July 06, 2015

Among Thorns

Devotion for the Week...

We have a wood furnace to heat our house. Shortly after we installed the furnace, we also bought a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is a sneaky danger because it is colourless, odorless, tasteless and potentially deadly. According to How Stuff Works, carbon monoxide is poisonous to us because it binds more strongly to our hemoglobin than oxygen does. That means that if carbon monoxide is present, it will bind to a person's hemoglobin where oxygen should bind, making it impossible for oxygen to bind there, and eventually the person will suffocate. The oxygen is squeezed out and replaced by the carbon monoxide.

I thought of this when I read one of Jesus' parables which I have read many times before. The parable of the sower goes something like this: a farmer goes out to plant seed. On the way, some falls on the road and gets eaten by birds; some seed falls on the rocks where it has no room to grow roots; some falls among the thorns which choke it out and some falls on good ground where it grows and produces a harvest. The meaning of the parable is relatively simple. The farmer is the person who sows the word of God. The seed on the path is symbolic of the person who hears the word of God but never accepts it. The seed among the rocks is the person who accepts the word of God, but has no depth so he falls away as soon as there is trouble. The seed among the thorns is also a person who hears the word, but they're so worried about the things of this world that the word of God is choked out of their life. The seed on good ground, of course, is the person who accepts the word of God, does their best to live accordingly and so lives a fruitful life.

Whenever I've read the parable before, I've always thought it referred only to those who are hearing the word of God for the first time, those who are hearing that Jesus died to offer them forgiveness for their sins. But this time I considered the application for those of us who are already believers. After all, we hear, or read, the word of God regularly. I was struck especially by the seed that is choked out by the thorns, or weeds. "The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22).

The worries of this life...the deceitfulness of wealth.

How much of life are summed up in those two phrases? How often do we not really hear a sermon because we are too busy thinking about meal plans, or company we'll be seeing later in the week, or the clothes our kids need, or the vacation we can't wait to take in a few weeks? Or how often are we more focused on earning/spending/saving our money rather than on how we could be living like Jesus?

It is harder for oxygen to bind to hemoglobin, so we have to take precautions to make sure carbon monoxide doesn't crowd out the oxygen. Unfortunately, it is also harder to live according to God's word. First of all, we have to spend time with His word, focused time and not just time sitting in a church pew not really paying attention to the sermon. Ideally, we should also be reading the Word for ourselves, and that's certainly not always easy. The worries of this life, the stuff that has to get done each day just to keep our households running, can easily take up every moment of our day. If we wait to 'have time' to read the Bible it likely won't happen. We have to make a conscious effort to make time to read the Bible. During the school year, I find this relatively easy because I set my alarm a bit earlier than I need to be up, then spend that extra time reading my Bible. Unfortunately, once summer vacation arrives, that plan goes right out the window because I'm no longer setting an alarm at all. I'm still struggling to find a time that I will stick to consistently.

Then, of course, once we know how God wants us to live, we have to actually follow through and live that way. But that's not always easy either. Living God's way will sometimes mean standing out from the crowd and acting differently. Are we willing to do that, or are we more worried about fitting in?

Seeds planted among thorns won't grow well unless the farmer pulls up the thorns. Carbon monoxide will beat out oxygen every time. In the same way, we have to be diligent about removing those things that would crowd out the Word of God.

July 01, 2015

Canada Day Treasure Hunting

Happy Canada Day!

Aiden is away at church camp this week (which he tells me is 'awesome!'), but the rest of us had a great time today hiking and looking for treasures along a nearby hiking trail and beach. Judging by how many pictures Paul and I took between us, we found lots of treasures! Here are a few I wanted to share.

These beach peas were so dainty and beautiful.
I love this shot of Nathan looking for creatures in the pool of water.
Zachary found a nice place to lounge for a few minutes.
I love looking for shells, pretty rocks, bits of coral and sea glass and these beaches have all of it in spades!
The rock formations in this area are really amazing. I can't get over how there are so many bends and folds in the rock (none of which photographed well today, of course). I'm not sure what kind of rock this is, or how it eroded in this way, but it looks amazing!
There are many places where there are veins of a different rock in the midst of the usual grey rock, which I think is shale, or maybe slate.
I like knowing the names of things, so I have a wildflowers book and a bird book to help me identify the different ones I see. I said today that now I need to find a rock book, because I'd love to be able to read about the different types of rocks and learn what I'm seeing. If you know of a good rock book, please let me know!

After the hike, we returned to the little picnic area, where there is another beach. The boys loved throwing rocks in the water while they waited for their hot dogs to be ready.
See the iceburg in that picture? That was our supper time entertainment. It slowly moved in closer, then started to roll. It rolled one way, then rolled back the other way, and back and forth and back and forth. Then it tipped backwards a bit, then started to spin around. It looked completely different by the time we were finished eating!

After supper we explored a little farther along the beach, climbing over more rocks, until we discovered this chunk of ice bumping up against the shore. Just think how cold that water must be!
This is my favourite kind of day - spent with family, exploring nature and coming home with beach treasures in my pockets.

June 29, 2015

Public Figure

Devotion for the Week...

Years before an American election happens, there is speculation about who will run for president. I'm not even American, but I still heard the news the very day that Hilary Clinton officially said she would be running, after several years of speculation about whether or not she would. What amuses me is that these announcements are themselves announced ahead of time, as in "There's a big announcement coming from so-and-so at 1pm today," so that all the major newscasters can be ready to cover the actual  announcement. Even those who are already well known do everything they can to maximize their media exposure.

If you are not so well known, then getting noticed can be very difficult. You have to work hard at finding those photo ops that will get your name into the news...for good reasons and not because you've messed up. You have to be out there, shaking hands, meeting people, taking selfies with supporters. Without being known and gaining approval, without the support of voters who like them, politicians are out of a job.

Interestingly, Jesus' brothers had the same idea. They told Him, "Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world" (John 7: 3,4). Get out there. Be seen. Show everyone what you can do so they will know all about you. 

But that wasn't Jesus' plan. He wasn't out to win a popularity contest, or to gain a large crowd of followers. Yes, He did a lot of things in public, and a lot of things that were noticed by the crowds, but He wasn't doing them with the goal of gaining popularity. In fact, He sometimes healed people, then told them "See that you don’t tell anyone" (Matthew 8:4). Can you imagine being completely healed of some terrible disease and then being told not to tell anyone how it had happened? I find it hard to imagine anyone today healing people and not wanting to take credit for it.

Jesus was often followed by crowds of people, people who wanted to hear Him teach or receive healing, but I don't find Him sending out announcements of where He would be ahead of time to make sure the crowd grew as much as possible before He arrived. In fact, He often tried to sneak away to quiet places to pray or to spend time teaching His disciples, but the crowds followed Him anyway because He was different. His healings and the authority with which He taught were so different from what people were used to that they sought Him out. Though He didn't make a special effort to draw the crowds, God worked through Him to reach many people.

Of course, not everyone liked Jesus. The very things that made Him liked by the ordinary people were the same things that turned the religious leaders against Him. Once, after Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, "the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus" (Mark 3:6) because He went against their teaching. Though it would eventually lead to His death, Jesus didn't avoid the things that upset the religious leaders. He didn't seek to gain their approval or change His message to make it more appealing to them.

The question, then, is: Who are we imitating? Do we, like the politicians, seek out every opportunity to be noticed, to increase our popularity and have the approval of the most possible people? Or are we content to let God take care of the results?

June 24, 2015

EPP Stars

I had a really sore neck last week, which kept me from sewing anything at all. It's getting better, finally, so yesterday I tried quilting the wedding quilt I'm working on...I only worked on it for 15 minutes before I felt my neck start tensing up again. That was the end of that. So, there's not much progress to share on that project.

I have been doing a bit of EPP work lately while we've been traveling to appointments or to visit family, though, so it hasn't been a total sewing bust. Since I last shared these stars, I've finished 8 more.
 This is my favourite of the new stars. I just love those blue flowers!
 I used one of my stars to make a pincushion, so my total is now 24 stars.
I still have no actual plan for what I'll do with them. I know I want to connect them with a solid colour, probably grey, so I'm only using prints for the stars. Mostly I just enjoy stitching them while we're on the road, so I'll keep going until I feel like I have enough. Judging by how slowly I'm finishing them, that could be a while. With school ending in two more days (and babysitting ending too!) I'm looking forward to camping trips, hiking and just generally relaxing, which will probably include a few more stars.

June 22, 2015

Running for Joy

Devotion for the Week...

Happy Father's Day to any fathers reading this week! I feel like my Monday devotions are often a little behind the times, since there are so many Sunday holidays that I want to touch on here (Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, advent), but I don't want to write about them 6 days in advance. Somehow a day late feels more normal than 6 days early :)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) really resonates with most people, I think, because we've all been the one who wandered away and got into trouble at some point in our lives. It's an easy story to understand, too. Son takes his inheritance money, leaves home, spends all the money stupidly, realizes how stupid he has been and comes home feeling unworthy to be called a son. Father forgives him completely and celebrates his return. Since it's a parable, we then have to look at the meaning, which is also easy to understand. We are the stupid, wandering child and God is the forgiving Father who welcomes us back home and celebrates our return. It's the perfect Father's Day story!

There's an element of Jesus' story that we can miss, though, because of the cultural differences between our day and His day. By verse 20 of the parable, the son is returning home to ask for work as a servant since he is no longer worthy to be called a son, "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." 

It seems perfectly natural, doesn't it? The story is set in an era long before cell phones and text messages. Whenever we leave family to head home (a drive of several hours no matter who we've been visiting), we're always reminded to text as soon as we get home so they'll know we made it safely. Back then, though, communication would have been pretty much non-existent, especially considering the son left home and "squandered his wealth in wild living" (v 13) in a distant country. The father hasn't heard anything about his son's well-being since he left home. We don't know how long that has been, but the son had time to spend all his money, then to hire himself out to work, and then finally to return home again. The father has been waiting for news for a while and he's anxious about his son, wondering if he's okay.

You know how you can recognize some people by the way they walk, or the way they carry themselves? Well, this dad saw his son when he was still a long way off and he recognized him right away, despite the ragged clothes. Probably excited and relieved, the father runs to his son. This is where the cultural difference trips us up. Grown men didn't run in Jesus' day. It was considered beneath their dignity. This father, by running to embrace his wayward son, was embarrassing himself completely in front of anyone who saw him. But at that moment, the father didn't care about his dignity, or who was watching, or what they would think. His son was home!

Of course, it's only a parable, so this never actually happened as Jesus tells it. But as I said earlier, there's a spiritual meaning here. And if the father in the story represents God, our heavenly Father, then what does the running mean? I think it is all about the father's emotion. Can't you just feel his joy as he runs to his son?

The parable of the prodigal son is one of three stories Jesus told about people who lost something valuable (a sheep and a coin were the other lost things), and in all three stories the emphasis is on the joy when the lost thing is found. The father in the story doesn't simply wait for the son to come to him, nor does he calmly shake his hand, both of which would have been more in keeping with societal norms. He doesn't even wait to find out what his son has been doing all the time he's been away, or why he looks so ragged. No, the father is so overcome with emotion that he runs to greet his son, throwing all thoughts of everyone's expectations aside, and welcoming him with complete acceptance.

God didn't wait for us to come to Him, either. He sent Jesus to be our Savior because He knew there was no other way to restore our relationship with Him. Now, whenever a person accepts Jesus, our Father welcomes him or her with the same complete acceptance, the same celebration, the same boundless joy.

Isn't it wonderful to know that our Father feels such joy over us?
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