Overcome

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Most days, I crash.

Right after coming home from school. I throw myself on the couch. I am unconscious in about ten seconds. Totally spent.

A troubled boy swore at me while waving his fist in my face. An underperforming girl sneered at me after serving a detention, declaring, “My mom’s not going to be happy about this.” A parent yelled at me accusingly that his son is failing my course because he thinks I’m boring. A fellow teacher refused to share materials with me when I was unexpectedly assigned to his course the day before the start of school. I’ve just been told a funeral is being held for an ex-student who has just committed suicide…

Not every day is so unpleasantly eventful. But these incidents are a regular part of the job.

And this is just my small world.

Then I read or watch the news: people are getting mowed down by a terrorist truck while celebrating a national holiday; others suffer the same fate while walking to work on the sidewalk; another teenage girl has committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied on the Internet; our government is contemplating removing the word “God” from our national anthem – too subversive, indeed! A convicted terrorist is being awarded millions of dollars because his “human rights have been violated” while his victims are ignored; a man and woman have been convicted of beating their toddler to death…

Now, especially with social media, everyone has an opinion on everything that happens: “You’re an idiot!” or “You don’t know what you are talking about, you *&##@#$!!” or “Go crawl back under your rock you bleepin’ bigot!”

I never used to understand why some Christians talk about “hastening the day of the Lord.” I mean, life isn’t easy, but do we really want to end it all?

I’m beginning to get it now, more and more. On the days when I am so angry, fed up with it all. This insane world. I reject it. Want to curse it. “You can go to $#@(&*^$@&, world!”

But the more I hate it, the more I realize my powerlessness. I can pipe in with my vitriol, become bitter and closed and hateful…and it wouldn’t change a thing.

God loves this world. This is why He sent His Son. To save it. Not condemn it.

And if the Perfect God can love it, love me, who am I to condemn it?

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you willhave tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

The Power of Love.

It is the only thing that changes anything.

 

 

Friend

“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:15-16)

I have few friends.

But the ones I do have, each one of them has been chosen by me. I go after what I want. 

When I sense something special, a kindred spirit, I have always taken the intiative to call someone up and ask if they would like to have coffee. If it’s right, they call me back next time.

Over the years, my friends and I have come to know that we are committed to each other. When times are good. When times are bad. We just show up. If there is a wedding, I show up to celebrate; if there is a funeral, I show up to mourn; if there is a change in address, I show up (with my husband) to move things. This is what I’ve committed to.

Jesus chose me.  I have called Him back. We’ve had coffee! He now calls me, “friend”.

He has committed to me. If I am committed to Him, I need to “show up”. What has He called me to?

I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”

What, exactly, does He mean by this? What does He want me to do?

At this point, I feel like how my husband – my best friend – must feel whenever I say to him, “You would know without me telling you, if you really loved me.” I usually enjoy watching him squirm a while as he wracks his brain to make his love manifest to me.

Likewise, Jesus has said, “My sheep hear My voice”. (John 10:27).

Touché.

If I’m going to be a good friend, I’m going to have to figure this one out. What does “bearing fruit” look like? And what is “fruit that lasts”?

My turn to squirm. Here I go!

Three verses come to mind:

“Therefore, go and make disciples.” (Acts 28:19);

“Do you love me?…Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17); and,

“Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Quite simply, whatever it is that I do, may it have the effect of making disciples. Whether it be by outright ministry or by some other vocation that God has prepared beforehand for me to do (Ephesians 2:10), or by making a nutritious meal for my family or committing to water a neighbour’s garden while they are on vacation, may my character and excellent comportment lead others to God. And let’s not forget the obvious one: open my mouth! Share the gospel! (Romans 1:16)

Once they have become disciples, we need to feed them. Feeding God’s sheep (our brethren) brings glory to Him. What does feeding look like? Building each other up by fellowship (Acts 2:46), sharing our knowledge and love of His Word (Acts 17:11), praising the Lord in one voice (Ephesians 5:19) praying for one another (James 5:16). These are all acts of “feeding his sheep”.

As far as I can see, this making and feeding of disciples for all eternity is the only kind of fruit that “lasts”. Not the Egyptian pyramids or the Great Wall of China, not War and Peace, not even Michael Jackson’s Thriller. None of it will matter.

So now, why has he tacked on, “…that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you”?

I used to think of this part as the “reward”. Yeah!  If I do this for Him, He will give me that! Jaguar convertible, here I come!

But I doubt this is true.

The leading word in that clause, “that” leads me to believe that He will give us whatever we ask, as long as we ask it in the name of bearing fruit that lasts.

Aye, there’s the rub.

Let me ponder this: bearing fruit is what He created me to do. Things that give me purpose and, therefore, joy. Things that make my heart sing, even when they are sometimes difficult. For me, it is teaching at my high school even when teenagers drive me crazy in more ways than I can describe in one language, being a mother even when I feel more like a drill sergeant, continuing to write even when I think no one really cares what I think…

And when I do these things in a way that draws others to God, bearing fruit that lasts, then…

Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

I’m not sure what those “desires” will look like, but I think it has something to do with bearing fruit that lasts with all my heart, doing everything as if for God and not for men. Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s it. 

And who knows what else? Let me be surprised by the God who loves me, the One who knows how to give good gifts to His children!

But let’s face it –  that’s all just gravy. 

The God of the Universe has called me up! Chosen me to be his friend. 

 This is better than a Jaguar.

 

Believe

“Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them…so shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)

I have a secret dream.

It is a dream that has long been in hibernation. One that has, only now, been made manifest even in my own mind, at the midway point in my life.

Likewise, my husband has a dream of his own. Also, only just realized, at midlife.

I have been wondering why it has taken so long for these dreams of ours to surface. Are we just late bloomers?  I have come to the conclusion that sometimes, dreams just get mentally shelved. Relegated to the upper corner of our minds when life’s demands begin to take over.

But they are still there.

Abram also had a dream, way back when:

“Now the Lord said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country…to a land that I will show you…I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great…And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ ”

Was this Abram’s secret dream or did God put this in his heart? I would say, both is true. God created us, including our desires, hopes and dreams that align with His purpose for us. (Jeremiah 1:5). And if He put them there, He will bring them to pass. In His time.

Shortly thereafter, Abram undertakes an exceedingly long journey through travels into unknown territory, enduring famine, encountering possibly hostile, Egyptian forces, and rescuing his brother, Lot, from captivity by raiding armies. Life has been eventful, to say the least, and his life has been marked by his continuing faithfulness to God.  Throughout these trials, God does not cease to remind Abram of his promise that he shall be the father to great nations.

We do not see Abram dwell on this promise. I am certain that in his mind, if God says that it will happen, then it will.

But after he rescues Lot from the kings that raided Sodom, Lot’s new home town, Abram’s trusting, patient demeanor takes a bit of a turn: “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless…Look You have given me no offspring…”

This is the first time we actually hear from Abram, expressing what is in his heart. Prior to this, we only see God speaking to Abram’s heart about the promise. Why this distinction if Abram’s secret desires are synonymous to God’s?  I believe this change in narrative perspective marks a prise de conscience, a conscious reawakening to his secret dream, long relegated to take a back seat to life’s pressures.

But it is still there.

For Abram, time is ticking. Having children isn’t exactly something, in our human minds, that one can wait on forever. And as time moves forward, he becomes increasingly cold to God’s promises, even going so far as committing polygamy with a maidservant (sanctioned by his wife and legal, however contrary to God’s plan) to hasten the process.

So does God renege on his Promise to Abram? Does He then recoil in disgust and bestow His promise to some other, more faithful person? Frankly, I would. But not God.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, “the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,   ‘I am Almighty God…My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations…’ ” (Genesis 17:1)

Still, “Abram fell on his face and laughed…”  He then suggests that God is probably referring to Ishmael as his heir, his son with Hagar, the maidservant. (Genesis 17:17)

But God is unrelenting, “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son…” (Genesis 17:19)

At this point, Abram is still doubtful, but he continues to do as God asks by immediately circumcising Ishmael and all the men of his household. (Genesis 17:23)

I believe this point is critical. Continuing to do as God asks. Even as we sometimes doubt. We need to be honest with God. Lay our worries and insecurities bare. But keep moving. Keep praying. Keep going.  I believe that doubt and unbelief are two very different things. Doubt is a feeling. Belief is an action. We can doubt, but still believe by continuing to move.  God can forgive doubt, but belief in Him is non-negotiable if we are to see the fulfillment of His Promise.

We know the end of this story. Sarai, now Sarah, gives birth to Isaac at age 90; Abram, now Abraham, is 100.

As my husband and I continue to cling to God, trusting him with our secret, as yet unfulfilled, desires, I hope and pray that we do nothing to hasten the process. If the Lord of the Universe put those desires into our hearts, then we must trust, believe that He will bring them to pass:

“And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”

I look forward to saying, as did Sarah, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.”

Until then, I will believe.

 

 

 

Land

“Lift your eyes now and look…” (Genesis 13:14)

I have four wealthy sisters. And I mean really rich. One of them, in particular, owns luxury property all around the world, including New York, France, England… She has her own designer, art curator, a favourite “corner” eatery owned by Wolfgang Puck where a steak costs $300, and the ability to hop a plane – First Class – to any place in the world on a moment’s notice. Her kids go to a private school where the expected goodwill “donation” exceeds the annual tuition that, by the way, is equivalent to the cost of a small cottage.

In contrast, I am a public servant relying on my pension for retirement, I clean my own toilets, and make purchases based on sale events. Most of our family vacations are road trips in our minivan, the highlights of which are pitstops to Timmies, and arriving to our destination without anyone – usually me or my daughter – having vomited in the vehicle, or needing to pee “really badly” – usually my son – in the middle of a traffic jam.

I won’t lie. There are days when I wonder why I, the only Christian amongst them, don’t enjoy nearly the same worldly luxuries.

It is always difficult to see clearly when our eyes are clouded by the things and people around us. We are always tempted by the lusts of our eyes, drawn to what is visible, what is clearly attractive. Indeed, voices around us will tell us what to look for, where to turn our attention.

“Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered…like the garden of the Lord…Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan…”

Lot chose for himself. Ever the pragmatist, he pitched his tents far and wide, encompassing even Sodom, where people were notorious for sin. And why not? It looked like the garden of the Lord, didn’t it?

But there is no such thing as the garden of the Lord here, on earth. That was gone a long time ago.

Abram might have looked when Lot looked. He might have said, “Hey, I’m the older brother. I get first dibs.”   But he didn’t.  He waited. Waited on God. And when he was alone with Him, he heard:

“And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift your eyes now and look…for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.’ “

Only when we are in that quiet place with God, willfully shutting our physical eyes and ears, are we able to see with our spiritual eyes, to hear and know the true blessings to which God wishes to lead us.

Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.”

I will be honest again. There really is nothing like knowing that I am in the centre of God’s will. Nothing like hearing His sweet, gentle voice that speaks intimacies to me every morning. Nothing like knowing His unfailing love, mighty protection, total faithfulness.

“Do not be afraid…I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

He is the luxury of all luxuries.