Thursday, August 21, 2008

Consider Carefully

“Therefore consider carefully how you listen.” Luke 8:18

It never ceases to amaze me how you can read a passage of scripture that is very familiar and suddenly see - or hear - something that you’ve never seen or heard before. Such was the case when I read Luke 8:16-18.

It’s a familiar passage, one often quoted in the context of gifts and talents. But that is not the context. The context is talking about hearing and receiving God’s word. It comes immediately after the parable of the sower – that wonderful and somewhat convicting passage about those who were hearing the word but received it in different ways, under different circumstances.

For a while I wondered how these two passages were connected. They seemed isolated – one about hearing, the other about sharing. But as I pondered it, the light began to dawn. You cannot have one without the other.You will not have a light to put on a lamp stand or anywhere else if you are not receiving that light from a pure source. If you are not hearing from God, you have nothing worth saying.

Now I’m not talking about divine revelation in the same terms as we would consider scripture divinely revealed. I am talking about the everyday, ordinary way God speaks to us. I’m talking about how we listen. That is a difficult thing to do in these days that are so full of busy-ness and stress, but it is an essential thing, especially for those who would dare to be writers.

I remember a day some time ago when I realized how important it was. The day couldn't have been more perfect. The sky was clear, the sun dancing off the water. The beach slowly filled with parents and children, out to enjoy a day at the beach. After an overnight camp‑out, my friend and I had brought a few girls from our church's Kids' Club to have a swim and a picnic. We stretched out on the sand and chatted as we watched the children play. Little ones were busy making sand castles. An older pair tossed a frisbee above their heads.

A little red-haired girl caught my attention. She had wandered in front of us a few times, as she dashed from the edge of the lake to her mother, sitting in a lawn chair not far away. I watched as she stood still, her small head bent studiously over something in her hand. She turned and started toward us, stopped and peered at her hand once more, took a few more steps and stopped again. Her progress was slow as this pattern was repeated. As she approached, I could see a moth cupped in her palm. She tilted her hand each time it moved, stopped when it crawled dangerously close to the edge and moved slowly forward when it was secure again. Eventually the little girl reached her parent, holding her hand out for her to admire the precious treasure.

My delight in watching that little girl deepened as I heard God’s voice. “That’s how I carry you, to my Father’s delight.” The depth of Jesus’ love overwhelmed me in that moment.I know I could have missed His voice that day. I could have been anxiously watching the little ones under my care. I could have had my mind on all the stresses that come with being a pastor’s wife and mother. I could have let all of “life’s worries, riches and pleasures” get in the way. But somehow He broke through. I heard and was blessed and several times I have used that story in written form to illustrate God’s care for us.

We must take time to listen, consider the circumstances in which we have placed ourselves and see to it that we find a place that is conducive to hearing God’s voice. Then we will indeed, have something worth writing about.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Faithful No

Having to promote your own books is a daunting business. It can also be quite frustrating at times.

There's a large church near where I live that often has large events. Thinking about selling books, I clicked into their website to see if there was anything coming up. I was hoping they might allow me to set up a book table. I was glad to see there was an event coming up almost immediately, one that I decided I wanted to attend, so I e-mailed the woman in charge with my idea.

She e-mailed back right away but the answer was no. She explained that her committee thought it might be too much of a distraction. That did not brighten my mood. Other doors had closed that week and as I looked at the total number of books I have managed to sell in the past year, I became discouraged. In fact, I was downright depressed. I sat at my computer that day and thought, why am I hitting my head against this brick wall? I was sorely tempted to quit.
But I went to the event. It was a simulcast - a live video feed - with Beth Moore, speaking from a church in Louisville Kentucky. As I walked into the sanctuary that Friday evening, I wasn't feeling in the mood - I was still angry and frustrated and, underneath, wondered why God wasn't helping me to get the word out about my books. The video began and I found it did nothing to help. The sound was a bit wobbly and the music seemed "canned." I thought, oh yeah, here we go with another hyped-up performance that will leave me cold.

Then Beth Moore began to speak. Slowly her passion and sincerity began to break through. Her humour broke the heaviness. And I began to listen for what God was saying to me. He said plenty. Then the worship group came back on and suddenly the music lifted me into that place of praise and worship. By the end of the evening I was in tears at God's wonderful grace and mercy and unconditional love. I felt ashamed at my lack of trust. I knew my discouragement was a slap in God's face.

The next day was more of the same. I don't think it was a coincidence that Mrs. Moore spoke from Luke 8, which lays out the parable of the sower and talks about those who hear but don't respond, those who in "the time of testing fall away," and those who "hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures and they do not mature."
I left that place with a renewed sense of how alive my God is, how good, and how faithful. Best of all, I had a renewed passion for His Word. And I was so glad for that faithful "no." Had I been concerned with selling books I would have been distracted from what God wanted to say to me. I might not have heard Him at all.

As I read the rest of Luke 8 at home later, another verse popped out - verse 18 - "Therefore consider carefully how you listen." That's a verse to which I think we can all say, "Amen!"

Monday, August 04, 2008

Choice, or Not?

This morning I was reading this blog that has caught my attention lately. Her post today is about one of Michaelangelo's sculptures, which she saw at the Louvre - and about God's creation. As I read it I was reminded of going to the Prado in Madrid, walking into one of the galleries where some of Goya's more grostesque paintings were hung. And it raised thoughts about what we choose to create and how much choice we really have after all, in the creation process.
Goya's "Black Paintings," depicting war and suffering, were done after he'd gone through an illness that left him deaf. The dark images no doubt reveal the darkness that was in him. Did he have a choice? Could he have painted a lovely pastoral scene during that time in his life? And is one image of more value than the other because it brings pleasure? We would tend to think so, but I wonder. Goya's dark images had a powerful affect on me as a sheltered young woman from North America. They opened my eyes. I began to see more in the streets of Spain than just the architecture. I saw the people. Sometimes I saw their pain.
This leads to questions about writing as a Christian. Many would prefer that we write only about what is pleasant, never allowing the darkness of the world onto the page. But what if that's what is in us? What if that's what needs to be written? What if our readers need to be shocked into opening their eyes?

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Small Pond

When my husband and I started talking about leaving the community we had lived in for almost 20 years, I started praying. We had no idea where the Lord would take us but I had a few ideas about what I wanted.

I decided to share them with Him. I told Him how much I loved the fireplace in our living room. It would be nice if there was one in our new home.

And water. Oh, Lord, how I would love to live by water again.

And now here we are. There is a fireplace in our small living room - not a wood-burning one, not a very big one, but it does bring warmth on a cold winter night. And water? Well, the Lord does have a sense of humour. I was thinking Lake, or River, or even Ocean.

What I got was pond - a tiny pond. But well used - skated on in the winter, played around in the summer. I can sit in my front window and watch the play of light and wind across it. Right now it's kind of ugly because the town has drained it again. Someone said they did that because they want the beaver to move out. They're killing the trees. (The beaver, not the town). I was amazed to learn there were beaver in what seemed to me little more than a puddle. But they were there. And of course there are birds of various kinds - a family of geese for a while, and a duck or two now. My family and I were getting out of our car one night and stopped to listen to the frogs. They were putting out a veritable chorus. It made us smile.

So it's not a Lake or a River or the Ocean. It's just a small pond. But it is full of life.

As we plant this small church, and live in a small house with a small fire place across from a small pond, I am reminded of the scripture that says - "Who despises the day of small things?" (Zech.4:10)

God's hand, His life, is in it all. And I am grateful.