Peace in Believing

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The situations you are in are not more powerful than God.

They are not stronger than Him.

There is light.

There is truth.

There is wisdom.

There is revelation.

There is hope.

There is joy.

There is peace in believing.

-Graham Cooke, The Process Series

There is something particularly sweet about connecting with brothers and sisters in the Lord who understand pain and yet, even in dark times, walk in the light. It’s like a knowing wink across the room because they share a secret. They know what it is to be loved by the One more powerful than any situation.

When they leave, the scent of peace lingers.

Surrender Anxiety

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“I can tell when you’re worried,” my friend said. “You repeat yourself. A lot.”

It’s called ruminating. Ruminants are animals like cattle and deer which bring up the substance of their last intake to chew over again. Rumination in humans means obsessive worry about something, going over and over the details in your head.

Have I told you this before? Sorry if I have, but it helped me understand something. I heard a podcast speaker (I think it was Bill Johnson) say, “If you can worry, you can meditate. Meditation is like worry, but with better subject matter.”

The first time I tried to meditate on scripture I chose a verse in Psalm 46. “Be still and know that I am God.” To be honest, I chose it because it was short. I didn’t feel like memorizing anything longer, which might explain initial results.

I heard, “Be still,” in the exasperated whisper of an adult to a child who wouldn’t sit still in church. I viewed “and know that I am God” through the lens of a squirmy child who was bored out of her mind as she sat on a hard pew with nothing to do but wonder what would happen if the dead fox decorating Mrs. McSomebody’s coat collar suddenly came back to life. (In the fifties trauma-induced weirdness in the adult population was as common as, well, accessorizing with dead animals.) I think I was poking it when I was told to “be still!” The consequence was that, yet again, I missed knowing God.

I tried pondering different translations. That helped. One version said, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.” Meditating on those few words took years. Who knew? It turns out that worrying, ruminating, and striving were kind of a package deal with my temperament. Personality tests didn’t give me much hope of unplugging myself from that slot.

Finally, I realized that knowing who God is means unlearning ideas that hold me captive and unable to change. Unlearning requires meekness – the humility to know that I don’t know and the courage to know that by grace I can know. Learning who God is basic to learning how he sees me. Being still and ceasing striving now means letting go of defensiveness and giving up attempts to earn God’s love. On my own, trying harder will never be “good enough.”

And that’s the beauty of it.

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. (verse 1)

Today I read another translation. Apparently, I am not finished meditating on the simple easy-to-memorize verse. The Passion Translation reads, “Surrender your anxiety.” When Jesus said he gives peace that passes understanding, it’s not an invitation to get back on the worry track for a few more laps. Peace that passes understanding comes as a result of surrendering anxiety that rises from not understanding. Here comes paradox again. Loss is gain. Surrender is winning.

Not that I haven’t noticed before, but this time I was struck by the importance of context. “Surrender anxiety” is nestled in a Psalm about the kind of  divisive war-threatening conflict and climate disrupting-level natural disasters we see around us now.

When the nations are in uproar with their tottering kingdoms,
God simply raises his voice
and the earth begins to disintegrate before him.
Here he comes! The Commander! (verses 6 & 7)

He’s messing with my theology again. Disintegrate?

Then I remember Jesus talking about tearing down and building up. He told people, who asked for a sign, if they tore down this temple (he meant his own body, but they didn’t know yet) he would raise it up again in three days.

Everyone look!
Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
For he brings both ruin and revival. (verse 8)

Sometimes learning means unlearning first and sometimes building firmer foundations means tearing down wobbly bases first.

Sometimes we don’t have the means to correct problems ourselves because we have a death-grip on tainted assumptions and tottering institutions. We call it loyalty, but loyalty to whom? What if all this upheaval is about more than setting up another temporary camp that allows us to survive until the next crisis? What if God wants us to come to the end of our do-something-do-anything suggestions and let him reveal more of himself to us? What if he has a better plan? What if he wants to replace striving with thriving or coping with character?

What if  anxiety (which is actually lack of trust) acts as a barbed barrier that keeps us from going where he wants to take us?

He’s the one who makes conflicts end
throughout the earth,
breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.

The Mighty Choir

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Let the rivers and streams clap with applause
as the mountains rise in a standing ovation
to join the mighty choir of exaltation.
 
Look! Here he comes! The Lord and judge of all the earth!
He’s coming to make things right and to do it fair and square.
And everyone will see that he does all things well!

(Psalm 98:8,9 TPT)

Often, when I am driving through a mountain valley, the forest trees remind me of  a mass choir standing on every hillside. The line from the old hymn, plays in my heart, “All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.”

Can you hear it?

 

 

A New Day

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Stop dwelling on the past.
Don’t even remember these former things.

I am doing something brand new, something unheard of.
Even now it sprouts and grows and matures.
Don’t you perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and open up flowing streams in the desert.

Wild beasts, jackals, and owls will glorify me.
For I supply streams of water in the desert
and rivers in the wilderness
to satisfy the thirst of my people, my chosen ones,

so that you, whom I have shaped and formed for myself,
will proclaim my praise.”

(Isaiah 43:18-21 TPT)

When the Right Time Arrived

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It was a mess. A world of division, compromise, corruption, and religiously followed traditions and rituals detached from roots of love and relationship. A hodge-podge of imperfect plans by imperfect people.

Tyrants, sycophants, miscreants, occupants,

masters, slaves, overlords, conscripts,

builders, destroyers, collaborators, rebels,

haves, have-nots, hopeful, hopeless.

This was the society Jesus was born into, because the time was right.

As they had many times before, the people not in control cried out for a saviour. They wanted freedom from the will of Roman conquerors. God sent them a saviour, but not to free them from man-made power ploys gone astray. He sent them Someone who could save them from something much more enslaving – their own sin.

As he had done before, he sent his answer in a form few recognized. He sent his son who set aside his godhood to live as a human. He sent a baby.

I often wonder why he chooses the weak of the world to confound the wise. Why does God frequently skip the well-bred, the educated, the credentialed, and those endowed with position and privilege when he wants to turn the tides of history? More than once people have said, “This can’t possibly be from God!” More than once they have been wrong.

“I see your plight,” he said. “This is my response.”

Then he sent a wanderer and his half-sister wife,

a wheeler dealer opportunist,

an insensitive spoiled brat turned slave turned foreign government official,

a stammering old man with a stick,

a stern mother,

a slave bride with a hammer and tent peg,

a scared unimportant farmer from a long line of scared unimportant farmers,

a lewd, crude, rule-breaking strongman,

a boy raised in a temple with a weak mentor and drunken, corrupt priests as companions,

a shepherd with a slingshot,

a runner given to depression,

a reckless prince with a bad driving record,

a left-handed messenger with a knife up his skirt,

a bizarre performance artist,

a beauty pageant queen who slept her way to influence,

a ploughman,

a child king with clueless teachers,

a eunuch in service to a despot,

a choir director,

a poet.

For the greatest mission of all time he introduced the bearer of his heart as a helpless baby. A baby.  A baby who so terrified the principalities and powers who knew their time would soon be up, that Herod killed every child close to fitting the toddler’s description.

Not even the ancient prophets who each told bits and pieces of the truth they held could see the entirety of God’s plan. Jesus gradually explained it, to those who could listen, over three years. Many heard and believed. Many did not. Before his death and resurrection the book of John tells us the Messiah spoke plainly to the credentialed experts whose education put limits on their understanding.

I tell you the truth; I AM before Abraham was born. (John 8:58 The Voice)

We are subject to change. He is not.

Trust him. He created the plan. Keep your eyes on Abba. Expect the unexpected.

When the right time arrived, God sent His Son into this world (born of a woman, subject to the law) to free those who, just like Him, were subject to the law. Ultimately He wanted us all to be adopted as sons and daughters. Because you are now part of God’s family, He sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts; and the Spirit calls out, “Abba, Father.” You no longer have to live as a slave because you are a child of God. And since you are His child, God guarantees an inheritance is waiting for you.

(Galatians 4:4-6)

Seeing the Gold

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When I awoke this morning, I watched gently falling snow transform my garden into a winter wonderland. By the time I showered, dressed, tied back hair desperately in need of a good cut, and made a thermos of hot coffee, snowflakes had morphed into rain. A giant serving of mushy porridgy slush replaced fresh deer tracks on a blanket of white on the street. Wet blobs of snow dropping from branches reminded me more of the glistening on the face of a toddler in need of a tissue than an invitation to a sleigh ride in the lane. Clouds seemed to slouch lower in the valley.

A day that started with Christmas card-worthy potential, photographically speaking, turned into a dull lull on this the shortest, darkest day of the year.

I decided to stay home. I put my camera away and instead plunked myself down to check out social media feed. Socializing there appeared to be as messy as the streets outside. Messier. The minions whose job it is to set up miscommunication, offense and division  apparently have been busy.

Troubles. Conflicts. Obfuscations. Insults. More dismal predictions. Hope sliding into the ditch.

Sadness wrapped itself around my heart. I stared out the window and remembered  another soggy winter day like this one. I know I took photos. I looked for them.

On that day I trudged through the woods looking for something out of the ordinary when I saw something out of the ordinary. Off the main path I caught the glint of a golden Christmas bobble hanging on a little tree.

People sometimes chop down little trees to take home for Christmas, but who decorates a tree and leaves it in the woods? When I asked around later, I learned some local people do this in memory of loved ones who no longer join them at the festive table. The forest provides a quiet place of remembrance for them to go. It felt like finding unexpected gold in the tearful territory of grief.

I’ve been meditating on Psalm 50 lately. I somehow feel it is important for the times we live in. In this psalm God tells his children he is about to deal with their lax attitudes toward sin. Perhaps the time has come to “have a little talk with Papa” and for an adjustment in attitude. The psalm begins with images of the beauty of his creative expression in nature and desire to communicate with us, but soon becomes somber.

“Do I need your young bull or goats from your fields as if I were hungry?
Every animal of field and forest belongs to me, the Creator.
I know every movement of the birds in the sky,
and every animal of the field is in my thoughts.
The entire world and everything it contains is mine.
If I were hungry, do you think I would tell you?
For all that I have created, the fullness of the earth, is mine.
Am I fed by your sacrifices? Of course not!
Why don’t you bring me the sacrifices I desire?
Bring me your true and sincere thanks,
and show your gratitude by keeping your promises to me, the Most High.” (verses 9 to 14 in The Passion Translation)

Then this golden invitation and promise (I hear it in a loving, gentle, yet firm Father’s tone):
“Honor me by trusting in me in your day of trouble.
Cry aloud to me, and I will be there to rescue you.” (verse 15)

He also speaks to the downright wicked, those who disregard his words and think they can continue to get away with crimes against humanity. It includes serious warnings not to mess with him or take him for granted.

“The sins of your mouth multiply evil.
You have a lifestyle of lies,
devoted to deceit as you speak against others,
even slandering those of your own household!
All this you have done and I kept silent,
so you thought that I was just like you, sanctioning evil.
But now I will bring you to my courtroom
and spell out clearly my charges before you.
This is your last chance, my final warning. Your time is up!” (verses 20 -22)

It ends with another appeal and a promise.

“The life that pleases me is a life lived in the gratitude of grace,
always choosing to walk with me in what is right.
This is the sacrifice I desire from you.
If you do this, more of my salvation will unfold for you.”

There it is, like an unexpected beautiful tree of remembrance of a loving relationship hidden deep in the woods on rainy day. This is what his heart desires.

“A life lived in the gratitude of grace.”

This is not about behaviour, or rules, or sacrifices. The way out of the mess we find ourselves in is to renew our relationship by turning to our Maker with gratitude, by receiving his empowering grace to be all he sees when he looks at us, and trust in him in the day of trouble.

He is our hope. He has a plan for our good, because he is good and because he loves us more than we can ever imagine.

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The old carol says: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”

Come, Lord Jesus. Be born in us today.

 

 

 

My Tower of Rescue

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I thought, briefly, about bopping her on the nose. Had I not been aware that doing so would have proven her right about my lack of holiness, I may have thought about it more seriously.

A woman, who will remain nameless, dropped by my house to comfort me after I broke my leg. Opening night for the opera, in which I had a lead role, was in a few days. There I sat with my leg propped on pillows and encased in a cast of a different sort.

“Do you know why God did this?” she asked.

“God broke my leg?”

“He broke your leg to teach you to praise him.”

I don’t remember if I smiled politely or returned blank-faced stunned silence.

“You are not using your gift for his glory,” she added. “You are using it for your own praise. That is why he broke your leg – to teach you to praise him.”

“Well, thank you for stopping by…”

Even before she drove away, I started shaking. A part of me didn’t believe her, but a part of me did. I was afraid God was disappointed and angry with me because I did something wrong again. What if I was being punished? Spending the next painful weeks and months praising God was not an appealing plan in those days. Heartfelt praise didn’t exactly pour from my lips at the thought of God going around breaking legs to make us acknowledge his supremacy. That sounded more like the modus operandi of mobsters.

The problem was that I didn’t know what praise was, and worse, I didn’t know who God was, although at the time I thought I did. I’d been going to church all my life and even aced some seminary courses. Frankly, my faith was less faith than duty.

I thought visible praise (that would satisfy my visitor) meant repeating, “Praise the Lord,” and “Hallelujah,” interspersed with the occasional “Glory!” from some deep-voiced extrovert in the back row in one of those churches where people didn’t gasp at irreverence of such things. In other words, an introvert’s nightmare.

When I confided in some churchy friends that I was struggling with a lack of sleep and the stresses of caring for sick, squabbling children, they responded with, “Praise the Lord, Charis!” as if it was a magic formula that would make everything all better. I wondered if God even cared. I was pretty sure they didn’t.

I finally reached a breaking point. If God was love, I wasn’t seeing it. If Jesus’ burden was light, I wasn’t feeling it. If the gospel was good news, I wasn’t hearing it. I walked away.

Over the next few years I let go of the image of God as an impossible-to-please task master who needed me to be the kind of salesman whose life depended on talking up a disappointing product.

Amazingly, God never walked away from me. Instead, as I unlearned, he showed me what was missing in my experience of him. Since then, he continues to teach me one step at a time about who he is. Many of the circumstances I’ve found myself in are not about punishment or condemnation; they are a holy set-up to see something about him I could not see before. Each crisis is an invitation to come one step closer.

Last week I heard a line in a song: “Way-maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness. My God! That is who you are.”

In my spirit I heard him ask, “Who am I to you?” I began to write.

You are my saviour hero
my confident security
my righteousness
my healer
my keeper
my hope
my peace
my comforter
my encourager
my source of creativity
my source of identity
Lover of my soul…

The list, easily two pages long, flowed while the song played. Each one of these aspects of God I had read or heard about, but it wasn’t until he showed up in a real-life situations that I understood them. They are part of who he is and he wanted to show me through relationship. I realized my list was worship. Each word on the page was praise. It was spontaneous. It was unforced and sincere. It was heart-felt. It was about him and not another “supposed to.”

I love David’s psalms because he doesn’t put himself in charge of God’s public relations. His emotions are honest. He had a promise that he would be king, then he faced situations that made him despair of even surviving the next night. Psalm 18 is his victory song in which he writes about who God was to him after all he had been through.

Lord, I passionately love you and I’m bonded to you,
for now you’ve become my power!
You’re as real to me as bedrock beneath my feet,
like a castle on a cliff, my forever firm fortress,
my mountain of hiding, my pathway of escape,
my tower of rescue where none can reach me.

My secret strength and shield around me,
you are salvation’s ray of brightness shining on the hillside,
always the champion of my cause.

All I need to do is to call to you,
singing to you, the praiseworthy God.
(Psalm 18:1-3 TPT)

Did God break my leg to teach me to praise him? No. My leg broke because I was wearing high heeled dress boots on sheer ice. But he was patiently waiting right there, with me in the circumstance, which was actually more about the pain the visitor stirred up in me than a shattered tibia. Looking back, I can see God encouraging me to let go of the false image I carried around. I needed to see him in Jesus, the one who came to show us what the Father is truly like.

The journey continues.

My question for you. What aspect of himself does God want to show you now, in your current circumstances?