. I have given birth!

I ask Susan afterwards to forgive me for my childish behaviour. And she does; and tells me she doesn’t know any more than I do about these machines; I don’t know why I always assume others must know more than me.

And I think about how reluctantly we grow sometimes but how good it felt to do something that I had convinced myself I couldn’t, because in spite of all of my whining, no one would rescue me.

Wow, I wonder what else I’m capable of.

And I think of how God knows what we really are capable of and how we are prone to freeze in our tracks and put all kinds of limits on ourselves and really on him, because all he asks for is someone available to be used.

So Lord, tonight here I am again, giving myself to you to do with what you will. And I know that there is no limit to what you can do through someone who is brave enough to just try and trust.

Sometimes I forget who you are and act like a four year old and yell at you that I really can't do it. I'm glad that you are Wisdom and Goodness and that if you leave me to flounder it's because you know I have it in me to do more than I believe I can.

And more than even that--you in me; there is no limit.

Ephesians 3:20 (New International Version)
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Prayze

By Ang Cat

It started in November. The Toronto Mass Choir came to our church. They are a gospel choir and they rocked the roof off in rambunctious Caribbean praise and soothed us with gentle waves of soulful worship. We danced and sang and praised our God and Savior~King, Jesus.

At the end they announced that they would be having another Power Up workshop weekend in February, a time where participants go to learn different aspects of music and ultimately to learn to sing with a gospel choir.

Well, we did. My friend Carolyn and I just came back from a romping, intense, dancing, shaking, laughing, learning, exhausting one of a kind weekend.

Each of us attended different kinds of workshops ranging from Song Writing and Musicianship 101 to Hip Hop Dance. Yes my 41 year old friend went and pulled all her muscles trying to contort herself into different shapes as she leapt in the air and then spun on the floor. She is still limping.

The prize of the whole weekend though was the time spent with the actual choir, a group of approximately 30-40 people from many nations, who are energetic, talented, Jesus loving sisters and brothers. Their dynamic director is Karen Burke who is a professor at YorkUniversity where she teaches a course on Gospel Music and directs another choir there.

As we entered a large auditorium, we were directed to sit with our specific vocal group (either soprano, alto or tenor) and then Karen proceeded to teach us the four songs that we would need for the concert the following night. Over the course of that day and a half we learned the rhythms of gospel music, how to punch or stretch our consonants and vowels so they would be clearly understood by an audience and how to sing them out so their meaning was clear. We were to sing a song called "When I Praise". It is most beautiful and worshipful. Karen taught us the correct pronunciation of the word praise. It's not 'PRAISE',she said,but 'PRAYZE'! She coached us in the pronunciation of many words, how to move, rhythmically, joyfully, putting the song out there, communicating with everything in us that our King moves us, in every way and we will not hold back. The choir members came around us, encouraging, showing, laughing, leading. It was wonderful.

The time for the concert came and our guest showed up. Alvin Slaughter who is known for his work with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and also his independent work, was to be one of the guest performers and a soloist with the choir. All 120 of the weekend participants were going to sing and back him up in the beautiful piece "When I Praise".When he was welcomed to the front of the room where we were all gathered in a devotional time, he opened his heart and shared some of his testimony, gave us some more pointers on the singing of this song and we had some laughs. As soon as he opened his mouth and began to speak (never mind sing), I turned to Carolyn and said "O man, he has pipes!" He had such a deep, resonating voice that sounded like he was just waiting to burst out in some roaring, trumpeting worship.

And we were not disappointed.

The concert began. Another soloist sang, then the Toronto Mass Choir came on and led the large crowd in their own unique variety of Caribbean praise, black gospel renditions of hymns and soulful worship. Karen was in her element as she moved and pointed and raised and lowered the tones and volume of the choir. They were truly one, yet so diverse, all beautiful.

Then Alvin Slaughter sang and sang. He told funny stories, shared his testimony of personal struggles and the redeeming power of Christ in his life and sang some more. He is truly gifted to do what He does.

After the intermission it was our turn. All 120 of us, filed onto the huge platform, in our black outfits, nervous, giggly, elated, excited, the whole atmosphere charged with expectancy of the energy that was just waiting to be released. Karen stood on a large trunk in the centre aisle, so we could all see her as she conducted.

Then the magic began. The band, complete with highly skilled musicians on keyboards, guitars and drums began the intro to the first song. We swung and sang as Karen burst into fireball of motion. Her arms thrust, pointed, lifted, lowered. She was up on her toes, then down, bending knees, sideways, leaning hard with arm oustretched as she coaxed more sound, greater volume, repeating lines in a pounding ocean of rhythm. The first song was done, then the second and then Mr. Slaughter joined us on the stage as we prepared to sing "When I Praise". We sang the first line, softly, in unison..."When I praise, Your Name, heaven STOPS, to listen..." and as we continued he began to sing, complementing us with his solo, woven in and around the voices of the choir. We swayed and worshipped, he moved and moved us, with his voice lifted to the King. I could feel tears falling down my cheeks and such a sense of... "Awesome, this is what heaven is going to be like and I don't want it to stop."

But eventually the song and Alvin's part in it was winding to completion. He moved to the right of the stage as if to leave and Karen gave the signal to repeat, so we went right back to the place of his solo, so of course he returned, only this time, he faced us...large in all ways, black, smiling, sweating, encouraging...and began to wave his arms and shout "Come On!!!" and we sang. The music exploded in a crescendo of sound. It was almost mesmerizing. Karen on her trunk continued to flow in the dance of the director, beautiful, fluid, confident, loving every moment. Alvin singing, moving, worshipping in front of us on the stage and all of the choir bursting forth in increasing waves of sound.

And then it was over. This storming of heaven was accomplished and we proceeded off the stage, still singing until the last person was down.We were exhausted, full, laughing, exhilarated.

Dear King Jesus,
I hope we blessed You. I hope that the worship had a sweet fragrance for You, for it's all about You. Thank You for the privilege of participating in this time. It was good in every way... a sweet friend to share it with, an amazing time of learning and singing and a hubby who released me to go...

Thank You, Thank You

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Right Hand Man

Paul always gets edgy when he’s going away. He is ready several hours early; bag packed, coat at the ready and his nervousness always rubs off on me.

This time it’s almost time for him to leave and we have lunch before he goes. I feel like half of my brain is leaving; the half that knows how to turn on the T.V. and operate the array of 4 remote controls that lie on our coffee table. This is not a big problem. I can happily exist without T.V., but on Tuesday night at cell group there is a projector to operate. I’m definitely nervous about that.

Author Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point, explains an interesting aspect of relationships; Transactive Memory. Although the words “transactive memory” don’t spring to mind the moment you think about intimate relationships, he says that this is part of what intimacy means and that couples, families and work groups form unspoken agreements about who will remember what. We don’t all need to know everything; we just need to know who knows. I found it a fascinating concept and very applicable to the situation at hand.

It’s not that I couldn’t learn how to operate the remotes lined up like dueling pistols on the table, but I really would rather rely on somebody else. It’s not that I’m lazy, but I have made the transaction (thank you Malcolm Gladwell) to contribute to our relationship in other ways. There is only one person in the world who believes that I have any technical ability; my friend Dave, who relies on my help from time to time with his blog. He has no idea what a weak stick he is leaning upon!

Earlier in the day I said to Paul that surely there must be a way to turn on our entertainment system without using 4 different remotes in mysterious sequence. He tried to explain to me why it was “easier” using 4 remotes because it would require “programming” to make it all work through one. I said that I would gladly hire someone to come and program the system to one remote. How hard could it be? Apparently it is very hard.

A huge shift has happened since we were young. He actually remembers wind up gramophones with needles that you changed every few records. To get more volume, you would have to open the sides of the gramophone.

This made us realize how old we are and he said, “Belinda, we’re lucky that we can even turn on a computer,” which made me laugh. He has a point.

Romans 12:4-8 (New Century Version)
4 Each one of us has a body with many parts, and these parts all have different uses.5 In the same way, we are many, but in Christ we are all one body. Each one is a part of that body, and each part belongs to all the other parts.6 We all have different gifts, each of which came because of the grace God gave us. The person who has the gift of prophecy should use that gift in agreement with the faith.7 Anyone who has the gift of serving should serve. Anyone who has the gift of teaching should teach.8 Whoever has the gift of encouraging others should encourage. Whoever has the gift of giving to others should give freely. Anyone who has the gift of being a leader should try hard when he leads. Whoever has the gift of showing mercy to others should do so with joy.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ponder the Beautiful

I drove into the winding driveway banked with snow on either side. There were lights on the pond as rosy-cheeked children in rainbow colours glided on silver blades. Some dads were feeding wood to the red-bricked oven on the farthest side of the pond and a string of lights went from tree to the outdoor fire place. Snow covered hardwood trees, silhouetted in the winter evening, provided a backdrop for the picture before me. If I were a painter, I would be compelled to capture this scene on canvas. I allowed my eyes to feast, desiring it to pour into my soul. I enjoyed the outdoorsy fragrance, coupled with the burning wood and was warmed and reminded of the beauty of sound I experienced earlier in the day.

I closed my eyes and I could still hear the lovely music of the violin - beautiful renditions of Mozart, Bach, Brahms,Beethoven, Schumann, Suzuki, played by various children at my eldest daughter's violin recital. The performance was delightful and Hannah's teacher had thrown in some pianists as well. We listened to a spirited duet, Mambo and Cha Cha, as well as a refined elegant piece, Beethoven's Sonatina in G+. I have heard it said that, "Instrumental music bypasses the brain and goes right to the soul."

My soul is touched by the beautiful concert I heard, as it is touched by the natural winter evening scene which delighted my eyes.

So much beauty in this world. The beauty we see around us, in others, and in ourselves produces such joy.

Lord, I want Your joy to bubble up from my soul and flow all around me, washing away the ugliness of sin and allowing me to see myself and all humanity through joy-coloured glasses.

When things on this earth aren't going the way I'd like, when I am not content in spite of my efforts, may I find rest in you. May I lay down self and look into the radiant beauty of your face.

And your word speaks truth into my troubles,

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. Philippians 4:4-8 NASV

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Friends on the Journey

Tonight Susan and I were talking about Whatever He Says and what it means to us to write on this blog.

I've always recorded reflective thoughts in journals but I didn't think seriously about sharing them with others. At a writers conference; Write! Canada, about 5 years ago. N.J. Lindquist, in her workshop, Discovering the Writer in You, said that when God gives you something to say, you should treat it like gold; that he doesn't just give it for you, but you have a responsibility to share it.

Marilyn Yocum, another instructor, challenged me when she said, "Don't say you have a 'call' and then disrespect the Lord by not following through on that call."

Towards the end of April 2006, I started sharing the thoughts God gave me each day with a group of friends by email.

That year I went to Write! Canada, and reconnected with Marilyn Yocum. After the conference we corresponded by email for a while and she asked me what my vision was for my writing.

I wrote back saying that I would love to write a daily newspaper column, sort of sharing the journey of faith with friends. Of course I realized that dream was unrealistic. There wouldn't be much likelihood of a newspaper publishing a daily column on faith. But Marilyn had pulled my dream out of me.

She, and another friend, Elaine, suggested starting a blog to post the reflections on. In June 2006, Whatever He Says was born and I realize now that my dream came true at that moment.

Writers usually write for their readers, and I never fail to be honoured when someone chooses to read Whatever He says; there are so many excellent blogs and so much written material that we are bombarded with nowadays.

The friends who faithfully read and comment--who tell me and the other writers when God speaks to them through what is written--are the reason we write. Even if there was only person who was being impacted--it would be worth it.

Whatever He Says has become a team blog with team members posting on specific evenings; Ang Cat on Tuesdays, Susan on Friday and Joyful Fox on Sundays. Faith Girl pops in now and again with a post. The other writers enrich Whatever He Says with different voices and fresh perspectives.

We write to make a difference. We write because we must! And we write for our readers.

"The more time you spend in God’s Word, the better writer you will be. We need to really know God – our writing is the fruit of our time with God. Make use of God’s Word. God blesses our feeble efforts – it is His work.”
Shawn McMullen, editor, The Lookout

Friday, February 22, 2008

On Being a Grandmother

By Susan Stewart

I am posting this from the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel in Niagara Falls, where Ron has business meetings for a few days. I have Matthew and Eliana, our two five-year-old grandchildren in tow. We do our thing while their Papa is in meetings and he joins us whenever he can. Although my energy is being taxed to the limit, I have been thoroughly enjoying looking at this beautiful part of the world through two pairs of five year old eyes.

Yesterday, Eliana, Matthew and I stood behind the barrier right at the brink of the falls, watching tons and tons and tons of water tumble over the edge into the mist shrouded gorge below. Two little faces with shining eyes peered through spaces in the stone and wrought iron fence, not worried in the least about the spray that was turning to bits of ice in the frigid air before hitting their faces in a fine spray of tiny ice crystals. Eliana put her fingers in her ears against the thundering roar. I thought about how many times I had stood in this exact spot and viewed this spectacle, winter and summer, and how I would never, ever be tired of seeing it or bored with the sight.

Not those children, though. As enraptured as they were at first, ten minutes turned out to be quite enough and they were soon clamouring for me to take them into the gift shop where they could at the same time warm up and look for gifts to take home for their families.

I motioned them close, put one arm around each of them, and pulled them close, directing their eyes toward the wall of falling water.

“Look at all that water!” I spoke loudly, raising my voice to be heard over the thundering roar of the water. “It falls and falls and keeps on falling. It never stops! There’s always more water coming. It comes, and comes and comes. There’s never any end! When I was seven years old, just a little older than you I stood here and watched that water falling just like you are today. That was almost fifty years ago! All my life long that water has been falling. And for hundreds and thousands of years before that. It never stops! Do you know what all that water makes me think of?”

They looked at me with wide eyes, and waited for me to answer my own question. We started walking toward the gift shop, three abreast, one child on either side of me, all of us holding hands.

“It makes me think of God’s grace. That means he loves us, and forgives us and wants to be our friend no matter what happens or how much we mess up. His grace just keeps coming and coming and coming and coming. We don’t deserve it, but he gives us everything we need, and he keeps on giving it. There’s been enough for my whole life long and there will be enough for your lives too. Just like that water keeps coming and coming, there is no end to his love for us!”

Though they seem to have forgotten the word “grace” they’ve mentioned my little talk a dozen times since. For lunch today, after a long morning swim, we all went downstairs to the restaurant in the hotel. There were linen napkins and tablecloths on the tables, silverware that was actually silver, a bread and butter plate for each of us, and no clowns on any packages anywhere in sight. We had a table near the window and a clear view of the falls. We sat looking out the window together and I asked them once again. “What do you think of when you see all that water going over Niagara Falls?”

“God’s love!” chirped Eliana. “It keeps coming and coming and coming and it never stops.”

“And he forgives us! He forgives and forgives us and forgives us no matter how many times we do stuff wrong!” came Matthew’s contribution.


They couldn't keep their five-year-old bodies still in that fancy place for the length of time it took to finish our lunch together. I ended up herding them toward the elevator before their dessert, leaving their grandfather to sign the bill and join us upstairs later. He had to bring our coffee and their ice cream in take out containers. Gritting my teeth, I said to the hostess on the way out, who was trying not to laugh, "I'm doing you a favour!" Once upstairs, coffee and ice cream finally ingested, we cuddled up together and turned on a movie.

They may have forgotten the word “grace” but I think they are beginning to understand its meaning just fine. And I just love being a grandmother…

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Last Word on the Amish Friendship Bread

Today I awoke knowing that it was "the 10th day."

This meant that in addition to a staff training in the morning, an afternoon meeting, coffee with a Irene and a late interview, I had Amish Friendship Bread duties to perform.

My "bag on the counter" took up residence the night Ellen planted it here in mid January, and it has grown to be like a benign family pet, being squeezed and "burped" and fed regularly. My friend Alex asked me what it was that was growing in there and I had to admit that I didn't really know.

As each 10th day dawns, I no longer think first of what I need to accomplish that day. Oh no; now it is all about where I am going and who I can give one of my 3 extra "bread-baby" bags to.

This morning, I had to hustle before leaving for work to get the blobs of bread batter divided up. Imagine my perplexity when I found that I had used my last large Ziploc bag and forgotten to buy more! That slowed me down for a minute, but I had medium bags so I used those. As I handed them out to my bemused victims at the staff training, I admonished them to buy bigger bags--I told them that they were going to need them.

Pondering this caused me to consider buying shares in a certain company that makes these plastic bags. I've been listening to the audio book, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, and so I've learned that seemingly unrelated small things can cause epidemics, reductions in crime rates and rocketing sales.

The sale of plastic bags must be going through the ceiling about now, not to mention sales of instant pudding, one of the ingredients in the final product.

On Sunday my clever daughter-in-law Sue, informed me that she knew how to start the bread batter. I was stunned. "Do you mean that it's not true that 'Only the Amish know' like it says on the recipe?" I asked.

When she told me how she had figured it out, I felt rather amazed at my own lack of deductive reasoning powers.

I also felt a bit of loss. The mystery was gone, rather like when a child discovers that Santa Claus is really their parent. Now I was no longer compelled to keep the blob in the bag alive. I could create another whenever I wanted to.

For now, I have no plans to kill my bread offspring; it's really quite delicious. But it is nice to know that if my freezer overflows and my friends begin to run when they see me coming, I can call Amish Friendship Bread Anonymous and break the cycle of addiction.

And there is a method in the mystery. If everyone made their own; who would we give our multiplying bags away to?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Willing Captive

I have been thinking about my friend Dave's objection to the "slave" metaphor for our relationship with God, over the past couple of weeks. Oh my goodness, his comment provoked much reflection!

Even though I wrote a post (Passion and Truth) about not clinging to language or things that are cultural roadblocks on a person's faith journey, in my heart I felt a nudging not to discard something so significant.

And so it came to be, after the rest of our cell group friends had left for home last night, that Susan and I had one last de-caff coffee together in the quiet of the now empty, big back room. We sat side by side in the lamplight and in comfortable wing back chairs, and talked about it, and she said, "But we don't have to stay. We could leave."

And I said, "Yes."

In a sense we found common ground with Dave, who said, "I give God my praise (and love) as a free man," and I agree that we are not "en" slaved. The point is that it isn't about being shackled as a slave, but more accurately about being freed. It's about being free to leave, but out of love, choosing to stay, and in that staying, choosing to yield our lives, all that we are, to the one who gave everything for us.

The first verse of a poem written by Paul's father, the late Rev. Ronald F.T.Burston, has been on my heart. It's called, appropriately, A Willing Captive.

Make me a willing captive,
Lord of Thee,
Come inhabit my entire being,
Write loyal lines of love upon my heart,
And help me sing them in the dead of night,
To make the hills reverberate with
Heavenly joy,
And cause the music of the whispering
breeze to call out--JESUS!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Groundhog Day, A Parable

So many people I know love the movie “Groundhog Day”. It’s a gentle comedy situated around a crass weatherman (played by Bill Murray) who has to go to Punxsutauney to report on the groundhog and whether or not he sees his shadow. As the sequence of events unfolds, this man and one of the female members of the news crew, played by the beautiful Andie McDowell, begin a rather unusual adventure of friendship and romance.
Every morning that Phil wakes up, the same day has started over. Groundhog day looms on the horizon again and again as his alarm buzzes. The only difference in each of the days same sequence of events, are the ones he changes by his choices. Gradually you see him realize that he can choose, that what he did yesterday causing anger or unfriendship or disgust, he can change by his responses and therefore his circumstances for the good. At first his better choices are still fueled by innate selfishness and a desire to have the girl through manipulation. But then, you see him realize that the choices are actually good and the new motives are far better than the self serving ones he originally focussed on. At the end…well if you haven’t seen it, I won’t give it away. But the good fruit of his wiser choices prevail.
And the parable within is more than I had originally thought. The Bible verse that says “His mercies are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:22-23) is startling when you consider the implications. Ann Voskamp wrote about this on her Holy Experience blog, that each new day is like a New Year, a clean slate, a place to start afresh with His new mercy.
Doesn’t that boggle the mind. It does mine! Fresh chances, hope, patience of the Eternal bestowed on me, every morning! Try again, press on, don’t look to what’s behind, press toward the mark of the high calling of Christ. (Philippians 3:13-14)
He is a faithful, loving Father. Some have not had the benefit of a patient or kind earthly father and so have a distorted view of who Father God must be. I’m sure we all do to some extent, because none of us are ever that patient or kind or good.
But He is. That’s just it. All those fruits of the Spirit that he wants us to bear as He indwells us, are just His attributes. He shows us who He is, by those fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
When I hear those things, I feel at rest and secure in His arms. He is not overcome, being fed up with how we fall. Although I know from the Bible that Jesus at times did feel annoyed with the disciples as they floundered in their faith (“O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you, how long shall I put up with you. Bring him to me…” Mark 9:19NIV). Yet He is not overcome. His anger lasts but a moment.... but joy comes IN THE MORNING! (Psalm 30:5)

O’ I can’t wait to meet Him. To lay it all down and say Thank You for leading me gently and being patient while I learned of You, for being meek and humble of heart, so that I could find rest for my soul.

(I have paraphrased scripture verses to fit the context of this entry, however, the references are accurate and can be understood in any English version of the Bible)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Meditate, Think, Ponder, Wonder,

I'm a Sunday School teacher, scheduled to teach every four weeks and the class of 16 or so grade 4-6-ers includes 4 of my grandchildren.

Last week was my second time up to bat. I fell in love with the children the first week. Anyone who has spent an hour with 16 unique individuals; sponges for God but full of mischief, knows what it is to be well and truly hooked. Well, that's what happened to me at least.

Last week the lesson was all about Adam and Eve's fateful decision. The children learned about decision making and how to greatly increase the odds of making a good one by praying about them first. I spent time on Saturday cutting out white oblongs, yellow diamonds and red octagons from poster board, for the children to make into road signs, on which they could write messages to help them remember how to make good decisions; messages such as "Stop," "Think," or "Pray."

Most of the children took their signs upstairs with them to show their parents and take home, but in the dust from the end of class stampede, I found 4 signs that were left behind. I gathered them up and brought them home with me because they delighted me with their range of diversity.

One red octagon bore the message, "Help. I don't know what to do."

Another said, "Hot dog. Be quiet."

A white oblong said, "I'm the best in this class."

And a yellow diamond shaped sign had a message in childish hand and slightly mis-spelled, that said, "Medditate, Think, Ponder, Wonder."

A book could probably be written on those four approaches to problem solving! Meanwhile I smile every time I look at them.

Yesterday we had a crowd for dinner and when the downstairs washroom was already busy, and Stephen and Joshua needed to use one, we gave permission to go to a region of the house they don't usually enter--our ensuite washroom.

Last night when Paul and I went to bed, we found two cars in front of the toilet, and Paul noticed that the brightness had been altered on the display of his alarm clock. We laughed at the natural curiosity of children as we went to sleep.

This morning though, we decided to pop in an exercise DVD and do a work out together. We have a small T.V. and DVD player on a table in our bedroom for that purpose. I tried to start the DVD, only to find a message on the screen asking for the "password." We were effectively locked out of our exercise DVD!

Paul hunted for the owners manuals, which fortunately he was able to find, and using a "default password," we were able to play the DVD. We still have to learn how to take off the password that little hands must have somehow installed.

I smile at the fact that my decision making lesson may have to be learned many times over by the children before it "takes." If I'm honest I'm still learning myself, with every decision.

I think about that gold diamond with the message, "Meditate, think, ponder and wonder."

Sometimes the teacher is the student.

Psalm 119
1 Joyful are people of integrity,
who follow the instructions of the Lord.
2 Joyful are those who obey his laws
and search for him with all their hearts.
3 They do not compromise with evil,
and they walk only in his paths.
4 You have charged us
to keep your commandments carefully.
5 Oh, that my actions would consistently
reflect your decrees! 6 Then I will not be ashamed
when I compare my life with your commands.
7 As I learn your righteous regulations,
I will thank you by living as I should!
8 I will obey your decrees.
Please don’t give up on me!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Friend

We welcome a new writer:
Vivienne Teloive

He spent most of the night holding me. I would ask him to let me go so I could die and he held on tighter.

I would tell him that the world would be better off without me, and he asked me if I had asked the world.

I said I was a drain on my friends, he asked me if I had asked them.

I said the pain was too much, he reminded me that I survived before.

He reminded me to breathe. He didn't leave me alone. He held on, helped me to hold on. He held me till I fell asleep.

Is this what God does?

Is this what friends do?

Psalm 118:17 (New International Version)
17 I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done.

Jeremiah 29:11 (New International Version)
11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.


Friday, February 15, 2008

All You Need...

by Susan Stewart

I spend a lot of time in my car just listening... Listening to music, to talk shows on the radio, sometimes simply for that still small voice...

Lately I've been listening to Dallas Willard's book, "Divine Conspiracy". It's blowing me away, as my poor friends are becoming aware of. The man is a self-confessed "thinker" - that's the way God wired him - to love thinking things through and then writing about them. And God is using those things to speak in a still small way - deep and healing things - in the quiet most remote recesses of my heart.

This week it was some of his thoughts about love that hit home. (I guess that's appropriate - this being so close to Valentine's Day.) What he said that struck me is that the only remedy for us messed up ego-centric human beings - the only way to undo the self referential inward spiral bent toward complete and utter self-centredness - is to be adequately loved. To be loved. It's the cry of our hearts. It's all we really want - or need. Just to be loved. To be understood, accepted, loved.

I know what my heart is like. How much it still longs for wholeness - to have the freedom to just "be". To be loved fully and to fully love. But things get so complicated!

"The only way for us to be healed, is to be adequately loved".

Oh, my goodness hearing those words struck a chord and as I write them, they strike a chord again! The Bible says God is love. And Jesus was the exact representation of the Father's love on earth. How much love there is available to me! Yet at the same time how resistant I am to it - so quick to slip into religiously trying to "earn", when there's no way I possibly could. Or if I'm not earning, trying to fill that need in other ways... turning away from the Living Water and drinking from broken cisterns and polluted wells.

What more could Jesus do to show me that I am perfectly loved than to lay down his life the way he did? What more?

There is no more. Such love was poured out over those hours of suffering and death as to last an eternity, to be the great "remedy of the ages". To reach through the centuries, across the years, to still, these thousands of years later, reach your heart and mine. To bring healing to our aching hearts, wholeness to our lives.

Like the song that dates back to my teenage years... "All you need is Love..."

Indeed. That's all we need. Love personified. Love.



Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Amish Invasion

My friend Ellen left it at my house one evening in January in a ziploc plastic bag and accompanied by a recipe with the print slightly splodged. She was smiling when she gave it to me, but I noted a slightly strange and desperate gleam in her eye. "Amish Friendship Bread," said the writing on the bag, but it actually was a glob of batter that over the next 10 days, lay on my on my counter top requiring daily attention.

The instructions said that I had to "feed" it at 6 and 10 days, and I did my duty faithfully, "mushing" it on the other days and periodically "burping" the air that built up in the plastic bag as surely as flatulence after brussels sprouts.

My grandchildren observed the bag with interest and got into the habit of squeezing what seemed almost like another family member, whenever they passed by.

On day 10 I divided the growing batter into 4 bags and baked two loaves from what was left, keeping one bag, to start the process all over and having 3 to give away. I gave one to my friend Susan at cell group, but she left it behind on the counter top (as a mother of 9 you'd think she'd know better), so for the next 10 days I had "twins" to feed. This meant that I ended up with 6 bags of batter to find homes for at the end of the cycle. I was beginning to notice a gleam in my own eye whenever I thought of a victim to inflict one of my bags of batter upon.

Yesterday happened to be the "harvest" day again; it's funny how fast those 10 day cycles come around; so I took three bags with me to the office, complete with "the recipe." My colleague Greg, had a day of interviews with another co-worker, Karen. I bided my time, and at an opportune moment between interviews I popped into their room, feeling like a Stealth Bomber about to drop its load.

"Would you like some Amish Friendship Bread?" I asked cheerfully. As soon as I said it I could see by their faces and smiles that they were anticipating an actual loaf of bread, and then they saw that what I was holding out to them was a droopy goopy bag of raw batter and confusion flickered in their eyes--until I explained the wonders of the dough.

Greg said, "I'll take it home to Iris."

I thought, "I hope she doesn't mind." Well, it was Valentine's Day the next day. I was picturing Greg presenting Iris with a bag of batter, which she would be feeding and squeezing for the next 10 days. Karen was taking hers back to Huntsville. I also gave her a bag for Gloria. I did this knowing that Gloria is going on vacation on Friday. "She can take it with her in her suitcase," I thought mercilessly.

I have made three batches of different delicious loaves from my batter--it's just the multiplication factor that becomes a bit of an issue eventually. Ellen confessed that after 3 months of loaf baking, she's about to freeze her batter next time she divides it up. Hers has gone around her church and even to her neighbours.

The week I was a surrogate parent to Susan's batter as well as my own and had the double batch of bags to give away on a Sunday, I found it quite an ice breaker at church.

I have a vision of every one at church making friends with all the people they've never actually met and friendships forming and spreading along with the batter!

Wouldn't that be nice?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Battle

By Tracy Huurman

The battle rages on. Light against darkness, clashing like warriors in the fields. The darkness is heavy, oppressive. It smothers the light, tries to choke the life from it.

The light dims, flickers...has darkness won? Has the light been snuffed? Has the very breath of life been stolen from the light, never to shine again?

The darkness lies heavy, still and unmoving. It's weight is powerful, painful, crushing. Occasionally the darkness pulsates, but it is not a heartbeat, no. For the darkness does not have a heart.

Tendrils develop and become entwined and entangled, pulling, tearing, pinching, scratching. The darkness is ever-moving, ever changing, ever torturing.

But wait, what is that? A flicker of light? Was it not extinguished? Did the darkness not triumph? No, the light was merely weak, immobilized.

The light is slowly gaining strength, burning brighter and stronger every moment.The tendrils of darkness begin to lose their grip. They become disentangled. As the light reaches them, they grow weak and fall away. The blanket of darkness loses density as the light reveals it. It melts in the warmth of the light, the throbbing drumbeat of darkness is overcome by the gentle lapping of waves.

At last! The darkness has been banished! Gone forever, never to return.

Alas, not so, my friend, not so. Like the light's hiatus, the darkness too has only temporarily stepped away from this conflict. But today, we shall bask in the warmth and the glow of the light, and pray it stays another day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Sword

I was at Becca's soccer game the other night. It was a little oasis for me, Daddy home with the boys and me on the bench alone, watching...and to my surprise listening.
"You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You; because he trusts in You"(Is 26:3 NKJV).
Is that You Lord?
The voice was quiet, but a firm prompt to listen. Then the prompt took shape as I watched the game. The children were running hither and yon, kicking the ball like mad, dashing to the next position and then the ball came at them again. The field seemed full of shots, in every direction, as two games were played at separate ends. It could be overwhelming to the onlooker, or the player, if you weren't prepared.
It felt like my life...tested, tempted, attacked from every angle, like the enemy was using me for target practice. Yet in this quiet place on the bench, I heard His voice again, "Do you trust Me?"

Yes Jesus.

"I will lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help". Psalm121:1 KJV (read the whole Psalm, it's...awesome!)

...when the kids are fighting..."I will lift up mine eyes.."
...when there's strife in my marriage..."I will lift up mine eyes..."
...when temptation sets itself in my path..."I will lift up mine eyes..."


I think I'm getting it.
"We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed, we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed..." 2 Corinthians 4:8-9NKJV

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". Philippians 4:13 NKJV

For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword...(Heb 4:12)
and is alive and active in me. Will I use it?

When I read the Word, am I seeking comfort, or maybe a lesson, earnestly asking God to reveal His heart (which are all good things) or do I pick it up and use it as a sword, as Jesus did in the desert.
God and I meet in the bathroom a lot...one of the only quiet places in my home, yes with a lock on the door. I was tired after a long night with a restless boy, a busy day ahead, so I was praying "please God help me today, give me the strength to be gracious, patient..", all that stuff. But then it began to rise up in me; I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me, In my weakness You are strong, I cast all my cares on You, my Jesus, for You care for me (WOW), I come to You for I am weary and heavy laden and You have promised rest for my soul, I want Your yoke, for it is easy and Your burden is light, I will learn of you for you are gentle and humble in heart and I will find rest for my soul, I will be anxious about nothing... (Phil 4:13, 2 Cor 12:9, 2 Peter 5:7, Matt 11:28-30, Phil 4:6 all paraphrased from the NKJV).
It began to pour out and Yes and Amen and I was now positioned in His strength and victory because of His Word! Hallelujah!

We had a great day, and it wasn't until about 9pm at a scrapbooking night that I started to droop and remembered I'd been up on and off since 2:30am.
Thank You my Lord and my God. You are faithful!!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Like a Field Devoted to the Lord

Leviticus 27:21 (New International Version)
21 When the field is released in the Jubilee, it will become holy, like a field devoted to the LORD;...

I long to be to you my King,
A field devoted to the Lord,
For you my soul and spirit sing,
For you my heart beats and I cling
To you alone.

I long to have my heart ploughed deep,
A field devoted to the Lord,
The hardened clods of clay that sleep
Awoken, broken in his keep,
For him alone.

Belinda

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Joy in the Journey of Endurance

By Joyful Fox


I look at the mounds of snow pushed into the guardrail at the end of our street, driveways awash with waist-high banks of winter white, gleaming, glistening and calling children to conquer. Across the field, wheat-coloured grass and brown shrubbery rises above drifted swirls. Even the rooftops are covered in this blanket of eiderdown. The dark silouette of trees, marked by a cascade of whiteness, is serene and beautiful. I am thankful to be alive... a part of this day. I think of the storm earlier this week and the joy with which my children shoveled so much snow. I think of endurance.

We have studied The Antarctic this week. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn along with my children. Antarctica is the coldest place on earth, winter temperatures reaching -120 degrees F or colder (not including wind chill whose average speed can reach 100 mph on any given day) - makes our temperatures in central Ontario seem balmy by comparison. So really, what's -20 degrees F?

Not surprisingly, Antarctica is virtually uninhabited by man. That is, there are approximately 1000 scientists that live there year-round and about 6000 that travel there for the Antarctic summer. Antarctica is unowned and in 1959, a treaty was signed by several countries, dedicating this continent to peace and the international study of science.

In 1914, at age 40, Sir Ernest Shackleton and 27 men with him, set out to cross Antarctica from coast to coast, on foot. This is 1800 miles across frozen, wind swept, and inhospitable land. Breathtakingly beautiful landscape in simple colours of blues and whites, to be sure...but a battle of endurance for any who journey there, none the less.

So at the dawn of WW 1, in the heroic age of exploration, Sir Ernest set out in his wooden ship, aptly named, "The Endurance". It is ironic that Shackleton's family motto was, "Fortitudine Vincimus", or "By Endurance We Conquer". Without question, Sir Ernest lived up to his name, or could it be said that he grew into it.

On December 5, 1914, The Endurance left Stromness, a whaling station on South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Shackleton's journey turned out to be an incredible test and battle for survival. Reading about his journey in various reference sources and watching the DVD "Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance" was quite an experience. Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, they did...over and over again.

Shackleton and his men never arrived in Antarctica. On January 18, 1915, just one day sail from its destination on the coast, the ship got stuck in the polar ice of the Weddell Sea. That is to say, as The Endurance pushed forward into a lead of pack ice, more ice froze behind and beside the ship, and in front as well. One of the men quoted in his diary, "Temperatures were so low you could hear the water freeze."

The ice floes carried the ship over 600 miles north (away from Antarctica), and the crew stayed on the ship for the long, dark winter months. Finally, on October 27, 1915 the huge timbers of The Endurance snapped like matchsticks and the men were forced to abandon ship. For the next six months the crew camped on drifting ice floes they named Ocean Camp and Patience Camp. Eventually, the ship sank and the crew members salvaged 3 rickety life boats.

With the arrival of the Antarctic spring, new challenges arose. Along with intense blizzards, the rotting floes they camped on began to give way. On April 12, 1916, when the ice shattered beneath them, the men took to their three small lifeboats. After spending over 4 months in the frigid darkness of the long polar night, subsisting on a diet of mostly penguin, seal, and sometimes dog,they were thrown into an intense battle for survival that brought them to the limit of human capabilities. For 6 days, they rowed lifeboats, battling their way to land. They chipped ice away from their hands that were frozen to the oars, to relieve each other from rowing. Their tongues were swollen in their mouths from the splashing salt sea water and their incredible thirst. Finally, by the grace of God, and incredible strength, they made it to Elephant Island on April 18. This was the first dry land they had stood on since they left South Georgia sixteen months earlier.

Still, they were miles from civilization, stranded in the middle of the Southern Sea, with little hope of rescue, as the Antarctic winter was again approaching. In a desperate attempt to save his men, Shackleton took 5 other men in a 22 foot lifeboat, the James Caird, and sailed 800 miles to South Georgia Island and a whaling station.

The 6 men reached South Georgia Island in 17 days, in spite of violent storms that almost sank their boat. But they had landed on the wrong side of the island. A range of mountains, a waterfall, and an uncharted distance over land lay between them and the whaling station at Stromness. Two men were sick and could go no where. A third stayed with those who were sick and Shackleton set out for Stromness with the remaining two. With just a make-shift axe, the thread-bare clothes on their backs, a short length of rope and carpenter's screws in the souls of well-worn boots, the three climbed over the mountains in 36 hours. In the final leg of their journey,they tobogganed down an ice field to safety. A short time later, they stumbled into the whaling station. It was May 20, 1916. Miraculously, they made it.

It is interesting to note that both Shackleton and Frank Worsley swore there were four men on that trek across South Georgia Island. They felt the holy spirit was present as a man. I do not doubt it. These men had incredible fortitude and endurance, but without the grace and presence of God, I do not believe any man could persevere against so many, seemingly unsurmountable odds.

Within hours after Shackleton had eaten and rested, he began arranging for the rescue for the rest of his men. Typical of his whole journey, this was no small feat. More polar ice, more blizzards, more hardship. Finally,with the worst of the winter past, after four failed rescue attempts, Shackleton arrived again at Elephant Island. The Chilean naval ship, The Yelcho, made it through on August 30, 1916 and Shackleton was able to pick up his men. Not one life was lost on the expedition. This was an incredible battle of endurance - a journey that lasted 20 months.

For so long I have admired the quality of endurance...the ability to persevere in spite of obstacles. Whether movies, stories, or real-life examples, I have been inspired, blessed, and have heartily rejoiced in others' victories.
Endurance is a remarkable quality...an admirable one. It takes courage and perseverance. We are all called to endure various trials and battles. We may never know the incredible experience that Shackleton and his men endured but we each have our own journey and stories of victim to victor, tragedy to triumph, opposition to opportunity, times to turn our setbacks into comebacks.

Now in my life, my trials involve the ones of being a Godly wife and mom...loving little people and training them to love God and to realize they are His workmanship, created for good works, that God has prepared beforehand that they should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). I am called to teach my children, in word, deed, and attitude about the love of Christ. For them to know that they are made in Christ's image, as is everyone that walks this orb, is important. The old addage "More is caught , than taught" is powerfully true. I can't just speak truth into my children's lives. I have to live it. You can't fool children, even if you fool yourself. My battle of endurance is to love...to rise to the challenge of being meek and peaceable in the domestic chaos of everyday.

Endurance is not the only goal... admirable, but it is not enough. To survive is one thing. To be joyful, meek, humble, gentle, kind, compassionate, and patient is the challenge of each and every moment. That is the feat of my journey. I have long ago realized, without the grace of Christ, I will not overcome.

One day this week, I was pouring pancake batter into my cast iron pan, while reading out spelling words and sentences for six-year old Olivia. One of the two-year old twins was exiting the front door in his slippers while another of the twins was climbing up to the breakfast table, the jug of maple syrup in one hand and a knife in the other. As well, the phone began to ring. Hannah and Josh were already outside shovelling the snow and offering help to the neighbours.It was just after 7:30 a.m.
These are stressful opportunities I have each day to lovingly respond to the need of the moment. Although the incidents vary at different times of the day, times like these are not uncommon in our household.

Generally, I deal well with the twins. Their antics are funny, they are absolutely adorable, and they're so little. With the older children my mettle is more tested and sometimes with my husband. We are imperfect people, incredibly flawed and at times, unloving. Love is a choice...moment by moment. It's hard to endure, joyfully, day after day. Without the grace of God, it is impossible. This is my journey, my battle of endurance.

It is recorded in "Shackleton's Way" by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell that Shackleton, in his books and lectures, offered this simple summation of the trials that his men survived on the Endurance:

"No words can do justice to their courage and their cheerfulness. To be brave, cheerily, to be patient with a glad heart, to stand the agonies of thirst with laughter and song, to walk beside Death for months and never be sad - that's the spirit that makes courage worth having. I loved my men."

Sir Ernest Shackleton understood that joy in the midst of trial is to be esteemed as much as endurance. The spirit of survival, is as important, as survival itself.

So we journey on, you and I...each of us, dying to self, learning to love, choosing His way over our way, choosing to be holy because He is holy. We live a life in the amazing paradox of His sovereignty and grace and our free will.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-4 NASV

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Passion and Truth

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 (New International Version)
19Do not put out the Spirit's fire;
20 do not treat prophecies with contempt.
21Test everything. Hold on to the good.

The use of the metaphor of slavery to describe our relationship with God, prompted passionate discussion and, at least for me, a lot of thought.

I learned that metaphorical language, if not relevant to the culture, becomes a barrier between people and God. If that's the case, we ought to examine our language.

Even "church" can be a barrier--an obstacle people might trip over on the way to Christ. I don't mean The Church as the universal Body of Christ, but church with a small "c," in which we do things in certain ways that must look strange to a person coming in off the street. They might mistake "church" for Christianity and be forgiven for thinking that they have fallen in amongst weird people; people who strangely enough, turn into normal human beings the moment they leave the building. A lot of what we do in church would not be recognized by the original followers of Jesus as essential to faith.

I have enjoyed reading Erwin McManus's writings, and in his book, An Unstoppable Force--daring to become the church GOD had in mind, he writes about "A Church that dares to cut itself free from atrophied practices and programs to flourish in creative and compelling worship," and about being relevant to the culture, while still being distinct, and true to the the unchangeable tenets of the faith.

I enjoyed thinking about why some wouldn't feel comfortable with the metaphor of slavery and why it made sense to me, and I learned a lot from the discussion.

McManus writes of the tendency to think that the intellect and faith are mutually exclusive and that we have a tendency to look for simplistic answers to complex issues.

I hope that the children in my life will find a real and personal faith that can be poked and prodded and explored and challenged; a faith that they have thought through and a faith they can defend.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (New International Version)
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Gratitude

Tonight's post was written by my 18 year old son, Joel.

Joel is a good kid, tall and thin, with narrow hips and a head covered with an unruly mop of naturally curly blonde hair that obviously will forever resist taming. He has a girlfriend, an ipod, and a job at MacDonald's. He helps to run the sound system at church each week. This is his last year of high school and he has no idea yet what he wants to do next year or with the rest of his life. We talked late last night, and he told me that he couldn't understand anyone being depressed. "We have so much to be thankful for," he said. Yeah. He's got that much right...

Joel Stewart:

Imagine living in Kibera. Africa’s second largest slum, home to anywhere between 6 and 12 million people. It’s impossible to know exactly how many live there. Essentially, they don’t have a home. There'll be no place to call your own. 600,000 people filling up each square kilometer with no high-rises makes it difficult to claim land for one’s self. On a dime, your cheap, poorly built shack shared by several families could be torn down at any moment without notice by the government if they were to decide they need that particular patch of God-forsaken land. You own nothing, literally, but the one set of clothes you wear on you back.

Are you thirsty? Just follow the terrible smell of rotting sewage to the river to find Kibera’s finest drink. The only problem is that you won’t feel the buzz before you pass out from the liquid you find there - the area’s only “water” source. You might wake up with a little more than a headache after imbibing some of this sewage/water system. But there is nothing else to satisfy your thirst. And the sun is insufferably hot. You could end up sick – if not dead – from the bacteria, and parasites that thrive there..

Oh, not so thirsty after all? Let’s go find some food. There might be a bite to eat at the local dump. (And yes I literally mean a bite.) If you’re lucky, you can afford to buy some food in Nairobi after working your regular 90 hour week.. just to survive.

All done eating and drinking? That was fast. Now we need to figure out how to dispose of… “the scraps”. The local washrooms are wonderful to use. They would be a little room with two or three holes in the ground and it smells just as good in there as it looks. But using one is only a treat for when you can afford the cost of admission. Most of the time, you go in a “flying toilet”; a bag that you do your duty in and then throw out the window and into the street.

It’s not all bad though. Your kids would love to grow up there. They will never be forced to take a bath, or go to school. Sometimes, with the help of AIDS, the children don’t have to take orders from their parents at all and they can live life the way they want to. Just be careful kids, don’t talk to strangers… or let them know you have anything of any value at all. And if you’re really lucky, you can find something in the garbage to play with. If you have time to play after using all your energy just to find some rotting bit of something to pop, unwashed, into your mouth, anything to squash that rumbling pain in your belly.

The fact is that Kibera is one example of many slums on this so-called wonderful world that we live in. Canada is doing a great job of providing people in our own country so many luxuries while others are still scavenging for life’s barest necessities. We are soaring into space while they are still trying to find their way above ground. We, as decent citizens of the earth, must not let people live like this when we waste so much. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s help. Let’s do what we can.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Knave, or Slave?

A short while ago one of our readers, Dave, was bothered when I quoted someone, in my post entitled Panic as saying, "I obey him because I am a slave and he is a King."

Dave wrote:
I've come back and re-read this post a couple of times, not commenting because I didn't want to seem negative. But I realize that I like it, on my blog, when people disagree.

I have to say, the 'I obey him because he is a king and I am a slave' really really really bothers me. I don't think God asks for subserviance or a King / Slave relationship as it exists in this world.

I have always believed that Jesus stood up to those in power - as necessary and questioned authority - as was his mission. I worship God as a free man, not as a slave. I give God my love as a free man, not as a peon. I give God my praise as a free man, not as a sycophant.

I think asking any person who has ever been enslaved - in this life on this earth - you will not hear words of love about their 'king'. I wonder if this kind of language diminishes the experience of many and serves only to be a boastful kind of self depreciation. You know I love this blog and I'm only writing this because that really really got to me.

I tried to reply in the blog post entitled, For My Friend. It was my attempt at using story to make the point, but I think that I was so indirect that the point was not well made. And so I've continued to think on and off about how to explain what I think the person meant.

As a writer I have failed when I plonk a statement such as the one about slavery, out there without context or elaboration so I am glad that Dave made the point that it bothered him, because if it bothered him, it probably bothered others.

There is a good explanation of what lay behind the statement I quoted, on another blog:
http://www.xenos.org/teachings/topical/wisdom/gary/wisdom-2.htm The title of the piece in the link is, The "Backward" Wisdom of God; Freedom and Slavery. The writer, Gary DeLashmutt, makes the point that "key biblical truths often seem backward, counter-intuitive, contrary to common sense--even crazy..." He goes on to write about Freedom from Slavery; Freedom for Slavery, and Freedom through Slavery.

I recommend that people check out Gary's article, because it is excellent and he does a wonderful job of explaining, much better than I could, the fact that we are freed from the yoke of sin by Christ--the bondage of knavery, if you like; freed from slavery to the law and to other people. Yes, as Dave wrote, we are free.

But although we are free, Christ calls us to freely become his slaves out of love for him. The "backward" wisdom of God, indeed. In fact, he himself took on the form of a servant:

Philippians 2:5-7 (The Message)
5-8Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Galatians 5:13 (New International Version)
13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

1 Peter 2:16 (New Living Translation)
16 For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil.

Dave--does it make more sense now? I hope so!

Congratulations to Dave!!!

Congratulations to Dave Hingsburger, a faithful Whatever He Says reader and fellow blogger, for winning the gold medal for the Best Activist Blog of 2007 in the Canadian Blog Awards for his blog on disability issues, Chewing the Fat.

As if this was not enough, Dave also won the bronze medal in the category of Best Blogosphere Citizen!

Yeay Dave! We are celebrating with you.

If you'd like to congratulate Dave, you can do so at www.davehingsburger.blogspot.com

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Kindred Spirits

I never met her but I feel that I know her well; Amy Carmichael.

She died in 1951 at the age of 83, the year after I was born, but when I read her books and poetry, age and the separation of years is irrelevant. She is a tremendous role model and inspiration, but also a kindred spirit, and often I see a string of words that she wrote and my heart sings, "Me too!"

January 31st was such a day. Edges of His Ways, is a collection of some of the thoughts that she recorded to share with her "family" at Dohnavur, the community and refuge she founded in India. On the page for January 31st, she wrote:

...As each new day begins it is true to say, I have not passed this way heretofore; joys that I never met before will meet me today; surprises are awaiting to delight me...

I too, know the Father who loves to delight his daughter and I laugh with delight at the surprises when they come.

Later that day, as I was driving down some snowy highway in bright sunshine, bound for a destination that escapes me at this minute, I actually felt like waving, so strong was the sense that looking on were my beloved kindred spirit writer "friends," Amy Carmichael and Henri Nouwen, and my dear friend Aunt Agnes, who died nearly 20 years ago at age 91. Her poems and life continue to inspire me.

I also thought of my great great grandfather, Cornelius Schipper, who I never knew except in a black and white photo, which I can hardly remember. I know from my mother that he was known, in Dutch, as a "Christelijk" man--a Christian man.

And one day, perhaps I too will stand in this crowd, and with them, cheer others on to whom I will have flung the torch. Sometimes I can hardly wait, but then I know that while I'm here, it is my privilege to run!

Hebrews 12:1-3 (The Message)
1-3Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Knowing God

We talked tonight....my hubby and I...after my guitar lesson, where my instructor and I had talked about Jesus, about hanging on to Him, even in the face of sin and falling away.
After, Frank and I watched a You Tube ad for the Bible Experience (a new audio presentation of the whole Bible). It sounds FANTASTIC. Check it out. There are many different versions of the ad. The one that is 10 minutes and 48 seconds is the best.
Anyway...the thrust of the conversation was, do we really know God. And are we grateful for what He has done for us.
I've been reading a novel about the life of Mary Madgelene. In it the scene unfolds where Mary anoints Jesus feet with the precious ointment, spikenard. She weeps over Him and dries his feet with her long, luxurious hair, much to the disgust and shock of the leaders of the Jewish community who were present. When they confront Jesus with this, He calmly points out that a person who has been forgiven a great debt is more grateful than one forgiven only a very minor one. And she is that person, who is giving of the most precious item that she owns. He identifies that when He entered the house of Simon, His feet were not washed, nor was He given this kind of attention by His host, yet she had not stopped loving Him since He got there.
And I have to ask. Who am I? Am I the grateful wretch who has been saved, delivered, healed, forgiven, smiled upon by the very Source of all that is. Or do I stand there with folded arms, looking down my nose at the ones who humble themselves so, considering how well I am able to work these things out in my life ON MY OWN.
I guess both sometimes, but sadly more the second than the first.
I have a dear friend who is so in love with Jesus. She is Mary to me. She adores Him and serves Him and weeps over Him and loves anyone who will let her get close enough to share what He has done for her. She doesn't hold back.
I want to be like her.
I want to stop trying on my own, because He has so much more than what I am taking. It's like he's holding out a feast, and I'm taking a cracker, saying "This is enough...I can make it through".
How hopeless and futile not to reach out and grab everything we can. To answer YES?! everytime He calls, because all He has to offer is life and that more abundantly. To eat His Word as one who is ravenous, as a deer that pants over the water.
Yes Jesus, I want more, and I know that in order for that to happen I must become less....

Help me Dear Yeshua, my Savior, You are all there is, and all I want. Yet everyday, the things I shouldn't think overwhelm me and the words I shouldn't say, burst out of my lips before I have quieted myself to hear what You think, what You would have me do.

I spoke with my daughter tonight...7 years old, beautiful and precious, with lots of questions. "I have so much to teach you" I said, as we snuggled before she went to sleep. Please help me Holy Spirit to teach her well, not by my words, but with my life.

I feel such a deep awakening. So many who I speak with say the same. He is calling, readying His church, His body, His bride.

Song of Solomon 2:8-12a
The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes
Leaping upon the
mountains,
Skipping upon the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Behold, he stands behind
our wall.
He is looking through the
windows,
Gazing through the lattice.
My beloved spoke and said
to me;
"Rise up, my love, my fair
one,
And come away.
For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the
earth;
The time of singing has
come..."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Something Better

Hebrews 11:15-16 (New International Version)
15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

On Saturday, I went to pick up my book order that was waiting at the Treasure House, our local Christian Bookstore; four copies of the little book by Watchman Nee; Sit, Walk, Stand. I wanted to give them to some friends who were also eager to read it after I had shared how much the book had impacted me. While I was there I ordered an additional 4 copies. At a little over five dollars, this little book is a treasure.

I've been listening to Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point, on CD, and have been fascinated by his description of the "tipping point" that occurs as a result of something small happening, resulting in a momentum that causes an effect out of proportion to the original event. I wonder if our little band of readers could cause such a tipping point for Watchman Nee's books and if suddenly all over the place people might start to read them. That would be fun!

I was talking on the phone to my friend Frances about Pastor Nee's book on Saturday evening, trying to convey to her the freedom I have grasped and that I realize now was there along. She said that she couldn't wait to get her copy of the book on Sunday morning at church.

There has always been something missing from her faith, she said; victory in some of her struggles. Much in her life has changed as a result of faith in Christ, but like many of the rest of us, there are still struggles; still addictive behaviours, and anger that blazes quickly and leaves shame and regret in its wake. She had thought that perhaps that was the best she could hope for in this life. But now she was finding a glimmer of hope that maybe there was more...something better.

"Yes," I said, "There is more; I'm sure of it. The way many of us live our faith--and I know this is a really poor analogy--is like holding a winning lottery ticket and never cashing it in!"

We laughed at the thought!

Isaiah 53:5 (New International Version)
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

By faith we can claim not only grace for our transgressions, but also freedom from our iniquities, or proclivities; peace and healing. As children of the King, we can draw on our inheritance; his life available to be lived in and through us; his Spirit and its fruit growing in us.

Philippians 1:6 (New International Version)
6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Stealth

She was beautiful, this young friend I hadn't seen for a while. It took me a moment or two to realize what it was--ah, yes, the tan. In the middle of a Canadian winter, she glowed. Her blue eyes popped against her golden complexion, emphasized by the turquoise and silver jewelry she wore. She wore her blond hi-lighted curls in a short bob that framed her lovely features.

She had arrived back home from a tropical island vacation just that morning and she bubbled over with descriptions of the resort, the wonderful time of reconnecting with children --rebuilding intimacy and relationships that can falter and crack in the pressure and rush of our north American lifestyle. The food, the horseback riding, the other recreational activities all sounded wonderful. She spoke of the staff at the resort, the men showering flirtatious attention and compliments on the female guests, including herself and her daughters.

Not wanting to miss a minute of this time away, she was up every morning early, to work out in the gym before breakfast and then going for long walks along the beach, reveling in the playfulness of the ocean's lapping waves and the breeze that played over her skin like a silken scarf.

She didn't stop, from morning until evening, she said, there was so much to do.

Her husband spent his time at the pool. He was so different. Exhausted before the vacation, he just wanted to relax. She spent a lot of time alone, walking, finding it hard to sit by the pool and read for more than a few minutes.

There was only one dark spot...her husband had suddenly withdrawn without explanation for a day and a half at the end of the vacation.

She was perplexed and hurt. What was wrong? He wasn't saying. She was confused, disappointed and frustrated at the waste of a such a stretch of time in silence.

Eventually, just before they went home, he snapped out of it and kissed her. She had broken down in tears. He never told her the reason for his silence.

Could it be, I wondered out loud, that he was bothered by the male attention she'd been getting?

Maybe, she said. There had been a day near the end when she had left her husband at the pool as usual, and gone for a walk along the beach. As she walked along the beach she bumped into one of the recreational staff, handsome, lean and fit, from the daily outdoor exercise of his job.

"I see you every day alone," he said, "Are you here by yourself?"

"No, I'm here with my husband and family," she replied.

"If you were my wife I would not let you walk on your own," he said.

And I recognized the strategy, "That was the Enemy," I said, "He caught you when you were weak and his strategy if always to divide."

She looked stunned, but she said, "You're right. I went to my hotel room and I had to get out my Bible and pray. I was actually fantasizing about what it would be like to divorce my husband and be single."

Then she told me that as they had sat both beside the pool earlier, a young woman had put down her towel at the foot of his chair and before lying down in the warm sun, had taken off her top. That was when she had left for her walk, slightly miffed at her husband for staying there. Suddenly things beneath the surface seemed clear.

A vacation in paradise, intended to build relationship between husband and wife. Unspoken expectations and misunderstandings, an enemy in the garden. Stealth attack; fortunately foiled.

John 10:10 (New International Version)
10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Martha's Dream

Incredulous laughter bubbled up within me as I listened to my friend Martha describing her dream of the night before. Her dark eyes shone and her brow furrowed as she tried to explain it.

English is not her first language, and she did not know the word for fighting with a sword.

"I was wearing the special clothes," she said, "I had the thing on my head and I was using a sword."

"Fencing;" I said, "You were fencing and that was the mask over your face. It's so amazing that you were dreaming about fencing."

She looked puzzled; smiled, shook her head of dark curls and went on excitedly.

"I went all the way until my opponent was on the floor, his sword was across his body and he was totally defeated. It was so easy; just a case of moving forward. There was no effort."

She paused then, and took a deep breath, looking at me curiously.

I told her that just the night before, I had told a true story in a blog post, about an elderly woman who had fenced in her youth. She too, had no difficulty beating any of her opponents and in fact her instructor ran out of people who could challenge her. That she should dream about a sport that is hardly common, the same night that it also appeared in a story I had written, made me wonder. Was God trying to show me something?

In my story, the woman had pulled back from an opportunity to pursue her sport at a higher level of competition. Nearly 70 years later, she told a younger woman seeking the wisdom an older woman might want to pass on, "If you choose not to do something, always ask yourself what is it that is holding you back?"

When I thought of Martha's dream of effortlessly fighting her opponent, and it being emphasized by the parallel story of the woman who beat every challenger easily, it seemed to be driving home what Paul and I have been learning from the book of Watchman Nee's teachings on the book of Ephesians, Sit, Walk, Stand.

Pastor Nee's teachings have opened my eyes to the fact that the work that has been done by God through Christ's atoning death on the cross is complete and finished. All I must do is understand that he is the Giver, the Doer, the Worker, the Saviour, the One who died for my weakness and my sin. He accomplished my salvation and healing. But I must accept it.

I have realized that often I strive and work, trying by my own effort to overcome my weaknesses, but that in essence negates the finished work that Christ has accomplished. I need to learn to rest by faith in the fact that it has been done already.

My first glimmer of understanding has been growing into a beam of joyous radiance!

Suddenly I see. The fruits of the Spirit are the fruits of the Spirit, not the fruits of self effort. He must grow them in me. They are his life lived through me.

My prayers have changed. I no longer strive in prayer but let him lead and entrust the requests to him. I know that he hears, cares and responds.

Truly, his yoke is easy and his burden is light!

Ephesians 6:14-17 (New International Version)
14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The Canadian Blog Awards!

As I came through the front door, laden with groceries, the phone was ringing.

On the other end was the warm, deep voice of my friend Dave Hingsburger, and he was telling me that the Best Religious Blog announcement had been made; Whatever He Says has won second place! That is second place in all of Canada. What an incredible honour.

To check the announcement out go to http://cdnba.wordpress.com/

Congratulations to Jordon Cooper, of http://jordoncooper.com/, a pastor from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who won first place!

Thanks to Dave for nominating Whatever He Says and for starting this exciting adventure.

Thanks to my fellow writers, Susan Stewart, Ellen Fox and Angela Catrambone.

Thanks to all of our faithful readers; you are the reason we write!

Most of all I thank God for the joy of writing whatever he says.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Tale of Two Sisters

Once upon a time there were two sisters, as different as night and day. At least that’s what everyone thought - including them. One was brunette, the other blonde. One had a sprinkle of freckles across her nose, the other just wished she had. One loved her dolls and listened to her parents, did her homework and washed the dishes right away whenever she was asked. The other was outside at every opportunity – running, jumping, shouting – just playing hard and spurning anything that looked or felt like "responsibility". One sister kept her clothes clean, her shoes polished and made sure her socks always matched her outfit. The other sister was too busy chasing adventure through ditches and woodlots - building forts, climbing trees, catching frogs - to ever worry about what her clothes looked like or to keep her shoes from getting scuffed. One sister - the older - felt it was her responsibility to look out for both of them, but the younger sister rejected her wisdom, throwing off any attempt to "rein her in" and civilize her appearance and behaviour.

They grew up poles apart – perhaps not even caring eventually, if they were in the same family until first one – and then the other – were adopted into another family – the family of God.

And then the restoration began.

It took years of careful and gentle weaving of their lives by a God who watched over them, but a plan began to emerge and to be revealed in the fabric of their lives. Though they now live hundreds of miles apart, and only occasionally see each other, they have a free and easy relationship, born out of love and mutual respect and admiration. When they do see each other, there is no need to "prime the pump". They simply pick up exactly where they left off - or even more accurately - exactly where they are. They love and accept one another - not just in spite of their differences, but perhaps even because of them. Their once wildly divergent lives have converged – in Him.

Their love for one another is testimony to a heavenly Father whose heart is all about “reconciliation”. It's what he does. It's who he is. The amazing thing is both sisters have come to realize, that under the surface, they're not so different at all. Their hearts are both at the same time, "black but comely" (see Song of Solomon 1:5); both beautiful, yet both in need of a Saviour.

One of those sisters, is me, Susan, and the other the dearest and best, my older sister Brenda. We were born into the same family, but only God could have made us truly “sisters”.

And He did. Thank God, he did.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1

Yes, and hallelujah, that is what we are. I love you, Bren.