My mother has always loved winter. I, on the other hand, seem to be appreciating winter less and less the older I get. She’d say you can always put on more to stay warm, but there’s only so much a person can take off in hot weather. That may be true, but that’s part of my issue with winter: having to get dressed up every time I go outside.
Mom was out to visit a couple of weeks ago from her home in Abbotsford and was so pleased that a blizzard hit while she was here. I can’t say I shared her enthusiasm but I have to confess that yesterday as I looked across to the West with the sun shining on the snowy mountains I was again made aware of the glory of God in creation. I may not be noticing that so much when I shovel later today, but for that moment I was led to a greater sense of God’s presence.
People often say they have a heightened awareness of God in those awe inspiring moments. It reminds me of the story of Elijah in 1Kings chapter 19 where, because of the death threats from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, he ran away into the wilderness to hide. He made his way to Mount Horeb where God came and spoke to him. There God told Elijah that he would pass by in front of Elijah.
We are told that a great wind blew by, so great that rocks were hurled and smashed to pieces, but God was not in the wind. Then an earthquake shook the entire mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. Then a fire raged in front of Elijah, but God was not in the fire. Finally there was just a soft, gentle whisper and at that Elijah covered his face in awe and reverence of the presence of God.
The lesson for me in this is that if I only look for God in those awe inspiring or ecstatic moments in life, whether they be on a mountain top or in a church service, I’m likely going to miss him. At best I will have a pretty shallow relationship with him. But when I listen for God and wait on him in the quiet, ordinary and yes, even mundane times that is where I really come to know him. That is where Jesus truly begins to live through me.
I guess I should listen while I shovel.
Over the years that I have been coaching bantam football I have developed a kind of an image or reputation for always wearing shorts when I’m coaching. Whether it’s raining or shining or snowing I always wear shorts. Really it’s just a goofy thing I do because it makes people laugh when I’m standing on the sidelines in a November blizzard wearing shorts, but maybe I can fool some people into thinking I must know what I’m doing because I look more athletic wearing shorts and a ball cap than I do in boots, jeans and a cowboy hat.
I had the privilege of helping with the high school team as they prepared for the first round of provincial play-offs. I jumped at the opportunity even though most of the senior players probably know more than I do, but I just love being around the team. I didn’t technically do any coaching, I was in the spotter’s booth hoping to see any tendencies from the other team that our guys could exploit, but since I was officially part of the coaching staff for that day I had to wear my shorts.
Unfortunately it was minus 12 with a stiff north wind and blowing snow. I don’t think I fooled anybody into thinking I looked like I knew what I was doing that day. In fact most people thought I’d lost my mind completely and just looked silly. I had my touque on over my ball cap with my hoodie pulled over that and then my big winter coat over everything else . . . and shorts. Nope, wasn’t fooling anybody with that image.
Most of us are concerned to a certain degree about our reputation, it’s always been part of our human nature. Even in the early church the people from Sardis were concerned about their reputation and apparently went to some effort to project an image of being very spiritual (Revelation 3). I imagine they had all sorts of programs and activities; they never went to bars, never used coarse language, and were always in church on Sunday morning. But Jesus’ scathing indictment was they had a reputation for being alive but were dead.
As Jesus followers we need to be real. We aren’t fooling God, and likely we’re not fooling most people either; we’re fatally flawed. By God’s grace through Jesus we are made righteous, and only in our weakness does God reveal his strength. So just be genuine.
When I was a kid I remember Dad explaining that in order to make sure your lines in a field are straight when cultivating don’t try to steer and follow the previous pass, but instead keep your eyes fixed on a point in the distance and aim the tractor for that point. I’m pretty sure he taught that lesson not so much because he thought I’d be working a field some day, but because there is a spiritual parallel to this found in Hebrews 12:2 about fixing our eyes on Jesus rather than the circumstances around us.
It’s a valuable truth I’ve needed in life, but it turns out this past week I also needed the cultivating lesson because my GPS auto-steering quit working on my tractor. You know it’s much more tiring actually having to drive the tractor back and forth across the field instead of just making the turnaround at the ends? It takes a lot of concentration and Dad’s old lesson came back to me in a profound way. But I discovered another angle to that truth . . . literally.
We usually cultivate the fields immediately following harvest and then again later in the fall after fertilizing to work it in. I did the first pass at a cross angle of about 20 degrees off square then the second pass I did at 10 degrees so as to cross cultivate the first pass without the trip getting too rough. Doing this created a very strange optical illusion. Because the lines from the first pass were such a close angle to the second I kept getting the sensation that the tractor was tracking slightly sideways, kind of like a dog’s hind end does. My eye kept falling to the first pass line and it took constant concentration to focus on the true line and keep my orientation square.
It occurred to me that sin is like that. Larry Crabb makes a distinction between obvious sin and insidious sin. Obvious sin is when I am tempted to, for example, be dishonest. Insidious sin occurs when I resist and choose to be honest but in my mind begin to be proud of my righteousness. My focus has moved slightly off square, off of Jesus’ righteousness and my absolute dependence on him. It’s insidious because I may be still behaving right, but inwardly I have become an idolater worshiping my own goodness.
The cure? Same truth Dad told me: fix my eyes on Jesus who endured the cross for my sin.
What motivates your thankfulness? I’m sure all of us can remember our parents reminding us to say thank-you when someone gave us a present or did us some favor. But a truly thankful heart is more of a lifestyle than simply responding when someone has done something nice for us. This is especially true of our thankfulness to God.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving I’ve been reading some of the Psalms that express thankfulness and I’ve discovered that being thankful is as much about worship in response to God revealing himself and his nature to us as it is gratefulness for the blessings we receive from him. And sometimes the circumstances that God reveals himself to us are not always pleasant. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a prisoner in Siberia came to know the reality of God in his life while incarcerated and as a result was able to write “Thank-you prison for being in my life.”
Most of us have never experienced anything that extreme, but all of us have had circumstances, and often people that God has used to shape us and shape his nature in us. For me one of the most significant developmental circumstances was getting fired and the man God used was Robert Plante.
Robert attended the church my dad pastored and was a key leader in it. He worked with his brother at a heating/cooling company and offered me a job shortly after I finished high school. It started well, but within six months my easy-going (read lazy) nature got the best of me and my performance at work began to slide.
There were a number of times that Robert tried to give me some words of wisdom, but one day in particular stands out. We were out on a job and I was supposed to be assisting him, but I was always waiting for him to tell me what to do. Finally he said to me “watch, and look for what needs to be done.” It sounds pretty obvious now but at that point I hadn’t figured it out.
Unfortunately it still took me getting fired before I began to get it, which must have been really hard for Robert. But I am so thankful he did. Not only did I learn a valuable life lesson, but ultimately a spiritual lesson about being attentive to God as well. I am genuinely thankful for being fired, but I can assure you at the time it was not pleasant.
So again, what causes you to be thankful?
When I was a kid at camp we used to sing a song taken from Psalm 25 called “Unto Thee O Lord.” There’s a line from that Psalm that says “let me not be ashamed.” I always understood that to mean help me not to sin so I won’t be ashamed, but I misunderstood that.
According to Strong’s Bible Dictionary the Hebrew word implies being ashamed but at the same time it also implies being disappointed or let down. But what or who is he asking to not be ashamed and disappointed in? In a word, God. In the line immediately before that he states that he has placed his trust in God and later in the Psalm he implies, as Isaiah 28:16 affirms, that no one who places their trust in God will ever be put to shame.
What does it mean to be ashamed of God? Maybe this will help. I’m a huge Edmonton Eskimo fan and this year, as always, I have placed my trust in the Eskimos to win. If you know anything about the CFL this year you can see where this is going. I have been ashamed and disappointed, particularly in front of my “enemy”: Calgary Stampeder fans.
So when he says no one who puts their trust in God will ever be put to shame does that mean that I’ll always “win” in life? That God fixed all of the writer’s (David) problems? Not if you look towards the end of the Psalm. He was lonely and afflicted, he was in anguish and the troubles of his heart had multiplied. He was in distress, his enemies had increased and they hated him fiercely. Some of you are saying that it kinda sounds like your life.
We would like our stories to end “and they lived happily ever after,” but in this life there will always be more adversity. So what David is telling us is that his trust is in God and there is no circumstance, adversity, or even tragedy that can cause him to be disappointed in God.
I think we have sometimes given the idea that if you pray hard enough, and trust God that he will make your life all better. That’s wrong. But if you are more desperate for Jesus than you are to be free of your worst problems, heartaches, and pain he promises you will not be ashamed. There are greater things at stake than your life getting fixed: Jesus, your relationship with him, and eternity. And it starts now.
I’ve always enjoyed being in the water. We took swimming lessons when we were kids and I was quite proud of the badges on my swimsuit. But even so I remember my first ride on the ferry across to Salt Spring Island and commenting that I wouldn’t want to fall in because the water was so deep. Apparently the fact that it was frigidly cold and we were miles from land didn’t faze me, but the thought of falling into water that I was certain must have been hundreds of feet deep was rather unnerving. I wasn’t even convinced when Dad tried to explain that if I could swim in three feet of water I could swim in three hundred feet of water.
What was the issue? I was comfortable in the pool where I knew I could touch bottom, even if the water was over my head I knew I could still push up from the floor and break the surface. But out on the ocean it was literally sink or swim and as a child that made me very uncomfortable.
In Galatians 2:20 we’re told that Jesus, literally, will live his life through us. That may sound out of left field, but let me put the two thoughts together. Far too many Jesus followers never get out of the pool. They swim, i.e. they allow Jesus to live his life through them, but never let themselves get beyond where they know they can put their feet down and touch bottom. In other words they don’t whole-heartedly trust their lives to Jesus; they want to maintain that safety, that control factor because going out in the ocean means that if Jesus doesn’t do what he said they’re going to drown.
Now for some people God essentially throws them into the ocean as a death, or illness or some other traumatic circumstance suddenly removes the bottom they thought was there. But for most of us it comes down to a matter of obedience. God has told us it’s time to jump into the ocean, maybe a call to career ministry of some sort, maybe taking on a leadership role in the church, maybe even just reaching out to your neighbor to express God’s love. For some of you it is simply acknowledging Jesus as your God and allowing him to begin teaching you to swim.
It’s time to jump into the ocean; it’s time to obey.