Aliens No Longer

I spent the last two days largely alone. I thought I liked being alone but this was different. Waking alone, eating alone, wiling away a sunny day alone, spending the evening alone, hitting the hay alone… None of these are things I haven’t done alone before but this felt different, like a foreshadowing of lonely days to come–of an empty nest, of noone needing me, of endless discretionary time to manage, yet without a clear objective. But this post is not about garnering sympathetic advice for a case of pre-empty nest syndrome. Something else caught my attention in my aloneness. Just this, that I never feel entirely alone, and that’s what makes being by myself tolerable and even enjoyable. The knowing that God is very much with me, always, makes all the difference. At least it has in the past.

But this time there was a difference. Rather than luxuriating in some time to myself, and sweet opportunity for fellowship with my Father, I found this niggling sense of shame going on in the backdrop of my mind—even reinforced with Scripture—like: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Hmm… do you? What would that look like? Nevermind, you’re clearly too selfish. Look at so and so, what he did for that other widow lady… why don’t you ever do things like that? You’re so selfish—should be ashamed of yourself. How can you pretend to be walking in fellowship with the Father when you’re obviously bringing no credit to His Kingdom? What are you doing anyway?! Nothing but your own business, thinking about your own household, enjoying yourself when other people are lonely…

OK, so it looks like accusation when I spell it all out here, certainly condemnation. Unfortunately I didn’t take time to spell it out while it was going on and it certainly wasn’t THIS obvious, just a subtle undertow of my being ‘bad’, disobedient to the Word, and therefore presumptuous to pretend that I could just walk through the day in happy fellowship with the Father. This dull nagging undertow squelched my enthusiasm for being alone. (After all, being completely alone is more like the definition of hell than of serenity!) Mind you, there was no particular aspect of disobedience or any obvious action that I was balking at taking. Just a sense of my not measuring up and therefore not having a right to enjoy the Father’s fellowship. Bummer.

The day passed productively in other respects. Got all sorts of bookwork done and all manner of weeds whacked! And before ‘lights out’ I made these points in my prayer journal:

1) Maybe I don’t like being alone that much after all, but this day has given me greater empathy for some sisters in Christ who live this way much of the time.

2) Yes, I’ve been feeling guilty about my lonely neighbor. What would loving her as myself look like, Lord? Yes, I’m selfish besides, but selfish can get lonely.

3) I truly don’t want to live in disobedience (can’t stand this alienated feeling!) no matter whether it’s due to fear or indecision or plain old selfishness. Show me what to do, not merely to assuage guilt but to love as You love me, because it’s what I’m designed for!

And so the day ended. No brilliant insights. No clear-cut strategy for loving my neighbor better. Nothing to show I was heard, but I was. Strike one for my wily foe.

I found myself in Ephesians the following morning, ironically, praying for my kids to realize who they are and whose they are and to learn to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Ha! I see in retrospect that the prayer time was as much for me as for them! Here clearly drawn out is the antidote to accusations of unworthiness. I paraphrase:

You WERE dead in sin, walking like the rest of the world, following the prince of the power of the air
(who currently works in the disobedient),
living according to your own passions–
your mental and physical desires,
“by nature children of wrath”.

BUT GOD MADE YOU ALIVE, seated you in the heavenlies! You’ve been saved from death and its lifestyle
as a gift from God,
created afresh for good works
that God prepared ahead of time for you to walk in… (Eph.2)

The passage goes on reminding the Ephesians (and me) where they’ve come from—once enemies, strangers, outsiders to God’s covenant—but that they are now RECONCILED, fellow citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, part of the ‘holy temple’ God is building to dwell in!

There’s not a hint of accusation, or of implication that these believers are sub-standard Christians and ought to be ashamed of themselves. They are ‘called out’ ones, chosen ones, alive, reconciled, belonging to God’s own household! Any word to the contrary is nothing more than a delusion from the prince of this world preying on the child who feels unworthy, for whatever reason. So this is where I stand. Selfish? Yes. Unloving at times? That too. But reconciled to God and seated in the heavenlies, very much alive, without cause to hang my head or avoid His gaze. I am no longer a child deserving His wrath. Strike two for my accuser.

Then comes that glorious prayer! (I paraphrase):

 Strengthen their inner beings with power through Your Spirit so that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith,
so that being rooted and grounded in this incredible love they may comprehend this vast love of Christ’s for them and may know it even though it is beyond comprehension.
Why? So they’ll be filled up with God Himself.

And all this is asked of the God who ‘is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us’ to His own glory throughout all generations. That includes my generation and beyond! Amen!!

When Paul resumes his letter he addresses the living out of this magnificent calling as God’s own child, urging the Ephesians to ‘walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [they’ve] been called’. It’s not a matter for heroics on their part, mind you, but of humility and gentleness and patience, extending love to fellow believers, supplying their part as joints in a Body that is gifted and directed by Christ Himself.

It seems likely to me that the church at Ephesus hadn’t yet ‘arrived’ (any more than I have) at the pinnacle of a ‘worthy walk’ because Paul goes on to say ‘you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.’ He takes pains to explain that for the unbeliever this is a necessary default, but not so the believer! The unbeliever’s understanding is ‘darkened’. He is actually ‘alienated from the life of God!’ His ignorance stems from a calloused heart, unwilling to respond to God’s grace, given over instead to satisfying his impulses. For a believer to live like this is to live a lie. He may walk in a way unworthy of his calling but he has nevertheless been called, reconciled, brought into God’s family. It makes no sense to continue living the old way, brainwashed by deceitful desires (desires that promise what they can’t deliver) when there is a new ‘birthday suit’ to be put on, one that resembles God’s beautiful righteousness and holiness (Eph.4:24). There are many particulars of what this new suit will look like (and how to put it on; first, a renewing of the mind) but they can be summed up in: “Therefore be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us…”(5:1,2)

Here’s a glimmer of Strike Three… we are dearly loved. It is natural as children to want to imitate our Dad. And when we fail, when we walk as if we belonged to darkness, when we feel we have been ‘alienated from the life of God’, it is not so. (If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things–I Jn.3:19) God is in fact jealous for our friendship. He’s given us His own Spirit to be with us forever so that we can have this kind of relationship! I read it this morning, in James. “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us” (James 4:5) He even supplies the grace when we are ready to admit our failure. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” And the steps to take: Submit yourselves therefore to God (shortcomings and all). Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (Aha! Strike Three!)Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you…” (James 4:6-8)

So whether the accusations coming at us are justified or groundless, the solution is in drawing near to our greatest Ally. He’s committed to our welfare and nothing can separate us from such love. Such are the things one learns in aloneness.

“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ ( We’re no longer aliens!) and love one another ( We begin to act like dearly loved children!) Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”
(I Jn.3:21-24)


“He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” John 14:16

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” John 15:9

Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you
! Eph.5:14

A Mighty Rushing Wind

I experienced wind this week—mighty rushing wind, and the waves it whipped into a frenzy. Frightening wind. Uncontrollable, unpredictable, unescapable. We could only keep the sail trimmed and angled to propel us forward and hang onto the tiller, compensating for the tossing about with corresponding shifts of the rudder. It is a fearful thing, a humbling thing, an awesome thing to experience wind. You bow to it; it does not do your bidding.

I couldn’t help thinking of the Day of Pentecost that was said to have come with the sound of a ‘mighty rushing wind’. Not the wind itself, but the sound ‘filled all the house where they were sitting’ (Acts 2:2) Was it terrifying? There they were, Jesus’ followers, all together for a single purpose. They were waiting as Jesus had commanded them, for the ‘promise of the Father’ (Acts 1:4) which would empower them to be His witnesses. This was the good gift of the Father to His children—Luke 11:13—sealing their inheritance as sons, a down payment of all that they were to become. (Eph.1:14) And they were sticking together in Jerusalem, waiting, as commanded…

Then came the fire-like flames on each of their heads, and the miraculous gift of speech in languages they had not learned, making them effective witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection! And in fulfillment of their calling they spoke forth “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11) The hearers were filled with perplexed amazement. “What could this mean?” they asked. Then tuning in to Peter’s explanation they got the whole story. This was God’s gracious evidence to all in attendance that Jesus had indeed returned to the Father and sent His Spirit to be with them forever… Acts 2:32,33 The sound of wind accompanied the Gift, a reminder that though we do not know where it comes from or where it is going, Wind comes, with power, and does the work only God can do (Jn.3:8) bringing sinners to faith in their risen Saviour, giving dead folk life eternal…

And what is left for us to do? “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts 2:38

It’s not a matter of our might or power, but of the Spirit blowing where He wishes…the mighty rushing Spirit of God, and our aligning our ‘sails’ with His purpose. When He is on the move, we bow, we do His bidding, not He ours, and one day we will find our little ‘bark’ has been transported safely Home… It is an awesome thing to be carried by Wind, a humbling thing, a fearful thing…but for the sailor this is the stuff of Life!


“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” –Jesus


For my further thoughts along this line may I refer you to: Wind and Spirit from the archives… (Oct.8,2010)

Smelling Creosote

Chase Me

I woke this morning to the sweetly reminiscent smell of creosote—reminiscent of all my childhood years lived in close proximity to the historic Weston Canal, having to cross the Canal bridge with its creosote laden piers many times a week— for mail, for church, for the baseball field, for school day lunches, for just about everything of importance…ah yes, the smell of creosote. We are moored at the dock on Vancouver Island where we purchased our boat.

I wake to the scent of creosote, the dancing of reflected light on the V-birth ceiling, the subtle slap of water on the bow. No gnats in the night, no stifling stillness. It has been a good sleep. Eggs, bacon and bagel fried on deck to order. Brilliant sun, rising breeze, clear blue skies… the town awakes beyond the shelter of the harbor.

I’m reflecting this morning on the power of gratitude— to free us from the gremlins of bad dreams, bad moods and plain old self centered quagmires, to keep us from the discontent which so readily spawns a subtle idolatry of craving ‘more’, and to deepen our confidence and hope in the unseen which is our true inheritance.

Gratitude resets our thinking to the realities beyond the felt and seen. When I wake disgruntled from some inane dream there is no better antidote than giving thanks. This morning it is easy, beginning with the smell of creosote and the dance of light’s reflections… But more than this, once I run out of tangible sensory things, a conscious gratitude takes me beyond the seen and felt to my true inheritance. These are the unseen realities that will keep us from cravings that will ruin us.

As we blew into port yesterday, bouncing in a bit of turbulent water created by competing tides and wind I was reading about ‘winds of doctrine’ (Eph.4:14) besetting the church in our day, ‘varied and strange teachings’ (Heb.13:9) that have become commonplace in churches, replacing grace, replacing sound teaching, replacing the Gospel. The author suggests that our modern quest for tangible ‘spiritual’ experiences is not unlike Esau’s demand for pottage now to quell his appetite. In so demanding he ‘sold his birthright for a single meal’ (Heb.12:16)

Basing his book on his own experiences and his own years of comparing Scripture with current practices, he makes many wise observations, but that is the stuff of a future book review. As I turned back to Scripture myself I was struck by the passage in Hebrews comparing the Israelites’ experience of God with what we have been given. It begins: “For you have not come to what may be touched.” (Heb.12:18) Mount Sinai was all about the tangible—blazing fire, darkness and gloom, whirlwind, trumpet blast, and audible words. What was the people’s response? It scared them to death and they begged not to hear or see, but to be given a mediator between themselves and God.

And this Mediator is precisely what we have in Christ. He is the image of God’s glory, revealed to us. He is our high priest, our mediator, the One by whom we have access to God—the God who ‘knows what you need before you ask Him’. The passage in Hebrews goes on to describe in lofty language our inheritance—”the city of the living God”, the heavenly Jerusalem, myriads of angels, “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven”, and to God, the Judge of all, and to “the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant”…(Heb.12:22-24) We have all this. But how much of it is visible here and now?

How difficult it is to wean our souls from wanting more than we perceive that we have, from wanting that which we can see and hear and feel. But surely gratitude is a first step in that direction. And that is how this passage winds up. First it reminds us that what is unseen is also unshakeable. When all else is destroyed, (as will be these bodies and all their senses,) the unseen Kingdom of God will remain…”Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb.12:28)

So as I sit and smell the creosote, and feel the warmth of sun and freshness of a sea breeze, I will give thanks and then keep on giving thanks till I have gotten beyond the tangible to that which is unseen but forever sure—my place among the righteous made perfect in the heavenlies with Christ Jesus, the Captain of my Soul.


Postponing Joy

Last week the question came up:

What unfulfilled wants hinder me from being fully satisfied with God and worshipping Him with a joyful heart? In other words: What excuses do I make for postponing joy?

I’ve been thinking about my strategy for getting what I want—prayer. And I’m asking myself just how long I am going to postpone joy…Until when?

Until my will is done, my kingdom come?…

Until the accuser is silenced and I no longer have to live with his taunts: “what if your God does not come through”?!…

Until faith is sight and what I long to see is in hand?

Just how long will I postpone joy? For as I do I declare that God’s promises are not enough, His love is insufficient, and His present work is substandard… Who am I going to trust if not Him? In my own efforts to somehow do something that will work? Or am I operating on the premise that someday I will come up with the ‘right’ prayer, the magic bullet that will convince God to act posthaste? If only I could learn to pray more… fluently? more ‘spiritually’? more strenuously? more persuasively?! More what?!

I read the Lord’s Prayer, my model. It does not sound like a marshaling of all my bravado to storm heaven’s gates or to vanquish the foe with powerful mantras. It’s quite simple really… Our Father, let your name be made much of and your will done without exception and without objection in everything that concerns me…and give me what I need to live today, forgiveness most of all and grace to do it like You do…and come to my rescue when I’m tempted. Keep me out of the Evil One’s net, because You are the all-powerful, all glorious King for now and always… In fact it doesn’t even sound like it’s about my ‘power in prayer’ at all, but about relinquishing my will to His, daily submitting my needs to Him for whatever provision He wishes to make and just keeping my sights set on who He is, my Father and the Almighty King!

I get confused about this sometimes. Lots of times. Until I find I am doing little more than chewing the fingernails of my soul in restless unease. I become obsessed with ‘my part’ in dispatching duties that have spiraled beyond my know-how and can-do. There are too many loose ends, unmet ideals, broken pieces, looming disasters. And I can’t handle it. I pray, but in distracted, distrustful, poorly composed little bursts that sound more like ‘oh dear, oh dear, oh dear’, than ‘Father, you are great and you are good and I thank you for Your loving oversight of all that concerns me.’

Meanwhile, praise is non-existent, thanks is meager and joy is postponed. What then is left? Condemnation, guilt, temptation to distraction—be it a chocolate bar or a good book—and avoidance of further failure by withdrawing from present opportunity. And of course, anxiety, cloaked as ‘godly concern’, mind you; but recognizable by the unease that it generates—the opposite of rest.

My sister reminded this week of a winsome book on prayer called, A Praying Life. I actually discovered it last summer to my relief and refreshment. I had even written a review and tucked in some ‘best of’ quotes. And I had resolved that my prayer life would be different, better, more practical, more real… But something has slipped.

Here I am again. Obsessed by what I can’t change. Driven to ‘do something’. Desperate to ‘make prayer work’… and repenting of my dogged determination to have what I want now, to see before I believe, to distrust the One who holds everything in absolute control and manages all my concerns with loving intention… I am loathe to take my eyes off the situations that alarm me but there is no effective prayer until this is done. As long as I focus on the problems I will hear the enemy’s taunts instead of God’s assurances and I will have wobbly knees and quailing heart.

I’ve been reading about Hezekiah, in novel form and in the Bible. The Assyrians were coming. They were utterly fierce and unfeeling enemies. They were powerful, unsurpassed in strength. They trashed every nation they assaulted. They never lost. And they were coming to destroy Hezekiah’s nation, just as they had the northern Kingdom of Israel. He had done nothing ‘deserving’ this. In fact he was well along in reforming the Kingdom of Judah, ridding the land of idols and returning the people to Temple worship of the one true God. And then ‘after these things and these acts of faithfulness’ wicked Sennacherib of Assyria is invading. He taunts Hezekiah saying: “On what do you rest this trust of yours?” (Is.36:4) “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”Is.37:10

And when he can’t unnerve the king he resorts to using propaganda to demoralize the people: “Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us’…. Make your peace with me and come out to me.” (Is.36:15,16) What’s a king to do? What am I to do when my enemy taunts and tempts me to doubt God’s care?

Hezekiah’s was a terrifying prospect! (Read Austin’s historical fiction: Song of Redemption if you need help imagining it!) Normally a king would call for reinforcements, allies, HELP from somewhere, but Hezekiah prayed very matter-of- factly and was instructed not to be afraid but to wait and see what God would do (Is.37) How easy is that? Not very.  It’s kind of like: ‘In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world’. Good cheer? But, but…

But what’s wonderful about this story is that Hezekiah actually listens to Isaiah’s message from God and he in turn is able to strengthen the people to have courage: “With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” (II Chr.32:8) And God goes to bat for them and the Assyrian army wakes up dead. Well, a whole pile of them do. The rest go home! (Is.37:36-38)

That’s how I want to respond in the face of fear– not terrorized beyond usefulness but confidently presenting my petitions to God, listening for His direction, and waiting with expectation for what He will do. Then the battle is his, not mine. And then joy need not be postponed.

“Behold, this is our God;
we have waited for Him, that He might save us.
This is the LORD, we have waited for Him;
Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” Is.25:9

Paul Miller outlines in his book that if prayer is going to be a living connection with God we’re going to have to be honest with Him about where we are in our thinking. No pretending. He gives a peek into his own prayer time on one occasion:

“I am not confident of your deliverance.”

“Until you do save us, give me the faith to wait.”

“My inability to wait on you comes from thinking salvation comes from me…”* (Miller,255)

And I see myself reflected in his words. But I also find that God knows what I need to hear. These are some of His words to my heart this week. How can I keep postponing joy?

Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. Jn.15:5

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. Jn.15:9

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. Jn.15:11

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. Jn.15:16

God calls me to joy. He invites me to abide in His love. He guarantees the flow of sap as long as I stay connected. He invites me to ask and see what He will do. He reminds me He is love, and this is enough.

My calling is to retain bold confidence that He is able to keep what I commit to Him. I can trust Him with everything that troubles me. I can count on His salvation whether I see it in its full glory yet or not. And best of all I can rejoice in the Lord.

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning…
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.

“Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” Deut.33:12

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him,…But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me. Ps.13:2-6



Can I whet your appetite for Paul Miller’s book? Here are some quotes that speak to me…

Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God’s wisdom, power, or knowledge. A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension.” (70)

“The great struggle of my life is not trying to discern God’s will,
it is trying to discern and then disown my own.”
“Until you are convinced that you can’t change your child’s heart, you will not take prayer seriously.” (167)

I often find that when God doesn’t answer a prayer, he wants to expose something in me. Our prayers don’t exist in a world of their own. We are in dialogue with a personal, divine Spirit who wants to shape us as much as he wants to hear us. For God to act unthinkingly with our prayers would be paganism, which says the gods do our will in response to our prayers.” (168)

For more, check out the full review with quotes here.

*Miller, Paul E.  A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World.
NavPress, 2009, 279pp.