Molding a lump of clay

Molding a lump of clay
I am a work in progress, molded by my Maker, refined by His fire, shaped with His love. Walk the journey with me.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

My first time to be called a "religious zealot"...unfortunately it was because I stole something

As far as I'm aware, I've never been called a religious zealot before. Not to my face, anyway.

Until the other day.
             On this very blog.
                          By an irate reader.
                                         Whose picture I had stolen.

I don't often get comments on my posts, but the few that come in are usually encouraging and full of kind words. Not this one.

"M" wrote:

The photo of the beggar is STOLEN and violates my copyright as stated below the original photo on my Flickr page. Remove it immediately! First and last warning, otherwise legal action will follow!!

Just like religious zealots to use stolen property! 

My stomach did that dropped-off-the-edge-of-a-cliff thing and my face flooded with shame.

My brain started flinging out excuses:

       It's a hoax. 
               There must be some mistake. 
                                    I didn't steal anything.

I followed M's link to his Flickr page...there was the picture of the beggar, but I didn't recognize it. I scanned the blog post he had commented on that I'd written 5 years ago...nothing, nothing, nothing until right at the end...there it was...the last photo...M's beggar.

Danggit! I so wanted to be right.

But there was no doubt...that was M's photo and it was on my blog without permission.

I highlighted it and hit Delete.

Then I Googled M's name, found several other links where he'd followed others who had used his photos without permission. He employed the same threatening language with all the other thieves, too. It didn't make me feel much better.

I plugged his name into Facebook, found his page and wrote him a message. I apologized for using his photo without permission. I explained I most likely Googled something like "spiritual poverty" (which was the theme of the post) and his beggar came up, that I probably thought it captured the essence of my post and I copied it onto my computer. I've never intentionally hacked or broken codes or overrode security systems to get photos. I assumed if they were on the internet without a watermark, then they were free game.

You know what they say about "assume". I made a donkey's bottom of me.

I told M I was sorry, that I truly admire his work and I honor his art. I asked his forgiveness and told him I'd removed the photo.

I signed it, "Religious Zealot" with a smiley face

M wrote back. The mood of his reply was much softer than his initial comment. He thanked me for my message and gave me some very interesting facts about using photos off the internet:

I fully realize that most of the 292 illegal uses of this photo were not copied from my Flickr page, but from somewhere else where it was also illegally posted.

As a rule of thumb, unless an image is specifically marked (by the original author) as public domain or creative commons, it is copyrighted.

If the original author cannot be identified, chances are it is already stolen, and should not be used.

In Canada (where I live), recent (4-5 years) changes in the law, state that a photographer cannot give or sell his ownership of a photo, it remains hers/his for life! She/he may sell usage rights to a photo but never the rights to it!

In this case, I found my photo used illegally on 292 sites!! My photos are for sale, but how can I sell them if they are used illegally all over the place?

Always consider that whatever you grab off the internet (photos, text, whatever), someone had to work to create it. I spent around 4-5 hours trying to track down those 292 sites! Some I couldn't do anything about, as they did not have a link to send a message or comment, others were in a language I couldn't understand so could not communicate with them, etc... Very frustrating.

I appreciate M's information because I am a religious zealot in the sense that I want to do what is right in God's eyes. I don't buy pirated DVDs, even though those are the only types sold in Uganda, because I know I can get originals through Amazon and friends in the US. Yes, I have to pay more money, but I have peace that I'm not buying stolen goods. I don't feel comfortable sharing music, or copying DVDs from others' hard drives to my computer for the same reason...I feel like I'm stealing them.

I know there are a lot of gray areas in the debate about what is legal sharing and illegal stealing, and this post is not meant to take one side or the other.

I'm simply sharing my personal journey with God that has lead me to set a very high bar in anything media-related, because that is the area God has gifted me to serve. I need to be above reproach in order to have any spiritual authority through the written word and in other forms of social media.

Of course I aim to follow God's ways in all areas of my life, living to please Him, glorify His name and be holy as He is holy. But I know when it comes to the area of media, the bar seems higher for me than others, and I'm okay with that. I don't mean to sound "holier than thou" point is that I believe my giftings and calling are tied to media, and in order to walk in the anointing, I have to be without fault in that area, especially.

I wouldn't mind being called a religious zealot again some day, but my prayer is that next time it will be in the context of having done something that brings glory to God, rather than tarnishes His name.

So to be on the safe side, I'm not even thinking about Googling "religious zealot" for a cool photo that someone else took. Instead, I leave you with an original snap of my own that has nothing to do with this post, but at least it's mine.

May God receive the glory.

My pesto-cream cheese Santa hats made for a Christmas Eve party. If anyone wants to use this photo elsewhere, be my guest! :-)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Who do you say I am?

The question arose recently in my Bible study asking how much I trust God. There was a staircase on the page with the top stair labeled 'Trust Him with everything' and the bottom stair labeled 'No trust.' We were asked to place ourselves somewhere on that staircase.

I looked at those stairs and I realized there are areas where I have seen and experienced God's work in my life, and therefore I trust Him completely. Like the area of finances and provision. I have seen God provide in so many miraculous ways over the last 15 years that I now believe He truly is Jehovah Jireh, my Provider.

But there are other areas where I have prayed and fasted for years, and not yet seen the breakthrough, the answered prayer. And so I doubt. Not that God can do it, but that for some reason He won't, and I guess somewhere deep down that doubt causes me to withhold my trust a little bit.

So I find my trust in God compartmentalized into the areas where I've seen and experienced His faithfulness, and the areas I haven't. Where I haven't, it's like little sections of my heart have dried and withered in disappointment, in unfulfilled dreams, in failed expectations. In those places I've slowly stopped hoping for God's miracles; I've stopped trusting Him to do the impossible.

Is that what they call a crisis of faith? Or is it just one result of years of waiting without reward?

As I began processing this with God, He asked me, "If I don't answer the prayers in the areas of your life where doubts have crept in...then what? Will you withdraw? Will you become bitter? Will you shut down certain areas of your heart to me? Will you judge me by the unfulfilled dreams of your life?"

I realized that I could say, "No, of course not!" to all those questions, but the reality is that I have already been withdrawing, becoming bitter, shutting down, and yes, judging God. Ouch.

Then God asked me a challenging question:
"Who do you say I am?"

I felt like Job, chastened. Faced with the hugeness of the Almighty God, I wanted to cower down and say, "Sorry, sorry." Who am I to withhold trust based on experiential proof? A modern-day Thomas, wanting to touch and see before believing.

Then God reminded me of the 5-fold Pledge of Faith that Beth Moore teaches in her Believing God Bible study series. The first part of the pledge starts with the thumb and declares, "I believe God is who He says He is."

So when God asked me again, "Who do you say I am?" I answered, "You are who you say you are."

He replied, "And who do I say I am?"

I've just been studying the names of God, and one by one they rolled through my mind:

Jehovah Rapha - the LORD who heals

Elohiym - Universal Creator

Jehovah Hoseenu - The LORD our Maker

Jehovah Nissi - The LORD is my Banner

There are many others, but the one that struck me most was YHVH - the LORD, the Great I AM.

God said, "I AM who I AM. There is none like me. Whether you believe by experience or not, I AM not only Covenant-Maker but Covenant-Keeper. I fulfill my promises. Don't separate the Me you know from the Me you don't know. I AM who I AM. Just because you haven't personally experienced the fullness of every aspect of Me doesn't mean those aspects aren't real. You have to take All of Me or none of Me, but you can't have part of Me. One day you will see the fullness of every aspect of Me in all My glory, but for now...believe, even though you do not see."

And I was reminded of the verses in Hebrews 11:

Faith is being sure of what we hope for, 
and certain of what we do not see. 
And without faith, 
it is impossible to please God, 
because anyone who come to him 
must believe that he exists
...that He IS...
and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

I feel the world shift under my feet as I take in afresh the realization that God is all that he says he is, and though I may not see every prayer answered the way I would like, it doesn't change the nature of who He is. For now, the best I can do is ask Him to strengthen my faith and enable me to trust Him more and more until that Day when the Lord Jesus is revealed, and all my questions fade away in the face of his glory.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Charis - Grace: It really is amazing.

I've had a fresh revelation of just what grace is over the last few weeks. I saw my sin from the perspective of time...I looked back over my shoulder and thought, 'Wow. God did that through me when I was like that?!'

Contrary to what I always believed, God used me in my brokenness to build His kingdom. I climbed the mountain with dirty hands and an impure heart, yet He welcomed me anyway.

I thought I had to get myself sorted out before I could do great things for Him. Now I know that, although He wants me holy as He is holy, it's not about being perfect before we can get to work.

I can't fix myself anyway.

That's where grace comes in.

I like what Zodiates dictionary says:

"Grace is the absolutely free expression 
of the loving kindness of God to men
 finding its only motive
 in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver."

It's about God's loving kindness, not my goodness or obedience or holiness. Sure God loves it when I'm walking in His ways, but even when I'm not, He's still full of overflowing grace.

My righteousness, or lack of it, doesn't attract or repel His grace. Grace flows from who He is, not from what I've done.

Trying to be perfect so God can use me is a slippery slope to false righteousness. It's so easy to put on the mask and be all smiles, like I've got it all together, when beneath it all is the messy truth that doesn't seem to go away despite my best efforts.

Yet Grace sees the sin beneath the mask, and loves me anyway.

Grace sees the Son beneath the sin, and says, 'I already paid the price for this. Walk in your freedom.'

Should I therefore go on sinning so His grace can abound more and more? Of course not. That's not the point.

The point is that I stepped back and looked at the last 12 years of my life, saw all that God did despite my sin, despite my brokenness, and I was humbled that He would use this fragile jar of clay to help build a Kingdom that will endure forever. Somewhere in that Kingdom I've placed a ruby here, a golden brick there, a sapphire gem somewhere else. Not because I deserved it.

Simply because of His amazing grace.

Friday, June 28, 2013

When the Promise becomes an Idol

What happens when the Promises of God, whether fulfilled or unfulfilled, become idols in our hearts?

God promised Abraham a son through Sarah. That son was Isaac.

Next thing we know, God asks Abraham to sacrifice that very son, the Promise Fulfilled, on the altar. Not only did Abraham have to wait many years for the Promise to be fulfilled, but then God decided to take that very same promise away. What's up with that?

I went back and reread the story of Isaac and the almost-sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, and I discovered a little story I'd always overlooked before. Just after we read about Isaac's birth, there are a few verses describing the only information we have about Isaac's childhood.

"The child (Isaac) grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw the son who Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'" Gen 21:8-10

So Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away, and they wander in the desert of Beersheba.

Two things struck me about this short story.

1. Abraham held a great feast when Isaac was weaned. I don't know how long a child was nursed in those days, but presumably Isaac was still a toddler when he was weaned, yet a huge party was held in his honor. I wonder if Abraham went over the top a little? Could it be that his love for his son was threatening to put Isaac on a bit of a pedestal? Making an idol of him? Glorifying Isaac rather than God? Is it possible that Abraham was beginning to love the Promise more than the Promise Giver?

2. Ishmael mocked; Sarah seethed. Had Sarah's view of her son become overinflated? Is that why she was so offended when Ishmael mocked, because he didn't show the proper respect and honor she felt due her little toddler of a boy? Was that offense so great as to merit banishment into the desert...certain death? Had Isaac become an idol in Sarah's heart, and woe to those who didn't join her in worship of him?

What happens when a promise of God takes the place of God in our hearts?

Anything that takes center stage in our hearts
 other than God
 is an idol.

And idols must be dethroned 
if we are to remain in right relationship with God.

I wonder if that's why God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The Bible says, "...God tested Abraham." It seems God wanted to see where Abraham's loyalty really lay. Who was Number 1 in Abraham's heart? Isaac or God?

I never thought before that this test  may have been brought about by a possible drifting of Abraham away from God. It seems credible that Abraham had lost some of his awe of God in light of the awe of watching his only son grow.

But God doesn't share His glory. 

Does that seem harsh?

Not when we understand the dangers of replacing God with any other idol in our lives. Nothing but sadness and destruction lie ahead of us when we push God to the side and begin worshipping people, money, fame, you name it.

God knew this, and in His great mercy He gave an order to Abraham that would force Abraham to snap out of it. The shock of God's command would have opened Abraham's eyes to the real state of his heart. He was going to have to choose whether to obey the God he loved, or protect the son he loved.

Talk about a crossroads moment.

It got me thinking. Have I so focused on the Promise, that the failure to see the promise fulfilled has affected my relationship with God? Am I willing to sacrifice the Promise, even before fulfillment, in exchange for greater intimacy with God? What is ultimately more important...the Promise, or the Promise-Giver?

Graham Cooke said: "Every promise is tested so that our faith can increase. Pursuing God's purposes in our situation is where we learn the business end of faith and walking with the Father. Do not chase the outcome, but pursue the heart of God."

Abraham passed his test and proved he loved God above the only son he also loved tremendously. He also demonstrated his belief that God is good and loved him back. He believed that even if God allowed him to go through with the sacrifice and kill Isaac, God could raise him from the dead.

Abraham's unshakable faith in God was credited to him as righteousness, and inspires me today. But this story also cautions me to keep my eyes on God and worship Him alone.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

(trying to) believe in the Promises of God

I'm sitting at the crossroads again, not sure which way to go. God made me a promise, but the fulfillment thereof is not yet.

In response to one of my many queries, God said that to wait for His promise is to receive Isaac, but to take another route to the fulfillment of God's promise is to receive Ishmael. In other it my way and forfeit the true prize; let God do it His way in His timing and receive His promise.

The challenge for me at the moment is that there's a third way, a middle road between Isaac and Ishmael. And I can't decide whether it's a semi-Isaac or a semi-Ishmael or something altogether different.

Yet God was pretty clear in His promise. It's my puddle of faith that's muddy.

I know I'm not alone in trying to unravel the gnarled ball of yarn that is faith in God's promises. All sorts of things contribute to the tangled knot. The two I'm dealing with in this season are:

  • Questions of whether or not I heard God correctly. This doubt goes right back to the Garden of Eden when satan craftily asked Eve, "Did God really say..."

  • Questions of whether or not God's promise is actually my own desire masquerading as Truth. When the Word of the Lord is something I would never have thought of or don't particularly enjoy (ie. 'do a one-day fast every week'), it's easier to believe it's from God because it certainly isn't MY idea. But when the Word of the Lord sounds very much like my deepest dream, it's easier to suspect the Word may be nothing more than my longings.

Can God do what He says He will do?

Will He do it in my case?
Yes, if He said He would, then He will.

Did He say He would?
I think so. 

But what if He didn't?
Therein lies the rub. 
Therein lies the temptation
 to doubt my ability to hear God, 
which affects my belief that 
God can make Himself heard.

If I believe God speaks, and I believe God can make Himself heard above the groaning of the world, and in the same breath I doubt whether I heard him or not, then it undermines my belief that He can make Himself heard, which undermines my belief that I can hear God, which potentially undermines my belief that God speaks. See the danger?

What I must remember is this:
God speaks.
God wants to communicate with me.
God is bigger than my ability to hear.

God can and will make His ways known to the one who is willing to know them.
And follow them.
Which is the harder part. 

If God makes His way known, and I choose not to follow it, is the wrong with God for not opening the door sooner, or with me for not being patient to wait for the door to open?

Yes, that's how I feel. It's like I'm in a room with 3 doors: the door marked 'Isaac' is closed; the door marked 'Ishmael' stands fully opened; the door in the middle is ajar.

Which door?
"Wait for Isaac!" my heart cries.

"But what if the middle door leads to Isaac?" my brain counters.

"Is that what God is saying?" my heart asks.

So I sit on the floor in the room before the doors and wait.

Is this a test of faith?

But even more to the point, I believe it's a test of faithfulness. God's faithfulness to fulfill His promise; my faithfulness to wait for Him to do it His way.

How painful is the waiting! In the beginning I had peace. Now hope wavers like a candle flickering in the wind. It struggles to stay burning, to fight the good fight, to never give up. But the wind blows stronger and the rain spits and the candle burns lower.
Does God know the length of my wick?

I want to please God with unwavering faith; I want it to be credited to me as righteousness. I've asked Him many times to increase my faith, and I suspect this is how He does testing it.
By making it wait. 

Faith isn't faith unless it believes in something only God can do and trusts Him to do it. But it's costly, that kind of faith. It separates marrow from bone and gets to the heart of the matter...what do I believe about the nature and character of God?

Corrie ten Boom said, "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."

Do I know God enough to trust Him with the future of my deepest dream?
I hope so.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."

Have I seen God at work in my life?
Most definitely. Without a doubt.

Perhaps most compelling of all is the anonymous quote scratched into the cement wall in Auschwitz concentration camp by a Jewish prisoner:
"I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining,
I believe in love, even when I don't feel it,
I believe in God, even when He is silent."

I guess the real question isn't whether or not God is faithful to fulfill His promises; the real question is do I believe God is faithful to fulfill His promises.

Based on how far God has brought me, and the work He has done in my life, I have to say 'yes. God can do all that He says He can do, and He will fulfill His promises in my life.'

Let Your will be done, Lord.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Do not be afraid; just believe.

Yesterday in church the Pastor was reading the story of 'The Dead Girl' from Mark 5:21-43.

To summarize, a religious leader, Jairus, came to Jesus, fell at his feet, and begged Jesus to come heal his daughter. Jesus went with Jairus to his house, but before they reached, some men came and told them the girl had already died. "Why bother the teacher any more?" they asked Jairus.

But Jesus ignored the men and told Jairus, "Do not be afraid; just believe."

When they reached Jairus' home, people were wailing in grief, mourning the loss of the young girl.

Jesus asked them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep."

But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, Jesus took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" Immediately the girl stood up and walked around.

The first report that the child had died did not faze Jesus...the Word of Life had a plan to raise that girl from the dead. But first he had to encourage Jairus, the father..."Do not be afraid; just believe." I imagine Jairus' heart thumping in his throat as he hurried along next to the one man who hadn't given up...what would Jesus do? Jairus wanted to believe, but he was gripped with fear. Nevertheless, Jesus was his last hope. Jairus had to believe.

But did his faith falter as he got closer and closer to the wailing coming from his house? Did tears fill his eyes when he saw his wife sobbing? What went through his mind when Jesus told the mourners that the girl was sleeping? How did he feel when they laughed at Jesus?

'You fool,' the mourners said in their hearts when Jesus told them the girl was not dead. 'Are you daft? We know what death looks like. That girl is clearly dead.'

In their unbelief, they missed to see resurrection power. They were 'put out' where they couldn't see Jesus take the girl's hand and tell her to get up. They missed the joy on the father and mother's faces when their little girl stood and walked around. They missed the tears of celebration that soaked Jesus' shirt as the parents hugged him in gratitude. They missed the disciples awe and admiration as they witnessed their teacher raise the dead.

When logic overcomes faith we miss the miracles.

Is there anything that seems to be dying in your life? Maybe a dream, a hope, a desire? Have you brought it to Jesus? Maybe he's been telling you something is going to happen, but you haven't seen it come to pass, and you're losing faith.

Remember his words: Do not be afraid; just believe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Treasure Island in land-locked Uganda

Mama Caroline Odubo
I was at a birthday party yesterday in the village near our YWAM base, and had the opportunity to chat with Mama Caroline Odubo. Caroline is the Vice President of the Local Council, and the 'Woman of Peace' God led us to when we were first looking for land to build the YWAM base. Caroline and her family sold us the first plot of land.

Caroline told me more of her story yesterday, how her husband ran off with a mzungu from New Zealand and left her to raise the children on her own, how her father gave her a plot of land as an early inheritance, how she cut grass and tied it into bundles and sold it for those wanting to thatch the roofs of their houses.

"I paid my children's school fees through the grass growing freely around me," she said. "That was wisdom from God."

Caroline also cultivated the land, growing sweet potatoes, cassava, sorghum, and beans.

Somehow Caroline got hold of a copy of Treasure Island, and inside was a picture of Jim Hawkins sitting under a tree, contemplating his predicament. When Caroline saw that picture, she also happened to be sitting under a tree. Caroline stopped reading, stared at the picture, then looked up into the mango tree branches above her.

"This is my Treasure Island," she murmured. Caroline told her children, "We will get gold from this place, but we must work hard and not give up. From now on, we will call this place Treasure Island."

Caroline lived in a small grass thatched hut with her children, the chickens and the goats.

"All in one room?" I asked.

Caroline nodded.

"Even the goats?" I persisted.
Chobe National Park - Botswana

"It was very difficult," Caroline said, shaking her head, "but 'Lak lyec negu won ungo' - the elephant's trunk, though it is heavy, cannot defeat the owner."

Caroline painted the outside of her mud hut, then wrote the words of that African proverb on the wall. "Every day I read those words and they encouraged me to push on."

Even though the challenge of raising her children single-handedly was great, Caroline refused to be defeated. Today, her children are doctors, lawyers, teachers and businessmen.

Whenever you feel discouraged or weary, remember the elephant's trunk, and the brave Ugandan woman who set her sights on greater things.

With God, all things are possible, even an island in a land-locked country.