Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I was looking for something to watch on TV. I needed a break from the world’s problems, and I just wanted an hour or two of uplifting entertainment, something to make me smile and feel good inside. Years ago, a counsellor told me, “You are entirely too sane. A little fiction-inspired denial might help to lighten things up a bit.”

I have access to multiple streaming services, but I couldn’t find anything that would “lighten things up a bit.” I love a good film, but these didn’t hold out the beauty I was looking for. Instead, I ended up entertaining myself by listing themes from trailers and the blurbs on trending movies.

Have you paid attention to the themes of films lately? When I was depressed, I used to watch a lot of TV. My standards were not high. When things were really bad, I could lose hours to the weather channel. Whether TV-watching was a cause or effect of the depression, I don’t know, but I haven’t paid nearly as much attention to television or popular films since being set free from the pit. 

I looked more closely at the offerings. The same kind of stuff kept coming up. This survey is not remotely scientific. It’s just what I noticed today. Most themes could be reduced to a few broad categories:

Dark secrets: Someone is lying to you.

Someone is trying to steal from you.

Someone wants to use you, or your loved one, for their own power or pleasure purposes.

Off-world or external forces beyond your control are bent on your destruction.

So much for escape from the news cycle.

Responses to disappointment and pain included: the celebration of absurdity; angry humour; creative revenge and one-upmanship pay-back; exploration of the dark side; not-so-noble means to earn public approval; accumulation and protection of wealth and the spending thereof; escape through mood-altering chemistry: and sexual hedonism involving every possible option but a happy marriage.

I’m sure there are films with themes of nobility, altruism, forgiveness, hope, and physical or emotional or spiritual healing, but they weren’t in the first forty on the “trending” list.

As my little granddaughter observed, good stories need problems. Understood — and a well-developed villain is often the character that keeps us coming back. I only looked at the written and visual enticements intended to draw us in like a carnival barker’s call today. I hope many of the issues in the storylines were resolved and brought great relief to the audience before they trundled off to bed. I just didn’t feel like taking the risk that the offered solutions came at the expense of bystanders. I decided not to saturate myself in despair as was once my habit.

As I thought about it, the word saturate reminded me of this advice to new believers meeting together in Philippi long ago:

“Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote.

“Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” 

“Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” (Philippians 4: 6 -9 TPT)

I’m not looking to escape, Pollyanna style, the reality that evil exists everywhere in the world. I can see that level of reality in my own dishonorable responses to fear that is the result of continually hearing the message, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

I choose to fasten my thoughts on every glorious work of God. It might seem boring to thrill-seekers, but my wanderings and simple photos of flowers and mountains and sky are reminders to me of a greater reality, the one in which the Creator and Lover of my soul says, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

I’m shutting the TV and the computer off and going outside now.

Oh, and in other news, the orchards are starting to bloom.

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Your Goodness

This morning I am going through photos I took in the garden next to our condo this week. I procrastinated again and the warm sunlight disappeared behind rain clouds before I ventured outside. I didn’t have high expectations for results. The contrast between bright colour and muted dark tones surprises me.

I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s “Remember” as this photo of a two-toned tulip popped up. This line from the song stood out to me: “Even when my eyes could not see, you were there, always there with me.”

I was reminded yesterday that this week marks fourteen years since I was healed of cycles of depression I thought would never end. The bouts in hellish darkness had become more frequent and were lasting longer. Medication helped, but I needed a lot to keep functioning in public and to keep hiding the condition of my soul from people who stigmatized and rejected those of us who walked a path they couldn’t understand, but they needed constant adjustment. I was taking drugs to counteract the side effects of the side effects of other drugs I needed to counteract side effects. Sometimes they threw me into the other ditch with short bouts of hypomania, inevitably followed by the need to make apologies for overconfident promises made that I couldn’t keep later when a crash returned — just as inevitably.

I am enormously grateful for doctors and medicines that kept me going, but I was told my condition was chronic. I would always be dependent on chemical means to chase despair and suicidal thoughts away.

I didn’t want more treatments! I wanted to be healed!

I prayed for years to be released from the prison of depression. Like the Psalmist I could say, “How long?”

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Then one day, when I least expected it, I met the Healer. He set this captive free. I am no longer on antidepressants or mood stabilizers and have had no recurrence in fourteen years! Like this flower God gave me a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. How can I help but praise him?

Today I am singing, “I can’t stop thinking about your goodness!”

For those of you asking, “How long, Lord?” keep trusting. Keep seeking the Lord. Someday he will tell us why it took so long. If you have lost sight of hope, ask the Lord to send burden-bearers who will carry faith and hope for you until you can hold it in your own hands again. In the darkest hours He still loves you, even when you can’t see it or feel it.

Cherish Wisdom

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you.
 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
 Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
 She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.

Proverbs 4:6-9 NIV

Running Into the Wind

There is something about the crocus flower that symbolizes eagerness to me. They remind me of my childhood family walking over hills covered with last years dry grass and through thickets of gray branches to reach a trail that was still edged with melting snow. I remember the cold wind rushing down the mountainside making jackets billow and long hair whip around in every direction.

If we had been hiking in the late autumn, after everything with colour had blown away, we would have complained about how nasty that cold Alberta wind could be. But in the spring, the same temperature and the same stiff breeze felt wonderfully warm. We tucked hats and gloves into deep pockets and ran into the wind, our arms raised high as if to catch all the promises of spring in our hands.

A south-facing hillside showing off crocus flowers bobbing their heads in the breeze was our reward and evidence of better times and brighter days ahead. Yes, there would be disappointing blustery snowy icy days before winter fully released it’s grip, but the season of growth and harvest approached.

After this latest season of Lent and a time of allowing myself to be aware of the darkness Christ came to illuminate, the week after Easter feels like receiving the freedom to run toward the gifts He promised. One of those was the presence of the Holy Spirit who walks beside us and never leaves. He tells us through Paul:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.

(1 Corinthians 14:1 NIV)

Crocus flowers are like fuzzy purple floral forerunners who respond to the season change before the other flowers. That’s what New Testament prophecy makes possible –being the first to see what others miss in changing times and responding to it in faith.

Teach me your ways, Lord. Show me your paths. Lead me in the way everlasting. Let me run into the wind with joy.

Dark

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working.

Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working.*

Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things. (Ephesian 4:9,10 NASB)

*From “Waymaker” by Osinachi Kalu Okoro

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt word: Dark

Courage: Behold the Man

Photo: The Lithostrotos (Roman Paving) under the Ecce Homo Convent in Jerusalem

Anyone who has spent time with children has heard this cry, “NO FAIR!!!”

Anyone who visits social media hears it often from adults. Sometimes when reading about injustice toward children and other vulnerable people, my outrage mode becomes so overheated I have to shut it down and walk away before I open the door to something nasty that is glad to feed on my anger and unforgiveness and takes the opportunity to cultivate more.

When I am the victim of injustice myself and feel misunderstood, mistreated, and rejected I do not do well in the self-defense department. My rage usually turns into embarrassing crying. Crying when attempting to confront, with calm assertiveness, someone who has treated me unfairly infuriates me even more. I look like a weak, hysterical, blithering idiot and end up running away. (Now there’s a accusing voice popping up from my past.)

Worse yet is when I strike back with cutting words or, in one case, with a one-fingered gesture in the face of an entitled person in the middle of ridiculous road rage meltdown. (I shocked myself.) I had the opportunity to test the acceleration ability on my car that day.

Luke tells the story of how Philip explained a passage from Isaiah’s scroll to the Ethiopian eunuch. It describes Jesus.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.

(Isaiah 53:7, 8a NLT)

The amount of courage it must have taken for Jesus to resist defending himself when he had so many powerful tools available is hard for me to comprehend. Only a love stronger than the drive to preserve one’s dignity and one’s life can account for such silence. This was not angry passive/aggressiveness nor self-punishing passivity. Jesus demonstrated physical and moral courage many times in his confrontations with authority figures who blocked the path to God with man-made traditions and religiosity. He was very capable of standing up to injustice. He cornered hypocritical religious authorities with his words. He took time to make a whip before turning over opportunistic scammers’ tables at the temple. His action in that circumstance was not because he suddenly lost his temper. Taking the time to make a whip showed he intentionally engaged in a dramatic act that opposed injustice.

Before the time when he was betrayed, mocked, whipped, and nailed to a public torture device he said this: “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18 NLT)

I see him looking, without shame, directly into the eyes of those who thought they were protecting their power base, facing the faces in the mob who called out for his death, gazing into my own eyes as I worry about what people will think, and saying with his compassionate silence, “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you. For you.”

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Courage

Pressure

But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves.

We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed; always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown in our body.

(2 Corinthians 4:7-10 Amp)

There’s nothing like pressure to reveal weakness. I was very tired recently and grumbled loud and long about not being able to stay home and rest, but despite my physical weakness God used me to encourage someone when I grudgingly went out. It always surprises me when that happens. I guess part of me still thinks that helping someone is the result of my pseudo-superhero strength of character and somewhat flimsy appearance of righteousness. It’s not. It’s definitely not. Thanks for the reminder, Lord.

People given to shows of religiosity sometimes forget that it is God working through them that makes a difference in the world. I think God uses fragile people to carry his message of salvation because he needs us to quit making objects of worship out of anyone but Himself. It happens so easily. And then our “idols” fall because either the elevated person or his or her worshippers need to be reminded that God alone deserves all the praise.

The truth is our bodies are weak and our egos are fragile. Jesus knew what it was like to live in a body subject to fatigue. The night before he was crucified, he experienced physical weakness under huge pressure. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he conceded when his disciples couldn’t stay awake to pray with him in the garden. He understands.

Paul told the believers in Corinth that sometimes life could be tough. He and his companions had questions. They were pressured and perplexed like we sometimes are. They were hunted, persecuted, and struck down, but they were not crushed, not driven to despair, or deserted, or destroyed because God was their source of strength. He was doing something wonderful through them. These “fragile vessels” carried the living resurrected Christ. How amazing! Substance before style! It’s so opposite of the way the world operates with its public relations media machines and style before substance.

Our weaknesses keep us from claiming credit when the credit belongs to God. He is teaching us to trust him under pressure. “Under pressure” is where the rubber meets the road.

Carrying the precious message, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is about His sufficiency and not ours. Soli Deo gratia.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Pressure

But I Call You Friends

Old Friends

In my grandmother’s day, people did not call each other by first names without permission. Sometimes that permission was not granted for years. I use the word much more freely, sometimes calling a person “my friend” after merely agreeing me once or twice on social media. To the women in my grandmother’s circle the friend designation carried a certain responsibility. Friendship meant loyalty. It meant standing up for each other and contending for another woman’s welfare if called upon. Grandma knew a lot of people. She was an extrovert before the word was invented. The word may have been invented to describe her. She knew a lot of people, but she had only a few fast friends.

People I have met who are well-known enough to have fans tell me that many of their devoted followers are quick to claim close relationship without permission. (Neither confirming nor denying anything here.) Photos — especially selfies — do lie. Six seconds in the same camera frame backstage do not a friendship make. Fans can turn on a celebrity in a minute if they feel personally disappointed by a cancelled concert or even a change in marital status. Fans think they know a famous person when in truth they do not. Most of what they perceive is either from P.R. staff or media coverage published by people who really don’t know the heart of the famous person either.

Jesus was a famous person. He spoke to crowds but he didn’t need them. He had compassion but found the mass of neediness exhausting. He knew what was in the hearts of those who wanted to use him for their own purposes. When he did not give them a political solution to their deeper spiritual problem many former “fans” turned on him.

The night before they did though, he had Passover supper with the men who knew him best. He said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

A person offering friendship shares more than opinions. A friend shares his or her heart. He told them straight out who he was and what was about to happen.  

The disciples didn’t fully grasp what it meant to be a friend of the Messiah. Most of them disappeared when the going got tough. One of them even betrayed him, trading the inside information he was trusted with to tell the authorities where they could find Jesus away from the crowd that could potentially get in the way or make a scene.

Betrayal is part of the risk of friendship. Being a friend means we give another person all the ammunition they need to deeply hurt us. Real betrayal only comes from those close enough to truly wound us. Jesus taught us how to be fully human by allowing himself to be vulnerable to the kind of pain only those we love can inflict.

Jesus showed them that real love means the willingness to lay your life down for a friend. He demonstrated this love by laying his life down for his friends. His action requires response. He says to us, “Real love looks like this. I gave everything for you. Are you willing to give everything for me? I call you friend. Can you call me friend knowing what it means to be a friend of the Son of God?”

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9-17 NIV)

I hear him saying “I love you so much I went through hell and back for you. I offer you my friendship. Now let me ask you, are you my friend or just a fan?”