Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rights, Laws and God's Holy Will: A response to the new same-sex marriage law in the USA

For the record, I believe in Jesus Christ, in his Father who is also known as Yahweh and in the Holy Spirit.  I have chosen to be his disciple, follower, and obedient servant.  He calls such people “Friend,” which I consider a great, undeserved honour.  I believe in what God says about himself, the world and people both in general and in specifics.  I believe in what God, in the Bible, says about righteousness and sin.  I believe that God loves everyone on earth and longs to have us all embrace the life he offers through Jesus Christ.  I believe that God commands his followers to love those he loves and not to judge another person or group of people unless we’re willing to be judged by God with the same measuring stick we use.

I believe that worshipping idols or any God besides Yahweh, is sin.  I believe immorality is sin.  At the same time, I am not in favour of legislating laws that forbid Hindus or Buddhists or other religious minorities to worship as they choose.  God has given us free-will and he respects our choices.  To be true, we will eventually reap the consequences of our choices, for good or evil, but God still gives us freedom to make our choice to follow him or to follow another way.

In the same way, God gives us free choice in matters of morality.  We are free to marry whom we choose, to divorce, to remarry, to live promiscuously or to live in life-long monogamy.  These are God-given rights that the state cannot take away. 

Can the state legislate morality?  Yes.  It can decide that murder, stealing, divorce and spiritual expression of its choosing are legal or illegal.  We still have the right to choose whether we will obey or disobey those laws and we have no right to harass or degrade those who choose differently from us (though we also have an obligation to defend against oppression and injustice such as in the time of the Holocaust).  We also must be willing to accept the consequences of our decisions whether they are meted by the state or by God. 

I think of Christians living in countries or regions hostile to Christianity.  As a Christian, I would like those countries to protect the rights of Christians to be Christian and to be and do all Jesus calls them to.  Many Muslims, however, consider it an affront to and an offense against Allah to allow Christians freedom of belief and behaviour.  Do the rights of Christians trump the rights of Muslims?  Do the rights of Muslim countries to decide their own repressive laws trump the rights of Christians?  No.  God still gives us free will.  As a Christian in a repressive country, I would do all I could to fight for my rights as a Christian but if I chose to remain in that country, I would also have to accept the consequences of disobeying even repressive, unjust laws that try to limit my freedom.  There are many examples of people in the Bible who have spoken out for what is righteous and just, knowing and accepting the cost of doing so.

So what about us Christians in non-repressive countries?  Do we recognise man’s right to make his or her own choices?  Do we want to be like the Muslims who are so concerned about the holiness of Allah that anything that doesn’t fit into their understanding of his will is made illegal?  Isn’t that what many of us want for homosexuals?  Yes, God has made it clear (though some interpret what is written differently) that sex between two men is abhorrent to him.  But God has also made it clear that worshipping idols is abhorrent.  We want to limit the choices of homosexuals yet have no problem granting free choice to Hindus to worship as they please.  Why the difference?  Why do we want to legislate against one and not the other?  Why are we quite comfortable with and honour the choice of one and not the other?  Why do we try to do to homosexuals what we do not want Somalia or Iran or Saudi Arabia to do to Christians? 

We must be careful, for the judgment we heap on one class of people may turn out to be the judgment heaped upon us with the same logic and measure.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

Tearful return: Kathy Cirillo (above) weeps as she follows the casket carrying her son, Corporal Nathan Cirillo

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Canada is in mourning.  On Wednesday a lone gunman approached Corporal Nathan Cirillo, one of two honour guards at the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, and shot him point blank.  The gunman then highjacked a car, raced to Parliament Hill, burst into Centre Block and came within metres of our government, including the prime minister, doing business.  The sargeant-at-arms, whose role of protecting Parliament is chiefly ceremonial, shot and killed the gunman before he could do more harm.  He too is a hero.

My thoughts are muddled and unclear but I'm going to explore them here anyway.

One thing that comes to mind is that we've had a lot of soldiers die for our country and for the values we hold dear but few, if any, have received the press-coverage of Nathan Cirillo.  Crowds lined the Highway of Heroes as Cirillo's hearse travelled home to Hamilton.  Where were the crowds for the other fallen?  How much of our mourning is driven by media?

While the nation was glued to the TV for all the news available on Wednesday, Winnipeg was having a civic election. The next morning, the major headlines were not of the shooting in Ottawa that Prime Minister Harper called terrorism, but of the unexpected candidate becoming mayor.  That which gripped the rest of the nation was relegated to page six or eleven.  I felt offended. Was I justified?  Which event will have the greatest impact on Winnipeg?  How do editors decide?

This morning, I was reading Oswald Chambers, as I am wont to do, and was struck by a statement he makes:
The faithful few, who are an offence to our great organisations, are the disguised citizens of the Kingdom of God.*
What it made me think of was the ordinary person who follows God and speaks about Jesus to all who will listen--there are many of them.  I think of R, whose unruly facial hair catches and holds what goes into his mouth and out of his nose for days, whose hands are rarely washed, who has trouble keeping an apartment--beaten by foster parents decades ago to a point of permanent impairment--but who sings God's praises unceasingly and assures many of how loved they are by God.  I think of the little old lady in her 90s, bent over, frail, dependent on a walker, unattractive in appearance and often offensive in her mannerisms, who faithfully tends to the disenfranchised, urging them to follow God.  I think of the young mothers, tending their children without praise or honour, simply because that is where God has put them.  I think of the janitors and custodians who silently make sure our churches, offices, stores and malls are kept clean.  These are the disguised, the unrecognised, the ordinary and the faithful.  They're the ones "our great organisations" don't acknowledge because we venerate the beautiful, the powerful, the hip.

Nathan Cirillo was one of these ordinary people until he met an extraordinary end.  No one would have heard about him or known who he was, outside his immediate circle, had he not been shot.  His family says that even had he known the gunman was coming, he would have kept his post standing guard.  This is what the ordinary do.  They do what they are called to do without recognition or reward.  They serve regardless of the cost.  They don't stand out and don't draw our attention.

We need such people.  And when we are the ordinary, as most, if not all of us are, we too need to be faithful to what we've been called to do--whether that involves changing diapers, sweeping floors or standing guard.

What ordinary thing are you called to do?  Will you do it in an extraordinary way despite being ordinary and hidden?  Are you willing to be ordinary and let others be praised?  Will I? Am I? I need to ponder this more.

*"'Will you also Go Away?'" in God's Workmanship in The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. Page 457.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What Is Separating me from the Promise?

This is the question Andy Wood asked us each to consider this morning at the end of his sermon and it hit me like a thunderbolt.

Imagine the Jordan River on the eve of the Israelites crossing it into the Promised Land.  The river was at flood stage, so it was moving quickly (even the Red River here in Winnipeg moves quickly during flood season) but this particular stretch of the river near Jericho is narrower than the rest so that as the rushing flood waters reached the point where the people were waiting--all two million of them--it became even more turbulent.  Anyone who's witnessed a flood knows that it doesn't just carry water; there is debris like fallen trees, parts of sheds and houses and perhaps even animals unable to escape the river's grab.
Floods can be dangerous!

Back in the days of Abraham, God had promised the land of Canaan to him and his descendants but during the days of Abraham's great-grandson, Joseph, the whole family had moved out of the Promised Land to Egypt because of famine.  Now,  400 years later, all that separated them from The Promise was 100 feet of raging water.  What to do?

I'm sure many of them resorted to prayer--a very good and important, even crucial thing to do--but would prayer alone get them across?  According to Andy, we need to not only pray but act.  What action would have been called for?  Start building a bunch of rafts?  A bridge?  A dam?  No!  God told the priests to step into the water. (I can't help but start singing the Southern gospel song at this point--"Step into the water.  Wade out a little bit deeper.")

Say what?  Here in south-eastern Manitoba, when the rivers are flooding, we're all warned to stay away from the water.  The rivers are dangerous!  There are large fallen trees, parts of sheds and houses and sometimes animals caught by the river's grab and the police don't want any people joining the parade of flotsam by accidentally being swept away.  But the priests were not only to go to the edge of the water but to step into that swirling, rushing torrent.  Dangerous!  This is what kept them from the promise made by God centuries before--a raging river ,and all they had to do was step into the danger. Who wants to do that?

When Andy asked, "What is separating you from the promise God has given you," I knew my answer immediately.  My husband and I have been married nearly 41 years but most of that time has been very painful for me (you can read more about this here).  I prayed for years that God would heal our marriage but nothing seemed to change.  Then, eight years ago God spoke to me with a very specific promise: "I will heal your marriage."  For another two years nothing changed and then it did--slowly.  I'm still waiting for that promise from God to be kept.

So what's separating me from The Promise?  Fear.  I have spent 40 years building and strengthening walls of self-protection--hiding myself, my thoughts, my fears, nearly everything about myself that has meaning from the one I'm supposed to be most open with.  How can we have a fulfilling marriage when I've erected the walls of Jericho (so to speak) between me and my husband?  It's impossible.

This past spring, God told me I had to start taking them down; self-protection is a way of not trusting God to protect me and I want to be totally dependent on God.  I also want a fulfilling marriage and all the praying in the world isn't going to get me one if I'm not willing to do what I must do--step into the water, the perceived danger, my fears and and start sharing myself, one bit at a time.  I've already started to do this so Andy's sermon and challenge is a confirmation for me that I'm on the right track.  What was awesome was that during prayer time, two dear women came and prayed for me that I will have the courage to step out.

So, what's separating you from God's promise?

[For those of you who don't know how the story of the Israelites ends, the moment the priests' feet touched the water, the river parted and all two million people crossed on dry land.]

Once it's posted, you will be able to listen to Andy's sermon here.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Set Apart by Faith in Jesus

Hi friends!  It's been a while since I've posted here.  My apologies.  I'm hoping to do better.

This morning I was reading an article by Oswald Chambers called "Frontiers of the Worker's Life."  Oswald Chambers was a British pastor, preacher, teacher and scholar who died at a young age at the beginning of the 20th century.  I have his complete works in an enormous volume (1500 pages of tiny print) and aim to read one article (a page or less, usually) each day.  He never fails to challenge me. I have shared often in the past from what God has told me through Chambers and you can expect to hear much more in the future.

I think the "worker" in today's reading refers to all committed Christians who want to see others enter the Kingdom of Heaven, to know Jesus and not only believe in him but trust him.  A key passage from the Bible is where Paul is talking to King Agrippa in Acts 26:18 about how he turned from a persecutor of followers of "The Way," to a devout follower and evangelist of The Way--Jesus Christ. He is quoting what Jesus said to him in a blinding vision on the road to Damascus where he planned to imprison and kill the Christians:
'Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.  Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God's people, who are set apart by faith in me.' (NLT)
"Set apart by faith in [Jesus]."  As Christians, we know we are to be holy and most of us understand that to mean doing what we should but really, the word "holy" means "set apart."  God is holy because he is set apart from all other gods who are worshipped.  The tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament were holy because they were set apart for the sole purpose of worshipping God.  The pots and pans, tongs and spatulas, bowls, plates and cups in the tabernacle and temple were holy because they were to be used only in that place for the worship of God.  The high priest's wife couldn't borrow them when she held a large party and didn't have big enough pots or enough utensils.  They were holy; set apart.

Jesus was telling Paul (who was still known as Saul at the time) that his (God's) people are set apart or holy by their faith in him.  Our faith sets us apart, not so much in our theology but in how we live--what I think Chambers means when he refers to sacramental personality--living by faith in Jesus, not by convictions or doctrine but by faith, trusting and deferring to Jesus in everything.  By doing this, we are automatically set apart and different.

Chambers says we need
...two centres to our mental life...: 1. Personal faith in Jesus... [and] 2. Personal reliance on the human reason that God made. 
 The thing is, he warns us, is that faith is not reason and reason is not faith.  It is impossible to "state explicitly in words what [we] know by faith."  If we can, it is not faith.
Never have the idea that you are going to persuade men to believe in God.... How can they believe when every spring is impure?  The great need is to have a channel through which the grace of God can come to men and do something in their unconscious life.
That channel is supposed to be us.

He goes on to say,
Then slowly, as that breaks into the conscious life there will come an expression of belief, because they see Jesus; but the way they see him is through the worker who is a sacramental personality. 
I see this as a promise and a warning.  The warning is that if we want to be a channel of God's grace that plays a part in others coming to believe in Jesus, we must live sacramentally; we must live by faith in and dependence on, listening to, hearing and obeying God's Spirit and not living solely by doctrine, theology and convictions.  The latter are important but they're not what lead to transformation.
You cannot argue men into coming to Jesus or socialize them into coming; only one thing will do it, and that is the power of the Gospel drawing men by the constraint of God's grace.
In other words, as I understand it, we can't persuade people by reason to come to Jesus.  Instead, by staying attached to the vine, we are an unsuspecting channel of God's grace to others--unsuspecting to ourselves because we aren't aware of when God is using us and channelling his grace through us.

This grace begins to work in their unconscious life and slowly breaks into the conscious.  Then belief comes because they see Jesus in us.  This is powerful stuff!  A sacramental personality is one that reflects God clearly in all one says and does.

This is the kind of person I want to be.  What about you?

All quotes not from the Bible are from "God's Workmanship" in The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, pages 453, 454. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

In My Prayer Room

Oh God
You surround me with your love,
with memories
of who you are
of what you've done
of promises you've made
of who I want to be
of who I am because of you.

You give me hope and joy,
peace and gratitude.
You convict me
and teach me
encourage me
and remind me
of what it means to follow you.

You listen to my prayers
and grant my requests
in your time.
You give me insight
and knowledge
and words to write
to share your presence
your goodness
your love
your admonition
with others.

You expand my love
to pray for friend and foe
near and far
family and stranger
people as pins on maps
clustered and scattered
who know you and reject you
for those in need
and those too full to need.

You draw me close
and then release me
to bring you close to others
to serve
and love
and give
all I have received.

You fill my heart with joy
that warms
and glows
and bursts
into laughter,
and even dance.

You wrap me in your arms
and tell me
"You are mine"
with intensity that burns
and smoulders
gives courage
reduces fear
and says
"All is well
All will be well
You are mine."

How can I contain
the certitude
the heat
the light
the joy you spread within me?
How can I not want
for those I love
to know the same
to feel your heart
beating within
and enveloped
by all of who you are?

Thank you God
for times with you
and for filling me with you.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Martyr People

"All of creation watches expectantly for the springing up of a disciplined, freely gathered, martyr people who know in this life the life and power of the kingdom of God." Richard Foster

A martyr people, a people willing to die rather than abandon or turn against God.  But how can we be willing to die for Jesus, being tortured and suffering great pain unless we are willing to suffer small pain in order to be faithful and obedient?

I am faithless.  I can't consistently tolerate the "pain" of walking past attractive food without indulging; I protest getting up and am often drawn back to my bed rather than endure the discomfort of being tired even when I know getting up is important for my mental health and productivity and it's something God commands against, calling people like me "sluggards." How can I expect to be faithful to God in more important matters?

I like my comforts and dislike pain and yet it seems that growth happens only in the presence of pain: The pain of going hungry in order to lose weight; the pain of sore muscles when exercising; the pain of getting some place slower because one wants to make a smaller ecological footprint on the planet.  Pain is important and needs to be embraced (ask a leprosy patient who loses a finger or toe because they don't have any pain to tell them the digit in question is in danger).

Spiritually, it is the same.  We need to be a martyr people, unafraid of pain to hold to a higher calling.

I've started using a phone app called LIFT, a motivational tool that allows a person to set some daily goals and check them off as they're achieved.  The app sends words of encouragement when you've managed to be consistent for three days, seven days, etc.  Already I've failed.

Oswald Chambers mirrors Richard Foster's statement when he says, "I never am a sacramental disciple until I deliberately lay myself on the altar of the Cross and give myself over emphatically and entirely to be actually what I am potentially in the sight of God, viz. [that is], a member of the Body of Christ.  When I swing clear of myself and my own consciousness and give myself over to Jesus Christ, He can use me as a sacrament to nourish other lives."

Chambers asserts that when we are "consciously serving [and] consciously devoted to God," when we're conscious of the cost of following God, we are immature.  By this definition, I am definitely immature for I am not only conscious of the cost but too often unwilling to pay it.

"When you are laid on the altar of the Cross all consciousness of self is gone, all consciousness of what you are doing for God, or of what God is doing through you, is gone."  I would like to attain this kind of un-self-consciousness, to be free of self-absorption, self consciousness and the restraints of selfishness, self-centredness and self-indulgence.

Chambers warns us, "Beware of stealing souls for whom Christ died for your own affectionate wealth."  Affectionate wealth?  What's this?  Gaining the affections of others?  Being rich in affection from others?  Thinking that others are drawn to me (if they are) because of my own giftedness, my own ability to say things just right, etc.?  In contrast, Chambers says I need to be "broken bread and poured-out wine for [others]."  Can I do this?  It requires being "a martyr people," in Foster's words.  I can't be a martyr people if my sleep, my belly, my comfort, my "need" for approval and affection all take precedence.  Martyr people are those who make these things secondary to God and who do so so completely they're totally unaware that they're giving something up.

God's purpose for us is service--service to him and service to others but never service to ourselves.  A martyr people relinquishes all measure of self-service.  God help me to be one of his martyr people.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dead Car and Snow Clearing

My son doesn't know about this yet, even though it's his car (technically, his girlfriend's), because he's sunning himself on a hot Cuban beach (with said girlfriend).  Here it is -32°C (-26°F) with a wind chill of -45 (-48).  It's cold, as it is across much of North America with a polar vortex bearing down, and cars left on the street do not fair well in this kind of weather.

Winnipeg is used to the cold, though this is the coldest winter on record so far in eighty years.  We've had close to -40 wind chills for much of December and though, as one news commentator stated last night, we take a perverse pride in our cold weather, even we are getting tired of the duration of  this extreme deep freeze.  This household in particular, since at the end of last week our hot water heating pipes froze, leaving us scrambling for help.

The yellow VW Bug was left on the front street by the warmth-seeking vacationers, which would be fine except that the day they left for Cuba, we had a snow storm (delaying their departure from Winnipeg for several hours and their arrival in Cuba by more than a day--but at least they got there).  Even a heavy snowfall shouldn't interfere with the car parked on the front street but the City announced that snow-clearing operations would begin on residential streets Sunday night.  All cars left on the street would be towed and/or ticketed.

We had a plan on where to move it to but when Tom went to do so, the car wouldn't start.  No problem.  We'll call CAA (AAA).  But that was a problem.  We couldn't get through.  I'm not talking about being put on hold for an hour.  I'm talking about not even connecting with the message that advises callers to hold until the next available operator.  In fact, the phone rang once and then disconnected.  Now what?

Tom has battery-boosting cables, so he pulled his car around to the dead car and did his thing.  Nope.  It wouldn't start.  I was ready to just leave it and take the consequences but Tom refused.  He called the neighbour to help and they tried three times to boost the Beetle to no avail.

I wrote a large note in thick Sharpie blue outlining our problems, asking that we not be towed or ticketed but Tom wouldn't give up.  Somehow he learned that we could place an order for roadside assistance for CAA online.  It took some false starts but I managed to do this and we went to bed.

Tom couldn't sleep, he was so worried and stressed.  I learned the next morning that he'd gotten up about midnight and called CAA again.  They  hadn't gotten our online request so Tom put one in.  The wait time?  Forty-eight hours!  The snow-clearing equipment would have come and gone by then so this was no solution.

Sick with worry, Tom started looking for answers as soon as businesses were answering their phones.  Even hiring a tow truck privately had a twelve-hour wait time.  In this kind of cold, everyone has problems.  One garage suggested that we leave the hood up because then maybe the tow trucks would leave it alone.  He was at work by this time and asked me to do this.  I grumbled and argued, not seeing the value of it but in the end I acquiesced.

And so began the wait.  What would happen when the graders came to clear our street?

The car was towed.  Tom was frantic.  We called the 311 number to find out where the car had been towed to but got the same response as with CAA--the line was so swamped we couldn't get through.

At 5:15 this morning, he woke me up.  He'd been up since about 2:30 and managed to get through at 311 (though even at that hour the hold time was half an hour).  They had no record of towing the car or where it was.  They suggested he call the towing company.  They too had no record and transferred him to another towing company.

As Tom was telling me this in the dark bedroom, sitting on the side of the bed next to where I was lying, my thought was, "Oh no!  We left the hood open.  Someone must have hot-wired it and stole it."  But no.  The second towing company suggested that perhaps the car was given a "courtesy tow" to a neighbouring street. So Tom got in his car and started driving around.  Sure enough, it had been towed to the main thoroughfare that intersects our street.

He'd wakened me because he wanted my help to try to boost it again.  Really?  If it wouldn't boost before, why would it now?  I told him to give me some time to think and shooed him out of the bedroom.  Then I started praying.  God, what is the thing to be doing here?  I checked the temperature and it was no warmer than before so boosting didn't seem practical but if not that, then what?  If left on the street, it was subject to more parking tickets and another tow because of limited daytime parking and no parking during the evening rush hour.  Truly I was willing for it to be towed but Tom was not.

And then it came to me.  It's a wee little car.  Could we push it to the nearest residential street where it would be safe?  About that same time, Tom came rushing into the bedroom with the same idea.  Okay, this must be from God so we bundled up and headed out.  

The nearest cross street was behind the car so I put the car in neutral and we began to push.  It wouldn't budge.  I wanted to give up.  Tom wanted to flag someone down to help.  I'm not sure if he did or if the fellow pulled up and stopped on his own but there was the help we needed.  Even with his help, however, we couldn't push it backwards, so he suggested trying to push it forward.  That worked and so we pushed it the length of a short city block, turned the corner and got it parked.

YAY!!!  Thank you, God!

Tom thought it was too far from the curb and wanted to try to get it closer, thinking that we could still get a ticket for that but though we tried, our helper off to continue his delivery rounds for the Globe and Mail, we couldn't do it.  I think it will be okay though.  It's not sticking out into the street any more than the pickup in front of it.

And so ends another winter adventure in the Chan household.  I'd love to go back to bed but I've got things to do and places to go.  At least I've gotten my exercise for the day!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Frozen Pipes

This is Winterpeg, though the maps call the Canadian city "Winnipeg."  We've just finished the sixth coldest December on record with wind chills close to or below the -40 mark more days than not.  Yesterday we were colder than the North Pole and even Mars.  This is not weather for the faint-of-heart, such as the denizens of Hong Kong where a cold weather warning was issued the other day when the temperature fell to +17C (63F).

We live in a sturdy old house, built nearly 100 years ago and heated with a boiler.  That means we have water pipes through the entire house, circulating hot water through ancient and not-so-ancient radiators to keep us warm.  In the 30 years we've lived here, there has never been a problem but now there is.  Some of the pipes have frozen.  We've just had the entire house wrapped in insulation, upgrading from the woodchip insulation the house was built with and now we have problems?  Go figure.

You'd never know there was a problem with the heating if you were sleeping in our bedroom.  It's a sauna in there--so hot that when I took a nap yesterday, I had the window open about nine inches; yes, on the day it was colder than Mars. I'd gladly turn the temperature down but our son and his girlfriend are here for the holidays and she is one who, though living in this polar climate for several years, identifies more closely with those of Hong Kong who need cold weather warnings at absurdly warm temperatures.  With our heat cranked up, she is still bundled up in sweaters, jackets, blankets and hot water, even when sitting by the fire and because I love her, I tolerate the higher temperatures she needs in our house, including the sauna of our bedroom.

However, it is the room she is sleeping in whose pipes are frozen.  Poor girl!  There is at least one other room with frozen pipes but frozen heating pipes in the bedroom of a girl who needs a sweater at what most would consider room temperature is not good.

The plumber is here now, maneuvering his way through our much-too-cluttered basement to track where the pipes go and begin the thawing process.  He may need to cut holes in our newly-painted walls and ceilings.  Oh joy!

But God is good.  We do have heat.  Not all the pipes are frozen.  We're not suffering like the over 300,000 customers in Toronto who were without power after an ice storm hit two weeks ago, some of them for over a week (including one of our sons).  Nor are we suffering like others in Winnipeg, some of whom have no heat at all or whose water mains broke leaving them with cars frozen to the ground and needing to go to a central, outdoor tap (in this weather?) to get all their water supplies.

God is good.  While the cost of repair, and then repairing the damage created by the repair, will likely be frightful, we do have a financial cushion that can help absorb the extra dollars required.  We won't go bankrupt, lose our home or need to go without groceries.

God is good.  Even in the midst of crisis, he remains our faithful provider.  And while we wait for that provision, I sit and look outside at the picture-perfect winter scene of snow on peaked roofs, tall, bare, mature elms reaching into a clear, blue sky with those near chimneys covered in a delicate, white hoar frost, glad that I can do it from a still-warm home.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Struggles to Love Stem from Problems of Worship

So says Winston T. Smith, author of Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change Through Ordinary Moments.  This is a most extraordinary book on marriage, taking a direction I haven't seen before, with this as the crux: "...all struggles to love stem from problems of worship."

It's interesting because before I started reading the book, God was convicting me about my tendency to self-indulgence.  I've been slowly memorising the book of Matthew over the past many years and recently my memorising took me to this verse: "'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.'" Matthew 23:25 NIV  When was the last time you heard a sermon on self-indulgence or heard it mentioned as a sin?  Jesus is not leaving any room for doubt on where he stands on the subject; he is scathing in his condemnation of what we in North America embrace, promote and glorify.

I like my creature comforts.  I love to indulge myself with all sorts of little things.  Is this wrong?  I began to see that yes, it could be and, for me, it is. In the context of marriage, being full of greed and self-indulgence means that my basic bend is towards myself.  I put myself and my needs first.

My prayer room time involves reading bits from several different books each day.  Three of these currebtkt are Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster, Prayer and Worship: A Spiritual Formation Guide by Renovar√© and The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. What have been the topics in each of these books since starting to read that struggles to love are problems of worship?  Worship.  Devotion to God. Repentance.

In today's reading of Marriage Matters, Winston asks the question: "If Jesus were to evaluate your relationship with God based on the way you treat your spouse, how would you score? ...What things in your life do you value more than loving your spouse (or even God himself)? ...When do you feel that loving your spouse or God costs too much?"  Ouch!

For most of our marriage (we've just celebrated our 40th anniversary so we're talking a lot of years here), I have blamed my unhappiness in marriage on Tom.  If only he would do this or that or stop doing this or that, things would be wonderful.  Then God convicted me about my self-centredness and self-indulgence and I began to see just how much my own attitude and behaviour have made marriage miserable for both of us.  I never saw it before.

I get impatient with him, reprimand him for his fears in the guise of being encouraging, try to control him for the benefit of my own well-being and am dismissive of his fears and concerns.  I haven't asked, "What does Tom need to be or feel loved?"  It's been about what I need.

What do I (or have I) valued more than Tom and/or God?  When does loving Tom or God feel too costly?  The time I was most tempted to give up on God was when he [God] told me to give up the woman I loved.  Impossible!  I think that has been the most difficult decision I've ever made.  Another very difficult decision, required by Tom, is that I have no more contact with the biological father of our eldest son.  Tom and I had been separated for over two years and I had been very promiscuous during that time but I had this one chief, emotional attachment that seemed impossible to break and I rebelled greatly in my heart over Tom's expectation that I now see as very reasonable but found tremendously painful at the time.

What do these two most difficult experiences share in common?  Why were the demands from Tom and God so painful?  With both these lovers, I felt loved, wanted and affirmed and with Tom I didn't.  That's not to say that Tom doesn't love, want or affirm me but that I couldn't feel it the way I did with these two people--even though I was painfully aware of their flaws.  So this is what I seem to value more than God or Tom; this is when it feels like the cost is too great: when I have to give up my need to feel loved, wanted and affirmed; when I have to sit in the pain of seeming rejection, anger, dismissiveness and silence; when I have to give up what I want, the ways I want myself indulged.

At these times, Tom is difficult to love not because he's a bad person but because I want to feel emotionally safe, unabandoned, enveloped, protected and I don't feel that with Tom; not because he's not doing what I need, necessarily, but because I am worshipping my need more than worshipping God, my Creator and Jesus my Saviour.  These emotional needs of mine predate Tom and probably stem from losing my father when I was very young.  Nothing Tom can do will ever make up for that lack and the sooner I stop expecting him to, the sooner I'll find contentment with the man God gave me as a life companion.

How do I change who and what I worship?  I think I need to be willing to sit in the place of pain where I often find myself and turn to God with the expectation that he loves me, wants me and affirms me and trust him to make his love, desire and affirmation clear to me.  My dependence has to be on God to provide what I need and trust that I don't need to have what he sees fit to withhold.

Winston says, "Whatever we depend on, seek out, or organize our lives around other than God is what we worship instead of God."  Worship is "all-consuming love, a devotion that shapes and directs every area of life."  What do I worship, my own needs and wants or my Creator?  I agree with Winston when he writes, "...the foundation of loving your spouse is truly worshipping God" (italics in the original.), and so I am on a mission to learn how to worship God above all else (especially above myself) and thus improve my ability to love my husband and others.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Psalm of Longing for God

I am weary and worn
unable to do or be
what you've called me to.
Caught up in self
in my needs and limitations
So very, very tired.
I can't do this, God!
I need you
to fill me, drive me, energise me
to give me rest
and calm my spirit.
I need you
so I can see others, love others,
engage with others
without withdrawing
without judging
without scepticism, despair, contempt.
I want you, Lord!
I want your peace, your joy,
your contentment
with the way things are:
broken, dirty, messy, incomplete--
not because they are good
but because you are good
because you are present
because you make all things good
in your time.
Fill me with you
so I can wait
for all of you
in all of me.

Debbie Haughland Chan