Wednesday, August 29, 2007

things gone wrong...and right

1. I left the house at 7:00 am and forgot to account for traffic so missed the train I meant to take downtown to keep a 9:00 am appointment and had to wait for the next one.
2. While waiting, I realised I had neglected to get exact change so could not buy a ticket for the train from the machine and had to approach a kind fellow commuter to buy a ticket from them.
3. After I got off the train and made my connection to the subway, I realised I was heading the wrong way so I got off at the next stop and retraced my steps.
4. I exited one stop early in the hopes that it would save me time because I reasoned I would be walking towards my destination instead of passing it in the subway and backtracking. Alas, the walk was just longer that way and actually cost me time.
NEVERTHELESS, I arrived at my appointment at 8:58 am much to my amazement! It appeared that God had surely bent time in order to accommodate me, or at least it felt like it, as I had been asking him to get me there on time the whole way. Sometimes I am ill prepared, sometimes I make the wrong decisions, sometimes I just can't seem to get it right, often I forget important things; and yet, God seems to care more about the fact that I am heading in the right direction than how much I falter or how awkward and halting the journey is. Let me develop a grace this generous such as God extended to me today.
This is a building in the McGill ghetto, taken while Zac and I were hunting for housing for him on Monday night.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Quebec = P W G P

I just returned from a brief trip to visit friends in New Brunswick. It was too short and involved too much driving and I am too short on sleep right now, but it was a great trip and I am glad I went.

When I crossed back into Quebec yesterday afternoon, I started thinking about what living in Quebec means to me. Immediately a phrase ran through my head and it was, "This is a place where God provides." And I know that to be true. It has not been easy for us to live here as anglophones; the politics and bureaucracy and taxation get to you sometimes and living in a secular society takes some getting used to. I used to warn people about some of the challenges they would face when coming to live here, but I now realise that I was seeing things from an inadequate and decidedly negative perspective. This is a place where God provides. It is a place where you are invited to get to know God as your provider. That means that all the things you are used to relying on to provide stability and strength and success in your life will probably fail you at some point. The worst thing you can do is be disappointed in God when that happens and run away from him. The best thing you can do is to toss aside those flimsy props that you were trying to build your life upon and stand on the only solid and sure thing in this world - Jesus.

This is a scenic spot near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick.

Monday, August 20, 2007

freedom is not

One of my good friends, Awa, spoke at church last week and made a point that I have been thinking about quite a bit. It is about confusing freedom and sovereignty. We are, yes, supposed to be free, but this does not mean we are sovereign. There are still consequences and rules of nature and the reactions of other people and a whole bunch of other stuff. Being a free person does not mean that you can do whatever you want whenever you want because you have the power and ability to do so. It simply means that you are not tethered to anything that pulls you down. You are truly yourself.

God is sovereign. He offers us freedom. Don't get the two confused. Thanks for the wisdom, Awa.

This is a close-up of my hammock.

Friday, August 17, 2007

the fruit

These are some of the tomatoes from my garden. I use the term "garden" loosely as I only have flowers and shrubs around my house, but since Dean loves fresh tomatoes, this spring I put 6 tomato plants in the bald parts of my flowerbeds - those spaces that always gape between plants when a garden is still young. The tomatoes have basically taken over the west side of my house. The plants became so large that they toppled all the supports I put up. They overshadowed my waist-high burning bushes and drowned out the yellow stella d'oras. The large, grapefruit sized fruit is ripening faster than we can eat it, and despite giving many away and making a large batch of salsa (best ever, by the way), there are still 11 tomatoes on my counter today and I am sure a few more have ripened since yesterday.

Fruit is a funny thing - it is seasonal. Sometimes I wish that it would be more spread out, or on a timed release schedule. That way one could enjoy tomatoes all year round, one produced every day of the year for 365 days, instead of scrambling to eat or use it all in the short space of a few weeks. That would seem more balanced, wouldn't it? Something I read this week (sorry, I forgot where) talked about rhythm vs. balance.

It seems wise to balance out our lives, to keep things from getting too extreme in any direction, to have a consistent flow of all the areas of our life, but this author said that upon observation, one can see that God works much more in rhythms. There is a season of planting and all you seem to do is give and give and give and give. There is no relief from the giving. And when you are spent, you stop. Then there is a time when nothing seems to happen and you watch and wait and watch and wait and pray and pray and day after day nothing changes. And when you finally give up hope, you begin to see a change. But NOOO it is not the wonderful reward you had hoped for, it is a mixture of all kinds of things, good and bad, sprouting up all over the place and you are confused and don't know if you can properly separate the right from the wrong because it is all immature and you don't know which to concentrate your efforts on - encouraging growth or chopping off the bad stuff. So you try leaving it all but after you see the overgrown mess, you know you have to do something. So you pull out the bad stuff (at least the stuff you can identify) but every time you look, there just seems to be a fresh crop of it, the never ending weeds and time-wasters.

Just when you had given up hope of anything good ever being able to survive, the fruit starts to appear. The initial excitement quickly gives way to wails of "What do I do with it?" as it just keeps ripening and growing and producing and you can't keep up with the rate at which it matures and falls to the ground and you don't like to see it rot but what are you supposed to do? You work and work and work and gather and gather and try to enjoy as much as you can and find a place to put it all and hopefully save some for future use and then suddenly, it all stops. The plant begins to brown and sag and you wonder what happened? What did you do wrong? Why have things just stopped flourishing? Where is the bumper crop, the incredible growth and reproduction? You try to prop up the last few green leaves but all to no avail. The life just seems to have gone out of it. So you sit and stare and watch as your robust and vibrant plant just withers in front of your eyes and lays brown on the ground. It is enough to make you cry.

And then come the months and months of absolutely nothing except bare ground and cold wind and the bittersweet memories of juicy smiles and stuffing yourselves with the abundance and thinking it would never end. And now, the winter seems to be the only hard reality of endlessness. You can't even SEE the ground much less plow it or plant anything or even think about fruit. Frozen. Lifeless. Cold. And then one day, you hear little drops - the snow is melting off the roof. There is hope.

Let me be an astute follower of the rhythms of God instead of one who fights against them.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

correct me if I'm wrong...

A few days ago I received something interesting in the mail (other than a wonderful newsy letter and cool photos from my mom!). It was a yellow envelope with a few writings from someone who felt we needed to hear his perspective on what has gone wrong with the particular flavour of church that we are part of. I am never quite sure how to respond to criticism of this sort (from strangers whom I have no relationship with). Sometimes it merits no response at all, but in this case I think it does. No doubt the man is sincere and has obviously been through some less than pleasant experiences and seen some less than perfect people and situations in church (haven't we all? welcome to humanity!) but I wonder what he hopes his action will accomplish? Change, obviously, but I can tell you from experience that criticism seldom brings about the desired change.
Some thoughts on responding to criticism in general: Should I fall on my face and repent for my shortcomings and errors? Of course. I need to do this every day. Should I desire to be more loving and know more truth? Yes and yes! Should I search my heart to see if I am being the leader God wants me to be? I do this often, believe me. Should I take criticism with an openness to God's loving correction and conviction? I believe I try to do this.
I can tend to be too susceptible to owning mistakes and accepting correction and doubting myself, so let me avoid that path and pursue truth instead. While our church community is not perfect, we strive to make it a place of safety and love and growth. We are not pursuing building a successful church by any man's standards, but committed to doing what we see Jesus doing in our midst and loving all those that God brings our way and helping them discover who God made them to be by teaching them to discern His voice and presence in their lives. In fact, this is not a church thing; this is an "every day of my life" thing.
In the past, I have been corrected by critical people and I have been corrected by God - the two feel vastly different. One is done with a certain manipulation to get me to conform to their ideals in order to gain acceptance; the latter begins with an overwhelming sense of love while I am still in my inadequate state, a firm hand guiding me to a way out of my mess, and the sweet taste of freedom upon changing my ways.
Let my words and actions also leave a sweet taste in the souls of those pursuing freedom.
This is another one of Jeff's photos from beautiful Manitoba.

Monday, August 13, 2007

have mercy

There is a mosquito in the room and she wants to take my blood. Shall I show mercy and not kill her?

Sunday night at church God talked to me about mercy. Something did not go according to plan and He breathed a simple phrase to me: It is a mercy. And I believe it was. It put us in a position that we would not have chosen to put ourselves in, and that turned out to be a good thing. As I thought about what mercy looks like in real life, God challenged me to extend an act of mercy to one of my friends. Again, it was something I would not have naturally put myself in a position to do as too often I am obsessed with responsibility and maturing and learning and challenging others to do the same: to always be consistent and faithful in everything. And yet, God shows mercy; kindness and a gentle smile when we are the least worthy of meriting them. I forgave someone's debt and became richer for it. Mercy is free. Let me also give it freely.

The mosquito has disappeared to live another day. This is a picture of the lock at Ste-Anne on a lovely summer evening last week.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

hell no?

I am reading through the Old Testament again and it is interesting to note that the modern concept of a future utopia (a.k.a. heaven) is hardly to be found. Modern religion seems to have swung the other way and favours much talk about future reward as a motivator while underplaying possible punishment in some suitably horrible place because they say (whoever they are) that hell smacks of cruelty and a lack of love and is not an effective tool for changing behaviour nor, in all likelihood, a real place.

Some say we have progressed in our knowledge and behaviour since those barbaric times before Jesus. I highly doubt that; in fact, I would say that while we have simply replaced and renamed sins and cruelties and idolatries, God has been the faithful One in progressing: telling a progressive story of his character to humankind that is there for anyone to read if they have the desire, tenacity, and are willing to submit their self righteousness to a genuine love for Truth.

I don't know if hell is a real place, but I think it gets more time in the Scriptures than the concept of a future utopia (the word "heaven" in the Bible often refers simply to the sky or atmosphere above earth). We have been noticeably selective in how we read these things because we all tend to take in information through the filter of what our current culture is telling us is acceptable and noble and desirable. Until we can get it through our minds that GOD is the originator of progress, the One continuously revealing his character to us (and we have millenniums to go before we begin to fathom some of the depths there) and this whole trek here is not about improving and enlightening ourselves and becoming more civilised, we will sadly miss the point.

I have no desire just to become a kinder, gentler human race. I want to see God's character in its pure blinding beauty and be changed by the encounter.

This striking picture of the heavens was taken in Ste-Anne on Thursday.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

things I do every day

This week someone challenged me on the amount of time and energy I spend on my immediate family, all of whom live quite a distance from me. Yes, they are right, I should have more consistent contact with them. It is important. One can often tell what is important in one's life by the frequency of it.

Here are the things I do every day:
1. sleep
2. eat
3. breathe
4. laugh
5. pray
6. clean something
7. talk to Dean
8. write

And here are things I do almost every day:
1. exercise
2. buy food
3. talk to my friends
4. play with my cats
5. read my Bible
6. dream
7. go outside
8. read a book
9. office work
10. do something nice for someone

And here are things I would like to do more often:
1. have meaningful and generous contact with my family and friends
2. travel
3. spend time with Dean
4. be content
5. learn important lessons
6. love consistently
7. be fearless
8. enjoy God

This is a picture of the remarkable French Onion Soup prepared by Greg for last night's supper.

Monday, August 06, 2007

well done (no buts)

Last night I spoke at church - well, anyone can speak up, but I was the one guiding the discussion. It turned out to be an exercise in encouragement for me. You see, I tend to see where I (and others) fall short and I can be too quick to point it out. When I asked God what he wanted to say to this particular group of people that night, two words very plainly rang in my head, "Well done." And I had to fight to keep the talk from becoming a lesson in how to do better and correct our mistakes and try harder and use our talents more effectively, for I knew all God really wanted to do was encourage and let people feel his pleasure. So I tried to do that and at the end of the evening sang this song that I had jotted down just before the meeting:

Well done, my friend

Good and faithful and true

Well done, well done

The servant of God is alive in you, yes the servant of God is alive and well in you.

For every time you wanted to give up and didn't - well done

For leaving the past behind and moving on - well done

For every time you gave a helping hand - well done

For everyone who is right here, right now - well done

For staying when others walk away - well done

For asking for help when you know you can't do it alone - well done

For every time you get up after you fall - well done

For giving when you would rather receive - well done

Every time you opened your arms to a stranger - well done

Every time you shared some of your food - well done

For going to work everyday and providing for people - well done

For praying for others time after time - well done

For taking care of the small things you have been given - well done

For being a friend one can count on - well done

For making the time to wait on God - well done

For giving and giving and not holding back - well done

Well done, my friend

Good and faithful and true

Well done, well done

The servant of God is alive in you, yes the servant of God is alive and well in you.

This is another fine photo by my nephew Jeff. Well done.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

bad words

I was reading Psalm 50 this morning and one of the things that stood out to me was the notion that God likes it when we cry out for help to him. In contrast to wonderful acts of sacrifice, shows of piety, and righteous religious rituals (yes, even reading your Bible and going to church and praying can be rituals), he prefers an honest, "HEEELP ME! I really screwed up!"

I have friends who use swear words. When I first got to know them, the words bothered me and I could not hear anything else they were saying because those four-lettered expletives were blaring sirens blocking out everything else they were trying to tell me. And that was an error on my part. They were passionately telling me something in their own words, often vexed at some injustice, and I failed to hear their meaning because of a few letters like f and u and, well, you get my drift.

There are no right or wrong words in communicating, in talking to God, in expressing your heart, in making yourself heard. There are only genuine calls for help and sincere desires to find the truth, or a self-righteous assumption that I already know the truth even while failing to exhibit the character of the one who IS the Truth.

This is a picture of the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

power: less or more

I have some questions:

1. How do I access the authority in my life? What should I be using this authority for?

2. Why do I cry when I feel powerless?

3. What is the proper outlet for my sometimes overwhelming emotions?

4. What do I do when people don't listen to me? Or does it really matter?

We all have those Achilles heels, those places and times where we feel powerless. It is nothing to be ashamed about for it is all part of the human condition, but what we do in our moments of weakness when we are stripped of our power is a very telling thing. I realised this week that while some admirable people will rise up and do something about their situation when they feel backed into a corner, I often retreat and cry. Not all that productive nor attractive, I have to admit. So what do I do about that tendency? I am not sure yet. I am not an aggressive Type A personality who must take charge of every situation they are in, and I have no desire to maintain an impeccable reputation nor develop a tough exterior that turns a blind eye to deficiencies, but neither do I want to be a wimpering child, stuck in my immaturity, relying on the mercy and compassion of others to protect and coddle me.

Suffering and authority and adversity and discouragement and weakness and strength all seem to be parts of this puzzle, but knowing how to interlock them in order to see the true picture of me is something I need to learn or perhaps, discern. So I sit here and search and look and think and wait and ask and begin the process of fitting things into place.

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” - M. Scott Peck

This photo was taken earlier this evening at dusk outside my house.