Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In Like A Lion...

Wind, wind, go away!
Far away to sea and sail,
Set your plague far at bay,
Pester others with your gale.

Wind, wind, howl no more!
On this dusty earth of red;
Find a place far from shore
Make a sail your lofty bed.

Wind, wind, O please abate!
Do not crush my little home,
Remove far from this state,
And give regard to my poem.

~ Johanna

Friday, February 24, 2012

O Frabjous Day!

Happy 110th birthday to my childhood heroine, Gladys Aylward!!

I have always admired her trust in the LORD, her willingness to serve Him in spite of obstacles and everyone she knew saying 'You can't do that!', and not knowing what she was walking into when she bought her ticket for China.

Miss Aylward is also a testament that a little cleaning girl can do seemingly impossible things when she trusts God and submits herself wholly to Him. That is pretty inspiring to this cleaning girl over 100 years later.

The name 'Gladys' means 'lame or disabled' - this certainly was how many persons viewed Gladys in regards to being a missionary. They always told her she was unfit for the work she believed God had called her to do. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak [and lame] things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty. (1 Cor. 1:27)

Thank You, Jesus, for Gladys Aylward and her obedience and submission to You.

~ Johanna

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Like thousands of Christians worldwide, I rose early to repeat the Confession, the Kyrie Eleison, and the Agnus Dei. Participants in the service went to the altar rail for the 'imposition of ashes' to "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

In Scripture we see over and again that when a person, or group of persons, sought repentance they would don sackcloth and cover themselves with dust and ashes. Fasting for a period of time often accompanied the season of repentance. It is fitting that we recall to mind that true forgiveness comes not because of outward forms, but from the Son of God

O Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world.
Have mercy on us.
O Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world.
Have mercy on us.
O Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world.
Grant us peace.

It is not ashes or our own penitence which save us, it is only the blood of the Lamb of God that purifies us. Thus, the liturgy ended with the Lord's Supper.

Though we may be made of dust, our eternal spirit will live on. Though our flesh returns to dirt, our souls cannot. Lord have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us.

Life is real!  Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

~ Johanna

Monday, February 20, 2012

Buried Heart

Here lies the heart of me
Buried with an unmarked gravestone
No name, just the dates it lived and died
Now I want it back

Always finding but never seeing the way
Teach me how not to be afraid
(Teach me to love again, to love again, once again)

Take me down and let me see
The well that’s full of bravery
And baptise me so I’ll be free
To do the things I fear

~ The Well and the Gravestone, by The Vespers

So many of The Vespers's lyrics have arrested my heart this past week. From sweet love songs, to exploring the depths of life and death, and various relationships there has been much to ponder. I could write full posts on at least half of the songs on the album 'Tell Your Mama'.

How about you? Have you ever felt like your heart is dead and buried? Have you ever wondered if you will ever feel again, or love again? Have you ever pleaded with God to restore the years the locusts have eaten? Do you ever find yourself wishing you could feel something, even pain?

If you answered 'yes' to any of the above questions, then it is possible that you, too, have entombed your heart beneath an anonymous stone slab.

I have no easy answers about the resurrection of a buried heart. In fact, I have no answers at all. What I do know is that in the last weeks I have been given the gift of feeling joy, and pain in the face of others's losses. For quite some time I have prayed that God would teach my heart how to feel, how to love and be loved (firstly by Him, as well as others). He is gracious to answer, even though the process is slow.

Perhaps I am at fault in the snail's pace of the healing process. One has to hold still under the Surgeon's scalpel for Him to be able to work - and I wiggle a lot. O God, help me to be still!

How I wish I had more well-formed thoughts on this topic, but I am still being resurrected.

I remain under the Mercy,
~ Johanna

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Apple of His Eye...

Friday began for me last night (a rather Hebraic way of beginning days) when I braided my shower-wet hair before bed.

I woke up (looking like this - yikes!) to hazy golden sunlight pouring in my window.

I read this morning's Psalm (seventeen) and was rather delighted with the final verse: "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness."

This comes after David cries out for God's comfort and protection from his enemies. He laments that the wicked seem to prosper and he begs for God to discontinue their success. The vile are blessed with children and riches, but David says he will be satisfied to behold God's face, to have God's presence turned toward him.

The final verse correlates with the previous idea from verses 7-9: "Show Thy marvellous kindness, O Thou that savest by Thy right hand them which put their trust in Thee from those that rise up against them.

Keep me as the apple of Thy eye, hide me under the shadow of Thy wings, From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about."

David asks God to keep him as the apple of His eye. An intriguing request, because the Hebrew phrase means 'little man of the eye', or the reflection one sees of themselves in the pupil of another's eye. David is asking that God would see Himself in David.

We want to be loved for who we are, but we also want to be made more like Christ. It is a strange paradox that in becoming more like Christ Himself, we become more fully human, able to be most fully our 'selves' that God made us. God looks at us and sees a tiny reflection of Himself in us.

When God shines the light of His countenance upon us, it is like Moses seeing the trail of God's glory on Mount Sinai. Just seeing the remnants of God's glory made the face of Moses radiant. No man can look upon God's face and live, yet God can shine the light of His countenance (meaning both the glory of His face, and His good favour) upon us. When He does, our faces are radiant with the light of His joy, hope, and glory.

No wonder David is satisfied at the end with God's 'likeness'. It is not the same word or idea as God's face or countenance, but it is the idea of seeing God's image, or a reminder of His presence.

Does your face shine with the glory of God? Does your very visage illuminate those around you because you have been in the presence of God? Are you the apple of God's eye?

~ Johanna

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

True Love is Costly

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

~ 1 John 4.7-11 ~

We have a God whom it cost the very life of His Son to ransom us. His love is deep. His love is costly. His love 'labours to make us loveable', as C. S. Lewis once wrote. His love will not let us go, even when we let go of Him. His love often feels like death.

And who are we? We are the love-hungry little cats at the feet of the Maker, pawing at His ankles. Yet He looks down upon us. He shines the light of His face toward us.

He loves us with a costly, inexorable, jealous love. Hallelujah!

~ Johanna

Friday, February 10, 2012

What your life says about what you worship...

Imagine, crowds pressed into an amphitheatre watching with disgusting eagerness a man being ripped apart, limb from body, by wild horses. Smell the stench of the sweat and excitement of those around you. Breathe in the terror and agony of the man in the ring. Feel your heartbeat accelerate at the squeals of the horses being driven mad in order to torture a human.

Now, smell the sweat and excitement of another crowd. Listen to the roar of those around you. See the wild colours, vulgar gestures, grimacing faces (both in the crowd and in the ring) raging about you. Where are you this time? In an amphitheatre filled with thousands upon thousands of persons, yes. Unimaginably huge monitors flash replays. The smell of beer and sweat hang in the air - your favourite sports team has just taken the field in the second half of their game.

In the gladiatorial theatre those in the crowd worshipped the emperor, but they also exalted violence and entertainment.

In our current culture many persons give lip-service to God, but in their hearts they worship something else.

My question to you is, what does your life show that you worship?

You probably know (or are) someone like my neighbour. She has a Colts jersey, hat, and autographed card from Peyton Manning. She sports a Colts flag and tire cover on her porch and vehicle. Sundays after church you can find her watching the big game. Everyone who knows her knows that she is a Colts fan.*

Maybe you hate sports... But perhaps you cannot stand being single. You are always hoping that you will meet someone to spend the rest of your life with. You want to raise a family with them and grow old together. Or you may have met that special person and now you have children. Are your children the apple of your eye? Does their love, approval, happiness, or success mean more to you than anything else?

Are you like me, reading [somewhat less than] copious amounts of books, articles, and essays? Does your conversation focus on philosophy or historical figures and writers? Do you value a reader, an 'intellectual', over someone who watches liberal amounts of television?

Maybe you spend much of your time at work, working out, cooking organic meals, eating fast food, trying to follow rules, living a raucous party life, trying to look young, or one of a myriad of other things.

What do your habits say about what you worship?

When someone walks into your home or room, what will they see that you value? What do most of your conversations focus around? How do you spend most of your hours each day? What do you think about when you do not have to focus on something in particular?

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.
~ Philippians 3.18-19

What is your functional saviour? You might know that no one and no thing but Jesus can save you from the end result of sin (death). But what are you setting your mind upon? Where is your focus? What is that one thing more that if you had it you would be happy? What is something that if it were taken from you, you would want to cease living? Is it your job, your house, romance, marriage, children, parents, your physique, your country, your talent (singing, writing, athletic ability, etc.), sports, a person, or something else?

Paul finishes out his thought in Philippians thus, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself."

Are you willing for Jesus to subdue even you to Himself? Are you eager to spend time with Jesus? Do persons you talk with know by your actions alone that you are a Christian? What does your prayer life look like in God's eyes? Do your thoughts go naturally to Scripture or praise? Does knowing that it cost God the very lifeblood of His Son to make you His child overwhelm you, or does it bore you?

I am not saying that I am always eager to spend time in prayer, praise, or Scripture. However, I want to be eager to know God more deeply. I want to see God's holiness. I am willing to know God through suffering and sorrow. I want to practise loving others like Jesus loves me... Even though it costs, and even though it hurts, and even if it is not returned. And I am scared to death that the LORD will actually take me up on teaching me to be more like Him in these ways. But I am willing.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
~ Colossians 3.1-4

For a more in-depth look at the idols of our hearts and how to shift our focus, listen to Tim Keller here.

~ Johanna

*My neighbour, mentioned above, is also a Christian... I am not bashing her love for her team, nor sports as sports. I was merely showing that even a good thing (even morality) can become an idol if not submitted to Christ.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The True Labour of Love

"To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable."

~ C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

One thing I have desired this year is to gain a greater capacity to receive God's love. In turn, I want my love for God and others to increase.

Sometimes I forget that love is not simply a good feeling toward someone, it is giving a cup of water to a stranger; feeding or clothing my enemy; spending time with that person that no one else wants to hang out with; or looking the homeless in the eye and acknowledging their humanity.

Yet love is more. It is the willingness to tell my friends when they are wrong, or where they need to grow. At other times is it love that I hold my tongue from sarcasm or a witty remark at another's expense. And there are times when it is love to simply cry with a friend, or to laugh at their ludicrous antics.

The hard part of love is that I see what my acquaintance, friend, or family member could be, and I desire to challenge them to become better. Often this is a slow process, or downright exasperating when I lack the courage to tell them a fault I see. Yet it is because I see what they could be that I am able to speak the truth to them. It is because God cannot tolerate the stains in my character that I can show love to others. It is a severe mercy to love others thus. Yet it is love's nature to call out the best, the excellent, in another.

"Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."
~ Proverbs 27:5-6

O that I would love others more! And O that I would love You more, Lord Jesus! O Love that will not let me go, teach me more of the depth, breadth, and height of Your love.

~ Johanna