Thursday, 31 May 2007

Contemplating the Cross

I am in the process of typing out my reflections from my journals and assembling them in a binder. My journals contain scriptures, songs, and quotes as well as my reflections. I have wanted to have my reflections accessible so that I could use them as the basis for some of my writings. As I was typing up the following piece I wanted to post it. This is a part of a journal entry from July 2003.

I have been reading two devotionals on the cross. My thought was “I am more comfortable with looking at scriptures about the cross of Jesus, the Lamb of God, before the crucifixion or well after the fact reflecting back on that act." The reading for today in Contemplating the Cross was so disturbing to me – Jesus is dying and He is taunted by others to prove Himself.

I think at times we focus so much on the divinity of Jesus that we forget that He is fully man as well. How would He have felt, knowing that He had struggled in prayer to come to the point of accepting and preparing to give Himself up to die for our sins? He knew that He would be beaten and mocked and abandoned. It is almost too much for me to comprehend. Even if I think of it from a human standpoint to be falsely accused; put to death; while a person who is actually guilty of the crimes you have been accused of goes free.

Jesus’ credibility was brought into question in the accusations that people threw at Him. If Jesus couldn’t get off the cross and save Himself and prove that He truly was the Son of God, then how could His words be trusted? How could His teachings liberate people from the bondages of sin and legalism? How could the healings be from God if God would not intervene and heal Jesus’ body as it hung, beaten and battered, on a cross? These are the questions that followers of Jesus, those who looked forward to a Messiah, a Savior, would be asking. It is such a puzzling thing.

Yet that is only midstream. If we stop there what hope do we have? None; Paul says that his preaching and our faith is in vain if there is no resurrection. Yet we know that God did raise Jesus from the dead. It seemed as if all sense of hope had to die in order for God to triumph.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Joyful Dancing

"You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy." Psalm 30: 11 (NLT)

I want to share about my journey from mourning to joyful dancing. If this situation had not happened I don't know if I would have pursued dance in worship. I have longed to use dance in worship for years. I had taken dance in my youth and had briefly been a part of a dance group in a Christian setting. It was after viewing a worship DVD by Brian Doerksen that featured women dancing in worship that the dream or desire to dance was rekindled. I know that I have been created to dance. It is such a natural expression of worship for me.

I had emailed a dance teacher, who attends my church, stating my desire to participate in an adult worship dance. She later said that she was a part of an adult Christian dance group and they wanted to teach others how to use dance in worship through workshops. The first workshop was Messianic music and dance. The second workshop featured banners, ribbons & scarves. I felt that using these allowed me to give expression to what I was feeling inside. I was invited to join with a few women to dance a Messianic style dance for the Christmas Eve service at our church. We danced to "The Promise" by Michael Card.

After the Christmas season I was talking with two of the dancers from our church. One of them mentioned about the possibility of me taking ballet lessons. She said that it is evident that I have a call to dance on my life and that I have a gift to express myself in dance. She said an example was when I would suggest moves during practices. She said that I come alive when I dance or talk about it. I said that dance allows me to express outwardly what I feel inside. She said that taking lessons would be like a sharpening tool. I was given information about a local dance school and I decided to enroll. I had my first dance class and it went well. Someone said that she could tell I must have had previous experience. I have continued with my ballet lessons and I will be attending a worship dance conference in the summer.

I recently had the opportunity to dance at my church. We had a guest speaker teach about the Passover meal and the Jewish Seder. I joined with three other ladies to dance to a medley of Messianic style songs. We did Messianic style folk dances. I really enjoyed worshipping the Lord this way. Others told me that I looked natural doing it, which blessed me since we had only choreographed it the evening before! I have been invited, with an number of others, to join with the dance group to dance to a worship song at a special 3 hour artistic worship service in the summer.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:... a time to weep and a time to laugh, and a time to mourn and a time to dance." Ecc. 3:1, 4 (NIV)

Thankfully the time to mourn has now passed and I am in a time to dance.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Beauty For Ashes

"The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." Isaiah 61: 1 - 3 (NIV)

The Lord has given me beauty for the ashes of my past. I previously wrote how the Lord had restored my vineyards while I was in my own "Valley of Achor". I want to share a specific way that God gave me beauty for ashes in this season of my life.

In the autumn of 2004 I took a Bridging Course for Women sponsored by Women's Studies at York University. I had seen this course advertised a year previously, but it was on an evening that I was actively involved in an intercessory prayer group. When my world fell apart and I was left with ashes I needed something to distract me from the temptation to indulge in self-pity. I again saw an advertisement for the Bridging Program and it was taking place in my hometown on a Tuesday evening. I knew that I didn't have any excuses as to why I could not take part.

Part of the requirements for this course were written assignments, including an essay. The Lord blessed me and I received favorable marks. I even had the opportunity to share a bit about my faith in Jesus. This was definitely a stretching experience since I had not been in school for many years. I did not pursue a university education, but the experience of taking this course and doing so well gave me confidence to step out into other areas as well.

In January of 2006 the professor who taught the Bridging Program emailed me with a request for me to submit a personal essay about my experience in the Bridging Program. It was the 25th Anniversary of the Bridging Program for Women at York University and they were publishing a book to commemorate it. I was one of thirty-six Bridging students who were chosen from about 1500 to contribute a personal essay.

God continued to show His timing and plan for my life when the book launch and the anniversary celebration occurred in May of 2006. I was involved in a Bible Study by Beth Moore called Breaking Free. We studied the chapter that was titled Beauty For Ashes the week immediately after the anniversary celebration at York University, where I had received a copy of the book. I could now say that I was published! I shared this news with some of the women at two Bible studies that I was involved in and they rejoiced with me. I attended my first Christian writers' group, which was in that same week. I shared with those present about me taking the Bridging Course and the study on Beauty for Ashes; I then read my essay to them. After they clapped! I was in awe of God's timing and blessings.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Songs From The Heart

I have updated my profile and added some of my favourite songwriters , including my husband, Dan. The Lord has blessed Dan with the ability to write songs that flow from the heart of God toward His children and from the hearts of His children to God. There were two songs that Dan wrote at the beginning of my season of trouble that have been very instrumental in the healing process. The first song, I Am Your Rock is from God's perspective, while the second song, Your Love Sustains Me is from our hearts toward God. There were times when the pain was so intense that all I could do was lie on the floor or couch and Dan would sing these and other songs over me. Dan was being "God in the flesh" for me. It is our desire that the Lord would minister to others through these songs as well.

I Am Your Rock (song by Dan Antonio - September 7,2004)
I have heard the cry of your heart
I have felt your pain
I've not hidden my face from you
By your side I remain

When your world comes crashing down
In the times of brokenness
Lift up your eyes to Me
I Am your Rock, I Am your Rest

Rest in My love, that's what you need
Take time, and come to me
My love is enough
It's your greatest need
So come rest, come rest, be still

I Am your Rock, I Am your Rest
I Am your Peace in the storm
I Am your Rock

My love is unfailing toward you
My love covers you
I will not abandon you
My love will see you through

Your Love Sustains Me ( song by Dan Antonio - September 20, 2004)

Oh Lord my God
You are Faithful
You comfort me
In all my troubles
Your love to me
Sustains me
I will not forget
That You are with me

A broken and contrite heart
You will not despise
A heart after your own heart
Is your desire

Lord You are strong
And I am weak
Let grace pour out
Like waters upon me
I need Your touch
To heal and restore me
I need you now
To love and to hold me

"The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

"You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." Psalm 32:7 (NIV)

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Pondering "Philippians" - IV

Philippians 2: 3-8

"Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all." Philippians 2:5,6 (MSG)

The only way that we can even begin to think of ourselves the way Jesus thought of himself is by knowing and believing who we are in Christ. Jesus never put Himself down through disparaging remarks, but instead He was fully confident of His position in being One with the Father. So too we can be confident and have a proper perspective of our position in being united with Christ. We are only able to serve others and consider them better than ourselves when we know and believe all that Jesus has done for us in dying in our place. When we are aware of the depth of our sins and the great sacrifice that it cost Jesus in giving His life in our place we will be in a better position to take on the role of a servant.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Grappling With Loss

I have just returned from a mid-week conference,"Unleashing Creativity", at Singing Waters, a Christian retreat centre near Orangeville . I took a writers' workshop as one of my options. In talking with the facilitator I agreed to revisit Hosea 2:14,15 and attempt to write from my experience. The following is what resulted from that exercise.

I felt as though God had tricked me. I know that He isn't treacherous and He always does what is good and right. I thought He was going to bless me and bring me to a place of greater blessing. He was speaking words of hope; words of promise. I thought that now would be the time of fulfillment. After all why would God promise such great things to me if He was only going to lead me into a time of hardship? It seemed like a false promise, much like Hollywood or advertising holds out. It was like grasping for something, only to discover that it was a hologram and not the real thing.

He was so convincing; all signs pointed to the soon fulfillment of the prophetic words. They didn't originate in my heart and mind, but in the heart of God. I was so sure that they were true. But how could I reconcile those words of life with the death that surrounded me? The stench of death was almost unbearable. It seemed as if everything was destroyed. It happened so suddenly, without warning. It was like a fire that quickly starts and suddenly it is raging out of control and it destroys everything in its path. How did this destruction fit in with the plan of a loving God? How could I reconcile this great loss with the past promises?

Yet when I listened I could hear God speaking to me. He had not changed. His words were still full of love, concern, and compassion. God's love for me never diminished. Instead I was able to hear Him more clearly because there were no distractions. I was still standing because God was with me.As the awareness of God's abiding presence grew more clearly I was able to experience the new things that lay before me. I needed to keep walking; to keep moving forward or else I would be defeated. I had to continue on.

As I branched out into the new areas that opened up to me I felt at home. It was like riding a bicycle after many years- it comes back to you naturally. It might be a bit awkward at first, but then you settle into a natural rhythm.

I had been limiting God to my understanding of His words to me. I thought He was going to bring me to a new level of fruitfulness the easy way. I didn't know that the pruning would be so deep and so severe. It is like a bush that is cut back until it almost looks dead; and then in the spring there is new life and the bush is healthier than before. That was what God was intending for my life as well. He knew that I would not be as fruitful or able to be used as powerfully if I wasn't brought to the desert place. It is through the experiences there that I have gotten stronger. It is not my strength, but His strength flowing through me.
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