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).