Monday, March 22, 2021

And One Final Heartland Post

 

So more on why I'm pursuing an eternally real Heartland instead of indulging in fantasies that are only temporary.

 

A REASON:  My satisfaction. 

If you ask anyone what their most important goal in life is they will say it is to be happy. We were created for happiness.  Real happiness.  And we long for it above everything else. So my next reason for paying attention to that niggling feeling and resisting the temptation to immerse myself in a temporary distraction from my real world is simply that the distraction does not make me happy.  It does not satisfy.

 

Temporary distractions do not keep some vague promise they make of happiness.  Escaping into an imaginary world can become a street drug that only immobilizes me and drags me down. In the end, indulging in it will only make me more miserable.

 

Any pursuit of any addiction is nothing more than the heart's restless search for it's ultimate Heartland in all the wrong places. Human beings were created "to love God and enjoy Him forever," and, as Pascal has said, our hearts will be restless, no matter what distractions we go after, until they have found their rest in Him.

 

A DISCLAIMER:

 

Please note that this doesn't mean I will never watch another episode of Heartland.  Unlike street drugs, healthy Netflix shows can be healthily refreshing. They can provide much needed R and R after I've been pursuing my greater purposes for a period of time. One thing I love about my Boss is that He gives me R and R on a regular basis. He has promised to give me "all things to enjoy" and when He gives them they are thoroughly enjoyable and refreshing. 

 

But when these healthy recreational activities become my goal rather than my rest, their benefit is destroyed and so am I if I pursue that goal. So ultimately, goals that satisfy are goals that lead to benefits that will last forever. 

 

A PARADOX:

 

But here is a strange thing: I find that my satisfaction is very much connected to the satisfaction and well being of others. So the goal of seeking the good of others is the final reason I need to re-direct my pursuits as this new season begins.

 

Goals that truly satisfy are ones that have to do with other people's ultimate well being, not just my own.

 

It may seem like a paradox to say that investing my life in the service of other eternal human beings, for their eternal good, will bring me happiness, but it's true.  I know that from experience.

 

When I have a chance to watch someone discover the love of Jesus, and see them choose to submit to His love and lordship in their lives--when I see them look to Him for their eternal good and find it in His face--my heart soars with joy.  Nothing makes me happier.

 

If I can help one eternal being down the path toward discovering their value in God's sight, I feel fulfilled in ways no earthly pleasure can do for me.

 

That's why the quote by C.S. Lewis pictured in this post is on the front of my school binder. It's before me every day when I teach. And nothing gives me more joy and excitement--nothing makes me feel more refreshed--than loving and praying for and encouraging the students I stand in front of each day I teach. I have found deep, meaningful purpose in loving others, and living and working for their eternal good.

 

The joy I experience when I see a teenage boy sit up straighter because I have affirmed a good answer he has given in a class discussion; or when another student comes to me, several times before the end of class, to thank me for giving him a pencil case with a few writing supplies so he won't have to ask any teacher for a pencil before he can do his work in another class; or when I see a whole classroom full of students soften and melt when I tell them how much I love them and want the best for them--this joy makes the temporary pleasure I get from indulging in some worldly escape mechanism pale in comparison.

 

So this is why I am determined to resist the lure of temporary, shallow pleasures that do not satisfy. It is a selfish reason. I want to be happy--truly happy. And I have discovered that deep, abiding happiness--what the Bible calls "joy"--is found only in the pursuit of eternally good things--things that will bring enduring satisfaction to me and to others.

 

I think maybe this pursuit, in this life, on this earth, is the beginning of our discovery of our eternal Heartland. It's the closest thing to heaven on earth I have yet to discover.

 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

More on Heartland

I started a new journal today. It's kind of like a new beginning--a clean page in front of me.  What will I do with it?

 

As I hinted in yesterday's post, I've been feeling a tad uncomfortable with how comfortable I've been feeling in the fictional world of Heartland.*  My thoughts have been more with Ty and Amy lately than with my own friends and family.  It's been a great escape. But I know I can't stay in that unreal, ideal world. I need to live in the real, broken world that God has put me in.

  

*That's a palindrome, did you notice? 

 

I read Jesus' words this morning, in Matthew 24 and 25, about the end of the world as we know it. He gave His disciples a parable to illustrate how they should live until He returns to gather His children home to His heartland.

 

Ten young woman are waiting to celebrate the wedding of their friend, the bride, and her bridegroom. They know the bridegroom will be coming any time to meet the bride and carry her away into their new life together. They need to be watching for him so they can join the two of them in a happy journey to the wedding feast.

 

Five of them are alert and prepared, and the other five have been spending their days watching endless episodes of Heartland.

 

Okay. So that's a bit of a stretch when it comes to interpretation, but it's an apropos  application to my situation. I cannot afford to float off into some kind of virtual paradise, napping mindlessly while I wait for the Bridegroom to decide it's time to come collect His bride.  There is work to do before I can relax and enjoy the feast. So today, in the first entry of my new journal, I turn over a new page.

 

I am highly motivated. I'm pretty sure it's more than the cup and a half of coffee I just drank. There are some pretty strong reasons for me to renounce the easy life until I can enjoy it eternally.

 

For one thing, that life is temporary. It doesn't make sense for me to invest my life in pursuits that will only last a short time. Another of Jesus' stories illustrates the futility of doing that. He says, "What profit is there for a person to gain the whole (temporary) world if they lose their own (eternal) souls in the process?"

 

Or if other eternal souls are lost as well??

 

I need to invest my life in people. Real people. People are the only eternally valuable investments to make.  I need to work toward their eternal well being as well as my own. 

 

C.S. Lewis says that ". . .it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit--." Ty and Amy are not immortals, but the people I come in contact with in my life are. They need to be the focus of my activities while I am down here on earth waiting for the Bridegroom to come for us.

I need to spend my life for others, praying for them, loving them, and demonstrating, by the way I live and the words I speak, how rich and joyous it can be to live for an eternal purpose, moving all the while toward an eternal heartland.

 

So that's the beginning of my future path. It's a re-commitment to my purpose of following Jesus in this life. I need to make sure my heart stays in this land until it's time to move on to the next one.

 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Heartland

 

I think I am heart-hungry for  Heartland. I'm blaming my compulsive enjoyment of that TV series on COVID. That's convenient. But I'm trying to analyze why I'm so addicted to the series and I think it's a couple of things (aside from COVID).

 

Or maybe three.

 

First, the simple, uncomplicated moral innocence of the show is a comfort to me. I long for a time when virtues like integrity, fidelity and honesty are again considered general virtues that society expects of people.

 

They once were. I remember those days, when you could count on an agreement that was sealed with only a handshake.  Moral behavior was expected and people in that time rose to that expectation. In Heartland, when one of the characters stumbles or falls--when a character breaks the moral rules and lies, or is unfaithful in love--the lapse is recognized as a stumble or a fall, and there are disastrous consequences.

 

These COVID days have brought out the best and the worst in us all.  We may have stumbled and fallen in many ways, but we have also gone out of our way to care for our neighbours, and we have also learned to live on less and care about things that are of real value. But our society still reels from the effects of our rejection of traditional moral values.

 

In this past year, integrity has become the victim of political expediency. There certainly have to be public figures who are faithful to their calling as public servants--who speak the truth and are faithful in their service. But so many conflicting "facts" being promoted by all our media sources have destroyed our foundational confidence in the integrity of government as well as in public discourse.

 

As for fidelity, we scold public figures for forcing unwanted sex on women, and rightly so, but we say nothing about infidelity in their marriages, or in ours. The only rule restricting sexual behavior in this moral climate is the rule that sex should always be by mutual consent. Other than that, anything goes when it comes to the act that used to be considered sacred because of the beautiful picture it is of the faithful, intimate, caring love that has always existed between the Creator and His creation, and also because of its direct connection with the creation of other human beings.

 

And when it comes to honesty, no one even talks anymore about the way things 'should' be. It's only about the way things 'are'. "Well," we say, "if you leave your purse on the seat of your unlocked car, what do you expect? That was a stupid thing to do." Now, in the 21st century, stupidity is seen as a worse sin than stealing.

 


There are other reasons for the strings between my heart and Heartland. My longing is a longing for the past, not only morally, but geographically. My growing up years in rural America, as well as my seven years of living in Alberta, left me with an enduring love for the simple, rural life.

 

Those years were not pain-free. There is always pain and frustration and restlessness in growing up. But the nostalgia is there, in the Ponderosa pine forests of Northern Arizona that I grew up in as a young person, and in the shadow of the Rocky Mountain foothills of Alberta where Heartland is filmed and where we raised our toddlers.  

 

The nostalgia is there, and it can be a kind of pain in itself. As if it was a perfect setting, but not quite perfect. A perfect time, but not quite.

 

In fact, I think my longing is more deeply rooted in a longing for heaven. An old song we used to sing in church says, "This world is not my home, I'm just passing through." No matter what sweet memories I have of the past in this life, there is still a reaching for something more, as if I'm on a journey through this life and have not yet reached my final destination.  In heaven, only, will the ideal be realized.

 

All that gives me pleasure in this life is passing. But all the deep happiness I  remember experiencing in fleeting moments--these things are what heaven will be like, not in fleeting moments but in one constant, eternal present--all the deep joy and none of the sorrow. When that eternal moment comes for me, the tears of the past will be wiped away. All the nostalgia will find its final satisfaction, and I will find my Heartland.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Gift of 2020--Out With the Old, In With the New


This morning, before sitting down to watch (virtually) the last church service of 2020, I fix my breakfast. 

 

My conscience tells me I need something better than the dessert cuisine I've been indulging in for the past four days, so I boil a couple of eggs and plunk the last two slices of an old loaf of bread into the toaster. 

 

I suspect the sermon may tell me I need something better to feed my spirit as well--something more eternally significant than the Spider Solitaire games I've been playing while popping Christmas candy into my mouth all week.

 

I am too lazy to make a fresh pot of coffee so I go to the fridge, pull an old, nearly empty, carton of Costco Chai latte mix from the back of the top shelf, pour it into a cup, add milk, and zap it in the microwave.

 

The key word here is "old."

 

I stir my latte, un-shell my eggs, and butter my toast. But when I pick up my cup a minute later I notice three or four clumps of mold have floated to the top. I dump it and fix a cup of instant cafe mocha instead. Then I carry my breakfast into the living room and sit down in front of the TV.

 

The pastor is talking about "The Gift of 2020." Intriguing. What gift? 2020 seems more like a year of God's taking things away than giving us something.

 

I take a few bites of toast before I notice the moldy taste there too, and that's when I begin to wonder if God might be trying to tell me something.

 

End of year.

Moldy food in my fridge.

 

Maybe He's saying I need to do a major clean out of everything about the old year and get ready for a fresh start. That makes sense.

 

But, "No," God says, "It's not the old year I want you to throw out. I want you to get rid of the expectation that things will ever get 'back to normal' after this is over."

 

Ouch. That's not a word I want to hear. "I'd rather keep that glimmer of hope for the future, God, if you don't mind.  It sounds a bit like you might be planning to throw out our 'normal' forever."

 

 

Forever is a scary word. But, thankfully, experience has taught me that sometimes God has to take old things away from us in order to give us new things that are better.  Like fresh bread, and fresh coffee.

 

My friend, Nikki, is a wisely intelligent woman whose spiritual insight I admire. God often says things to her directly, with "Words of Knowledge," and she shares them with those of us who are usually too busy to listen for God's still, small voice.

 

She told me that in January this year God said to her, "Nothing will remain unchanged."

 

She said at first she thought that was a wonderful thing. She supposed God meant He was going to change things for the better. But then she thought, "Wait. What if the changes are not going to be good ones?"

 

Then came March and the meaning of the word became clear.

 

God also told her to keep her eyes on Jesus during this time of change. My pastor said that 2020 was a gift to us because God was using it to shape, or form us into something good. He told us that 2020 was going to change us, but it was up to us to decide how it would change us. We could either spend the rest of this year being grumpy and frustrated about 2020, or we could spend the next few days thinking about why 2020 might have needed to happen.

 

Instead of making the 'normal' list of resolutions or goals for ourselves this year, he suggested we make a list of all the things God might want to change in us for the better as we move into the coming year.

 

That could mean some uncomfortable re-arranging of some stuff in my life, like maybe my assumptions about God--His priorities and goals--or about His purposes for my being here. Will I have to give up some of the fun I have on my electronics?

 

That would be a shame, because one good thing that has come out of this COVID year, for me, is that I have nearly perfected my game of Spider Solitaire. I've learned some new strategies. I used to give in to the overwhelming urge to place a nine of spades on an open ten of spades, where it needs to be, as soon as that ten of spades becomes available.

 

But I've gradually figured out that sometimes you have to put things where they don't belong in order to open up several more productive moves later on. I've found you can get that nine of spades on top of the ten of spades, in the end, if you're willing to live with the uncomfortable feeling that comes when you temporarily put it on an open ten of hearts instead.

 

2020 has been an uncomfortable year. I've had to put lots of things where they don't belong and it hasn't felt right. But what it has done for me is demonstrate that what I've considered to be 'normal' in the past years isn't necessarily 'right.'

 

Before 2020 it was 'normal' to feel secure in all kinds of things that turned out to be unstable. In 2020 we learned that we could not count on health, or wealth, or work, or relationships, or even things we have always taken for granted, like white privilege, an admirable government leader, or police protection. Literally everything we have put our confidence in has crumbled to dust under our feet.

 

The Bible says there is only one sure foundation for our lives. That foundation is a Person. 

 

That Person told His disciples that it is nonsense to put new wine into old wineskins, because when the wine ferments it bursts the old skins and spills out on the ground.  Jesus was, and is, that New Wine. He was, and is, the Bread of Life. He said, "I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly."

 

So His message was, and is: "Out with the old. In with the new."

 

God warns us in the Bible that we need to act on this information while we still have the chance. We need to let go of the temporary things we are holding onto and take hold of the unshakable foundation of God's love as expressed in Jesus' life, death and resurrection. We need to do it now, because one day the opportunity will pass.

 

"Seek the Lord while He may be found;

Call upon Him while He is near.

 

Let the wicked forsake his way

And the unrighteous person his thoughts;

And let him return to the Lord,

And He will have compassion on him,

And to our God,

For He will abundantly pardon.

 

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways My ways," declares the Lord.

"For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are My ways higher than your ways

And My thoughts than your thoughts."

Isaiah55:6-9

 

In 2020, everything changed, and those changes are going to continue into 2021. I need to let go of my hope that everything will eventually go back to the good old days.

 

I need to let go of everything I trusted in before 2020 and fix my eyes on Jesus--the only firm, unchangeable foundation for my life--my eternal life.

 

And as I keep my eyes on Jesus, no matter what the years that lie ahead may bring, I can rest in the expectation that, in the end, there will be a whole new normal, and it will be a good one.

 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

COVID: A Season of Longing

As I think about this past year and all the changes it has brought us, I keep hearing the word, 'longing' for some reason. This, for me, has been a season of longing.  When I look at this swelling emotion in my heart more closely, I feel it moves in three directions.
 

First, I've found my heart reaching out, more than ever, to Jesus. I've had more time this year to spend meditating on His character and His love for me. My mornings are often unscheduled. I can sit with the Bible as long as I like, without watching the clock. That freedom has opened my heart to receive the gift of His presence in a new way. 

 

I long, more than ever, to be close to Him, to please Him in the way I live my life, to give back to Him a little of the love He has poured out on me.  Even as the world writhes in pain in this year of the pandemic, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the many ways God has shown me His love.  He has cared for me thoroughly, even in the details--details as insignificant as the number of hairs on my head. 

 

One example is the new home I settled into in September, so full of little blessings I didn't even ask for. As I moved in, everything I needed for my comfort and happiness seemed to fit in a place that was created for it ahead of time.  And this downstairs suite is specially suited for the frailer body I'm growing into--no stairs to climb, smaller spaces that are easier to move around in, little nooks here and there where the things I need can be stored, close at hand. 

 

A fireplace, and the new soaker tub that will be installed next week! 

 

I feel pampered by God's love. 

 

Second, as I've spent more time luxuriating in God's love for me, I've developed an even greater longing that other people might experience His love for them. Many mornings I find myself in tears as I think of friends and loved ones who are struggling in so many ways, many of them oblivious to how deeply and earnestly God reaches out to them--unaware of His great desire to bless them extravagantly with His love.  

 

I struggle to find ways to share His love with them--ways that will communicate to each of their hearts--ways that will avoid the sense that I am 'foisting' my faith on them--ways that will honour their God-given freedom to choose whether or not to receive the love He offers them.

 

I feel like one of the lepers in the story of the Aramean siege of Jerusalem. Starving to death after long months of depleting food supplies in the city, they decide to surrender and head out to the surrounding army, only to find that the enemy has fled, leaving behind all their provisions. 

After gorging on the food they find and squirreling away other treasures for themselves, they realize how selfish they are for not sharing the happy news with the people in the City, and run back to announce to the guards at the gate the abundance of spoils available to everyone.

I feel like that--like one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. But I worry that my exuberant declarations of how wonderful God is, and my urgings that my friends consider the abundance of wealth He wants to share with them, will come across as condescending, or proselytizing. 

 

So I pray for them, and cry for them, and hope they get a glimpse in my life of the blessings God wants to give every heart.  I don't want to enjoy those blessings alone!

 

And third, as I watch this poor, broken world suffer the pain of pandemics, slavery and oppression, the violent destruction of wars and uprisings, and just the everyday feelings of lost-ness that come when our moorings are destroyed, I find myself longing, more than ever, for the day when Christ finally comes back the second time, this time to bring His kind and righteous Kingdom's rule fully to this earth!  A time when all swords will be beaten into plowshares, when the lion will lie down with the lamb, and when children will play safely around the holes of serpents. 

 

This is the Kingdom rule that the angels proclaimed at the birth of Christ 2000 years ago. It's the rule that Jesus offers to bring into the hearts of each person who welcomes Him in this present age.  And it's the rule that He will one day bring to the whole earth, when "the old order of things has passed away," when all evil has been cast out and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

 

So COVID has done this to me.  I don't know whether this longing is a blessing or a curse.  Maybe it's a little of both.  There is distress in the longing, but there is also hope. 

 

The longing is painful. My heart feels like a dry, empty desert waiting for the spring rains. But the hope--the surety that the spring rains will come--fills me with a quiet peace and joy.  I am content, knowing that this, too, shall pass, and that one day every tear will be wiped from our eyes forever.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Mystery of Spiritual Delights: Thoughts on Fasting and the Sabbath

Mysteries in the Bible are intriguing. It makes sense that there would be some.  If the God the Bible teaches us about is as wise, as powerful and as BIG as all of the universe around us would seem to suggest, there are bound to be things about Him we cannot fathom with our relatively tiny little brains. Yet, we long to know things.

I am beginning to suspect that there are some things we can't "know" logically or rationally--things our brains are not designed to discover by thinking. 

Maybe some things we can only "know" by experience, and what we learn by experience is often hard to put into words. These "knowings" are not necessarily irrational.  They don't go against reason. Rather, they seem to go beyond reason, into realms we can begin to imagine, but we can't explain. 

The practices of "fasting" and "keeping the Sabbath" are two of these mysteries. Here I share some thoughts on both, and how they might be related:

Our pastors have been leading us through a series of sermons on spiritual rhythms--disciplines that help us in our quest for a deeper relationship with our Creator.  Last week Pastor Gary taught about fasting as a spiritual discipline. The mystery about fasting is that the Bible talks about it a lot, but there's never an explanation of why or how we should do it.  It's as if we are supposed to know, instinctively, that it's a good thing to do, without being told.

 

And today, as I was reading in Isaiah, I was drawn to what the prophet says about the idea of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is another mystery that has puzzled me.  Not that it's a strange idea. It actually seems like a really good one.  It makes sense that a rhythm of resting would be a healthy exercise to incorporate into our lives that are normally full of activity.  But I just haven't understood why "remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy" seemed so important to God. Why is Sabbath-keeping one of the Ten Commandments? And what does keeping it "holy" mean?

 

In Isaiah 58, it seems to me that God brings the two mysteries together in an interesting way. Here He is telling His people what is important to Him--what they should be paying attention to and doing in order to enjoy the life He wants them to have.

Isaiah 58:13, 14 says (in The Amplified version):

If you turn away your foot from [traveling unduly on] the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a [spiritual] delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor Him and it, not going your own way or seeking or finding your own pleasure or speaking with your own [idle] words, Then will you delight yourself in the Lord, and I will make you to ride on the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage [promised for you] of Jacob your father; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

 

Turning your foot away, and refraining from certain things for a season, on a regular basis, seem like they might be linked somehow.  Maybe they both have to do with spiritual rhythms. I am going to explore this link for a while.

 

I have to confess that my journal is full of glorious statements about things I intend to do that I never speak about again. I have good intentions but my attention span is very short.  So I am not going to promise God, or myself, or anyone else that I will pursue this idea.  But I have decided to try to connect the activity of fasting with the concept of the Sabbath and see what happens.

 

So, starting tomorrow, I'm going to (try to remember to) set aside every Sunday (for a while at least) to "fast" by doing what these verses explicitly say I should do (or not do) on the Sabbath. That is my equivocal declaration on this day.  You can pray for me if you feel so led.

 


Monday, June 29, 2020

On Weeding

I've been neglecting my front yard for way too long.  I knew the weeds were growing there, shooting up through the healthy grass and causing my lawn mower to groan, but I just didn't want to deal with the hard work, sweat and tears it would take to get rid of them. 

I guess I just kept hoping the grass would take over eventually and choke the weeds out.  Or that maybe some friendly neighbor would jog by my house, notice how ugly the lawn looked, and stop to pull them out for me.  But, no.  It looks like I'm going to have to do this. 

This is a good time to do it.  We've been pounded by rain this spring. We have had the storms, I'll say! Hitting us from every side. Dumping more water on us than we have known how to deal with at times.  It's caused damage. Devastating destruction in some cases.  But it's also made the soil easier to work with. So this morning I kneel here, in the dirt, digging and tugging and tossing, trying to avoid touching the slugs or injuring the earthworms. 

I like it when I get my fingers around a big fat root that pulls up and leads to runners that also come up easily. It's satisfying to take down a whole section of the invasive growth in one handful.  Others, the smaller ones, need a more tedious treatment. I just have to dig away, pulling them up one by one, and reminding myself that I am dealing with the problem, little by little.

Of course I know I'm not really solving the problem forever. I'm pulling up as many of the roots as I can get my fingers around, but they still have very healthy ends buried below the grass.  I'm afraid getting rid of them will involve more of a long-term commitment.  I will have to keep an eye on things and take time to yank up more roots as they sprout. 

One thing I wonder is why the good soil nurtures both weeds and the plants that feed us and beautify our lives?  I wish it were more selective.  Instead, the soil provides nourishment to all growth, and leaves it up to us to decide which species will be planted, will survive, or will thrive in it.

And sometimes it seems like the weeds are stronger. Why is it the good plants require more nurturing from us--more deliberate planting and tending and TLC in order to survive? It's almost as if we were meant to participate in nature in some way--to choose what kind of plants we want to promote and protect. That's a big responsibility, one I'm not sure I can handle.

But I feel a little better when I remember that I am only responsible for the weeds in my own yard. If I had to worry about the weeds in my neighbors' lawns the task would be hopeless.  

Wait a minute. I do need to worry about his weeds.  If he doesn't pull his dandelions up by the roots I'll be dealing with the consequences when they go to seed and the wind blows my way.  I should probably get onto him about that.

But wait another minute. If I complain about his dandelions, the neighbor on the other side might growl at me for the clover that's growing across the boundary between my lawn and his. I'm not ready to deal with the clover yet.  Right now it's just the buttercups. No, I can't afford to worry about the neighbors' weeds.  I have enough trouble dealing with my own.

There is some light peeking through the rainclouds though. I've heard that a good, healthy grass lawn can actually crowd the weeds out eventually. That's heartening.  I plan to "overseed" once I've cleared out enough of the weeds to expose the soil.  So eventually, with enough rain, and sun, and seed and good soil, maybe the whole neighborhood will begin to look a lot better.