twisted truths and false promises

Luke 4:5-8 The devil led him (Jesus) up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ 

I received a phone call from my internet provider this past week. The man on the other end of the line promised me that he would offer me deal that would really benefit me. Before he could continue I asked him if it would save me money. He ignored my question and kept saying that he wanted to ask me a few things first. I pestered him enough until he told me “yes.” So, I listened to a long explanation about how much faster my internet would be and how many more international minutes I’d have for calling. Unfortunately, in order for me to save money on my internet bill I would have to take their deal for a tv package too. Sometimes advertisers twist their truths and give false promises so that we think we need what they are selling us.

A second temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness was something similar … with much bigger consequences. Jesus knew his purpose was to bring restoration between God and us again. He knew it would cost him. The devil caught him out when he was exhausted, both mentally and physically. “I’ve got a great deal for you!” he says, “It will really benefit you.” Jesus wouldn’t have to go through the next three years that we call his ministry years. He wouldn’t have to travel from town to town while putting up with a bunch of moaning people following him. He wouldn’t have to have the responsibility of saving the world. He could just coast his way through life. All he would have to do was one simple and seemingly harmless thing – worship the devil, just once. For one moment, take a look at the destruction that Satan has caused on the earth and say he is the greatest. It’s twisted. It’s false. To us, it’s obvious.

Recognizing the twisted truths and false promises in our own lives is far more difficult. What do we believe that is so close to truth that we don’t even see it? What gets in the way of worshiping God and serving him only? Who or what do we think is more powerful and great than God? The easy answer is: “Nothing.” But what about our fear? What about our boss? What about our hunger? What about our suffering? What about our pride? What about our money? What about our hobbies? What about our religious beliefs, or lack thereof? What about our work ethic? What about our jealousy? What about our hatred? It is easily done … and so obvious when we are looking back at it. Seeing God as bigger and more worthy of our thoughts just because of who he is, is tough.

Walking with Jesus through the wilderness means worshiping God alone and recognizing false advertisements that come our way. Adam and Eve missed it the first time around. They took the devil up on his boasts about the benefit of knowing good and evil. Jesus didn’t. We don’t have to either.

Talk to God about the things that have become more important and powerful in your life than him. Ask him to show you his truth about those things. When you are done, take a minute of silence and think about the greatness of God.

This week of Lent will be dedicated to learning what it is to worship God and serve him only.

you are loved. believe it so you act like it’s true

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is … You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later … Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist. ~ C. S. Lewis

The alarm jars me awake in the morning and the snooze button is just too handy. I hardly have to do anything, just tap the screen and I get nearly 10 more minutes to myself before it’s time to open the curtains and get out of bed. What harm would it be to hit snooze just one more time after that too? The temptation is just too much … I don’t think this sort of temptation is what C. S. Lewis was talking about and yet it is easier to talk about and admit than temptations that affect how I interact with God and the people around me.

Looking at Jesus doesn’t always help because he can make us a little insecure with all his perfection. And yet, he lived here as God with us, showing us what heaven looks like, what a world with him would be instead of this pain-filled existence we see all around us. Jesus didn’t enter the wilderness to be tempted by little luxuries in life – “No Facebook for 40 days, Jesus.” He was tempted to the core of who he was. He was tempted to cheat, to take short cuts, to be entitled, to be comfortable, to give up his position.

The tempter came to him (Jesus) and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” ~ Matthew 4:3-4

It’s not like Jesus couldn’t have done this. I mean, really, wouldn’t it have been just as easy to say: “Yes, devil, I am pretty sure I am the Son of God and to prove it I will show you that I can do the same miracle that he did. I will make food out of nothing in the wilderness like my Father did for the Israelites all those years ago.” He could have eased his hunger while making a point. But right before Jesus went into the wilderness God declared, “This (Jesus) is my Son.” Jesus knew his existence and identity didn’t hinge on what he could do but on what his Father said about him.

To follow Jesus into the wilderness is to stand against temptation. One of those temptations is to not believe what God says about us, starting with the fact that God so loved the world that he gave his Son. God loved us.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We don’t have to earn it by working for it. We don’t have to do anything to prove it to anyone. We are loved. What would life look like if you really believed that he sees everything … and I mean everything and still loves you. No choice you’ve made or trauma you’ve experienced could change that. He created you in his image. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He doesn’t just love you, he wants you.

This week of Lent we will be looking at temptation and repentance. Temptation isn’t wrong, acting on it is.  We cannot change what we do not acknowledge. While we follow Jesus through the wilderness we have an opportunity to acknowledge how our responses to temptation are different than his and begin to change them with his help. We already know he walks with us and makes a way.

Today, tell God about the times that you have tried to work for his love. Ask his forgiveness for when you have acted as if he didn’t create you, know you and love you. Take a minute to be silent when you are done.

sweet potato rye bread

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A couple of days a week I work from home for at least part of the day. One of the benefits of this is that I get to put a loaf of bread in the oven since it takes very little prep time … you just need to be around the house. I have to seriously ration this to make sure I don’t eat the whole thing in one sitting! Plain, with a bit of butter, covered with sandwich toppings … oh man, it’s amazing. You will probably want an stand mixer with a dough hook since it is a fairly wet dough. The more often I make it the easier it is!

Sweet Potato Rye Bread

  • 300g peeled sweet potatoes, cut in chunks for boiling
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 200g strong white flour (bread flour)
  • 100g dark rye wholemeal flour

Cover sweet potatoes with water, bring to a boil and lower to a simmer until they are soft enough to make mashed potatoes from them.

Set aside 75 ml of potato water and drain the rest of it. Put the potatoes back in the pot and return to a low heat for 1-2 minutes so they can dry out a bit.

When the 75 ml of potato water is lukewarm, stir in yeast and sugar.

Mash the potatoes with oil and salt. Mix into the yeast mixture.

Whisk the flour together in standing mixer bowl until well combined. Add in the wet ingredients. Mix with a dough hook on low until combined. Increase speed to med-high for 10 min or until dough is done. It should stretch a couple of inches without breaking. You might need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on the counter, flip the dough onto it and form into a ball. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and a tea towel. Put it in a warm place and let rise at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 22o C. I bake my bread on a pizza stone and so pit it in the oven at this time. Evenly flour a tea towel and place flour side up in a bread tin. Punch down the dough and turn it out a bit of flour and shape into a loaf. I like the tutorials from Northwest Sourdough. Place smooth side down on the tea towel in the bread tin. Let rise for 30 min while oven is heating.

Turn bread onto the pizza stone. If you are using a baking sheet, lightly oil before turning the bread onto it. Run a knife down the centre to make a shallow cut and place in the oven. I like to add a bit of moisture at this stage to help form a crust. This can be done by pouring boiling water into a pan that has been heating in the oven or using a spray bottle and spritzing water in.

Bake for 20-30 min. You will know it is done when you turn the loaf over, knock on the bottom and it sounds hollow. When done, turn out onto a rack to cool before slicing into it.

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God is with you in the wilderness

Luke 4:1-2 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

 

Temptation and wilderness places are not soothing topics. Everything about an over-indulged culture says that those are actually not natural and can be re-framed with a more positive outlook. Temptation is just your body telling you what you need. There is a cure if you are in the wilderness places. We can fix the discomfort. We should fix the discomfort.

During Lent we choose discomfort. Even shifting our routines to include a short conversation with God is enough to send our whole sense of normalcy out of order, sort of like someone coming into a room and rearranging everything by 10cm. It feels off, not quite comfortable anymore. Giving silent space for God to speak with us is even more disconcerting. What if he says something that will make me feel bad? What if he says something that I don’t want to hear? Even worse, what if he says nothing at all? Giving up something that you are used to having on a daily basis can be torture. Adding something or subtracting something from life might be a good thing for our health but it can never truly be a spiritual discipline if there isn’t time when we look to God. When we invite him into our physical and mental disciplines, we engage our whole being and will often find ourselves facing off with some of our biggest fears and insecurities.

That’s what Jesus did when he entered the wilderness. He didn’t go into the desert and fast because he wanted to lose a bit of weight. He went because he was led by the Spirit. He was filled by the Spirit. By following in his footsteps, we choose to feel uncomfortable because he chose to be uncomfortable; we choose to speak with the Father because he chose to speak with the Father; we give opportunity for temptation because he gave opportunity for temptation; we can make it through because he made it through.

Sometimes we also find ourselves in wilderness that we never expected or invited. Something in our life that we have relied on has shifted outside of our control and it feels like we are drowning in quicksand as it consumes us. The temptation is not to go back because we can never reach out our hands and grasp onto what was there before. The temptation comes as our identity is challenged and options to numb the pain are within reach. I don’t believe that God pre-determines the pain-filled situations we face. However, I do believe that he is able to lead us through those wilderness places. Our desperation is not too deep for him.

Whether we are in a self-imposed wilderness or one not of our choosing right now, we can follow Jesus through to the other side where there is fresh hope and sense of purpose in our lives.

As we follow in Jesus’ footsteps towards Easter, let’s be as honest with God as he is with us. Let’s sit in silence as we wait for him to respond. Let’s think about what he has done as we go about our day. During this week of The Lenten Way, we’ll be focussing on being stuck in the wilderness places (self-chosen or not) and trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us through.

Today, talk to God about your wilderness. Ask him to show you what it was like for him to be there. Take a minute of silence when you are done.

You can follow along with the Way Marker at the side of the blog each day or sign up  to receive these conversation starters in an email each morning.

Consider The Lenten Way

40 days expand out from here. Everything that is known stands behind and waves an enthusiastic “Bon Voyage!” In front is a canyon worn down into the barren earth from pilgrim feet following in the footsteps of the first one who walked this wilderness path. Prayer was his food. Repentance would become his message … heaven his promise. But first, hunger, thirst, temptation.

Only fools take up this journey imitating him, remembering him. We strap on our boots and bring plasters for the inevitable blisters it will cost us, all for the promise of a spirit that is full. The only sustenance we can carry on our backs are truthful words, silence and a personalized invitation addressed to the Holy Spirit. He is the original guide through this desert and only costs us our pride. The road doesn’t need to be walked alone. The valleys are littered with bones of people who got lost in their prideful wanderings. Don’t go near them, they are full of disease.

But, if you are tired of the stomach aches gluttony has given you. If you need to slow down and learn how to breathe again, taking in the world around you and seeing it as if for the first time. If you need an outlet for your grief and new vision for the future. Consider the Lenten Way. If you can’t get out of bed, can’t leave your job for a month, can’t pass the kids off to someone else while you travel over over the path of a real mountain pilgrimage – consider the Lenten Way. It is a pilgrimage of the heart that will take you through suffering to joy. Not all who wander this road are lost.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God ~ Psalm 42:2

There is always a reason to go on a 40 day journey. Tell God what you want to get out of it. Take half a minute and be silent when you are done.

Sign up for daily conversation starters with God for The Lenten Way.

my love for smithfield: block t

The Studio

The old doors of the lift rattle open before I prop them wide with a green and white weave basket filled with eight sewing machine peddles and two coiled extension leads. Out come the machines, two by two, and then the bags of sewing notions and left over sewing projects from a class I taught that morning. It might only be one flight up but the lift makes my weekly workout just a little bit easier. Inevitably, I will open the door to the first floor of Block T and Chris will take one look at my stack of machines and immediately offer help with moving everything down the hall to the studio. Chances are that I probably had collected the machines that morning on my own, taught a two hour sewing class and have just lugged everything back again. With each week the machines get lighter as I get stronger and my appreciation for Block T grows.

I was a latecomer to Block T but an early enthusiast for sewing. Following a run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in secondary school my drama teacher told me that I should really take up costume design as a career because I came alive while doing it. “Yes,” I said, “but there is something I love more.” I pursued the first dream while maintaining and developing my sewing skills as part of my oasis of self-care. I would sew dresses for friends here and there while up-skilling in courses that were relevant. In my visits to Canada I began to take up quilting too and was adopted into the great big quilting family that is somewhere in every Canadian town.

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Two years ago I found myself in a fairly important transition time and was looking for a way that I could contribute to the community as an act of love for it, no strings attached. Generosity that is genuine and wholehearted changes places, it changes people and it can change communities. Sewing came to mind even though I had never taught a class before in my life. When I told family and friends they confirmed what I had been thinking – this made sense! It was a natural progression from some of the community work I had been doing before. At the same time, I was terrified. Theoretically, it made sense. Practically, I was recovering from some emotional wounds that left me afraid of anything I thought I was good at before. I was even having panic attacks when sitting in front of a sewing machine about to stitch a straight line. Friends patiently walked with me as I breathed through fear and took a courageous step in asking a local school if they could do with a sewing teacher. Within a month we had scrounged together ancient sewing machines and a diverse class of students. Soon I was getting calls from other local services asking if I could teach a group with them as well. Some generous people donated money for me to put together proper equipment for classes and in summer of 2015 all of this moved with me into Block T where I began sharing studio space with my good friend, co-founder of C Squared and visual artist, Laura Pettit.

Sharing a space with a visual artist is inspiring. Each week I enter into a space that is charged with eyes that see differently and shapes and colours that express intangible realities that resonate deeply. As I drift through the hallways of Block T, I am reminded that the world can look different. This old probation office building has been a Petri dish where new hopes and dreams for the future are given a chance to start incredibly small in order to become something that grows big enough to shape the culture of a city. Our practices interact with each other. During one Tuesday evening before Christmas I was in the art classroom with a sewing class. Paint was splashed across surfaces and well used easels stood as our backdrop – a room well loved with the lingering affects of art. Our gift in return was the calming smell of lavender from making scented heat packs. On evenings that I have ended up staying late to prepare for a class the next day, Kevin will knock on my door and ask if I have listened to this artist or that song. He helps me find them on my computer and they become an unexpected and very welcome soundtrack for my work. It has been an absolute honour to teach basic machine sewing skills as a part of their skillset programme as well as in the community. It is one way that I have been able to exchange generosity for the environment, opportunity, plasters (for when I cut my fingers open by being careless with a rotary blade) and helping hands every week.

Block T is a generous place. A dreamer’s place. A culture maker’s place. I, for one, will be sad to see it leave Smithfield Square in the coming months as it seeks a new home. Homelessness is a problem in this city. Meanwhile, I will be thankful as I think about my love for Smithfield and the role that Block T has played in strengthening many things that have been weak.

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make your home in the wetlands

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Getting off the bus this morning I was greeted by fierce wind and pelting rain. Huddling under the hood of my down jacket I tried to find some measure of warmth while rushing down the hill and across the river in the city. Soon my earlier effort of drying my hair before leaving the house was completely undone and it whipped in drenched cords across my face. I am sure the bogs were delighted with a new thick layer of moisture soaking into their spongy layers but I was not. Ireland can really be a wet land. In the city all the moisture just follows gravity down the streets and into the drains or canals but outside of it, the wetlands flourish.

When I was growing up the wetlands never seemed like exotic ecosystems. Who would want to visit to a marsh, a bog or a swamp when there were oceans, forests and mountains to explore? This was probably the reason a friend and I chose them as one of our high school biology projects one year – they were the unexpected place, the useless ground, the visually abhorrent in our part of the world. As I learned about how wetlands purify our water, ward off flooding and provide habitat for so much life, my opinion began to change. I began to explore areas saturated in water as if they were the hosts of some of the most intricate and delicate forms of life, vital to our world.

Over Christmas while visiting my family in Canada, I was able to travel through parts of Oregon and Washington. On our way home we stopped at the Mount St. Helen’s Visitor Centre. The top is blown off the volcanic mountain from its eruption in 1980. My parents remember the moment their tent walls sucked in and an the explosion filled the air from where they were staying near Vancouver, 400km away. This winter it sat as a silent white novelty to the landscape, framed by the trees and the glassy ice surfaces of the wetlands. My attention was drawn to the plants softly floating beneath the layers of intricately designed ice. This was the area where people thrived before modern conveniences allowed us to choose a home with the best view. Life came from these waters. Safety came from these waters. Sustainability came from these waters. The mountain peak wasn’t the place to go if you wanted to thrive.

I don’t know about you, but I find it really easy to see the very few people who fit on top of the mountain peek of success and hear the message we’ve convinced ourselves of: this could be you if only you … (worked hard enough, didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, prayed to all gods at once, prayed to no god at all). But then I look around me at the real heroes I admire. They move about their days with a passionate focus of giving someone a lift who doesn’t have a car, making lunch for people who others don’t think are important, cultivating the plot of land that belongs to them and making preserves from the fruit of their labour. They live in the wetlands, the places teaming with life, seemingly a little less adventurous and yet sustainable for far more people than the mountain top.

For as much as we all long for the beach, the forest and the mountain top, if only for just a holiday, perhaps it is time to intentionally make our home in the wetlands.

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