Monday, December 17, 2007

Off the Back Burner

I've been hearing about "End Times" since I became a Christian about 25 years ago. There was a time when I was very much caught up in the idea that Jesus was coming back any day. Then it sort of got put on a back burner. I still believed it was true, but I wasn't so concerned about watching for all the signs.

Then last year my husband and I went to Israel. I stood on the Golan Heights, stared down at the Valley of Tears and thought, "This place is the pivot of history - past, present and most certainly too come."

Since then some things have happened that have rekindled my interest in those age old prophesies. The one that talks about miraculous things happening, for instance. I've been seeing a few miracles lately. These aren't the kind that come from a friend of a friend of a friend who knows someone who... these are healings that have happened to friends of mine - some of them almost family. These are people I know - people I trust. And they are miracles. Brain tumours don't just disappear on their own. People on their death bead don't usually suddenly get up and go home.

And then there's that news broadcast that talked about the "breakthrough peace agreement" in the Middle East. Well, we'll see.

Yes, we will see all of what the book of Revelation depicts. I suspect it may be quite different from what we think it will be like, but there is one certainty - you won't want to be a stranger to Christ when that day arrives.

It makes me think of those I love who don't know Him yet. And that makes me shiver. I want to shout, Come Lord Jesus, but I also want to shout, Not yet, not yet!

It could be any day. It really could.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Window Shopping

The street twinkled with Christmas lights. Our boots crunched on a skiff of snow that had fallen the night before and my daughters and I smiled and laughed as we window shopped, chatting about possible gifts for members of our family. It was fun window shopping – oohing and ahhing over the bright Christmas displays and pointing out things we liked. Now and then we’d see something we all thought was particularly ugly and we’d all groan at the same time. Now and then the display in the window was enough to draw us into the store.

Window shopping is fun, but it can’t beat being able to walk into the store and buy the perfect gift. It can’t beat taking it home and wrapping it in bright paper, knowing it will soon make your loved one’s eyes light up when they open it. It can’t beat the feeling of anticipation as you put it under the tree.

As we turn to spiritual things during the Christmas season, too often many of us just window shop. On the internet it’s called lurking. We look but don’t buy, we listen but don’t participate. Standing on the outside looking in has its advantages. We believe it’s a safe place – God can’t ask anything of us if we don’t make a commitment. We won’t have to change if we stay on the edge and stay quiet.

But window shoppers never get to feel the excitement of finding the perfect gift. Lurkers never get to express their feelings and thoughts – no relationship develops with other people of like mind. Similarly, those who do not make a commitment to Christ never know the joy of the gift of salvation. They are never able to dialogue with Jesus as a friend, a brother, a saviour. Too many are missing the perfect gift – the gift of Jesus himself.

Are you window shopping but never buying? Are you lurking but never participating?
Find the true joy of Christmas this year. Step inside where it’s warm. Find that perfect gift and take it home. The perfect gift is Jesus Christ and He’s waiting for you.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Longing in Our Hearts

Some time ago I watched a video that I'd heard a lot about. People said it was inspiring. They said I just had to watch it. Sometimes I ignore these kinds of messages, but eventually I gave in and clicked into UTube to see what all the fuss was about.

The small screen showed a rather plumb, unassuming middle aged man with crooked teeth. He stood at a microphone looking decidedly unsure of himself. Then the camera panned to four judges watching him. Their expression seemed to say, "Okay, let's just get this over with." Finally one of them asked why he was there. "To sing opera," he said simply. The judges smirked. I think one of them rolled his eyes. But they let him go ahead.

Then the man opened his mouth. The judges' jaws dropped. The man's voice boomed out as he sang from his heart and soul. Some in the audience began to weep. So did one of the judges. When he was done the audience was on its feet cheering for the cell phone salesman who had just demonstrated that you can't always tell a book by its cover.

The man's name was Paul Potts and he went on to win the competition called Britain's Got Talent. He's a star now, singing around the world and recording cd's. His is a fairytale success story that has captured the imagination of millions around the world. It made me wonder why. Why have so many, and I count myself among them, responded so strongly to Mr. Potts' performance? I think it's because all of us have a tiny part in us that says, "there's something great in me, if I can just find a way to let everyone see it." Some might call that 'delusions of grandeur.' I think it's something more. I think it's a deep belief that we are more than we seem to be.

And we are. When God created the first man he "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7). He also created him "in his own image" (Gen. 1:27). Man is much more than just a bunch of bones, tissue and blood. We were created to house the very spirit of God himself, to be a temple and in a sense a representative of God. I think we all feel that, even long for it to be fulfilled - it's a longing for the nobility, the beauty, even the glory we were intended to have.

Every now and then we get a glimpse of it - as that audience did when Paul Potts sang. We respond to it, we stand to our feet and applaud it, and we weep because we long for it.

And it's more than a longing to be greater than we are. I believe it's a longing for God. That audience will remember Mr. Potts' performance but it will only serve to intensify the longing in them. Only a relationship with God will satisfy it, only striving to be like Him will fulfill it. The longing will never completely go away until we are face to face with our Lord, but when we connect with the One who put that longing in our hearts, and serve Him by acting according to His plan for our lives, there is a joy and fulfillment that can come from no other source.

That short video of Paul Potts made me weep. I will always have that longing in my heart, because I am a child of God yet separated from Him. My encouragement comes from walking the path He has laid out for me and feeling His presence with me. My hope lies in the reality that one day we will be reunited.

Go here to view the video of Mr. Potts. You might want to have a box of Kleenex handy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

War Story

In Honour of all war veterans and my Dad -

My father would never talk much about the war. For many years he refused to watch T.V. programs about it, be they comedies or documentaries. He became very uneasy on armistice day. Over the years I was able to find out a bit about his experiences, and to understand why he wanted to forget.

He spent the first years of the war in Canada, working as a clerk in the RCAF. There's a picture of him in uniform, brandishing a rifle, smiling proudly, the Halifax harbour behind him. Then he was moved to England where he again worked at a desk. There's a picture of him on a golf course in Ireland. Then the war was over, and somehow my father was sent to Germany with the occupation forces. Somehow he found himself with the liberation army at the gates of Bergen-Belsen. It was at that point, after the allies had won and the World War was over, that my father's war began.

He would never say what it was specifically that caused it to happen. Perhaps he looked too long into the face of one man, a man his own age, whose eyes were glazed with hunger and shadowed with pain, a man who looked a hundred years old, 'though he was only twenty. Perhaps my father looked into another face, one without any sign of emotion, of anguish nor compassion, a face which, though living, was dead. Perhaps he could not stop staring at the piles of dead bodies, the bones and skulls, or perhaps he was required to record the numbers, the unfathomable numbers. Perhaps he could not bear the smell from the crematoriums or perhaps it was the smiles, the smiles of survivors who welcomed their deliverers in silence. He would never say what it was, but something that day, in that place, made my father's mind stop. It stopped and could not go beyond the horror, the fear, the guilt.

I don't know how long he was in the psychiatric hospital. I know he was afraid to leave it, afraid even to go for a walk beyond the doors of the building. I know he could not sleep, that loud sounds sent him screaming. I know when he did leave and return home to his wife and children, he had not conquered his fears but buried them in a shallow grave. Many times they were resurrected and continued to plague him. I know in some ways he remained an unreachable stranger, even to those who had been closest to him.

Time heals and memories fade, but my father, that young man from Canada who never fired a gun in battle, would never talk much about the war. There are those who say we must talk about it, that the memories must never be allowed to fade, for if we forget such a past, the future will be in peril. They are right, but I wonder about the hope to which they cling. Will a generation that has not seen with its' own eyes nor felt with its' own heart have the courage, should circumstances demand, to stand and say with determination, "No. Never again?" Will all the television documentaries, all the books, all the trials be in vain after all? Perhaps that particular history will never repeat itself. But what about the other histories being lived now in so many parts of our world? Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Asia ...... Are we doing all we can to say no, or are we too comfortable, never having had to fire a gun in battle? Perhaps the real danger lies, not in forgetting the past, but in ignoring the present.

For more on WW2 go to

Friday, November 09, 2007

Standing Still

We had our first snowfall a few nights ago. We woke to a thick layer of the white stuff coating our yard and making the streets and sidewalks slippery. I must admit I wasn't particularly happy to see winter arrive, but as we drove down the highway later that day I had to admit it was beautiful. The sun had come out, making the landscape shine as the rays bounced off the fresh coat of snow.

Not far from our home the highway crosses a good sized river. Large Spruce trees line the banks and the hill rising above it. Seeing their dark forms outlined in white made me want to be among them, standing still in the middle of that dark forest. It reminded me of earlier days when I used to go cross-country skiing in a large park. The trails we skied ran for miles into deep forests of large pine and spruce trees. Often there were few people that far out and I remember many times taking a few moments to stop and just stand in the midst of that forest, breathing in the scent and the quiet and just loving being there. As we whisked by that forested hillside the other day it made me realize how long it's been since I did something like that. It's been too long and I have felt the lack of it in my life.

There's a short verse in the Bible that we are all too apt to miss. It's in the middle of Psalm 46 that speaks of our Mighty God - a God who is all powerful and sovereign over all the earth. That small verse says - "Be still and know that I am God" (Ps.46:10).

Our lives are so busy in this modern world that we don't often take the time to walk in a deep woods, to be still and take in the beauty of our world, or to take in the awesomeness of God. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we feel the lack of taking that time in our lives. Some of us don't even know how to be still. We are so used to going at a frenetic pace that slowing down leaves us feeling uncomfortable and even irritable. Road rage is evidence of the fact. High blood pressure and stress related diseases bear witness.

In a spiritual sense, we often are so busy "working for the Lord" that we don't take time to enjoy Him. We will feel the lack of that in our lives too. We will suddenly wonder why we're working so hard, why we don't feel refreshed, why we don't feel the presence of God anymore. It won't be long before we are feeling dry and burned out.

Perhaps it's time for us all to be still. Go stand in the middle of a deep dark forest resplendent with snow. Or stand by a roaring ocean and watch the waves crash. Or stand in a quiet room and know God is there beside you - the God of the universe who is sovereign over all.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A little Blue

I'm a little blue today. Things have been hectic at our house. I'm trying to start up a new business, trying to write when I can, trying to be patient while my husband finishes building the office in our basement, trying not to get depressed when I hear my publisher say "sales are down by 30% this year." Great time to launch a book, hey?

And a good friend emailed yesterday to tell me her husband has advanced cancer and has only a short time to live.

And it snowed today.

So I'm kind of blue, kind of cranky, more than kind of heartsick for my friend.

Sometimes life just seems like one long uphill road on a mountain covered in fog. Thank God sometimes the sun breaks through. Thank God sometimes He breaks through and lets us know this isn't all there is. It's about so much more - it's like Mt. McKinley - you can live right beside it and only see the base most of the time. Then every once in a while the fog clears and you just can't stop looking up.

Lord, help me to keep looking up.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

From Grey to Glorious

It was one of those mornings that don’t start off very well. My alarm clock didn’t work and my husband forgot that I had to be up early to make it to an appointment, so he didn’t wake me. When I finally opened my eyes, I had just enough time to throw on some clothes and rush out the door. I made it to the appointment, but by the time it was over my stomach was growling and I was pining for a cup of decaf. So, true to the traditions of my country and culture, I headed for Tim Hortons donut shop.

The line for the drive-through was long, as usual, and I wasn’t any too patient by the time I gave my order at the speaker-phone. As I edged forward to pick up my coffee and breakfast sandwich, I was digging in my purse for money and not paying too much attention to where I was going. No, I didn’t bump into the car ahead of me, but I did not see what was going on around me either.

I didn’t see them until I was right in front of them - two little boys, perhaps four or five years old, dressed in identical blue shirts. They were blonde, with huge blue-eyes and toothless grins. They were waving with great enthusiasm as the cars filed by the large windows. My reaction was immediate – I burst into a smile of my own, laughed out loud in fact, and waved enthusiastically back. It was then I noticed that the crowd inside the restaurant was taking great delight in watching the reaction of those driving by. Everyone was smiling.

I imagine God’s delight at those two little boys, who, just by being themselves, brightened the day of everyone around them. I imagine He was pleased because they were just being who He had made them to be – a blessing to others.

We delight Him in that way too. He has made us to be a blessing to one another, as the writer of Ephesians said – “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Every time we bless someone around us, He is blessed.

It doesn’t take much – often just a smile or an encouraging word is enough to turn someone’s day from gray to glorious. All we have to do is be who we were made to be. Those two little boys were doing it. We can too.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

An Exciting Discovery

Some time ago I made an exciting discovery. I got so excited about it I called my husband into the office so I could show him. He smiled indulgently but looked like he thought I was overreacting just a bit.

I’ve been critiquing and editing manuscripts for writers for some time. I would usually do the edits on a hard copy of the manuscript, then transfer them onto the computer and send the finished product to the writer. The task was laborious since it is important for the writer to see the changes I make and in some cases, understand my reasoning. I used the highlight feature as well as the font colour feature on the computer, making the changes as I went, then highlighting and putting comments in red. This required continually clicking buttons and using the mouse.

Then one day I joined an online critique group. Each person submitted a story and all the others critiqued it. As we got started someone asked how to put the changes right into the manuscript. I was about to send a message explaining my method when I read a message from another group member. He explained that all you have to do is hit the Tools button and click on ‘track changes.’ The computer does everything for you! I immediately pulled up an old manuscript and tried it. That’s when I got excited. This little discovery has saved me a lot of time and ‘fiddling.’

In my own defense I must explain that I am self-taught on the computer. I have never taken a course, but learned by doing. For the most part that has worked fine, but when I discovered this tracking feature it made me wonder what else I’ve been missing. Maybe it’s time I investigated all the features the program designers put into my computer. Maybe it’s time I discovered how it’s meant to be used. There are probably a few other things I’ve been doing the hard way.

Sometimes we go through life the same way. We are self-made, self-taught and self-focused. Usually, that means we’ve been doing things the hard way. Maybe it’s time we discovered our designer had a different plan. Maybe it’s time we discovered what that plan is. God has provided everything we need to live our lives according to His plan. The Apostle Paul knew this when he wrote to the Philippians – “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Did you notice that last phrase? That’s the important part, the part that can mean the difference between living life the hard way, and living life with abundant joy. In Christ Jesus. Why do things the hard way?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Sing with Me - How Great is Our God

The other day I wrote about my daughter's wedding and watching my new son-in-law as he awaited his bride. I likened it to the way Jesus waits for us and how joyful we will be when we are joined to Him.

This morning I read the first devotional in a book I just picked up by John Piper - Taste and See. The devotional talks about how we would be transformed when we realize how much God delights in us. At the end of the piece he quotes Isaiah 62:4-5 - I was struck by the words - "You shall no more be termed Forsaken and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is In Her and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you ... As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you."
The words reminded me of when I first became a Christian. That's exactly how I felt -as though I had been a barren dessolate land and now had been claimed, made fruitful and as joyful as a new bride. My story is here, if you'd like to read more about that.

I also take great comfort in the fact that this is present tense. God is doing all of that now - delighting over us each moment, loving us as only He can. Another verse Piper quoted - Jeremiah 32:40-41 - "I will make with them an everlasting covenanat that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good ... with all my heart and all my soul."

That last sentence astounds me - that God would pour all of his heart and soul into doing something for me, into rejoicing over me! It's hard to wrap my mind around that.

It makes me want to sing that song - How great is our God, How great is our God - oh sing with me, How great, how great is our God!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Don't Spurn the Small Stuff

The auditorium was jammed with thousands of eager listeners. The woman on the platform was a high-profile speaker. Her books and other resources filled three tables in the foyer and much of it had already been snapped up by her fans.

I too was eager to listen. I wanted to hear about Jesus. But it did not appear that I was going to get what I wanted that night. I confess I had a skeptical attitude as I watched her begin her presentation. So when she started to rant about how the men of her church had tried to hold her back, I got more than a little irritated. But it was when she made a statement about her previous ministry that I got angry. She said, “If I had listened to them I’d still be back there teaching six people in a tiny living room instead of up here on this stage teaching thousands.”

I felt like screaming. I was one of the many – probably a large percent of that audience – who were teaching six people, sometimes four or even two, in a tiny living room. Did that not count? Was my ministry a waste of time because it wasn’t broadcast on cable T.V.? Was this high-profile woman more valuable as a teacher of the gospel than I was because she was reaching thousands?

It seems our culture would answer yes, but I don’t believe Jesus would. He chose a small isolated country in which to make his first appearance. The synagogues in which he spoke were usually small. His close group of disciples numbered only twelve. He never once appeared on T.V.

I confess there have been times when I’ve wished for more of an audience. When I received an e-mail from a friend on the mission field telling me she had fifty women turn out for her Bible Study, I was jealous and even thought, “Lord, what am I doing here?”

But then I went to my Bible Study. The hostess was a recent widow and often expressed her gratitude that we always met in her home so she didn’t have to drive at night. Another woman was having serious struggles in her marriage and said it was that tiny group that kept her from walking away from the church and from God. Another was a brand new Christian, still in awe of what the Bible said and of this amazing God named Jesus Christ.

I came home that night and thanked Him for the privilege of meeting with those women each week, to learn about the scriptures with them and from them, to share what God was saying to me and what He was doing in my life, to listen to what He was saying to them and doing in their lives.

I’ve repented of my anger at that high-profile speaker. God is undoubtedly working His will in and through her. Perhaps she is where God has put her. And I am content in knowing that I am where God has put me – in a small town, a small church, a small Bible Study group. I pray that I will never ever spurn the small stuff.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wedding Day

It all began with green balloons. My middle daughter had ordered them as a surprise for her older sister who was to be married that day. But there was a problem. Someone had to be at the park to meet the balloon lady. My husband and I volunteered.

Three thirty on the afternoon of the wedding found us circling the park to keep the air- conditioning going in our car. Finally a van showed up, filled with six dozen large lime green helium filled balloons. That’s when we discovered how fragile helium balloons are. If they touched the trees they’d pop. If they touched the grass they’d pop. So okay, we’ll just hold onto them. Well, no, if they expand in the heat they’ll pop! We could not fit 72 balloons in our car, so we convinced the balloon lady to wait.

As often happens at weddings, however, things had gotten behind schedule and she finally said she had to leave. So we carefully deposited the balloons on the grass behind a large bush, to keep the wind from blowing them away. Then we sat in our air-conditioned car and guarded them, praying none would pop.

In a little while I saw a young mom with three small children and two dogs heading in our direction. You could tell the moment those kids saw the balloons. They started running. So did their dogs. So did I. They stopped dead when they saw me, giving their mom time to catch up and when I explained we were waiting for the bride and groom, the mom led her brood away. I was thankful both her children and dogs were obedient.

The look on the bride’s face made the wait and the inconvenience all worthwhile. She was totally surprised and delighted and it made their photo shoot a lot of fun. As we drove away I thought, well, that’s what the parents of the bride are for, right? And we were delighted to delight her.

Then I thought about the Lord, when it’s time for Him to come for His bride. I thought about how much he wants to delight us, to take us to His home and love us as only He can. Later that evening, as I watched my new son-in-law wait with great anticipation for the moment when his bride would walk toward him, I thought of how good our God is, to wait so patiently for us, to love us that much. And as joyful as the day was for all of us, I knew it was nothing compared to the joy we will all know on that day when Jesus comes for us.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

God Doesn’t Go “Poof”

The other night I went to see the latest box office rage, Evan Almighty. I enjoyed the first film, Bruce Almighty, produced by Tom Shadyac, so decided to try the second. The comedy had some hilarious moments - like when God suddenly appears in the back seat of the main character’s vehicle and he screams in fear. God says, “Let it out, son, it’s the beginning of all wisdom.” And then there were a couple of scenes that brought God’s truth to the wide screen.

Like the scene at a restaurant, when God shows up as the waiter. He chats with the wife of the man who would be Noah, and tells her (I’m relying on my memory here, so the words may not be exact) – “If a person prayed for patience, do you think God would just go “poof” and give her patience? Or do you think God would give her the circumstances in which to develop patience? And say a person had prayed that her family would draw closer together – do you think God would just magically make that happen or would He put that family in circumstances that gave them the opportunity to be closer?” The woman sees the wisdom of his words and goes back to her husband.

I’ve been thinking about the truth in that scene, in light of my own prayer requests lately. For instance, in light of my prayers for my writing, specifically my new book, One Smooth Stone. It’s not likely that God will go “poof” and make it an instant overnight success. But He will create the circumstances around that work that will lead me and teach me much. It will be an opportunity to learn and grow both in terms of the world of publishing, and in terms of my relationship with Him. It’s another example of how God is often not so much concerned with the end result as with the process.

And that brings me to the difference in our perspectives and the need for me to adjust
mine. I want to see my book on the best seller’s list. God wants to see it change lives. I want to become known as a writer. God wants me to know Him more.

I’m thankful for the reminder. And I’m thankful that I know God well enough to trust Him with the process. As he said to Evan – and to me through that crazy comedy – “I’m doing it because I love you.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Almost There?

I plunked down into the largest, most comfortable chair in our family room, looked around me and groaned. "Will we ever be ready?" I asked my husband. He chuckled. "Almost there," he said, "Almost there." I didn't like that word 'almost,' but I recognized he was right. Even though the house looked like a hurricane had struck, with tools and cans of paint scattered everywhere, boxes half full and bags brimming to the top, I did concede that we were getting closer to our goal. The house is almost ready to show to a realtor.

It's been two months or more of constant work, laying new rug, washing and painting walls, replacing doors, fixing and adding trim, sorting through closets and drawers and making umpteen trips to local shops in search of boxes. And I concede it has all been worth the effort. Our home is looking so good I'd like to stay and live in it for a while longer! But that is not to be. It's time to move on.

Our spiritual life can often seem like this same process. Sometimes we look at what seems like the chaos of our lives and we think, will we ever be ready to meet the Lord? We put in a lot of work and effort, doing what we think is expected of us as Christians. Sometimes we can see good results and are encouraged, but often it seems like we take two steps forward and three back. So we try harder and over time we can see that we are making progress. We might even start to think we're almost there.

But we're wrong. Working hard at the spiritual disciplines is a good thing, but if we believe that's what is going to get us 'there,' we've slipped into a mentality that denies the power of the gospel and the power of what Christ did for us on the cross. You see there is nothing we can do to get there - nothing we can do to make God love us more - nothing we can do to make us worthy of entering into the presence of Jesus and His Father. Nothing.

Jesus has done it for us, by sacrificing his life, shedding his blood and taking on our sin so that we are able to stand justified before God Almighty. The astonishing mystery of that act is the pivot of history, the pivot of our very lives. The moment we recognize that Jesus died for us, we are free from having to work to 'get there.' We have already arrived.

All that we do from that moment on should not be from a sense of duty or need to do more to please God. It is rather an outpouring of our love for Him and the outpouring of His love through us. Perhaps the most profound and most effective phrase in scripture tells us this - "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10) That is the moment of arrival.

Is it time you moved on?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Incongruent Things
By Marcia Lee Laycock

Last Sunday I was struck by the image on our church bulletin. It's a picture of a clay pot, with a scripture verse below it. I think I liked it and was moved by it because I love incongruent things - things that somehow just don't fit. If you've been reading my column, the Spur, for long, you know I often use such things in my devotionals. This is another example.

You see the pot is quite ugly - it's wrapped in burlap and has a twist of jute around its neck. It has no handles, and the neck looks a little too tall for the rounded base. But these are the words that go with it - "He shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2Timothy 2:21). The context of the scripture is well known. The Apostle Paul is warning his apprentice, Timothy, not to associate with "ignoble things." He is telling him to avoid "godless chatter." He goes on to exhort him to "preach the word." All good advice for us to follow.

But that's not what struck me when I saw that picture and read that scripture. (Which I suppose goes to show that we must be careful how we handle the Word). What struck me was another truth that I believe all of us can testify to. We've all heard the expression, God uses cracked pots. The pot in that picture does not look like a "vessel unto honour" or an "instrument for noble purposes," as the NIV reads. The pot looks very common, very un-noble. It also looks well used.

Many of us tend to think that God will only use the 'giants' of Christendom to accomplish His purposes - those who are especially gifted - those who can speak well, write well and present themselves well. But God is not limited by our perspectives. He sees the heart, and looks for one that is humble before Him. That is all He needs to work mighty things.

We see this principle over and over again in the Bible. David was the youngest in his family, a mere shepherd boy when God chose him to be king of Israel. The woman at the well was an outcast in her town when God chose her to lead many to Jesus. The apostles were ordinary fishermen when He called them to be the leaders of His church.

Though we do not always look nor act 'noble,' God can and will use us to accomplish His purposes. Though we often fail and have motives that are less than pure, God can and will continue to teach us and lead us into places of amazing discovery and profound service. That fact gives me great hope. It also makes me want to bend my knee before a Saviour who extends such amazing love and grace to us all.

He is, indeed a God who loves the incongruent things in life. In fact, He created them - things like you and me.

Monday, May 07, 2007

That's Just Life

That’s Just Life
By Marcia Lee Laycock

As I waited in the line-up at the post office the other day I overheard a conversation that is quite common for this area of the world. One person asked after the other and the response was, “Fine, but too busy.” The other responded, “That’s just life here now, isn’t it?”

The comment arises from living in a province/county/town that is at the height of economic boom. We here in Alberta Canada have seen unprecedented growth in business, housing and population. As I zoomed into the traffic on our main highway the other day I had a moment of nostalgia for the days when it was not so. This fast pace takes its toll. I find I’m often rushing, often trying to think in several directions at once and often afraid that one base or another hasn’t been covered. And I realize it has indeed become, “just life” for me and those around me.

And then I realized that expression is really an oxymoron – something that does not, or should not, make sense. Life is not “just” anything – it’s all we have, a gift from God that should be cherished every moment, not lived at a pace that prevents us from truly experiencing it. When we live at that pace we risk missing life entirely – missing our family, our friends, the needs of those around us. And most important of all, we risk missing God and what He intends to bring into our lives each day.

At a retreat I attended recently the speaker commented that Jesus always lived in the moment. He lived life to its fullest every day, yet never rushed, never worried about what wasn’t being done, never fretting over tomorrow or tried to get ahead of himself. How did He do it? Jerusalem wasn’t so different from our here and now. It was a busy place of commerce, the crossroads for streams of journeying people. No doubt Jesus could have been, indeed was, a busy man. So what was different for Him?

The key, I believe lies in the words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in the book of John, Chapter 5. “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (v.30).

Jesus knew where His strength came from, where to go for peace, and who to listen to. He was so in love with His Father he wanted only to please Him. Jesus had a lot to do in a very short time, yet he did not rush – He knew His Father was in control of the timing. He worked with people who were slow to understand and constantly messed up - yet he did not get frustrated. He knew His Father loved them deeply and had sent Him to die for them. Jesus was ridiculed and scorned and ultimately handed over to those who hated Him – yet he never retaliated. He knew His Father was in control of the beginning and the end of His life.

In short, Jesus knew the Father. It made all the difference in His life and it makes all the difference in ours. It’s the difference between “just life” and “life to the full” (John 10:10).

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Long Lonely Road

I made a discovery this past weekend. There are not many people on the highways of northern Saskatchewan on a Sunday morning. My husband and I attended a conference in Melfort SK. and unfortunately he took ill on Saturday night so rather than attend the church service as planned, we decided to run for home. The Flu, or food poisoning had high-jacked our plans. It’s an eight hour drive so we left as soon as we were able Sunday morning.

I don’t usually like driving for that length of time; I have a hard time staying awake after three to four hours. I knew my husband would sleep most of the way, and I can’t drink regular coffee so I started praying that the Lord would keep me alert. I knew there would not be much to look at as we drove. Or so I thought.

It’s a rather melancholy time to drive the prairies. Everything is a pale tawny brown – no shoots of life showing yet. We saw a small group of pronghorn antelope – just in time to slow down and avoid hitting one of them. They were the colour of the prairie but for their distinctive white markings. The skies were the colour of lead and a faint haze often sprayed the windshield. The last of the snow had melted that week, leaving large pools of water on the surface of the ground. Birds were everywhere. We saw flocks of Canada geese, hundreds of ducks and large graceful white swans flying high on their way north.

As our vehicle sped across the prairie I thought of how tiny we would seem to those birds looking down from such a height. Compared to their fragility, I tended to think of us as the stronger entity, but then I thought of how they would see us. Our vehicle probably looked like a dinky toy, its noise muffled or perhaps even muted by the distance. To those birds, we were probably quite insignificant as they set about their purpose in migration. We weren’t even a small distraction to them.

Then I pondered how God sees us from on high. We aren’t a distraction to Him, either. We are his focus. How astounding to realize that! God’s eyes are continually on each of us, whether we are sitting in our living room, in a church sanctuary, or speeding across a lonely prairie at 100 kilometers an hour. He knows where we are, He’s watching out for us, and He cares where we are going.

King David’s psalm 121 states this plainly. He tells the people of Israel – “… the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Ps.121:8).

The Lord did keep me awake and alert on that lonely drive across the prairie. He gave me lots to see and lots to think about. Wherever we are, He is there - above us, before us, behind us and beside us. With us always. What a comfort!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Shovel on the Highway

Driving the highway between my home and a near-by city is something that has become a regular and rather boring experience. I usually read when my husband drives but when I have to do the driving I keep myself awake by watching for anything interesting on the side of the road.

One day I saw something that made me chuckle. A snow shovel was stuck upright out of a rather high snow bank. We’d had a lot of snow that week, but there was no sign that a vehicle had been stuck in the ditch. Seeing the shovel made me wonder what happened to the person who owned it. And what was he trying to do with it? The idea of trying to shovel the highway with such a small tool was ludicrous. I began to picture someone attempting such a feat, becoming overwhelmed and exhausted and in frustration abandoning the shovel in the bank.

Whatever had happened, that shovel kept my mind occupied all the way to the city. It made me think of how we, in our own strength try to do the Lord’s work. So many of us are attempting what is comparable to clearing a highway with a snow shovel! There is no way we can do it.

The Lord cautioned his disciples about this after his resurrection. He told them – “… wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Sprirt” (Acts 1:4,5). Jesus knew they could never accomplish the things he was about to ask of them unless they had the Holy Spirit to help them. He said – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Trying to clear a highway with a snow shovel is an impossible task. “But with God, all things are possible” (Matt.19:26). With God, we can do what seems impossible, without becoming overwhelmed or exhausted. The key is to rely on His Spirit, His strength and to tune in to what God is doing. When we see and recognize His hand at work, our load is instantly lighter and we are energized to go on. When we allow the Spirit to work through us we are encouraged by what He does and revitalized for the work.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Grand Spectacle

At a certain time of day, early in the evening, I make sure the curtains on the windows in our living room are open. I don’t want to miss the spectacle. Yes, right here in Ponoka, there’s a grand spectacle every evening. It’s a spectacle of promise.

We are fortunate enough to live on a street that is one-sided. There are houses on the east side, but not on the west. That side is still an undeveloped bush, full of birds, squirrels and deer. It’s there that the spectacle of promise happens. As the sun begins to drop, the light slants, hitting thousands of small catkins hanging from the trees. When the sun hits them, they glow, making the entire bush light up. It’s the promise of spring; the promise of new growth; the promise of the colour green.

As I have watched the glow become more and more intense day by day, I have been reminded of all the promises God has given us. They, too, are promises of new growth, rebirth and second chances. They are filled with words of love and protection, encouragement and comfort. They confirm the power of all believers to accomplish God’s purposes. They speak about God’s faithfulness, mercy and forgiveness and His desire for a continuing relationship with us. They outline the path to peace and everlasting life.

None of God’s promises are hidden. He has made a spectacle of them, displaying them for all to see. They glow like the catkins on the trees across from my house. They are promises that will never be broken.

The Apostle Paul knew this when he addressed the people of Corinth – “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” 2Corinthians 1:20

There is no duplicity in God. Just as we know those catkins will develop and bloom into bright green leaves, we can know that God is saying “yes,” to us. “Yes, I am here. Yes, I love you more than you can comprehend. Yes, I want you to get to know me. And yes, soon, very soon, we will be together.”

One promise that sums up all the others can be found in Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” All the promises, all the trials, all the events of our lives, are meant to culminate in what is good. For the believer, there is no doubt it will happen.

As spring creeps to its fulfillment, as we watch the earth bursting into new life around us. we can be confident that the same kind of life is growing in us. The same kind of renewal is possible. God is saying “Yes!”

May we all shout “Amen!”

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Once Again

There's a song by Matt Redman that says -

"Once again I look upon the cross where You died.
I'm humbled by Your mercy and I'm broken inside.
Once again I thank You, once again I pour out my life."

While in Israel we visited a heritage village. It was much like the heritage villages here in North America that portray past history in tableau, with real actors and working artifacts. This village was in Nazareth and was laid out to represent the town as it would have been in the time of Jesus.

The day we visited, it was raining - pouring rain, in fact - so we were the only people there. Most of the actors seemed to be keeping inside the small shelters, which didn't really keep them dry because the roofs were made of thatch and far from water-proof. We moved from one scene to the next - the potter's, the weaver's, the wine press, and finally the carpenter's shop.

It was here the fact that this was a representation of Jesus' home hit me. I looked at the tools, the kind of rough wood he would have worked with, and Jesus became more real to me.

Perhaps that's why one of the tableaus we saw next had such an impact. The figure at the centre was made of rough wood too, and was draped with a simple cloth. The lighting was subdued, flickering with small oil lamps, their tiny flames leaning toward the focal point of the display. The cross. The cross of Christ.

As the song says, once again I was struck by what Jesus suffered, what he endured for me. I was struck not just by the physical pain he was subjected to, but by the torture of having the sin of the world put upon His shoulders, the agony of knowing His Father was turning His face away.

And once again I became aware that there is nothing I can do to make it up to Him. No remorse, no penance, no acts of kindness. Nothing I do can repay that debt. And once again that act of pure mercy stuns me. The unconditional gift of love and forgiveness causes my heart to break. And that, I realize once again, is the only thing Jesus wants of me. A heart broken wide enough for Him to enter in.

Tomorrow is Good Friday. Once again thousands all over the world will gather to recognize that act of mercy and love - the death of Jesus on that cross. I pray that thousands of hearts will break wide enough.

"So they took Jesus and led him away. Carrying the cross by himself, Jesus went to the place called Skull Hill (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they crucified him" (John 19:16-18, NLT).

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Day I Made Cookies

There’s a saying that I’ve sometimes seen on bumper stickers – “Need a heart transplant? Turn to Jesus.”

I understand the intent of that saying, but I don’t agree with it. Jesus is not in the business of heart transplants. He’s in the business of heart transformations. I can testify to that because it has happened to me. More than once. I was reminded of one of those times when my husband asked a question during his sermon last Sunday. He asked, “What’s the hardest thing you have ever had to do?”

A couple of things came to mind – the day I froze, terrified of falling, half way across the Capilano Suspension Bridge in B.C., and the day I made cookies. That day on the bridge a friend came and pried my hands off the railings and forced me to walk with her to the far side.

The day I made cookies was a different thing entirely. We had built our log house on the banks of the Klondike River in the Yukon. We needed a well drilled and there was only one person in the area who could do it. I’ll call him Jack. I’d known Jack for a number of years. In fact I’d known him quite well, or thought I did. It was one of those times in a person’s life when the shock of betrayal results in hatred. I hated that man. If I saw him on the street I would cross to the other side. If he was in a gathering I attended, I would leave. Just the sight of him made my blood boil.

So when my husband told me he had hired him to drill our well, I was shaken. I would not be able to avoid him when he was working in my back yard. The thought made my stomach clench. I tried desperately to find some-one else who could drill our well, but Jack was the only person who had the machinery and the know-how.

The first day he came, I ignored him and stayed in the house. That’s when the Lord started working on my heart. I opened my Bible that morning and the verses spoke of forgiveness. I closed the book and didn’t bother to pray. The next day the verses were different but the theme was the same. I tried to pray, without much success. On the third day I thought the drilling would be finished but the machinery was giving Jack trouble. It was going to take longer than he had estimated. I did not have to wonder why.

When I opened my Bible that fourth day the conviction on my heart was so strong I could not resist it. “For the word of God is living and active Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joint and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). I wept and asked God to help me forgive. I prayed the machinery would work. It took another two days and by then, on the last day, I managed to make a plate of cookies and serve them to Jack with fresh coffee and a smile. That was the same day fresh clean water gushed from the ground. The significance did not escape me.

Yes, God is in the business of transforming hearts. He reaches into them with His word and His spirit and changes them.

Think you need to forgive someone? Turn to Jesus and he’ll give you a heart transformation.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What I See in Books

Every time I step into my office these days I am given cause to pause. We will be moving in about four months and the idea of having to sort and pack my books is more than a little daunting. My daughter says we should just put a sign on the lawn, 'House for Sale, Includes Library.' The cheek of some people's children!

I've been reading a wonderful children's book called The Book Thief. (A warning here, there is some bad language in this book). The main character is a young girl who steals her first book at her brother's graveside. Books become extremely important to her, as she lives in the midst of the madness of Germany in the 1930's and 40's.

Books mean a lot to me, too. I've never stolen one, but I confess when I was young I used to take them out of the library just to touch them, hold them, put them on a shelf and look at them. To me, they were, and are, icons of comfort and security. Lately I've been examining why. I suppose a good therapist could write a book about it. (I'd be willing to be the subject as long as I get a copy I can touch, hold and put on my shelf!)

Perhaps the attachment has to do with power. There is power in knowledge, they say, and the best way to gain knowledge is to read. Perhaps it has to do with ownership. Some people have to own a new car every year. Books are cheaper. Or perhaps it's security. A room full of books gives me the same feeling a pile of firewood did in the Yukon when it turned sixty below. The fear of being out in the cold is kept at bay for a while.

I know a lot of people who are like me - they love books, especially "good" books - and we have a lot of discussion about why we think a particular book is good. Finding a gem is reason for excitement among this group of people and, again, I've wondered why. What is it that makes us search for good books? Indeed, what is it that makes us search for goodness in anything?

I believe, whether we know it or not, we are searching for God. I believe this is a primary motivation inside me when I buy a book - books somehow give me a window into the mind and heart of God. Not all books do this, of course, but even the bad ones have their moments. Each being written by a man or woman whose essence is eternally connected to his/her creator, God is there. Sometimes His face shines from the pages. Sometimes it is a shadow that lurks. Sometimes it's a thread that ties the thing together or the glue that drips from the binding. You might not even be aware of it. The author might not even have been aware, but God is there and opening those pages reveals Him to us all. And it is God who provides true knowledge, true security.

I was telling my husband a bit about The Book Thief as we drove to a nearby city the other day. He asked me if it was a Christian book. "No," I said, "not at all."

But I see God in it. That's why I want to touch it, hold it, read it intently and keep it on my shelf.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Presenting Israel

As I sit here in our church office, I'm thinking about the presentation tonight. We'll be showing a power-point with our photos of Israel and talking about our trip. The idea of presenting the trip, let alone Israel, in one evening is daunting. The country is tiny but huge in history, spirituality and politics. There were so many moments there - moments of intensity and sudden understanding, moments of awe and joy, moments of feeling connected to ancient history and to the here and now. How do we encapsulate all of that?

As I put the photos together they seemed so meagre - meer shadows compared to the real thing. You can see the photo of the rainbow over the Sea of Galillee but you can't feel that cool breeze; you can't turn your head and see where Jesus probably prepared that conciliatory meal for Peter; you can't take in the green of the hills where He went to pray.

But we will do the best we can, and encourage others to make the journey with us next year, so that they too will have many of those moments of understanding and awe and joy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

God in Our Own Image

God in Our Own Image
By Marcia Lee Laycock

I recently watched an old video called The Prince of Egypt. It’s the story of Moses and the exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt. Although it is a cartoon version, the creators kept it fairly close to the Biblical account. I have seen this movie several times and there is one scene that never fails to move me – the point where Moses encounters God in the burning bush. When he asks that wonderful question, “Who are you?” God’s answer is at once mysterious and absolute. He says, “I am that I am.”

We know from the Biblical story told in Exodus that Moses responded to God’s call and obeyed His command to return to Egypt and confront Pharaoh. Though he was reluctant, he obeyed. I believe his obedience was in direct relation to His understanding of who this God was. He had talked with Him and the overwhelming affect of that encounter impressed upon Moses that this was the God of the universe, one not to be trifled with. Moses did not have an opportunity to create God in his own image. His perception of God had come from the source.

Unfortunately, most of us do not have that same opportunity. Burning bushes aren’t a common occurrence, even for those who are deeply spiritual. Perhaps that is why we tend so easily to distort the image of God. We see the evil and pain in the world and believe God is cruel and unfair. We don’t get what we want in life and believe God does not love us. We desperately want to live our lives on our own terms, so we create a God who will go along with our plan. We want to live in a world without pain or suffering so we insist God must be a magician who will perform miracles at our command. We want to live comfortably so we espouse a prosperity theology that justifies the accumulation of wealth. We want to justify our actions, so we assign God to our side.

Without a burning bush and the voice of God in our ears, we will create all kinds of gods who are nothing like the real thing. These gods made in our own image may make us feel better for a time, but they are idols and idols never fully satisfy our longing for truth.

So how do we guard against this? How do we get to know the real God?

We do what Moses did. We take off our sandals and acknowledge the holy ground. In humility we admit we don’t know Him very well. We ask Him who He really is and when we hear His answer we fall our faces. We study His word, the Bible. Then, when we hear Him command, we obey.

None of us may ever see a burning bush, but if we humble ourselves and truly seek Him, we will find the true God.

“The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God.” (Psalm 69:32)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sluggish Systems

I had a friend over on Saturday to have a look at my computer because I was having a few annoying problems - nothing that shuts everything down, but annoying things that get in the way of it being able to function the way it should. The whole system was kind of sluggish. Shawn checked for adware and spyware and began to clean things up. He often mumbled, "hmmm... lots of pollution here."

The programs he installed will help to keep that pollution to a minimum and make my system run more efficiently.Our lives are a lot like that - we get polluted by our own sin, the distractions of the world, etc. etc. You've heard it all before. But do we do anything about it? How often do we do a 'virus check' or run spybot on our lives? What have we installed that will help our ‘systems’ run more efficiently? The more often we do it - the more often we take the steps we need to get rid of the junk in our lives - the closer communion we will have with the Lord.

My husband preached a great sermon on Sunday that relates to this. Okay, I'm biased, but it really was.(If you’d like to hear it go to Sometimes it astounds me how things that we have known since becoming a Christian can suddenly hit you between the eyes and you have an 'epiphany' so to speak. This was one for me - that we can have a relationship with Jesus that is the same as the relationship he has with his Father!! Astounding! Profound! And true. Look at John 10:14,15 – “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father …”

I so look forward to the day when we will be in his presence, face to face, and all the pollution will be gone. But for now we are able to move toward that kind of communion. The challenge is to get all the inhibitors out of the way so that the communion will be whole and clear.

My friend Shawn warned me that the programs he installed on my computer would help but not completely cure the problems. "None of them will catch everything," he said, "but each one has its strengths." It's a combined effort.

Kind of like the combined effort of praying, reading the word, attending church, teaching Sunday School, reaching out to our friends and families, writing the words God gives us to glorify Him. Put all of those together and it's a pretty powerful program that leads to communication.

I think maybe it's time I started using the programs God has built into my life to help me reach that place of communion with Him. Some of them have been sitting idle for a while and things have gotten a little sluggish.

Blessings to you all as you strive toward that place of whole, pure, delightful communion with our Father.