Flabby Faith in God’s Gym

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you.

So we will never fear
even if every structure of support were to crumble away.

We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes,
moving mountains and casting them into the sea.

For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves
cannot erode our faith in you. “

(Psalm 46: 1-3 TPT)

Recently while I was on a Zoom call with friends who were checking on each others welfare, one said, “I’ve come to realize that I am responsible for my own flabby faith. I need to exercise it.” I knew she was right.

Faith is taking the risk of trust. When we sow seeds of fear, we reap a harvest of distrust. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a constant barrage of fear-inducing reports like the ones that saturate the atmosphere right now. So many of us raised with the fear of a punishing God are triggered by this negativity. We need to get to know in an experiential way who God really is and take steps toward trust.

I watched a lad sit perfectly still for hours as he reached his hand out to a wounded. I didn’t see any progress so I left to do something I hoped would be more productive. When I came back later in the day, the little creature was settled in the palm of the boy’s hand. God is like that. He has enormous patience. He is also a great trainer and gives us increasingly greater challenges to grow and strengthen our faith.

I sense we are heading into a time when we will need more than flabby faith. When foundations crumble, we need to be familiar with the Holy Spirit’s still small voice and the safety of the hand of our Creator. It starts with one step and grows in strength through exercise until deeper experience of His love conquers all fear.

Stability in Changing Times

He will be your constant source of stability in changing times,

    and out of his abundant love he gives you

    the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.

    Yes, the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure!

Isaiah 36:3 TPT

I’ve been in a court room more than once. The first time I heard, “All rise,” I was performing my civic duty on a jury. The judge frequently asked us to leave the room as discussions continued over whether or not we should hear a particular piece of evidence. We may have been charged with bringing a verdict, but he was clearly the no-nonsense authority in that room.

The second time I appeared in court was as a witness. I felt with uncomfortable nervousness the weight of responsibility. I wanted to give details clearly and honestly. I also wanted to be understood for the sake of the victims’ future. I wasn’t sure the judge would listen or take me seriously. He did.

The third time in court, I watched someone I loved being falsely accused by the defense team. I watched some of the witnesses stumble over details as the accused’s lawyers expertly tripped them up in cross-examination. I had to sit still while defense witnesses outright lied. I was terribly anxious and upset. I worried the judge would believe them, but he saw through the falsehoods. He made sure the victims were heard and protected from further harm.

The last time I was in court I was the accused. I did it — or rather didn’t do it, which is what landed me there. Somehow we either missed or didn’t receive the usual notice from the car insurance company that our renewal was due. Neither of us noticed until the policeman stopped me on the way home from the grocery store and pointed to the license plate sticker which had expired a couple of days before. I received a ticket with an eye-watering fine and ended up in traffic court. I was honest. I was polite. I admitted fault –and I was scared spitless. I gave my side of the story about not receiving notice and hoped for leniency… and then I paid the hefty fine.

Why am I telling you this? I have been trying for many years to understand what “the fear of the Lord” means. I was raised in an environment where God was presented as someone to be afraid of more than someone who loved me. I lost many years trying to appease a judge I was afraid didn’t understand, and who cared only for his own ego. While He demonstrated his sacrificial love for me and I learned I didn’t need to distrust the power of someone who wanted nothing less than an unhindered relationship and the absolute best for me, I still had trouble understanding why the Bible tells us to “fear not” and “fear the Lord” at the same time.

Looking back, I can see that each of the judges I met in court seemed scary to me because of the power they held. Fortunately, in my experience, they all acted fairly and in the best interest of society, including the one who found me guilty of neglecting my responsibility to buy car insurance on time. Not all judges are corruption free, but the God of love and the Creator of the universe who has perfect understanding of how he made everything to run is without fault.

The Triune God can say with both love and justice, “No. You may not abuse the earth, other people, or even yourself. You disrespect me when you do that.” He is merciful, but his love is not the same as indulgence. His grace empowers us to be all he intended. He sees the big picture that spans time and space in a way we cannot comprehend. He is the ultimate authority on all things.

The difference between God’s wisdom and a human’s best understanding can be greater than the difference between a tin shack and a solid mountain. Who do we trust more to be the source of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

This caused me to think about who I have placed in positions over God as the ultimate authority in my life. I co-operate with and pray for bosses, church leaders, government authorities, and yes, even my spouse, for the sake of smooth sailing in society even when I may disagree on the best route to an agreed destination — unless they try to usurp God’s throne.

We have all trusted institutions which turned out later to not be exactly trustworthy. It can be a rattling experience when the foundations shake. I suspect we are about to see more shaking. Alas, some people who crave power are more enamored with self-aggrandizement than responsibility for the well-being of their charges. In the end there is only One who is the totally trustworthy bastion of both love and justice, only One who is our constant source of stability in changing times. Out of his abundant love he gives us the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. His beloved children receive the right to boldly approach his throne and ask for them.

Just to Be Near You

O God in Zion, to you even silence is praise!
You are the God who answers prayer;
all of humanity comes before you with their requests.

Though we are overcome by our many sins,
your sacrifice covers over them all.
And your priestly lovers, those you’ve chosen,
will be greatly favored to be brought close to you.
What inexpressible joys are theirs!
What feasts of mercy fill them in your heavenly sanctuary!
How satisfied we will be just to be near you!

You answer our prayers with amazing wonders
and with awe-inspiring displays of power.
You are the righteous God who helps us like a father.

Everyone everywhere looks to you,
for you are the confidence of all the earth,
even to the farthest islands of the sea.

What jaw-dropping, astounding power is yours!
You are the mountain maker who sets them all in place.

Psalm 65: 1-7 TPT

I am learning that prayer is not a work we do to impress God. Prayer is not duty. Prayer is not telling God what to do as if he is our servant. Prayer is definitely not manipulating God with fine flattering speeches or dramatic displays of emotional super-religiosity. These things may impress the people around us, but they do not impress God.

What impresses God is faith — believing he is who he says he is and trusting in his love.

Prayer is daring to come close to God in faith and humility and naked honesty. Sometimes, when we pour out our hearts, words flow. Sometimes we sit in silence not knowing what to say. In these moments, the Holy Spirit speaks our hearts when we can’t. In these moments the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts in the sounds of stillness.

Prayer is just being near him and knowing that no matter what, he loves us like no one else ever can.

Fully Where I Am

“When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.”

– Henri Nouwen

The smoke has cleared and I was feeling well enough to get out of the house and drive to one of my favourite quiet places, little Munroe Lake. This area suffered the ravages of wildfire a few years ago. I enjoy the contrast between old growth on one side of the lake and new growth on the other.

Circumstances in my life require letting go of things I used to be able to do without much planning or thought. Mourning is involved any time we let go of the old to make room for the new, but we can’t get a grasp on the future when our hands are desperately hanging on to strands of the past.

This new terrain is giving me a greater appreciation for stillness. It is reinforcing the importance of something the Lord has been teaching me for many years: trust.

How will things look in the next few months or years? I don’t know, but the words of an old song by Ira Stanphill play in my heart:

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

Messengers

“Everything I am will praise and bless the Lord!
O Lord, my God, your greatness takes my breath away,
overwhelming me by your majesty, beauty, and splendor!

You wrap yourself with a shimmering, glistening light.
You wear sunshine like a garment of glory.

You stretch out the starry skies like a tapestry.

You build your balconies with light beams
and ride as King in a chariot you made from clouds.

You fly upon the wings of the wind.
You make your messengers into winds of the Spirit
and all your ministers become flames of fire.

You, our Creator, formed the earth,
and you hold it all together so it will never fall apart.”

Psalm 104:1-5 TPT

Above the Fray

This morning I heard two gentlemen on a park bench. It was hard not to hear them. They were conversing with the volume of the newly hard of hearing.

“You know, I have never paid much attention to American politics, but now it’s my whole damn life!” said one.

I’m not one to stick my head in the sand. I watch and listen and keep up with current events outside my own country. I try to treat people with different opinions with honour, even when I am becoming increasingly aware that some people hate me simply for my beliefs.

I do understand the man on the bench though. It reminds me of the old westerns where everyone in the saloon is keenly aware of tension rising at the poker table. Stakes are high and bystanders are quietly checking the exits and looking for cover.

Sometimes it feels overwhelming and sometimes it’s hard not to be dragged into the prevailing atmosphere of fear, anger, confusion, disappointment, and division. Then I remember my focus needs to be on my good, good heavenly Father who knows the whole truth. In him I am secure.

For no matter where I am, even when I’m far from home,
I will cry out to you for a father’s help.
When I’m feeble and overwhelmed by life,
guide me into your glory, where I am safe and sheltered.

 Lord, you are a paradise of protection to me.
You lift me high above the fray.
None of my foes can touch me
when I’m held firmly in your wrap-around presence!

(Psalm 61: 2,3 TPT)

Bulwark

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The song in my head this morning: A Mighty Fortress

Martin Luther (a sometimes rude, crude, very imperfect man who unintentionally started something bigger than himself) wrote this song in a time of great societal upheaval. It’s funny how you can hear something so many times it loses it’s meaning. Like chewing gum on its fourth hour it had lost it’s flavour. I’ve plodded my way through this old hymn many times without really listening anymore.

This morning, before I woke, I heard the lines:

“His craft and power are great and armed with cruel hate…”

“The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him…one little word shall fell him.” 

“Were not the right man on our side… Christ Jesus, it is he…” 

“Our Helper, he amidst the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”

It’s like I heard the lyrics for the first time and sensed I needed to pay attention. Yesterday, after listening to confusing reports of the source of peaceful stands for justice turned to violence in the streets, I asked, “What is actually going on out there?”

This is what’s happening. There is a war going on — a struggle between hate and love. The world is changing. God wins.

Grace and That Time God Hit Restart

IMG_0946 from herodian toward dead sea

My kids must have seen me coming. They managed to catch the chairlift for one more run down the mountain seconds before I arrived to pick them up from a school activity at the ski hill. At least I got a wave from them as they rose higher. That’s how I ended up sitting in the car with nothing to do for at least another half hour.

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I could have taken refuge in the coffee shop, but I didn’t feel like making small talk with anyone I might bump into. My life was falling apart. It was getting harder to fake it.

My identity was built on becoming a successful singer. I mainlined standing ovations. But those tiny membranes that created the sound were not working reliably. I kept getting laryngitis. A rival (with frustratingly robust health) told me that a singer is only as good as her last performance. My last performance was cancelled due to bronchitis. And the one before that. And the one before that. Calls stopped coming.

I tried to be a good mom, but I didn’t know how to do that either. My kids didn’t respond to techniques I read about in books on child rearing. I began to invent privileges just so I had something more to take away as a consequence for poor behaviour. Well, I was going to take you to the circus, but you just blew that.

I tried hard to be a good Christian, but I was tired of never feeling good enough. When I went to church my ears screened out everything but the shoulds. I don’t remember anybody saying it, but somehow, I picked up the idea that I was only as good as my last performance there as well. When my voice gave out while singing a song about love and I realized I had no idea what love was, I left the platform. A few weeks later I quit going to church at all. So much for happiness all the time and wonderful peace of mind. I possessed neither. Life felt like a bleak landscape.

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Sitting in the car that snowy day, I saw my Bible rolled up in the back seat where I tossed it a few weeks before. Loose pages fell out of alignment and it had a forlorn sat-upon look. I picked it up and dared God to speak to me. This was a showdown. He was real or he was not.

I opened the book at random. At first I read passages about God being good and never leaving. I shrugged them off. Then I flipped again, like another roll of the dice. This time it fell open to the book of Hosea, the story of a prophet whose life became a picture of God’s feeling toward faithless Israel. Hosea had married a prostitute.

Suddenly, I felt something different than I had felt before. It was a strong sense that what I was about to read would mark a moment when my life would begin to change. I can’t explain the feeling except to say that I knew God was there and he was tender and terrifying. I wanted to cling and run at the same time.

This is what I read:
“Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns,
And I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths.”

And further down the page:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.”

I thought God only spoke when he was about to smite something.

“Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.”

I needed hope.

“And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.”

Sing again?

“It will come about in that day,” declares the LORD,
“That you will call Me Ishi
And will no longer call Me Baali…
I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the LORD.”

I admitted I didn’t know him, not like this. Later, at home, I looked up Achor. It means trouble. The valley of trouble as a door of hope? That didn’t sound good, but I knew God was somehow in this.

The valley of Achor for me was depression. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate. I lost confidence. Memories of my unexamined history surfaced and shook my world.

It’s hard to see things we don’t want to see. My escape routes were “hedged up.” I wandered in a bewildering wilderness resisting God’s help, trying to fix things myself.

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I had believed lies that led to self-loathing and insecurity. I had turned to forms of comfort that would have destroyed me eventually. I was headed in a direction that could have caused great pain for more people than myself. Even though striving and busyness look good and are admired in our culture, they separated me from God.

Trouble forced me to let go of my image of God as an impossible to please old grump. I gradually let go of my image of myself as a stressed-out performer trying to placate God and everyone else to earn a place in this world.

Grace took the form of trouble. Without it, the door of hope would have remained closed. I had to let go of the old ideas before I could hold on to new revelation and walk through that door into a life of faith.

In the place of isolation, in my wilderness season, cut off from my usual escapes of busyness and performance, I began to hear the Voice of love. Words bringing condemnation, anger and disapproval didn’t come from him. I began to understand that even if I never did another thing to try to win his favour, nothing would change his for love me. I experienced his kindness in this drastic intervention.

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He allured me. He became my Ishi — hero husband, instead of my Baali –- master overlord. I sang to him in response to his singing to me. It was like he hit the restart button and my life began anew.

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I’m writing about this experience now, because I see so many people who find themselves in a fear-filled wilderness of isolation due to restrictions around covid-19. I know what it is like to be unable to turn to the usual distraction of constant occupation or watch things I worked so hard to accomplish fall apart. I recognize the silent questions. This sudden massive interruption of the world shakes our assumptions about how life works.

This atmosphere feels familiar. I recognize the finger of God about to hit the restart button. Some people are in a place to examine the previously unexamined and meet God for who he really is for the first time. Others will hear the faint sound of an invitation to return to what they knew from the start. Others will encounter opportunities to step into greater adventures with the Creator.

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These are troubled times, but these are also times of enormous hope for a deeper relationship with the Lover of our soul. He cares enough to use something the enemy of our souls meant for evil for good. He intervenes to say stop. He has so much more empowering grace for us to receive.

When God gave a promise through the prophet Jeremiah to people taken captive by trouble, he wasn’t offering a feel-good quick fix. He was talking about starting a process and a journey that would thoroughly change them and their values. Trouble would be an agent to give them a future and a hope.

Are you in that place? Stop. Wait. Listen. Be still until you have a better sense of who God is. Let his voice allure you. This could be your opportunity to start again.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

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Show, Not Tell

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We got out of the house and went for a drive yesterday. It reminded me of Sunday afternoons when I was a child. With my parents, grandparents and two little brothers squeezed in the Oldsmobile (the youngest on Mom’s lap!) we headed for the countryside with no particular destination in mind. If the snow had melted, we headed west to the mountains. If not, Dad pointed the car south toward ranch country so Grandpa could see the fields and horses.

Yesterday, my husband and I headed toward the Steeples Range. Apparently, a lot of people had the same idea and since we were being careful to maintain a distance in this time of viral threat we took the road less travelled. After turning down Bull River Road we came to the base of Bull Mountain.

The snow is melting in the valley and the blandness of this season without winter whites and blues or summer greens or autumn golds feels like spending time with loved ones in moments when they are not dressed up to their best standards. But the beauty of the heights  is still there.

This morning I read this:

The four corners of the earth were put in place by you.
You made the majestic mountains
that are still shouting their praises to your name.
 
Breathtaking and awesome is your power!
Astounding and unbelievable
is your might and strength when it goes on display!

Your glorious throne rests on a foundation
of righteousness and just verdicts.
Grace and truth are the attendants who go before you.

O Lord, how blessed are the people
who experience the shout of worship,
for they walk in the radiance of your presence.
 
We can do nothing but leap for joy all day long,
for we know who you are and what you do

(Psalm 89:12-16 TPT)

Today marks exactly seven years since the beginning of seeing a miracle. On this day my husband drove our son-in-love to the hospital with what he thought was the flu and a pulled hamstring. Within a few hours he was in surgery. That night doctors and nurses struggled to raise his blood pressure as he nearly flat-lined three times.

It was the beginning of a miracle, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like the spirit of death crashed our party wanting to steal, and kill, and destroy. (Real time blogs from that season start here.)

The thing is, if you want to see miracles you will find yourself in situations that call for them, because as much as we honour and appreciate the skills of highly trained medical people, even they acknowledged this disease was beyond their ability to stop.

We can read about God, debate about God, fight over our ideas about God, but we don’t know God until we walk through a storm with him. Not until we find ourselves in a position of being out of control despite our best efforts, can we begin to understand the majesty of God, who is greater than any impossible situation.

Paul, the great intellect and apostle wrote, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4 NIV)

Editors advise writers to show, not tell. I can tell you who God is for me, but until you have actually experienced his kindness, goodness grace and no-nonsense justice it’s all a nice story.

Because I’ve seen the goodness of God I can say, “We can do nothing but leap for joy all day long, for we know who you are and what you do.”

If you find yourself in a place where you feel out of control and out of ideas, cry out to God. Let him show you who he is.