Finding Peace in the Middle of a Contentious Atmosphere

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I fell for it. I didn’t really notice until I asked myself why I felt so agitated. I heard myself snap at my husband over some trivial matter. Later he (and a few others) had to listen to my rant about the way corrupt people with money and power are lying to the vulnerable and gullible. I picked up the nastiness in the atmosphere and, forgetting to get cleaned up after reading about systemic corruption in my country, I ran with it and added to the division.

I lost my peace.

One of the most important things I have learned in the past few years is that when I pray I need to remember who I am, to rest from striving and have confidence in the One to whom I pray — and to tune into His peace. In His presence I am content to trust. Covered by His righteousness, surrounded by His love, and secure in His goodness I can join in the way Jesus prays for a situation.

On my own I become angry. I rant about injustice, cover-ups, the abuse of power, the manipulation of people through fears and half-truths. On my own my best efforts contribute to the kind of division that delights the enemy of our souls. My own emotional reaction doesn’t work.

I thought about attitudes that counter anger and contention. I thought about peace and contentment as neutralizing weapons. But first I had to get cleaned up.

The essence of confession is this: Oh God, I was wrong. I’m sorry.

I was wrong to pick up the weapons of the author of contention. (I once heard in a dream, “You can contend without being contentious, you know.”) I was wrong for applying outrage instead of stepping into the place of confident security in The Truth and The Way.

My scheduled reading yesterday in Psalm 94 made me stop and think. So much of the upheaval we are experiencing comes down to the question, “Who is in control?”

You will be relieved to know it’s not me, nor can I tell God what to do. I can confess, get cleaned up, and step back into alignment with him though. Thank you, Lord, for forgiveness.

The scripture says the purposes of God are not achieved by the anger of man. My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen,[o] but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry, for human anger is never a legitimate tool to promote God’s righteous purpose. (James 1:19, 20)

Prayer is more powerful than any demonstration of anger. God’s plan of revenge is first a heart transformed by love, but he will not tolerate forever those who hurt his children.

The Lord has fully examined every thought of man
and found them all to be empty and futile.

Lord Yah, there’s such a blessing that comes
when you teach us your word and your ways.
Even the sting of your correction can be sweet.

It rescues us from our days of trouble
until you are ready to punish the wicked.

For the Lord will never walk away from his cherished ones,
nor would he forsake his chosen ones who belong to him.

Whenever you pronounce judgments, they reveal righteousness.
All your lovers will be pleased.

Lord, who will protect me from these wicked ones?
If you don’t stand to defend me, who will? I have no one but you!

I would have been killed so many times
if you had not been there for me.

When I screamed out, “Lord, I’m doomed!”
your fiery love was stirred and you raced to my rescue.

Whenever my busy thoughts were out of control,
the soothing comfort of your presence
calmed me down and overwhelmed me with delight.

It’s obvious to all; you will have nothing to do
with corrupt rulers who pass laws that empower evil
and defeat what is right.

For they gang up against the lovers of righteousness
and condemn the innocent to death.

But I know that all their evil plans will boomerang back onto them.
Every plot they hatch will simply seal their own doom.
For you, my God, you will destroy them,
giving them what they deserve.
For you are my true tower of strength,
my safe place, my hideout, and my true shelter.

(Psalm 94:11-23 TPT)

 

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Certain Hope

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The Christian is a man who can be certain about the ultimate even when he is most uncertain about the immediate.

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I was not expected to be born alive.

The fact that I am here at all was a miracle, which I, of course, do not remember. But I remember my father’s telling of the story of my birth.

Many people die in utero. More now than ever. I’m here. Why?

As I was thinking about this, I realized that every day since the doctor, who expected to deliver a stillborn, handed my parents a healthy chubby screaming baby instead has been a bonus.

The God of love who gave us life and sent his son to restore our relationship with him promises more than we can imagine. If every day is a gift now, how much greater is the gift of  life with him forever?

And now we have run into his heart to hide ourselves in his faithfulness. This is where we find his strength and comfort, for he empowers us to seize what has already been established ahead of time—an unshakeable hope! We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold, and where Jesus, our forerunner, has gone in before us.

(Hebrews 6:18a – 20a TPT)

Love Does Not Traffic

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Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor.

(1 Corinthians 13:5 TPT)

The way of love is so different than the way of self-promotion it’s almost shocking. The current way of self-promotion when seeking positions of power is to dig up as much dirt as possible, massage the truth a bit, and publicly disrespect rivals by rubbing shame in their faces via the media.

What would leadership that places the needs of others above one’s own (or one’s own tribe) even look like?

What if a political campaign was fought with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

What if honour was honoured?

I wonder. Could we handle true truth?

Grace/Disgrace

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I was known, as a child, as the kid who asked too many questions. I remember one exasperated church lady saying, “Questions! Questions! Why do you have to ask so many questions? Why can’t you just have faith?”

I felt reprimanded and like I was about to be assigned to the lower decks of the good ship Faith. I thought about it for a while, then realized that if I didn’t have faith that God is good and has an answer waiting discovery, I wouldn’t be brave enough to ask questions.

I still ask impertinent questions, but now I have a somewhat better sense of where and when it’s safe to ask them. Maturity or pragmatism? I’m not sure.

I ask God a lot of questions. Sometimes I get a direct answer in sundry ways. Sometimes all I get is a nudge to rephrase or ask a better question. Sometimes God asks me a question in response to my question. That happened this week.

I woke up to the clear question, “What’s the opposite of grace?” (I was too focussed on how wonderful my pillow still felt to come up with it myself.) Two mugs of coffee later I contemplated the opposite of grace. The question, “What does grace feel like?” (here) took months to answer. I’ve learned not to rush when my heavenly Father asks something he already knows. Something important this way lies. This time it didn’t take as long.

What is the opposite of grace? Disgrace, I guess.

And what is disgrace?

Help me out here, dictionary. The pre-fix dis means to do the opposite, to deprive, to exclude, expel, annul. If we put the prefix dis on a word it changes the meaning to the opposite. To empower is to give power to someone. To dis-empower is to remove power. Dis-ease is a medical condition that negates ease. When a lawyer is dis-barred, he is not called to the bar, he is sent away from the bar. It’s like a “not” added to the word. Dis-agreeable means not agreeable. When we say something is a disgrace it is without grace. It is loathsome, unhelpful, shameful. When we say someone has been disgraced, they have been dis-honoured, shamed.

I think that’s it. When someone has been disgraced, when there is no grace for them, they have been shamed. When someone is a disgrace, they are an embarrassment, a source of shame, an object to be rejected. (Guilt comes from something we have done wrong. Shame is the feeling that we are something wrong.)

There you have it. The opposite of grace is shame.

Why are you asking me this, Lord?”

So then, what is grace?

Your grace is the empowerment to become the person You see when You look at us.*

Grace is not an excuse to be content with dis-obedience or dis-function. Grace empowers transformation. Ah! I get it. Dis-grace wraps a wounded soul in a trash bag, hides it in the trunk, and hauls it to the dump when no one is looking.

I realized how many times I have seen dis-grace masquerading as grace: unrequested judgmental prayer or “prophetic words” that mislabel, unfaithful “wounds of a friend” that leave marks, demands to maintain “standards” that are really about maintaining power, discipleship training that instills dependence on a leader, sermons emphasizing sin-focussed “shoulds” that dis-courage, or traditions that make putting on a façade of respectability more important than enjoying the freedom found in a loving, honest relationship with God.

I realized that although I write about grace, I still have areas of my life in which I have believed the lie that I didn’t just do something wrong, I am something wrong. Every time the enemy of my soul wants to make me less effective, he tugs on the lie like yanking on a rug and I topple over. Sometimes I even hide under the rug. I have not always soaked in the grace God lavishes on us, but rather have self-applied dis-grace, mistakenly thinking that shame could motivate anything other than temporary change.

My prayer in the days before I heard the Lord’s question was like David’s in Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (verses 23, 24 NASB)

After I asked to be shown any place where a lie had taken residence in my heart I saw an area of my life in which I felt like I was still a failure, even after years of effort to measure up. For the next few days, I was sucked into a vortex of shame and anger. (But God! It’s not fair!! I have tried so hard!) I wanted to hide. I realized later, that in his kindness God was not showing me the hurtful way at the root of so much frustration; he was showing me the shame that kept me bound to the lie that I expected him to reject me like so many others have.

He hasn’t rejected me. Instead, in his kindness, he is showing me a little more of who he is, and a little more of how he sees me. Shame is what he intends to remove by his grace. He says I am a person he enjoys walking with. He continues to lead in the everlasting way.

*via Graham Cooke.

Extravagant Love

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My heart, O God, is quiet and confident.
Now I can sing with passion your wonderful praises!

Awake, O my soul, with the music of his splendor-song!
Arise, my soul, and sing his praises!
My worship will awaken the dawn,
greeting the daybreak with my songs of praise!
 
Wherever I go I will thank you, my God.
Among all the nations they will hear my praise songs to you.
 
Your love is so extravagant it reaches to the heavens,
Your faithfulness so astonishing it stretches to the sky!
 
Lord God, be exalted as you soar throughout the heavens.
May your shining glory be shown in the skies!
Let it be seen high above all the earth!

(Psalm 57:7-11 TPT)

One of the hardest challenges some of us face is forgiving ourselves. When we can’t forgive ourselves it’s hard to imagine that our heavenly Father does.

I should know better by now. I feel the urgency of the hour. Time becomes more precious, yet easier to waste as I grow older. I give in to self-pity. Negative thinking inevitably leads to conclusions that leave God’s extravagant love out of the picture and end up in a vortex of catastrophic projections.

I hear his voice gently whispering, “You! Eyes here. Look at me! My strength is made perfect in weakness. My strength, not yours. Your weakness, not mine. I’ve got this.”

I see the morning light in a corner of the sky.

“I’m sorry. I was wrong. I know you do,” I tell him.

“I forgive you. Now forgive yourself and let’s start again. It’s a new day and I love you. Do you hear me? I really, really love you.”

Thank you. I trust you, Lord.

Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed your hand has provided. Great is your faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

 

Context

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But as for me, your strength shall be my song of joy.
At each and every sunrise, my lyrics of your love will fill the air!
For you have been my glory-fortress,
a stronghold in my day of distress.

O my strength, I sing with joy your praises.
O my stronghold, I sing with joy your song!
O my Savior, I sing with joy the lyrics of your faithful love for me!

(Psalm 59:16, 17 TPT)

I love the Psalms and make an effort to read from them every day. Lately I have been aware of how often the Psalmists (David in particular) talk about their confusion, fear, and suffering. It’s easy to pick passages like the one above to print on pretty posters and mugs. They are lovely, but taken out of context of their setting, they are deprived of  the power and drama of the moment of their creation.

The first line of the psalm is, “My God, protect me! Keep me safe from all my enemies, for they’re coming to kill me!”

The outpouring of David’s heart allows us to see how his focus moved from the reality of point A, “They’re coming to kill me!” to the truth of his conclusion, “Your strength shall be my song of joy…”

Just before the higher truth of the last two verses, he talks about the observable, measurable truth coming at him, “Here they come again— prowling, growling like a pack of stray dogs in the city. Drifting, devouring, and coming in for the kill, they refuse to sleep until they’ve eaten their fill.”

To me, the Psalms speak of the faith journey in real time. God is outside of time, but we who travel along tethered to this timeline, except for moments of prophetic vision, don’t know what lies in those valleys between mountain peaks.

Some people believe that talking about valleys creates valleys, that mentioning devouring dogs coming in for the kill, for example, gives strength to the dogs, or acknowledging the pain of arthritis entrenches arthritis.

The psalm’s encouragement, I believe, can be found in the “buts.” I am tempted to be terrified, BUT, you, my heavenly father are greater. They arrogantly scoff, BUT you break out laughing at their plans. They think I am vulnerable, BUT you hide me in a high place. They plot and scheme, BUT you watch over me. They boil over with rage and shout lies and curses, BUT you are amused by their arrogance. They hate me and want to silence me, but you, oh God of passionate love, will meet with me.

The psalmist strengthens himself in the Lord, not by denying the reality of the attack against him, but by declaring over and over the greater reality of God’s coming response to his cries.

I took the photo above during a time when wild fires threatened our valley. Smoking threat, sunset beauty and a patch of clear breakthrough all existing at the same time and space. This is where my heart is today, not denying the reality of threatening evil, but focussing on the beauty of my Lord, and seeing the early signs of breakthrough.

“My strength is found when I wait upon you.”