Thursday, November 26, 2015

you are the salt

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.  Matthew 5:13

Until I did a bit of research about salt, particularly salt in ancient times, I was unimpressed by  being called "the salt of the earth." Then I learned about the value of salt. In ancient times, entire kingdoms rose and fell because of salt. Our word "salary" is derived from the word for salt because Roman soldiers were often paid in salt. At times, its value has been more than twice that of the relative value of gold today. And, unlike precious metals, the value of salt is not because it is scarce. Salt is a naturally occurring resource that is a very important and common part of the earth. Its value is derived almost entirely from its usefulness. Salt can be used to enhance food and to preserve it. It is important in agriculture - animals who lack salt in their diets will not thrive and grow and produce like those that do. It is used in medicine and purification, as well as in many religious ceremonies. Salt is comparatively easy to find, but it must be harvested. This is how it becomes valuable. Because it is so necessary for daily life, salt accessibility was a great commodity that entire nations fought over. Many countries had a Salt Road that was the hub for trade and commerce. In short, salt is valuable because of its usefulness, but only once it has been harvested. The great Harvester of souls has given us incredible value. Our value is not intrinsic - we are common; a few among many millions who roam this earth - but our value is tied to our usefulness and the fact we have been freed from where we were in the earth for the purpose of being useful to the Harvester. It is the work of the One who came to free us from where we were that has given us great value. Praise to the Harvester of our souls!

One problem with this passage that I didn't understand was that Jesus talks about salt losing its saltiness. I have never experienced salt becoming unsalty. In fact, the chemical compound of salt, NaCl, is one of the most stable compounds in the world - it does not change readily. I am always intrigued by passages that don't seem to make sense at first, so I did a bit of research on the methods of harvesting salt in the Middle East. Interestingly, often salt is harvested from salt marshes and lakes that dry up in the summer. The white crystalized substance that is left has the appearance of salt, but it is partly salt mixed with many impurities. If this salt-like substance is exposed to the elements, particularly water, it loses its saltiness. This is because the NaCl dissolves in the water and what is left is mostly the impurities. The people who lived near Jerusalem in Jesus' time knew that this "salt" was not good for anything except to be thrown in the roadways - particularly because it was very bad for farmland - nothing would grow anywhere this white, salt-like substance was thrown. We could make many comparisons here to Christians who have become too diluted with impurities. Let's just say, though, that Jesus doesn't say this salt isn't good for anything - just that it is only good for the pathways - to keep weeds from growing in the road.

Monday, November 23, 2015

salt and light

veins of salt. ancient as the earth itself.
filling the ocean. deposits generously scattered.
so needful for these creatures of dust.
a reminder of origins. for from dust you came.
earthy. common.
all of creation holds its breath.
watches these salty, dust-creatures.
created of earth. destined for heaven.
earthen vessels carrying the glory of the Creator.
celestial lights concealed in clay pots.
trees and stars gasp in delight.
the One who named them submits.
the brightest light in the universe binds Himself forever to this earth.
True Light as an earthen vessel.

He is poor in spirit - He made Himself nothing.
He  is One who mourns - in every way, just as we are, yet without sin.
He is meek - becoming obedient to death.
He knows hunger and thirst for righteousness - He imparts righteousness to all through faith.
He is merciful - because of the great love whereby He loved us.
He is pure in heart - the Spirit Himself testifies to our spirit.
He is a peacemaker - the Great Peacemaker, our peace, being brought near through His blood.
He is persecuted because of righteousness - bearing our griefs, yet esteemed stricken.

one living, breathing Mediator between earth and heaven.
join with all nature in clapping our hands at the majesty of His great faithfulness.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

a conversation with God

me: I don't know what to do! I really need you to look after this. Please. Please show me how to deal with this.

God: You already asked me to handle this. Now you just need to be patient and let me do my work. Give me time - you'll see what I can do!

me (whining): I know, but can't you just give me some peace??

God: You don't have peace because you don't believe me. You don't believe that I can and will fix this situation.

me (thoroughly humbled): Forgive my unbelief!

Oh, it was so true! I didn't believe. And the moment I confessed that, the peace did come and all of the physical symptoms of anxiety that had been tearing up my insides dissipated. What Satan wants most is not for me to commit some terrible act of sin, but just to lose my faith - my hope in the Lover of my soul!

Friday, November 6, 2015

good things from long ago

For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (emphasis mine)

I've been fascinated by this verse this week.  Imagine it: His Masterpiece! Can't you just see the brushstrokes in your life? I can. A little light peeks through the dark spots in the belly-laughs and happy sighs. A few shadows dance on the shimmering waves - they are the burdens of care I bear each day. Both are necessary in a masterpiece.

I've been created twice! Knit together in my mother's womb, filled up with surprise after gift-wrapped surprise - all waiting to be unwrapped and used for good. However, before I got to the good things that were wrapped up inside me, I was robbed. Every seed holds within it the promise of more. And the seed of sin in me was no different. It grew and blossomed and multiplied. Pre-disposed to believe the lie that God was holding out on me, I fell headlong into the despair that only distrust of my Creator could bring. A nagging belief that I could never be good enough prevented the ancient gifts from being opened. I needed a rescue. A Creator this creative wouldn't let something this good go to waste. He never wastes anything. He re-purposes, re-uses, and re-creates.  Anew! I've been made anew.

Now, about those Good Things...

Those are being discovered and unwrapped every day. Some are sparkly, Facebook-worthy, exciting good things. Others are the simple beauty found only in ordinary moments. And through them all I am finding myself - the real, originally-created me. It calls me back to an ancient truth: I am created in His image. I am created for good things.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


God started to show me, this morning, that I am a poor listener. At first I was hurt. How could God accuse me of such a thing? I felt a bit blind-sided. But I did one good thing. I decided to pray for wisdom. James 1:5 tells us point-blank: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God... I also asked for wisdom from above, not from below. James 3:17 tells me that wisdom from above is first pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere. This is a great contrast to the wisdom from below, which produces bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, and disorder.

As God worked the soil in my heart, I felt raw and vulnerable. I thought of all the times I had engaged in, what I felt were, discussions. Robust and exciting and interesting times of back-and-forth; words flying; not stopping to catch my breath; whipping in the wind; full-out, entertaining, healthy discussions.

What is the difference between these times and what He was surely now convicting me of - the fact that I am sometimes a poor listener?

The difference is fear. When I am a poor listener, my motivation for moving the conversation along is fear. So simple, and yet so complex. Fear of being told what to believe, fear that my silence in listening will be perceived as agreement, fear that I won't know what to do with what I am hearing, fear of being inadequate. The list is long. Fear loves to get a grip on us. But perfect love casts out fear (1John 4:18).

As I finished my errands, I realized I had about 25 extra minutes before I had to be at work. I stopped at my favourite coffee shop to get in a little reading. I am reading a great book about the purpose of the church. God so loves to hear and answer our prayers - and he would answer my prayer for wisdom on this issue with great speed.

This is what I read:

Dialogue is like setting a wonderful table covered with a delightful assortment of food to which we welcome others to join. Often when people are invited to a meal, they wonder what the host wants from them.  They become suspicious that the host has an agenda or that there is something he or she wants to sell us; so the guests go cautiously, with reservation. It's nice to be invited, but they wonder what it's really about.
....To genuinely build relationships of trust in which others will become ready to risk and talk with us about who they are, what they think, and their tentative dreams that have long been locked away inside, we need to sit around a meal table on more than one occasion until the others begin to sense that they are not the subject of our agenda. This is what dialogue is about: it is the context in which the freedom and imagination of the Holy Spirit have the potential of coming to speak among ordinary people who have long believed that they cannot possibly be the clay jars that bear God's future.
(The Missional Church - Alex Roxburgh and Scott Boren)

There was also a chart with some Rules of Dialogue.
1....lay out expectations from the beginning...
2. The first three responses to one another should come in the form of questions for clarification rather than giving reasons why someone's comments or ideas are wrong or won't work.
3. ...create an environment in which everyone knows they are being heard and understood.
4. Listen to the others by letting them finish what they are saying rather than jumping into the middle of their comments....
5. Resist announcing conclusions or solutions that try to fix things.

Each of these pierced my heart like an arrow. I have truly broken every one of these rules. Probably today (and it's barely afternoon.) But God's brutal truth to us always comes with something to soften the blow. Here, he has given me a solution, not merely an accusation. He genuinely believes in me. He believes I can change and become a better listener. He believes I am a clay jar that bears His future, His image. And, Voila!, less than 2 hours after my fervent prayer for wisdom from above, I have laid out for me in clear words, a simple plan to become a better listener.

Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. Isaiah 65:24

Only God can hear and answer without this process. He knows us so intimately already. I make a mockery of that when I assume I know another person's heart without listening. I am not God.

I will be practising these Rules of Dialogue. More importantly, I will remember to ask for wisdom that comes from above. Pray for me, friends.

Monday, August 10, 2015

comfort in suffering

Psalm119:49-56 Zayin
Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. The arrogant mock me without restraint, but I do not turn from your law. I remember your ancient laws, O Lord, and I find comfort in them. Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law. Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. In the night I remember your name, O Lord, and I will keep your law. This has been my practice: I obey your precepts.

The first thing that stands out to me here is "comfort in my suffering." Because in this world, we have suffering - that is just the way it is. Our ability to bear our suffering, carrying it like a hiker's giant backpack, is what I am interested in studying. I want the joy, the peace, the beauty of one who adeptly carries her suffering. Oh, I have prayed for God to take my suffering away - many times. Begging him with promises like, "I'll be able to help others more without this burden," and even accusations like, "There is no good purpose in such suffering - it only mocks me!" When we don't understand why we have to carry such an unnecessary burden, we begin to question God - to question his goodness. We become Eve in the garden, desiring to take what is necessary to make our life good, even if God has said no. We get tunnel-vision, like Eve did, focussing in on that one piece of fruit, blind to the orchard overflowing with good things that surrounded her.

There is also a flavour of Psalm 73 here. A little taste of "I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." I have always been able to relate a little too well to this Psalm. It often does seem as though others receive the answers and things they are going after. My desire for instant gratification envies them. I want, I need, I desire, but I am always telling myself to push those things down the list. At the top of the list is God. I want a relationship with God that is real. I need him to speak to me. I desire Him more than things. And this is my choice, and I don't regret that choice. Until, in the moment of wanting something tangible, something that everyone else seems to have easily, I begin, like the Psalmist, to weaken. By the end of the Psalm, however, he remembers that it is his own choice - that he is delaying gratification for some things so that he can have better things.

All this brings me right back to John 6. (I think everything brings me back to John 6, because it's my favourite). Jesus has just fed the five thousand with the 5 loaves and 2 small fish. Then he seemingly disappeared. The crowd must have really searched for him, because they knew he didn't get into the boat with his disciples, yet they ended up finding him on the other side of the lake. They began to question him about how he got there. Jesus could see in their hearts. He tells them, "You're not looking for me because you've pieced together who I am; you just want more miracles." Oh, he knows our hearts - so bent on instant gratification of whatever takes our fancy. My prayers reflect this sometimes. I pray, "God, I just want to know you more. But, there's this thing. This thing I've been asking you to take out of my life, to heal, to fix. Please, just so I'll know you love me, just so I'll know you really hear me, fix this." I just want instant gratification. I just want a miracle. But Jesus tells the crowd, "Don't strive after temporary things, but for things that will endure to eternal life." And they ask him how to work for what God requires. He says to them, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." I feel like he's really telling them (and me), "You don't believe." But they completely miss the point and continue pressing him for a miracle. They completely ignore what he did for them yesterday, essentially saying, "But what are you going to do for me today? I'll believe if you give me a miracle." O, stubborn heart of mine, so filled with the 'wisdom' of this crowd; how many times have I acted out this sentiment - What will you do for me today?

So, here's the punchline - the message God had for me down this winding rabbit hole: it is what Jesus answered the crowd that day. He said, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." He is saying: I am right here! I'm right in front of you! You are asking for a miracle, you want food...I am the bread of life.

And that's what he's telling me. I've been asking for answers for immediate problems. I've been asking for miracles. Meanwhile, I have the Miraclemaker right here! How can I ask for bread when I have the Bread of Life right in front of me?!

So, going back to Psalm 119, my comfort in my suffering is this: Jesus, the Bread of Life, right here, right now, every day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

on shame

From my journal - contemplating and rejoicing in Psalm 31

Why does shame weave itself into the fleshy fabric of those who are innocent? How can I break the bonds of shame? It has become part of me - interwoven with the cells of my body and soul. I cannot cut it out. Surgery, to remove a mass is possible, but not an interwoven layer of skin. It covers me. It has become part of who I am. A redeemer is no surgeon. He does not cut what should never have been there. He uses it to form something beautiful. He steeps it like tea - adding grace and his own love - to grow compassion. A redeemer never cuts away and replaces - he transforms what is there, making it beautiful.

The shame that should belong to the abuser, the oppressor, attaches itself firmly to the victim. It is part of who she is - even when she doesn't remember why.

Why shame for the victim? Why does the oppressor go free?