Thursday, April 17, 2014

And So This is Easter

I LOVE Easter! I have such warm fuzzy memories of Easters past: getting up while it was still dark, my heart bursting with joyful anticipation and giddy thankfulness, heading out as a family to attend sunrise celebration services and fellowship breakfasts, singing at the top of my lungs those wonderful old hymns that were reserved for Easter only; coming home to the aroma of boiling ham and baking potatoes, hunting for our Easter baskets while Mom put the finishing touches on dinner; sitting around the table, talking and sharing and occasionally laughing until we cried; underneath it all the delightful consciousness that Jesus was risen indeed and that life was something very sweet as a direct result of that marvelous truth.


I hate to admit it, but my Easter experiences as an adult have never quite measured up. Whether this can be accounted for by simply being away from home and family or by the burdens and responsibilities that inevitably come from just being a grown-up, my take-away sense of Easter for the past 15 years or so is usually one of disappointment, of something lacking...There have been moments of joy, absolutely, startling jolts of pure ecstasy as the reality of the resurrection pierced my world-weary heart, but the deep and abiding  undercurrent of satisfaction and assurance and peace has often been missing.


In recent years, I've actually come to love Good Friday. As a child, I had a hard time seeing past the dark, somber songs and sermons we were encouraged (but not forced, if I recall correctly) to endure. But as an adult, deliberately taking the time to consider the weight of the cross, the depth of the sacrifice, the price that was paid for my salvation and freedom, all because of my own sinfulness, has held great value and beauty and meaning. I think we have a tendency to want to skip over the gory and gruesome of the cross to the glory and glitter of Easter morning, and I can understand that - we naturally prefer the beautiful to the ugly. But to pause and consider and sit awhile with the uneasiness, the heaviness - the more aware I become of my own sinfulness and my absolute inability to do anything to earn God's favour, the more astonishing and precious and treasured the fact of my salvation and freedom becomes!


I've really appreciated this season of Lent; I've had opportunities for reflection and contemplation and study; I'm approaching these next few days with an open heart. I want to allow for authentic thoughts and feelings to surface, to take the time and have the courage to allow for the range of emotions that may accompany this journey. And I believe that I'll find some more real joy in the process. Join me? May you know real joy this Easter season!


Let me leave you with the lyrics to two hymns that are some of the most passionate, heart-felt expressions of the Passion that I've ever encountered (I planned on posting only one, but couldn't choose between the two!). Please take some time to consider the extent of His sacrifice, the value of our redemption, and may it fill your heart with joy overflowing!

O SACRED HEAD NOW WOUNDED
O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered
was all for sinners' gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
'Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.



WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Perspective

My perspective has taken a real beating over the last couple of weeks. Like a lot of people, I'm pretty self-centered, when it comes right down to it. Maybe more than most - at least it seems like that right now. Like I mentioned in my last post, I haven't ever been too concerned about putting feet to my faith; I've been content to serve God on a church platform or from behind my laptop keyboard (which does have some value, I think).  But God's been bringing these experiences into my life lately that have shaken me, changed my point of view.  I'm hoping that sharing my impressions with you will help me come to a place of greater understanding - so thanks for listening!


It all started with a simple status update on facebook. My good friend and pastor wrote that he was attending a history-making event called Truth and Reconciliation on the weekend - would anyone like to join him? The description of the event drew me in for some reason; the purpose of the weekend was to seek forgiveness and encourage healing and dialogue for aboriginals who had been directly and indirectly affected in negative ways by the institution of residential schools. And so I went.


I was in no way prepared for what I encountered there. My heart broke as I heard story after story from residential school survivors - stories of abuse and neglect and loss and anger and pain; the stripping of rights and culture and language and identity; and how the effects had been perpetuated from generation to generation. There were beautiful, poignant moments, as well - when church and government leaders offered apologies and promises that were received by the aboriginal people groups represented there, with commitments on both sides to work together for greater understanding and mutual edification. I came away with a full heart - outrage, shame, helplessness and a deep desire to do something; to offer some kind of hope.


The very next night offered beauty and despair of a different kind -  we attended a concert by Watoto, an African children's choir from Uganda. The concert itself was wonderful; music full of hope, dancing full of joy, stories of God's faithfulness and protection and redemption. But as the children shared the hideous, deplorable situations out of which they had been rescued, my heart broke again. Orphaned for the most part; some abandoned, others whose parents had died from HIV/AIDS and other diseases, forced to beg and scavenge for food, never sure where they'd sleep or where their next meal might come from...Of course, I know that these conditions exist for many around the world, but that fact doesn't often get right up in my face. I was filled with sorrow at the overwhelming poverty and injustice in the world.


And then, the next night, I had the opportunity to experience the launch of a photography exhibit. Now I know it doesn't seem like there would be much possibility for heart-break there, but the subjects of the pictures on display were seven individuals who had committed crimes, served time in various prisons and had been released on parole and were attempting to reintegrate into society. While many stories of hope and success were shared, they had all encountered daunting obstacles and varying degrees of prejudice, stereo-typing and harsh judgement in the process of making the most of their second chance.


By then, my poor old heart had had just about all it could take. I felt as if I had been reborn, somehow, and didn't recognize myself or the world or my role within it. My own issues and concerns suddenly became minor, minuscule, unimportant, in light of all this suffering and injustice.  I'm thankful for the wise and understanding friends with whom I've had opportunity to discuss all this at length - just saying things out loud and having someone respond with grace and understanding has helped me process this overload. But this whole experience begs the question: "Now what?"  The overwhelming temptation is to simply throw up my hands in despair, thinking that any effort on my part would be at best an imperceptible drop in this enormous bucket of need. I have never been a person of action; I find myself desperate to start walking the walk; preferably in some major, significant way. But what I find God whispering to my heart is surprisingly simple (or maybe not so surprising, or simple): start at home, love your family, your friends, your neighbours, those in your world who are in need - and aren't we all, in one way or another? As we practice this with regularity, as we ask God to open our eyes to the needs around us, I suspect we might find our circle expanding; the effects of living God's love in simple and concrete and relevant ways will have a ripple effect - all the way to eternity.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Words

I've been trying to think of something authentic and worth-your-while to write for this blog over the past couple of weeks, but to no avail. And it just came to me why that might be: I'm sick of words. Sometimes I look at my life and that's all I see - words, words and more words. I do a lot of talking and singing and reading and writing, and not much else. And I'm thinking that maybe that's not ok.


I finally signed myself into youtube and made a playlist of all my favourite songs this past week! Twenty-six songs that really speak to me - can't believe I've waited so long to do this...One song on my list is Lifesong by Casting Crowns. Unlike most of the other songs on my new list, I hadn't heard this one for a while and really just added it because I remembered that I liked it at one time, and it was in the list of suggested videos down the side of the page... However, once I listened to it again, one line in particular really jumped out at me:

Empty hands held high
Such small sacrifice
If not joined with my life
I sing in vain tonight

I just have to ask myself: have I been singing in vain? And writing in vain? And preaching in vain? And posting God-things on facebook in vain? What does it all amount to, anyway? Are these merely small, empty sacrifices? Am I just talking the talk?

I'm not expecting an answer - but it's a thought that deserves examination, I think. And if all this singing and writing and talking are encouraging a few people and helping them see and know and trust and serve God even a little more deeply, clearly, fully - then I must believe all is not in vain. Two scriptures keep coming to mind when I consider this question: "be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) and "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17). The first reminds me that what I do is not the only important thing - God invites me to be still and know Him. But the second! Here are the surrounding verses:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:15-18)

Since I believe that all the parts of the Bible fit together, I have to conclude that these thoughts are not mutually exclusive; that both are significant.  Food for thought; fuel for action.  I'm so thankful that God has brought this to my attention; I'm excited to see what He wants to do with me! Excited, scared, anticipating, freaked...you know :)  I'm praying that all this will serve to help me be a little more deliberate, intentional as I go about my day-to-day. Because that's where the rubber hits the road - am I living the love of Jesus in my closest relationships; in my family, with my friends and colleagues? I'm thinking that as I learn to live this out, I'll be finding more and more real joy. Praying God's peace and direction for you (yes, you!) as you journey further down your own path - bless you!