Just Give Me a Moment

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I remember those wonderful summer days at the lake. Around about five o’clock families would pick up their toys and towels and wander off to prepare supper. If I was lucky I could stay there while the others slap-slapped their way up the trail to the camper in their flip-flop sandals. Sometimes in that transitional space between hours I had the dock to myself.

I trailed my hand in the cool water, smelling the scent of damp wood against my cheek and felt the gritty sand drying on my legs as I lay on my stomach on the gently rocking wooden island. A lull stretched beyond the distant sounds of swings clanging in the park and canoes scraping the pebbles on the shore. Smoke from barbecues leaked out from between tree branches and drifted heavenward like summer worship.

I had no profound thoughts, no plans, no particular emotion. The dock was like an island in time.

That’s kind of how I feel this week. After the drama and trauma of the deaths and funerals of both my Dad and my brother-in-law in less than two months I am tired, but not overwhelmed. I believe both of them are with the Lord. But I don’t have the energy to either celebrate or cry right now.

It feels like Jesus is just sitting quietly here with me like a close friend, making no demands, requiring no soothing of his own emotions, making no particular suggestions about what I should do next. I’m tired, but I’m OK. We’re OK.

In a while Mom will call me to put on some dry clothes and help set the table. There will probably be some game involving a ball or frisbee that the boys want me to join in on later. Dad will lay down his novel and get up from his lawn chair to chop wood for the fire we will sit around when the crickets sing in the darkness. Tomorrow we pack up and drive back to the city and get back to work.

But for now, on this little square island, there is only the sound of the waves lapping the planks, and the gentle sun pressing its comfort into my stretched out body, and I am at peace.

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Crossing the River

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Tough day. My husband’s younger brother succumbed to lung disease yesterday. The news was so hopeful a little while ago, but he suddenly went downhill. The doctors said they found previously undetected small cell lung cancer that left him too weak to fight an acute illness. His family and friends surrounded him and wept as his heartbeat faded.

I am thankful for our 11-year old grandson who reminded us that even in this there is hope.

Today we try to work on funeral plans with his wife. We can’t speak Spanish and she can’t speak English. Bob was always the translator.

Today we try to comfort his mother, who seems even more frail with the shock and we live in a conversation on replay.

Today we try to gather up legal loose ends and financial unknowns. We step on each others toes in our efforts to step in to the empty spaces.

Today we wince as individual ways of handling grief clang against each other.

Today we can still be glad, as our grandson pointed out, that we have a close family that cares. They immediately gathered from across the country when they heard the news.

Today we can be glad, as our grandson pointed out, that we know Jesus, and that Uncle Bob knew about his grace.

“You know, when you think about it, this is really a happy day for Uncle Bob,” our grandson said in the ICU waiting room. “Today is the day when he will see how wonderful heaven is and get to be with Jesus.”

There is hope.

 

And then one day, I’ll cross that river.

I’ll fight life’s final war with pain.

And then as death gives way to victory,

I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.

(from Because He Lives by Bill and Gloria Gaither)

When Hope is Hidden in Disappointment

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His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life and to reflect God’s true nature through the knowledge of the One who called us by His glory and virtue. Through these things, we have received God’s great and valuable promises, so we might escape the corruption of worldly desires and share in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:3,4 The Voice)

I knew a dear lady who became profoundly disappointed with God. She made a bargain with him, that if she threw herself into church work to the edge of her physical energy he would give her the desires of her heart — a husband and children. He didn’t keep up his end. When menopause hit and she realized she would never have a child and would probably remain single she was devastated. Her hope was the hope that disappoints.

I’ve realized lately that many of us test God with our presumptions. We tend to present him with bargains of our own design and don’t hang around long enough to find out if he agrees.  It hit me last night that praise and worship services can fall into this category as well. I went to a large gathering of believers at a conference not long ago. I was really looking forward to it because I had heard stories about how “God showed up” last year. I had hoped that if I joined in singing loud rock-style praise songs for 55 minutes, if I knelt or waved a flag or swayed or shouted, whatever, I would feel experience a sense of God showing up — because it happened to those guys over there.

I felt nothing and was profoundly disappointed because I had thrown my whole heart into it. Other people seemed to be experiencing some sort of ecstatic moment while I felt nothing.

The truth is, I was presenting God with a bargain presuming that he would agree to it. “If I move out of my comfort zone and really get into this music even though it is a style and volume I personally find irritating, if I stretch out of my introverted personality and do things I fear would draw uncomfortable attention, if I sacrifice my time and money to be here, You will give me the desires of my heart, right, Lord? Because this is the way praise and worship is done, right? Because if You are pleased with my efforts You will take away the feelings that come with burying my dad yesterday and fill me with happy happy joy joy and allow me to experience Your Presence, right? ”

Can I confess I was actually angry when I left? I spent days wondering what is wrong with me that I was more aware of an out-of-tune guitar string than the majesty of God. Then I remembered an experience I had in Israel.

I was standing in the shell of an abandoned building in Gibeah — that place that was known as “The School of the Prophets” in the time of Samuel. I was excited when I found out this would be included on the itinerary, because the story in the Bible was that the presence of God was so strong there that even King Saul prophesied. I was secretly hoping for some special experience — at least some goose bumps.

Nothing.

The same thing at Bethel… and Shiloh… and Jerusalem. I told the Lord I was disappointed I didn’t have a sense of his presence there. That’s when I felt him say, “Because I’m not there. I’m in you now.”

In the past God has made his presence known in a burning bush, in a wind, in a voice like thunder, and in other ways. I believe that he has delighted the hearts of many people who have gotten together to offer him full-out singing and playing, but he doesn’t visit them by “showing up” like he did for a few in the Old Covenant. He inhabits them now. We are his temple. Worship is not something we do to earn a feeling. Using singing-style worship to manipulate our emotions so we can escape the unpleasant ones is making ourselves the object of worship. If I feel good this must be God, right? No. I was treating a praise and worship service like a drug.

I was wrong.

It made me re-think the point of actions we turn into rituals. It’s like giving a loved one the same birthday gift every year because we remember how happy their reaction made us feel the first time we gave it to them. We sensed God`s pleasure and his presence in us when our hearts turned to him and we expressed it through contemporary music. Now every meeting starts with obligatory rituals of a praise band and repeated choruses  — because that worked before. For those whose hearts are in the right place it still does, but it’s not the method that connects them; it’s the heart.

Yesterday I read Psalm 109. It is not a feel-good psalm. In fact it’s rather embarrassing the way David spills out his feelings. I wish that one had been edited out. But in spite of his intense anger, grief, and disappointment, the psalmist offers the sacrifice of his right to want revenge and offers it to God.

Perhaps that is what would have made a finer gift of praise that day at the conference — my tears, my grief for what would never be on this earth ( a fully restored relationship with my dad), my honest feelings — the pure distilled worship of lament that says, Nevertheless I will give You first place in my heart because I choose to trust You. Christ is in me, and right in the middle of my disappointments You continue to show me the hope of glory.

Worship is acknowledging that God is God and he is good.  And that does not require a sound system.

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Consolation Prize

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When I think about the word consolation I have in my mind an image of Miss Congeniality.

“Well, you lost, but here’s a trophy for being nice. Thanks for playing.”

My next thought would be of platitudes spoken to console a bereaved person when you really don’t know what to say, but feel you really should say something so you blurt out a bunch of words anyway (a common source of pitifully bad theology).

“Well, I guess God needed a good plumber.”

But I keep running into that word lately – consolation. In my heart I hear the Holy Spirit, in the accent of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, saying, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It started with Psalm 94:19 which I quoted in Weeding Out the Noise. “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me your consolations delight my soul.”

Other translations use words like give me cheer or joy, or make me glad, or lighten my soul. They all agree, consolation brings good feelings.

I’ve gone looking for it, the meaning of the word, I mean. In Hebrew it is something like tanchuwm. It shows up in the last chapter of Isaiah where God promises to comfort his people like a mother. One translation talks about nursing from “the breasts of consolation.”

That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.

As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66: 11-13 KJV)

I mentioned to someone that I was musing over this image. She thought I was making it up. I heard her muttering as the door slammed, “God the Father is not female. He does not have boobs!”

Literal minds have problems with this poetic language stuff. I shrugged (after I winced) and reminded myself of the dangers of being a verbal processor.

I kept looking. Another similar verse came to mind.

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Ps 131:2 NKJV)

Marty Goetz, the modern-day psalmist, phrased it this way in his song version of Psalm 131.

Oh Lord my heart is quieted
My thoughts are not too proud
The shadows flee, my eyes can see You now
I do not occupy myself
With things too great for me
Here in Your stillness, is where I long to be

And I have calmed my troubled heart,
I have quieted my soul,
Like a child at its mother’s breast,
I find my strength and take my rest
In the shelter of Your arms,
There is life to make me whole
I have calmed my heart and quieted my soul.

One of my best memories is sitting in the big comfy rocking chair in the middle of a cold winter’s night nursing my sweet baby. There were some nights when I felt exhausted, but this was not one. Aggressive winds whipped up the snow and tossed it against the window, but inside the house was warm and still. The boys were asleep and there was no new mom anxiety distracting me. I whispered to my child telling her how beautiful she was and all my hopes for her. I prayed for her and blessed her as she drew sustenance from me. When her little tummy was full she pulled back, looked me in the face and gave me a smile that all mommy’s wait for. Then she fell asleep in my arms, warm, dry, full and contented.

I wonder if there is something about the ability to receive consolation from Holy Spirit that involves us coming simply as wee children, hungry, messy, cold, and bewildered, to draw sustaining life from him. I wonder if the virtues we tend to associate with the feminine are also essential characteristics of God and if, when we allow him to draw us near, he wants to clean us up, hold us, fill the empty places in our hearts with warm nourishing milk, and, in the stillness, whisper blessings and his plan for us into our ear. Jesus called Holy Spirit “the Comforter,” the parakletos, the one who comes beside.

This week in my dreams and as I woke to a clear June sunlight streaming through the window I heard this song in my heart.

Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That I found in You.
And Lord I’ve come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love.

Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait
I’ll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love.

(From The Power of Your Love by Geoff Bullock)

There is more to this idea of comfort and consolation that I am exploring, but for today, I am learning to rest here in the stillness and let his love surround me.

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When the Master Speaks

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Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
The earth belongs to You
We’ll prepare to go with You, Lord
But until the day we do, Lord,
Minute by minute, we’ll continue in the story
This mystery, Christ in us the hope of glory

– Marty Goetz (from “Hope of Glory”)

This song has been playing in my head for the past two nights. I’ve been thinking about hearing God’s voice, the means he uses, and the discernment he develops in us to know when the voice is his and when it is not.  This line particularly was on repeat in my dreams, “Glory to glory, even by His spirit, moment by moment, when the Master speaks I’ll hear it.”

I talk about learning to hear God’s voice, but honestly hearing a little bit leaves me feeling frustrated that I can’t hear more.  I want the unmistakable thunderous voice from the clouds giving explicit directions. I know one fellow, equally frustrated during a period of unemployment, who stood under thunder clouds with a metal rake balanced on his head and shouted to God, “Talk to me!” I know the feeling.

On the other hand the Bible tells the story of that time when God spoke in a loud booming voice from the sky. Some heard him clearly but others said all they heard was thunder.

The thing is, for his re-born, Spirit-filled sons and daughters the voice is no longer up in the sky. The voice is in us.

In a dream I saw people throwing huge lasso ropes into a city that was crumbling faster than a set for a sci-fi dystopia movie. One of them looped around  a young man who was almost entirely buried in debris. I joined in pulling on the rope and hauled him out of the city of destruction. He stood up, brushed himself off and began running.

I yelled, “Hey! You’re not cleaned up yet!”

He shouted over his shoulder, “Do you recognize Christ in you well enough yet to know that he has called me?” and kept running.

Then I saw a word I had never seen before written in the air. When I woke up I googled it.

I found it could mean a tight Somalian hat, it was an acronym for a number of obscure ventures and technical terms and it was part of a rude name I’m sure the Facebook police have banned by now. I gave up and came back and gave up and tried again. Pages deep on the search something caught my attention. The entire page was in a foreign language and it included this word only once. I was about to abandon this site as well when I saw numbers interspersed with the words and something like II Korint written on the top. I realized it was a page from the Bible.

I found the verse in my own bible in 2 Corinthians 13:5 and it said: Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?

My eyes fell on a phrase in verse 3 where Paul wrote, “since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me...”

It “resonated.”

At first I felt quite privileged that God set up a riddle for me this way, the way I felt quite puffed up when I learned I was a descendent of European royalty. But just like in the way that I learned that the odds of anyone of European descent not springing from the loins of Charlemagne are one in 17 million this hearing God’s voice thing is not a unique experience. It’s for all his children. It’s matter of paying attention to the mystery of Christ in you, your hope of glory – however he chooses to communicate.

Minute by minute we’ll continue in the story.

Getting the Rest

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In order to make this journey–you have to make it without baggage. You can’t carry loads of bags with weight on you in order to be free and Jesus gives you an invitation to come unto him. Now you have to come to him–you will not get rest from anybody else. If you go to anybody else you’re going to find more work.

– T.D. Jakes

Who Can Separate Us?

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If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear? 

If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him? 

Can anyone be so bold as to level a charge against God’s chosen? Especially since God’s “not guilty” verdict is already declared. 

Who has the authority to condemn? Jesus the Anointed who died, but more importantly, conquered death when He was raised to sit at the right hand of God where He pleads on our behalf. 

So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing.  As the psalm says,

On Your behalf, our lives are endangered constantly;
    we are like sheep awaiting slaughter.

 
But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. 

For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, 
height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8: 31-38)