Don’t Become A Dried Up Orange

God created us all with a conscience.  In fact in a very real sense, particularly for those who are Jesus followers, your conscience is the voice of God.  But we need to be careful because the Bible tells us we are able to harden our hearts (picture a dried up, hard old orange). dried orange When that happens we are unable to recognize that voice, or maybe twist it to say what we want hear.  The Bible says by letting go of a good conscience we can shipwreck faith.  So how do we guard against that?  Let me tell you what I’ve learned from experience.

My second job out of college was head wrangler at a Bible Camp north of Edmonton.  I ran the horsemanship program there.  To save on always having to adjust my stirrups I chose a saddle to use from the ones they had there.  Almost no one else who’s ever sat in the one I picked has found it very comfortable, but it fit me well and so became the one I always used.

When we moved on from that camp I looked at that saddle and thought, boy I’m really going to need a saddle.  No one else likes this one and I’ve used it so long and it’s broke in to fit me it’s essentially mine anyway.  Besides, I deserve it. They didn’t pay me very well and I’ve earned it.  So I packed it in with our things.

About 18 months and two moves later I was preparing a sermon, and I don’t even remember what the topic was, but in the process my conscience (God) convicted me that I had stolen that saddle and I needed to make it right before I preached the sermon.  I called the camp and confessed to the director.  He was very gracious and forgave me and even gifted the saddle to me.

From that experience I’ve learned a couple of cues that will warn you that you may be on course for a shipwreck.

When you start to convince yourself you really need this or that you must have your way; when you tell yourself you’re owed or you deserve it; or when you blame someone else for this need your conscience is likely beginning to dry and wither and harden.  At that moment stop!  Stop and ask God to soften your heart.

One more key thought: A clear conscience is not gained by just not sinning anymore but only by dealing appropriately when you do sin.  And that begins with confession to God and forgiveness through Jesus’ blood shed for you.

Identity Crisis?

The astute among you will have noticed that there is a different picture attached to this article.  Some may even have wondered who it is.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the comment “I didn’t recognize you without your hat.”  Well to avoid any misunderstandings about this picture let me be clear up front: No this is not my bike. (But I am looking for one.)

Maybe you’re thinking I must be hitting my mid-life crisis since I just celebrated my first 49th birthday. (Apparently some people have more than one right Terry?)  Maybe you’re thinking I’m going through some sort of identity crisis. Do I want to be cowboy, football, farmer or biker?

Well it’s none of that.  I’ve seen wannabe’s in all of those genres and I know it takes more than putting on a leather vest with the colours of some organization (Christian Motorcycle Assoc. in my case) and buying a bike to really understand and embrace biker culture, same as wearing a hat and boots doesn’t make you a cowboy.

But it can be one of the steps of identifying with a culture.  Why would I want to identify with a different culture?  So that maybe I will have the opportunity to say in actions and words this is exactly what Jesus did for all of us and more.  Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that because we have flesh and blood so Jesus also took on flesh and blood (the ultimate in identifying with another culture) so that by his death he could break the power of death and free us who live with a fear of death.

In a very small way embracing the culture of someone else is following Jesus’ example, and says you are important and valuable to Jesus and to me.  I want you to know that your identity does not come from your culture but from Jesus himself.  Then that identity in Jesus is expressed in whatever culture you find yourself.IMG_1217

Here is where I find my identity, echoing Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15-16.  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them all.  But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Because Jesus saved me from my sin, I know he can save you from yours – regardless of what your culture is.

Learning The Law

I once rented a car from Jesus.  No really.  That was the name on his card.  Of course he pronounced it Hesus.  We were in Merida, Mexico on the Gulf Coast.  The little house were staying at was about an hour away of just outside of the port city of Progresso and the only way to get there was to rent a car.

I had heard all the horror stories about how there aren’t any rules when driving in Mexico.  So I was slightly apprehensive.  And to make matters worse the rental place was right in the middle of the city.  So after carefully plotting our route and Wendy in the navigator’s spot with map spread out on her knees, I cautiously eased into traffic.

At first it seemed rather chaotic.  The lines marking the lanes were apparently mostly a suggestion, and even then signalling seemed to be on a need to know basis.  In Canada we generally only use our horns if we’re mad at someone, but there honking was a normal and frequent means of communication.  But I figured they were honking in Spanish because I didn’t have a clue what they were trying to tell me.

After a tense twenty minute commute, where thanks to the grace of God and my navigator’s directions we didn’t make any wrong turns, we made it out onto the relatively orderly flow of traffic on the open highway.  But after a few days and some trips into the smaller city of Progresso I began to understand the different rules that governed Mexican roads and even began to appreciate some of the efficiencies of their system.  And they weren’t honking in Spanish after all.

In hindsight I’ve realized that by getting to know the laws or rules that govern a foreign culture I gained a greater understanding and appreciation for that culture.  I’m convinced this is why over and over in the Psalms David expresses how much he loves the law of God.  In Psalm 119:97, for example, he says “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.”

Now he’s not just talking about the Ten Commandments, but all the writings of Moses, which make up the first five books of our Bible.  By studying and meditating he is getting to know God better because the scriptures are an expression of God’s nature and character.

So I encourage you, start reading your Bible.  Maybe even find a small group to study it with.  You’ll be amazed at how much better you know and understand God.

Alignment With God

Back in the olden days of farming I didn’t have the capabilities to program my GPS.  With the current model I just type in the heading I want and it sets it up for me.  But in a bygone era I would have to line it up by sight, press a button to set the first mark, drive as straight as I could till the GPS established my heading, and then press the button again to lock it in.  I know, pretty primitive huh?

Normally this wasn’t a big deal, but if for some reason I had to work a field that had already been started I would try to line myself up with the already established pass that I knew was true and go through the process hoping to get the exact same heading as the original.  This was almost impossible.  It may have looked very close to lined up as I began the field, but by the time I reached the far end there was almost always a gap between what I just worked and the original.

A degree or two off didn’t seem make much difference in the first fifty yards or so, but a mile down the field it became very clear that I’d missed the mark.

This is how a person drifts away from God.  We allow things of lesser importance to take priority and our alignment with God gets thrown off a degree or two. These things may be “small” sins or even in and of themselves may not be bad and hardly noticeable at first but a month or two or a year down the road something comes up and we realize our intimacy with God is missing.

I’ve found I need to check my alignment with God even more than daily.  I need to start every day with scripture and prayer, and then often through the day be in connection with him and consciously dependant on his provision for each situation.

When a person lives this way, not perfectly but consistently, the unthinkable can happen and though everything else in life is shaken, their foundation is not.  Please don’t think I’m suggesting life’s heartaches are felt any less intensely.  There are dark days where the “if only’s” and “I should have’s” assail and tears are never far away.  The empty spaces are acute, and the “why!!??”  screamed skyward hangs unanswered in the air.

But in the midst of all that and far more than can be described, a person who has been living in alignment with God will be sustained and still know to his core that God is sovereign, God is faithful, and God is good.

To Wave or Not to Wave Revisited

I first posted this blog a couple of years ago, but with some recent experiences we’ve had here I thought it timely to revisit it.

One of the cool, cultural quirks about living in small town Saskatchewan and Alberta is that when you pass an oncoming vehicle everybody waves.  It doesn’t matter if they know you or not, and it’s usually just lifting a finger or two off of the steering wheel in a sort of red-neck salute, but everybody waves.

I can remember as a new driver being eager to visit my relatives in Neilburg, Saskatchewan so that I could finally be the one in the vehicle to do the salute.  And when we moved to Golden Prairie it was very natural to fall into the habit.  In fact on trips to the city it would take me half way to Calgary to get out of the habit, but it’d only take me a couple of miles out of Medicine Hat to pick it up again.

When we moved to Falkland, BC one of the first things I noticed was that nobody waved.  I had assumed that small town Western Canada was small town Western Canada regardless of if you were on the prairies or in the mountains, but I was wrong.  I decided I would make it my personal crusade to change the culture of that little town.  It didn’t work.  I got a finger salute alright, but I’m pretty sure that guy misunderstood my intentions.

Hindsight has taught me a valuable lesson in this.  The subtle message I was carrying in my well-intentioned but misguided mission was that they needed to change to be more like me when I should have been doing everything I could to become like them.  I’ve come to realize that this was a hindrance in my true mission of expressing Christ to that community.

It’s true that in 1 Corinthians 4:16 Paul urges the people to imitate him, but what he’s talking about is the way in which he showed them Christ-likeness in day-to-day circumstances.  He challenged them on issues of sin, but did not try to oblige them to conform to his culture.

We in the church have a particular culture and we need to pray for discernment to be able to boldly and without compromise convey Christ to the culture around us without at the same time imposing our own culture.  In fact we need to make an effort to in every way possible identify with and embrace the culture around us.  Our message should not be “change your culture to be more like me,” but “let Jesus change your nature to be more like him.”

Come to think of it, we could use that message inside our church culture a little more too.

Birthday Truffle

My mom was a master of leftovers.  I guess with five kids all spaced about a year apart and, though by no means poor but definitely with a budget to work within, she needed to make sure nothing was wasted.  The picked over remains from one meal would be put together with a few new ingredients and become something brand new.  A lot of times we didn’t even realize the meal started with leftovers.  Even the leftover porridge would become the foundation for some glorious fresh baked bread.

Most impressive though, were the dishes that for one reason or another didn’t turn out but would be transformed into not just something edible, but delicious.  Like birthday cake.  I don’t remember whose birthday it was (we had a lot of them), but the tradition in our house was that the birthday child chose the meal.  We could ask for whatever we wanted, including what kind of cake.

For some reason this particular cake didn’t turn out.  Either it fell, or got left in the oven a little too long, or was missing a key ingredient because while it tasted like cake you sure couldn’t put candles on it.  Most of us would have thrown it away and pulled out the box of cake mix, but not my mom.  She cut up the mess into pieces made some pudding and whipped cream and mixed it all into a fancy serving bowl and set birthday truffle in front of us complete with candles.  As I recall none of us were disappointed we didn’t have cake.  In fact I’m pretty sure birthday truffle was requested at least once after that.

Many of us live with some “if only’s”.  If only I hadn’t made that choice.  If only I had chosen this path. If only I hadn’t been so foolish or immature or any number of other regrets, guilt, or even sin.  But God is a master of taking the mess that we’ve made and as we submit our lives to him, he creates a beautiful masterpiece from it.

For those who are Jesus followers, no experience is wasted.

All the experiences of our past, whether self-induced or caused by others, even the blatantly sinful things we’ve done, God will use to make us into a dish that he sets before the world to bless and meet the needs of others who are hurting and messed up.

As per Genesis 50:20, what was meant for evil, God uses to bring about his good.

My Life Is Not My Own

I’m usually a pretty up-beat, positive kind of a guy but last week for just a few minutes I began feeling a little sorry for myself.  I was out at Hardendale Hall for a rehearsal for a wedding I would be officiating the following day, and being a little early I decided to slip down to Cow Lake just to enjoy the quiet for a few minutes.

It was stunningly gorgeous! The water was like glass.  The color of the blue sky and white clouds contrasted with the changing leaves reflected perfectly on the lake was breath-taking.  There were grebes with their strangely beautiful croaking cry close by, and from off at the far end of the lake came the occasional wail from a loon.

Cow Lake

Cow Lake

My first response when I saw the lake was “Oh God, this is beautiful! You are amazing!”  But my second response was “I don’t want to leave.  Let me go sit in a boat with a line in the water and just enjoy this for hours,” which was followed shortly in my downward spiral of self-pity by “It’s not fair.  I never get to go fishing, or hunting, or even get out in the bush anymore.”

Graciously, God didn’t let me follow that path very long.  I was gently reminded that my life was purchased by God at a very high price, the suffering and death of Jesus, and no longer belongs to me to please myself as I see fit.

I heard someone say that many people will willingly name Jesus as their savior, receiving forgiveness from their sin and the blessing of eternal life, but far too many stop at naming Jesus savior, and do not name him as Lord of their lives as well.  There is a belief that has developed in our western culture that Jesus died for me so that I can be happy.  That belief is wrong.

Jesus laid down his life for me because he was obedient to the Father. That obedience brings glory to the Father, who in response gives honour to the Son.  And therein lays the pattern for our lives.

God brings many wonderful things into our lives including wealth, possessions, our houses and church buildings.  His blessings also include his creation and the enjoyment of it.  But none of these gifts were intended to be hoarded to ourselves as though they were an indication of God’s pleasure with us.  All gifts from God are given with the expectation that they will in turn be spent on others, thus bringing glory to God and honour to the Son.

Cow Lake

Cow Lake


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