Capital Ideas

IMG_6559

In today’s small world I wasn’t that far from home as I sat in the nations capital thinking these thoughts. West Ottawa, Ontario, is only three and one half hours from Peterborough by car.

It was a day and a half to take in an historic hockey game via gift tickets, and hang out with our son and daughter-in-law, soon to be first time parents. We worshipped together and enjoyed lunch with them on a sunny spring Sunday.

IMG_6523

During our stay I mentioned that I’ve been thinking about eliminating my facebook account again at least for the warm weather months. This led to my reading an article in Relevant Magazine which resonated so much with me as a blogger & writer who often feels compelled to use social media to convey my thoughts, share creativity, and connect with other like-minded friends.

The authors’ thoughts matched my own almost identically. “Remember that life isn’t about the story you tell about yourself on the Internet. It’s about a million more beautiful and complex things than that, like love and faith and really listening. It’s about using what you’ve been given to craft a life of gratitude and passion and grace.”

It’s really as simple as this. Using what we’ve been given – our God-given areas of giftedness, whatever they may be, to connect with individuals – to and nurture and build honest, transforming friendships.

If we are separated by physical distance, technology does allow for this to happen via phonecalls, Skype, and ‘wandering emails’ as the author Shauna Niequist put it. (By the way, check out her books, Bittersweet, Cold Tangerines, and Bread & Wine.) And any time we’re blessed to spend the same time in the same space, it’s sheer joy to “hear each other’s actual voices, when we enter one another’s actual homes, with actual messes, around actual tables telling stories that ramble on beyond 140 pithy characters.”

Here you go…read what Shauna has to say in her article, ‘Instagram’s Envy Effect’. It encapsulates the reason and personal goals behind why I’m taking a break from Facebook at least, and being more intentional about making certain things happen in my real life…laughing at a meal with friends…and for starters that’s a capital idea.

with joy,

Diana E. Natalie

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Mother’s Account

Six days.

Six days in hospital following nine months of waiting, two days of labour, and one night of panicked operating room drama, so that one nine pound baby boy might be born.

Had we been living but fifty years earlier, we were told, neither mother nor infant would have survived.

Yet here we were, in the spring of the year nineteen hundred and eighty-seven, in the high-tech hands of skilled paediatricians, and we both made it through the ordeal alive.

Six days in hospital realizing the gift wrapped in this little blue bundle. Days to start to heal and to celebrate. To let the joy sink in. To muster the courage to walk out through sterile doors into the unknown landscape of motherhood – of parenting. We were terrified . . . but . . .

. . .“He gently leads those that are with young.” [Isaiah 40:11]

Strengthened by those words, and in The Shepherd’s care we trusted. Naive and needing so much guidance and wisdom to move forward unterrified, we trusted in Jesus to lead us on. Trusted that God would not have given us a son without equipping us to raise him.

And mysteriously equipped we were. Amazingly and all of a sudden. Where did all this exponential love come from – now that we were three. How can the uninitiated parent explain the humbling sacrificial love that flows so effortlessly? The surprising courage, patience, and endurance it takes to raise up a child in the way they should go?

Unending devotion, courage, and commitment in the heart of a parent is a mysteriously beautiful thing with one true explanation.

From the heart of The Father flows all good things. “If sinful people know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.” [Matthew 7:10]

God created our hearts to be as His own. The heart of The Giver. He fashioned us to love as He loves, redeems our hearts to do so by the sacrifice of His son, adopts us as sons and gives His Spirit to help us. As an earthly parent this is almost too much to fathom.

God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”

Six days for God to create day and night and oceans and sky and land. Plants and trees, sun, moon, and stars. Fish, and animals, and then . . .

‘God created mankind in His own image,                                                                                     in the image of God He created them;                                                                                      male and female He created them.’ [Genesis 1:27]

And then . . . mankind. Man, and woman, unlike any other – image bearers for whom His only desire would be that they love Him in return. The heart of The Father. The labour of the Lover of souls.

And with what an excess of love He has loved us. [Ephesians 2:4]

“On the seventh day God had finished His work of creation, so He rested from all His work.” [Genesis 2:2]

And on the seventh day the doctors said, ‘You can leave the hospital now, and take your baby home.’

Our labour of love was only just beginning. The truth is we had no idea (nor does any first time parent) what really lay ahead of us.

The Lover and Shepherd of our souls would have to lead us now. And His grace would have to stand in the gap each time we would fail and fail again. We would have to persevere in humility, eager to learn and grow along with our son.

Eager to rest from the work of bringing new life into the world, we were counting on the three of us to be carried throughout our parenting journey in the Everlasting Arms* of the One formed us all.**

*  [Deuteronomy 3]  ** [Isaiah 44:2, 1 Corinthians 8:6]

Twenty five years, and an additional son later, I can testify that motherhood  – that parenting – is definitely not for cowards –  that much grace is needed – that physical tiredness is only replaced with emotional and intellectual weariness. And yet, there’s no way to count the innumerable ongoing blessings, joys, and rewards it may bring to one’s life when you leave it all in the arms of God.

with joy over Mother’s Day, 2012.

Diana E. Natalie

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Entering His Gates

I have this big plan. I’ll get up an hour earlier to pray. Maybe even whip up a dozen muffins with those over ripe bananas on the counter. And if I am going to make the most of it I will have my list ready. My urgent list of things to talk at God about. Holy laments that border on selfish complaining. The people and things I will ask Him for, including myself.

“I am tired, LORD, please help me get through this day.”

“I am stressed, God, help me deal with this situation.”

“You know this friend, LORD, may they know Your presence today.”

“You know my grief God, please help me to heal.”

Okay, wait a minute – something doesn’t feel right. There’s nothing wrong with the petitions. But perhaps there is merit to their being prefaced by a deeper awareness of the One I lift my prayers to. They don’t quite sound like the spiritual act of worship talked about in Romans chapter one. So often I just start talking, dive right in, forgetting Who’s gates I’m entering. There is an absence of reverence and recognition, of thanksgiving, and joy in my plan because it’s focused on me first, and my desires, and not on the Lord of heaven and earth who says to His children, “I AM Who I AM … This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.”

Was it King Solomon who warned us not to rush into God’s presence with words? Something foolish we often want to do? What if I first, and again, drop my agenda and intentionally leave me and all my concerns behind for a minute or two? What if I first leave all of my brokenness at the foot of His cross? The anxiety, hurt, fear, and stress. Leave it all there, again, and just come, empty to be filled. If I simply observe His world around me, hear His Word, echo the Psalmist perhaps, and thank Him, allowing Him to envelope my soul?

I re-enter His gates with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise. And before I say anything else, I give thanks to Him and praise His name … For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. (Psalm 47:2, Psalm 100:4 N.L.T.)

I will name His gifts first, and thank Him. Naming His gifts in my life and thanking Him first, causes me to forget about me, and  allows His joy to filter through the worry-cracks in my day. It takes some intentional effort – but it makes sense to try it again.

In acknowledging the gifts I am thanking the Giver, no matter what is going on in my life. No matter what good or ugly I find myself in the midst of. Didn’t Paul encourage the Christ-followers to “devote themselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” And wasn’t he “in chains” when he said that?

I find my ‘gratitude journal’ under a heap of books and pencil them in … Robin’s song. Smell of fresh coffee. Chipmunk coming to garden door for peanut. Phrase that jumped off page of book in bathroom. Mist on the lawn. Time spent with friend last evening … Somehow I know that these are all gifts and in the naming of the gifts, I acknowledge the Giver.

Seemingly ordinary and everyday, yet they are all God’s grace in my life and moments to treasure. Moments to thank Him for. Seeds of gratitude I plant, which always spring forth in supernatural joy.

Too often I prevent the miracle. I am ungrateful, self centred, and slow to listen. Quick to speak – my mind off and rushing. Most often I do not slow, or notice, or see. What if I ‘gave myself as a living and holy sacrifice – the kind God finds acceptable’ by waking up and paying attention, acknowledging the Giver in each moment first, without saying a word, and simply standing in awe of Him?

What if I could I go through every day doing, while at the same time recognizing Him – the great I AM – seeing His gifts, and grace, and the ways – oh the countless myriad of ways He loves. This is truly the way to worship Him, writes Paul. (Romans 12:1)

What does a wise woman do? I read Proverbs 31 about the woman of noble character. She brings, and finds, and gets up early, and plans. She inspects, and earns, and works hard. She helps, and creates, and laughs. She watches, and notices and stands in awe of the Lord. And at the end of all this, when she speaks, her words are wise and she gives instructions with kindness.

I read Matthew’s gospel, chapter fifteen. Jesus affirms Isaiah’s prophecy. “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain…” Jesus took time to be sure his disciples understood that the words we speak come from our heart. What is in our heart and mind, is what will come out of our mouth.

A.W. Tozer writes, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts about God … and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time might say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” [A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of The Holy, Harper-SanFrancisco, 1992.]

Deep in my heart what do I conceive God to be like? This, says Jesus, is what will come out of my mouth. All of my life worships something – My daily living shows what I value most – the Creator or created things. My worship is ‘pure’ or base’ depending on what I think about God, and this is what comes out when I communicate to those in whose circle of influence He has placed me. What I communicate will be pure and God-focused, or it will be base and self-serving.

Yesterday we walked in the woods. A group of twenty women, all chatty and enjoying one another’s company.

Then we stopped, here and there, to look, to listen, and to breathe. A spring blossom. Flocks of Finches atop the Beach forest making music in canary song. Something unidentifiably fragrant wafting through the air.

For a moment we were still and quiet and soaked in God’s art. The handiwork which speaks of Himself reflecting who He is and what He’s like.

The forest floor and trees above are waking up to springtime and we are awake and aware of the One who keeps them there.  We worship the One who sees the tiny fern pushing its way up through the moss, unfurling its fronds to defy gravity by drawing water upward into stem and vein. His plants and trees and birds and sky all echo the truth that He is glorious.

Laughter and games in the park and lunch together. Time set aside – valued and treasured, and captured by camera lens. Singing and prayers of praise. Petitions and heart cries for protection and provision for one another. The joy of community in Christ.

We stop talking again. We sit, and listen, and soak in more holy moments. United in the desire to know what it is to live fully right where we are. To know what it is to be fully awake and aware of God’s presence. We watch New York Times best-selling-author Anne Voskamp’s video clip, ‘Figuring It Out’ and He speaks through her to the depths of our hearts;

“Time’s blurring by and everyone’s slipping past. How do we wake to the moments? How do we stop living like life is an emergency (something to be sped wildly through)?

Life isn’t an emergency. How do we start believing that life can be carried only in the hands of the unhurried? A bubble held in awe. How do we stop wolfing life down? Because life is our only desert – too brief – too sweet – too delectable to hurry. To live like a boy I once knew, who paused between bites to wiggle a loose tooth and whisper, ‘I love you mom.’

All this … all these moments … are for you….

For you.

Isn’t that the voice we have to learn to hear?  The voice that is telling the whole world, that the earth under you, and the rain over you, and all the stars spinning all around you – THIS is for you – for you – for YOU…

 …Your true love’s smile, and a nap, and a patch of light, and the whir of bike spokes, and a wild rose on a windowsill, and that one great puff over flickering candles.

What if we really figured it out? That gratitude for the seemingly insignificant – this is the seed that plants the giant miracle in the midst of it all.

So count the ways He loves us. A thousand more. Never stop. So that when you wake in the morning you can’t help but unfold your hands to the heavens [where once you clenched them tight, unreceptive to God’s grace].

And though you grieve and though you wonder – though the world is ugly it is beautiful, and though the planet spins – a blur – you can slow and you can wake and you can trust – and you can pay attention to  the moments with this offering of thanks.

Because this is how you spend your one life well. Receiving each moment for what it really is – holy – ordinary – amazing Grace …

… a gift.”

We take a deep breath and hear what God is speaking into our hearts and Isaiah’s cry becomes our own. “Woe to us … a people of unclean lips.” In awe, and silenced, before the mighty Maker of all that we see and all that we do not see. Touched and impressed with the conviction of our insignificance, contrasted with the majesty of God and His unfathomable, unstoppable, crazy, furious love for each one of us.

This is the God who exists outside of time, yet entered time for redemptions plan, and still seeks to know all the little details about me. He didn’t have to save me from sinking down in my sinfulness, and He doesn’t have to love me eternally and know me so well but He chooses to. God chooses to love me unconditionally and to pursue my heart and my sincere worship and devotion.

I am rescued and loved and desired by all glorious God! I must continue to preach this gospel to myself first if I am to honour that love with my lips and a heart after His own heart. With what I say and with a heart that constantly seeks to know Him more.

To really know His word, His gospel, His cross, His love, His people. His heart.

When I do speak of Him, do I believe what I say? Do I accept the amazing grace, accept this moment as it is, thanking Him for it and how He’s working all things together for my good through it? “If I believe”, writes Anne Voskamp, “then I must let go and trust.”

Why do I continue to carry so much stress? In my mind I know He wants what is best for me but has that truth taken hold in my heart today? How do I let go, and let God? I am His child, forgiven and loved, I know that. So must I still go through this letting go process each new day? I know I must in order to live fully right where I am!

Anne Voskamp continues, “Belief in God has to be more than mental ascent, more than a cliched exercise in cognition. Even the demons believe (James 2:19)…

… Belief is a verb, something that you do…

… The very real, everyday action of trusting … What is saving belief if it isn’t the radical dare to wholly trust? …

… Jesus replied, ‘This is the work that God asks of you; that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger]” (John 6:29 AMP) …

… That’s my daily work, the work God asks of me? To trust. The work I shirk. To trust in the Son, to trust in the wisdom of this moment, to trust in now. And trust is that: work. The work of trusting love. Intentional and focused. Sometimes, too often, I don’t want to muster the energy. Stress and anxiety seem easier …

Are stress and worry evidences of a soul too lazy, too undisciplined, to keep gaze fixed on God? To stay in love? …

… I don’t like to ask these questions, sweep out these corners where eyes glare from shadows. But this I must ask and do … isn’t joy worth the effort of trust?

.. Stress brings no joy … I’ve just begun to feel around the outside edges of it … Just begun to realize it, and it catches in the throat:  If authentic, saving belief is the act of trusting, then to choose stress is an act of disbelief … Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism.” [Anne Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p.47. 2010. Zondervan]

Do I trust God enough to lay my fears and burdens down at the foot of His cross, and simply come and be enveloped with Him? To enter His gates with thanksgiving, in anticipation that He will fill me with Himself – His Sprit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, understanding … Leaving myself and my list behind, and be in awe of Him?

When I do get up early and pray, and make that batch of muffins, in that hour I will first enter His courts with praise knowing that my supreme need is deep joy in God and I can’t experience that until I trust deeply in Who He Is.

I remember Who He Is and I trust Him enough to lay today’s anxiety and self-condemnation at His feet. To thank Him first for His love, and mercy, and grace, and then allow him carry my stress, my tiredness, and the concern for my friend. Then I know, because I know Him first, that He alone can heal the hurts, and restore me and fill up the holes in my soul with His glory so there is only room for joy.

God makes all things new including this day. It will be worth the effort to stop talking at God and to praise Him first and listen to Him – to ‘leave my baggage behind’ – to let go of my agenda – to take the lens off of me and my and and focus on Him and His glory revealed.

This is His plan – much better than the one I started out with. That I come before Him with trust and thanksgiving, emptied of self, and simply worship Him for who He is and what He has done. A sacrifice holy and acceptable to Him – to trust and to thank Him – the Giver of all gifts – and to elevate the ‘I AM’  above all else.

“This is what the LORD says— 
   your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:

   I AM the LORD, 
   the Maker of all things, 
   who stretches out the heavens, 
   who spreads out the earth by myself.” Isaiah 44:24

“And He also said, ‘It is finished. I AM the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.”  Revelation 21:6

with joy,

Diana J.

_____________________________________________

photo credit: J.H.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Forsythia Joy

It is mid-April, and she’s hanging on like a lion – the way she came in. Today it has hailed, rained, and snowed down from blackened skies between breaks of brilliant sunshine. The Tulip leaves are up six inches and I am caught in this time most pregnant with expectation. The space between a world asleep and one awakening to lushest fullest life. Too early in the season to dig in the dirt, so I crash on my afternoon off, after a busy morning, and jot down a few expectant words.

We just enjoyed Easter weekend. Friday reflecting with tears, remembering the Cross of Christ – hearts filled with thanks for the ever enduring Grace. And Sunday…oh how I love Easter Sunday! Celebrating The Risen One – Jesus!  Victorious over death and sin and over the enemy of our souls.

Easter Sunday morning, the morning we went outside and found a beautiful potted Forsythia shrub sitting in front of our house – leafless branches bejewelled with bright yellow blossoms. An unexpected gift from gardening friends. Hope that the green season is coming. A vision of sweetness and joy!

Our campus pastor’s message was about the Hope we have because of the resurrection of Christ. “Apart from THIS hope”, he said, “there is no hope.”

“Apart from THIS hope there is nothing to tap into in the midst of struggle”. Nothing but sterile earth and barren branches.

The power that raised Christ to life is a power deeper and stronger than death, and it brings a peace that doesn’t make sense – that passes all understanding! It births a supernatural joy that I am hard pressed to explain with words. Maybe the picture of the Forsythia bush will help. There is so much more to come. We haven’t even begun to see God’s glory. He who is the source of eternal life, hope, peace, and joy.

I am like the buds on the Maple I see out my window – swelling, waiting, anticipating the unfolding and unfurling into much more – much bigger and fuller than they now appear, all compacted and squashed into this time of smallness.

I am Lucy in C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe’, to whom Mr. Tumnus said, “Meanwhile, … it is winter in Narnia, and has been for ever so long, and we shall both catch cold if we stand here talking in the snow. Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?”

I feel that it’s been winter for ever so long, and I am more aware of feeling this way in early spring and at Easter than at any other time of the year.

Perhaps both the month of April, and Easter, announce as Lewis’ character Mr. Tumnus, that death, that winter, does not have the last word. This time of year we cling to the hope of the resurrection and to every colourful glimpse of the eternal as the miracle of life emerges from bulb beneath seemingly barren ground and bud on lifeless branch.

In this life, death and grieving, like cycling seasons, are inevitable, but we don’t sorrow as those who have no hope [1 Thessalonians 4]. We have glimpses of and a promise of the eternal. Spring is creation’s new beginning and Easter is all about Jesus who proclaimed, “I AM the resurrection and the life” and rose from death and earthen grave to prove it.

Spring says, “It has been winter for ever so long, and summer is coming!”

Easter says, “It’s Friday….but Sunday’s resurrection is coming!”

The Forsythia says, “Look! Here is a bright hope for tomorrow.”

Jesus Christ is THE resurrection and THE life that brings bright hope for all people, for without HIM, we have no hope of resurrection or life.

He promises His children that we are made new in Him, and seals this promise by giving us His Spirit – our helper – to nourish and strengthen us and who never leaves us or forsakes us.

Newness of life. A gift. By His grace (not because of anything we can do for ourselves) we are resurrected in His righteousness which we exchange for our sinking dying selves stuck in sinfulness. He made a way for us where there is no other way. This new life is our hope. This eternal gift our peace and our joy.

He paid our sin debt with his own blood on the cross for us. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” [Ephesians 2:8, N.L.T.]

Like the bud refusing to open and receive the light and oxygen, my soul, without accepting this grace gift of great exchange, has no hope for life beyond this one, and nothing to tap into for strength and nourishment here and now.

Jesus said it and I have experienced it. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

I have received this newness of life, and He is not finished with me yet. It is Springtime and I am that bud, swelling, waiting to be more, to worship Him more, to bear more fruit and reflect His beauty, as I grow in grace with Jesus.

Romans 8:22-25 confirms my feeling of expectancy. “The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” [The Message].

We are enlarged in the waiting, with joyful expectation of what is yet to come.

Spring, an echo of the “loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” [Revelation 21"3-4]

Spring. A comforting return to the land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe.

Spring. A time when faith takes a lesson from creation all around. Winter has passed and roots sink deeper into God’s grace and love. Life reaches upward and outward, nourished and hanging on by an unseen strength. Strength to hang on and grow in relationship with Christ our Redeemer.

And so we blossom with joy bright like Forsythia against barren branches, saying “more is yet to come” as it unfurls hope into the space between winter and summer.

Spring. Easter. Forsythia joy.

A time when we truly believe the One seated on the throne, saying, “I am making everything new!” [Revelation 21:5]

___________

with joy,

Diana J.

___________

Photo Credits. Forsythia Blossoms top photo – Google Images, Magnolia Bud centre image – Photographed by M. Steele, Our Forsythia Shrub Gift bottom image – Photographed by D. Johnson.                                                                     

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Faith That Counts?

What pleases God the most? Believing in Him? Acting out our faith by doing things in His name? The faith / works discussion is an old one, and now as Christian believers caught in busyness of fastest-paced-world, we find there’s the tendency to separate belief and actions as we shrink from adding more ‘doing’ to our daily schedule.

And yet, as people created in God’s image and guided by His own Spirit, we know that these two, faith and deeds, must work together and that a stagnant static Christian life is not His plan for us. Somehow we understand that faith without works is useless.

We may talk a lot about our faith, how we “have a strong faith”, and yes, our God is the God of communication – of words. He is, in fact, The Word of truth.

And He is the God of action. Creating. Bringing forth. Showing. Sending. Saving. In a word, Loving.

In his New Testament book, God allows James to set us straight, as he gets down to the nitty gritty of what being a true Christ follower ought to look like.

“What good is faith without showing it by your actions?” What good is saying I’m a Christian, (one of Christ’s ones) if my life doesn’t act that out. “Do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything?” – James 2:14 (Msg)

I think I want to meet James in heaven, but at the same time I’m sort of afraid to. I think that he and my husband could end up being best buds, as one of his love languages is ‘acts of service’. For them, I wonder if it’s just a ‘no-brainer’.  I am gift-giver, but tend to be fairly selective in this regard, which James would surely frown on. And I know I do a lot of talking and not enough practicing what I preach.

As I read James, I feel that he is not just for honest examination of our faith or our works, but about realizing how they play out together in a non-duplicitious way in daily living, especially when we’re ‘under pressure’ or when satan tries to trip us up using our weakest vices.

“Are the ways my faith is acted out daily pleasing to God the Father, or not?” A “seamless unity of believing and doing”, as Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase puts it in verse 25? I want to answer yes, but cannot.  And yet I believe that God cares deeply about me and what I’m doing every moment of every day. I want Him to look at my life – the things I believe AND my actions, and activities, and say, “Way to go, child, you just make me happy.”

I want Jesus to see that I’m living like a thankful redeemed one, seeing His love and naming His grace in my life, and joyfully demonstrating that love and grace to those around me so they can know it too.

And the Spirit? Am I quenching / grieving the living Spirit of God – promised to each person who believes as our Divine supernatural helper, to teach us, to bring us together with other believers, and to give us strength for, and in, the doing.

The questions I ask myself as I think about James’ challenge, can send me on a guilt trip pretty quickly, if I forget that I am loved exactly as I am and where I am right now, and that as my heart desires more of God, He will teach and equip me to live a life that pleases Him – to be and do more for Him where He places me and to those He calls me to serve.

I want the Spirit to use God’s Word to teach me how to mesh believing and acting together in my life in new ways, but I wonder how I can do things differently. What does faith in action look like in my daily life? Why does the thought of that ‘seamless unity of believing and doing’ arouse fear and doubt? Knowing what the bible teaches – thinking about God’s promises – ought to make it easy, but I seem to always get myself in the way of it. I beat myself up thinking that if I only had more faith, I’d be a better Christian. A more useful child of the King. “Poor me, if I only had enough faith…”

And the enemy of God and of our souls quite likes it that way, the self-centred way, to be sure.

Satan, the master of doubt, second-guessing, and deception, also wants me to remain complacent, and so he coaxes me to believe it’s a waste of time to desire to be of use for the kingdom of heaven. “Do you really think that anything you do will make a real difference? Why bother?!”

And if we listen, we subtract action from the faith equation until we are left with ‘dead faith’ according to James, which is exactly the result satan desires. My faith without works equals a dying belief that God can do anything He says he can do.

Of course, when we step out in faith and in love, satan is quickly proved wrong, as we see God at work in and through us in this world in amazing and awe-inspiring ways, which strengthens our faith and spurs us on to good works.

James may be telling us that we make it too complicated, and that faith and works are easy partners in concert. As simple as cause and effect. Think of the way he explains in chapter one that trials test our faith and develop our endurance, resulting in inner strengthening, and promised joy no matter the circumstance as we thank God for the patience and wisdom he is growing in us.

Or the way James explains that listening and looking steadily into God’s Word, remembering it and doing what it says, sets us free and God will bless us for that obedience.

Abraham. Rahab. The two examples James uses in chapter two, describe people who believed God, subsequently and unhesitatingly acting out that belief as His friends in this world. Obedience following adoration. Partners in concert. Cause and effect. Incredible love for and trust in their Maker. Seen by their actions which spoke louder than words, “God, You are worthy of my obedience. You have asked me to do this thing, and I will do it.” True worshipers, their faith and actions recorded for us as examples in God’s book.

A faith fruitful in works, is a faith that believes that God is for us and not against us. A faith that knows we have been made friends of God. A faith that knows how to both receive and practice the sacrificial love of God. Love is the key to seeing faith at work in a person’s life. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love”, says Jesus. And what Jesus said prior to that encapsulates the reason why a faithful life fruitful in good works does not only benefit the lives we are able to touch in His name, but this kind of living is itself an act of worship to God. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” [John 15:8-10]

The offering of a thank-filled, grace-recognizing life, which He in turn overflows with gifts of His love, joy, peace, and hope to those in whose midst he chooses to place us. Faith in action. Living faith. Faith that counts.

_______
Diana E. Natalie Johnson
February 22, 2012
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Down To The Lowest Places

Today’s entry italicized below is excerpted from the chapter ‘Go Lower’ in Anne Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, which has had great impact on my life during the past several months, and for the rest of my life is sure to influence how I respond to circumstance on a daily basis in light of God’s grace.

These are thoughts to ponder as I prepare my own heart for Christmas – celebrating God’s great gift of grace – His own joy story.

How often do I stop in given moments, get down on my knees and with hands wide open to receive God’s grace, accept the gift of now as it is?

Can I open the clenched fists and acquiesce to God? Do I to choose to give thanks – and in doing so, to receive the miracle of supernatural joy – gift from the Spirit of God alone? The river of joy that flows down, down, down to the lowest places.

"Let this happen to me as You say!" Luke 1:38

                                                               Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing – and are filled. This breath! This oak tree! This daisy! This work! This sky! These people! This place! THIS DAY! SURPRISE!

                                                                                                                                                               C.S. Lewis said he was “surprised by joy.” Perhaps there is no way to discover joy but as surprise?

     The way the small [children] live. Every day.

     Yes, the small even have a biblical nomenclature. Doesn’t God call them the humble?

     The humble live surprised. The humble live by joy.

     I am ear and Jesus whispers to the surprised, “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth” (Matthew 5:5). The humble are the laid-low and bowed ones, the surprised ones with hands open to receive whatever He gives.

     He hands them the earth.

     The earth.

     But is it any wonder? That word humility itself comes from the Latin root humus – the kind of earth that grows good crops. God gives the earth to the humus-people, the humble ones. Humility is that good humus that grows gratitude that yields abundant joy.

     In the upside-down kingdom of heaven, down is up and up is down, and those who want to ascend higher must descend lower. And so “anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:4). Later I read the words of F.B. Meyer. They wring me and I think about the earth and the knees and the things I never knew:

I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other, and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we should reach them. I find now that God’s gifts are on shelves beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower, and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts. 1

     To receive God’s gifts, to live exalted and joy filled, isn’t a function of straining higher, harder, doing more, carrying long the burdens of the super-Pharisees or ultra-saints. Receiving God’s gifts is a gentle, simple movement of stooping lower.

     Is this, too, why I’m often joy starved? Why a narcissistic, gluttonous world lives emaciated? But the humble joy of a small child? This I had witnessed . . . . .

. . . . . I whisper in worn words, new in revelation: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:20). I knew my soul need magnify Him, but of the flesh minimizing? And there it is bent over laundry, that humility isn’t burden or humiliation or oppressive weight but humility is the only posture that can receive the wondrous grace gifts of God – God who humbled Himself and came to the feed trough . . . . .

. . . . .  And in that place of humble thanks, God exalts and gives more gifts and more of Himself, which humbles and lays the soul down lower. And good God responds with greater gifts of grace and even more of Himself. And I ride the undulating wave of grace, the surging crest of joy, and this plunging lower and lower in humble thankfulness only to rise yet higher in grace and this eucharisteo, it offers the ultimate joy ride and I don’t think I ever want to get off. Is this why the oil jars of joy never run dry, but endlessly refill? He must increase and I must decrease – not because that is burden but so that my joy might increase with more of Him! I kneel down to toss in the laundry . . . . .

     . . . . . Down, always down, water runs, always looking for yet lower places to flow. I watch water run and spiritual water must flow like this . . . always seeking always the lowest places . . . I must go lower. I tell myself this, watching water run. That whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water and I must kneel low in thanks. The river of joy flows down to the lowest places . . . . .

. . . . . Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and wisper surprised thanks . . . Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of HIS love. I can trust.

     I can let go.

     I hadn’t known that joy meant dying.

     . . . . . To be nothing in the flesh and Christ might be everything in the soul, to follow after Jesus who “humbled himself and became obedient to death . . .” (Philippians 2:8), to follow Christ to the table of eucharisteo, the table of surrender that gives thanks for what is given – this is joy! True humility is self-smallness to the point of “blessed self-forgetfulness” and what could bring more happiness than emptying of self-will and being wholly immersed in the will of God for this moment? Joy – it’s always obedience.

     . . . . . Only self can kill joy.

. . . . . Eucharisteo makes the knees the vantage point of a life and I bend and the body, it says it quiet: “Thy will be done.” This is the way a body and mouth say thank you: Thy will be done. This is the way the self dies, falls into the arms of Love.

. . . . . This is why. This is why the fight for joy is always so hard.

. . . . . and Jesus comes soft, “Thy will be done is My own joy story, child, from beginning to end.”

     And I think of Jesus’ beginning. His supernatural conception. His mother bends the knee and submits her will to God’s: “Let this happen to me as You say!” (Luke 1:38). This is a woman, a womb, a hand humbly opening to the perfect will of God. Jesus’ mother sings over the dividing cells of His divinity: “How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl…..He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things.” (Luke 1:47-48, 52-53). In Mary’s humility – her willingness to die to her expectations and plans – God exalts her. In her submissiveness to His will, He fills her emptiness with fullness of Himself. Her refrain of humble, surrendered gratitude quietly sings through all ages.

     I think of the end of His earthly life. Jesus Himself bends the knee in a garden and weeps HIs own song: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He opens wide His mouth and accepts; He will drink this cup of suffering too. Why? For the greater joy. Joy now, joy forever. Conceived in grateful humility, Jesus faces death in grateful humility. And I hear it soft to, what all His life speaks: Joy is in the acquiescing.

     . . . . . And I humbly open my hand to release my will to receive His, to accept His wind. I accept the gift of now as it is – accept God – for I can’t be receptive to God unless I receive what He gives.

______________________

Down, down, down. Down to the lowest places His Spirit wind blows, rippling and refreshing and reassuring that His presence is enough. Down to the low places flow the rivers of God’s grace. To where I have decreased and He has increased. To where I am nothing and he is everything.

I, the God of Israel, will never forsake them. I will open up rivers for them on high plateaus. I will give them fountains of water in the valleys. In the deserts they will find pools of water. Rivers fed by springs will flow across the dry, parched ground. Everyone will see this miracle and understand that it is the LORD, the Holy One of Israel…  

(Isaiah 41:17-20 ESV/NLT)

____________________

1. Quoted in G.B.F. Hallock, “The Cultivation of Humility,” Herald and Presbyter 90 (December 24, 1919):8

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A River Glorious

An old hymn came to mind this evening. Written in 1876 by Frances Ridley Havergal, Like A River Glorious was one of my favourites to sing on Sunday mornings when I was young. The music for the hymn was composed by James Mountain. What a great name for a worship music writer!

I can relate to the circumstance Frances Havergal found herself in when she wrote the words to the hymn. She had a severe cold and inflammation of the lungs. She was so sick they thought she would die. My lungs were always my weak spot in my body. I remember time spent in the hospital in a ‘oxygen tent’. Since then I have endured several bouts of severe bronchitis throughout the years. There were times I thought I was going to die if I couldn’t clear my lungs and catch my breath.

Imagine in the late eighteen hundreds – there were no antibiotics, no vitamin C capsules, no pharmaceutical remedies or specialist doctors like we have so readily available to us today.

When Frances was told she was going to die, her response was, “If I am really going, it is too good to be true.” She didn’t just believe in God or heaven or life beyond our flesh, she really knew the One who promises us what comes next when we are found in His son Jesus.

Without doctors and modern medicine, Frances grew very frail in health, and eventually passed through that thin veil from time into eternity (mentioned in earlier blog entries) at the age of forty-two.

Her dying words were, “Come, Lord Jesus, come and fetch me.” I think that is totally awesome. Frances Havergal truly had a peace that passes all understanding, like Paul the apostle of Christ, and Timothy, talk about in the New Testament letter to the Philippians.

Here is France’s hymn. I thought it would be appropriate to post, since it sounds like the best river to be standing in right now. And it flows together with the themes of the previous entries, particularly the last stanza of the hymn.

Imagine a river that flows fuller and grows deeper every day. A place you can go where you are fully blessed with perfect peace and rest. Worry, care, and hurry cannot follow you there. A river where you never doubt the sun is right there behind every cloud.

Like a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace,                                                           Over all victorious, in its bright increase;                                                           Perfect yet it floweth fuller every day,                                                                 Perfect yet it groweth deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed,                                              Finding as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,                                                             Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;                                                                  Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,                                                                  Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Every joy or trial falleth from above,                                                                    Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;                                                                    We may trust Him fully all for us to do;                                                                  They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

1876, Frances Ridley Havergal

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment