Clean

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Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7 NASB)

The word I’m contemplating today is clean. It’s ironic that quoting this phrase from Psalm 51 brings up memories of condemnation because of guilt by association.

When I was a young teenager I went to my friend’s church. The speaker that morning was a missionary with their denomination who worked in Africa. I remember him railing against the missionaries with my family’s denomination. Their crime? They sang a song including the line, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as snow.” He interpreted this as insensitive, blatant racism.

I felt defensive and ashamed at the same time – as a child does when confronted by an attack on her own tribe and who realizes the attacker could be partially right. I had never considered that metaphors carry different meanings to different people, or that someone could take this literally. Did they really think the song could mean ‘Come to Jesus and he can make your skin just like my vastly superior white skin?” If so, that would be horribly insensitive.

When she found out which church I usually went to, my friend’s sister spat out, “Literalist!” I looked down at my pink skin with its random brown polka dots and wondered where the term ‘white’ came from. I certainly wasn’t white as snow. I guess I wasn’t a very good literalist either.

In dream interpretation, symbols can be very personal. If dogs are mangy, snarling, scavengers in your neighbourhood, a dog showing up in your dream will carry a different connotation than if you grew up in a place where dogs curl up on laps and eat organic puppy food from their human’s hand.

The symbol of snow can carry different meaning as well. I live in a place where dazzling white snow makes you reach for sunglasses. I also tire of snow. I haven’t seen a blade of green grass in months. The snow shovelled onto piles by the sidewalk in front of my house is not exactly pure white right now. Between the sand flung from passing trucks, evidence of healthy digestive systems left by passing animals, and the absorption of dullness from a dismal grey sky, the view from my window is not particularly inspiring. Snow can be dazzling, as it was when I captured the moment in the photo above, but at the moment, snow carries a different connotation for me.

Snow falls in the Middle East far less often than it does here. Perhaps people who live in warm climates regard snow as a strange white wonder. I don’t know. I don’t live there.

The people behind the development of The Passion Translation phrased this passage differently in their attempt to accurately capture David’s feelings when confronted by his own hidden sin.

I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit.
So come into the hidden places of my heart
and teach me wisdom.
Purify my conscience! Make this leper clean again!
Wash me in your love until I am pure in heart.
Satisfy me in your sweetness, and my song of joy will return.
The places within me you have crushed
will rejoice in your healing touch.
Hide my sins from your face;
erase all my guilt by your saving grace.
Create a new, clean heart within me.
Fill me with pure thoughts and holy desires, ready to please you.

 

Sometimes we miss a writer’s or speaker’s point because our minds snag on the way something is expressed in the process of getting to the main point. If we are expecting to hear something offensive, we will hear insults. If we are looking for negative messages, they will be projected like grey sky on a pile of snow. We tend to see what we are looking for.

Deep places of the heart post guards around pain. Defensiveness seeks to disqualify the light from revealing pain or shame. When we have our guard up we can miss the sweetness and joy that comes from knowing we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. We miss knowing true tender love from Abba Father when we keep him at a distance.

There is more. There is love, joy, peace and deep healing available when we turn to our maker and ask him to create a clean heart in us.

He is willing.

While I reminisced about my youth, a song from the 70s began to play in my head. Apt, considering today’s theme.

 

*In a case of amusing timing, I just learned from the results of a DNA test one of my adult kids received, that I passed on some Nigerian genes to my progeny. I’m even less white than the missionary assumed.

 

Heart Change

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Politics deals with externals: borders, wealth, crimes. Authentic forgiveness deals with the evil in a persons heart, something for which politics has no cure. Virulent evil (racism, ethnic hatred) spreads through society like an airborne disease, one cough infects a whole busload. When moments of grace do occur, the world must pause, fall silent, and acknowledge that indeed forgiveness offers a kind of cure. There will be no escape from wars, from hunger, from misery, from rancid discrimination, from denial of human rights, if our hearts aren’t changed.

-Philip Yancey

Breaking Away

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Look who I found hiding out in Idaho? Well, everyone needs a break, I suppose.

Today, with the news still full of stories about the consequences of the UK’s vote to break away from the E.U., is the day I congratulate my friends to the south on their celebration of breaking away from our common parent country.

Today I am also sorting through stuff in my basement and I’ve come across a file of genealogy research – the family history of breaking away. It seems my grandmother’s great-grandparents broke away from the Americans.

Every once in a while it’s a good idea to ask, “How did we get here?” It’s all quite bizarre really.

Warning. I’m going to overgeneralize, but I’m talking about roots and patterns in the big picture. Usually, the way something is established is the way it is maintained.

I discovered, quite by accident, that my father’s grandmother was not First Nations as we supposed. Her surname was Towne and the Towne family line in America is so well researched the genealogy sites don’t bother to charge for the information. I could follow a straight line from Andrew to Andrew Elijah to Andrew to Stephen to Stephen to Jacob to Jacob to William Towne and his wife, Joanna Blessing, who were part of the new Puritan colony in Massachusetts. Three of their daughters were tried as witches in Salem. Two were hung.

This shocked me! I was raised in an environment that was anti-American. I had no idea I had American roots, let alone connections to the Mayflower Puritans and the Salem witch trials! Our source of Canadian identity was the statement “We are not Americans!”

Then I followed the trail and realized that sometime between the American Revolution and the War of 1812 my ancestors broke away from this new independent country and moved to Renfrew county in Ontario where the United Empire Loyalists settled. Violence and persecution chased them.

When my great-grandmother was a child her mother died. Her father was away working as a logger and when he returned he found the children alone in the cabin having buried their mother themselves. Since he couldn’t care for them he split the children up amongst distant relatives. One of his daughters was sent to live with a family in New York. Apparently she was treated cruelly. She was not permitted to go to school and slept in the barn. At the age of thirteen she ran away and headed north looking for her father.

After living on her own in the bush all summer Algonkin people found her. They took her in and raised her, teaching her the skills of living off the land. Later she married a Scottish hunter/trapper and raised her own family thirty miles from the nearest road. She had skills. Dad says at an old age she made him moccasins and was still an incredible sharp shooter. Her N.Y. experience added (unfairly) to the family lore about the nature of Americans. How easy it is to pass on the burden of our pain to our children.

At the same time I learned the reason we couldn’t trace one family line past a certain grandfather was that there was no record of his father. An astute cousin did notice, however that his mother and maternal grandfather had the same surname. It was not uncommon for illegitimate sons of wealthy Englishmen to be given a tract of land in Canada as their hidden inheritance.

Now I don’t believe in generational curses. That’s Old Covenant stuff. Jesus sets us free from the law of sin and death, but I do see patterns of temptation that follow family lines – especially when unforgiveness is passed on. I noticed this when studying church history as well. It is amazing how often a group that breaks away in protest manifests problems in the same area that caused them to break away within two or three generations. When we insist that “we are NOT them” we set ourselves up to become them.

My husband was invited to a Southern Baptist Independence Day/Sunday school picnic while he was working in Phoenix one summer. He told me about someone getting up and reciting the entire Declaration of Independence.

“I had no idea this thing goes on and on about why they hated the British so much and especially the king. I thought it was about their vision for their country. No. It’s mostly about protesting their treatment by the British government. It’s rather bitter.”

We have many friends in Canada who were either born in the USA or who had a parent born there who recently found themselves in deep trouble with the IRS. Apparently they were supposed to have filed tax returns in the States even though some of them had never lived or worked there.  The tax collectors demanded that foreign banks turn over private information on these folk. It cost some shop owners thousands in accountant fees to prove they owed nothing. When they were advised to contact their congressman about the threat of heavy fines (and other heavy-handed consequences the tax people are known for) they protested, “We don’t have a congressman! We don’t live there anymore. This is taxation without representation!” Oh, the irony.

When my ancestors broke away from religious tyranny they had no intention of becoming tyrants themselves, and yet in less than one generation a government backed by crazy fear-based religion hung innocent people accused of witchcraft.

When the United Empire Loyalist forefathers broke away because they opposed solving disputes with violence they ended up being part of the crew that burned down parts of Washington in the war of 1812.

Both countries, which in the 19th century were run by descendants of landless non-eldest sons and bastard sons and peasants craving property, have a history of taking for themselves land legitimately belonging to First Nations people. Sometimes they used violence, and more often, in Canada, fraud, legal loop holes and long delays. They even deliberately plied with whiskey, introduced disease, and destroyed the family unit by forcing children into residential schools.

Yesterday I read a report that ordinary people can’t afford to live in cities like Vancouver anymore because the best land is being bought up by foreigners who are even craftier than they were. Oh, the irony.

Both countries are now populated, for the most part, by the children of refugees and immigrants who fled the hopelessness of rigid class structure and rule by the elite. Now descendants of these very people have become the new oligarchy, the ones who hold the wealth and power and who decide who will be in charge of the government, the courts – and the tax office. Oh, the irony.

How do we break the pattern? By recognizing it, confessing to sin we have accepted as a normal way of doing business, by offering repentance (metanoia -change) on behalf of our forefathers and choosing to think differently. Where possible we need to issue apologies and make restitution.

The same goes for denominations formed as a result of protest, rebellion, sneakiness and lack of honour for those who have given us our roots. If you leave a legalistic church without reconciling differences don’t be surprised if your children or grandchildren have problems with rules -either having too many or too few. If you leave because a church is wealthy and doesn’t care for the poor your grandchildren could find themselves in a mega-church with catered prayer meetings at $25 dollars a pop, or becoming professional beggars looking for more ways to fund raise..

Just watch. I’m not making this up.

I’ve done this before, but I want to make it public again today. I forgive the British government for depriving my ancestors of the right of freedom of religion and recognition as sons. I forgive the American government for acting violently toward my ancestors. I forgive the family that abused my great-grandmother. I forgive the church I was raised in for not understanding the needs of the poor among them. I want to break the pattern of both distrust and complacency that I have accepted as normal in relationships with authority of all kinds.

Especially today, I want to apologize to Americans for decades of dinner discussions that expressed fear and distrust and offered more criticism than prayer. I have dedicated myself to praying for you for the past few years and I will continue to pray

GOD BLESS AMERICA!

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Anger as a Gift of Grace

 

Sometimes, like storm clouds that roll in in the middle of a perfectly lovely day, my anger seems to come out of nowhere and crashes and booms in the most embarrassing way. I don’t want to feel it!
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Yesterday’s blog on angry critical words as verbal assault weapons stirred up discouraging feelings for some people who wrote to me privately. I realize we need to talk about the other part about the words that flow out of our heart without piling on more “shoulds” What do we do with feelings of anger?

I get really mad at myself when I lose my temper. I’ve heard it said that depression is anger turned inward and perhaps that is true, but you don’t want to be in the line of fire when it’s turned outward. What do we do with anger when it boils over and spoils our carefully constructed version of ourselves? What do we do with feelings that fuel not-nice verbal assaults aimed either at ourselves or at others?

The Bible tells us, “In your anger do not sin.

What?!?

For a long time I didn’t realize that God gave us a sense of anger or righteous indignation or personal miffification (my word) for a good reason. Anger is like the indicator light on the dashboard of a car that lets you know there is a problem with the engine. When my dad taught me to drive he emphasized the necessity of paying attention to the dashboard information. Don’t let the RPMs get too high and never, never ignore the low oil warning. Stop and deal with it right away.

Anger can be a gift of grace. Anger allows us to admit there is a problem. Who we blame for the problem is the problem.

Anger is a secondary emotion. It’s like a warning light that lets us know something is wrong inside somewhere. Yes, there are false alarms and overly sensitive alarms sometimes. No one is thrilled to see the warning light suddenly glowing red. One time it cost me $87 to find out that I had only turned the gas cap one click instead of three after I followed my dad’s advice and drove directly to a mechanic’s shop when the engine light turned on. (That triggered my personal anger indicator light.) It’s tempting to ignore warnings after such events, but ignoring them can lead to nasty or expensive consequences later.

I’m suffering from ignoring a warning I was given a few weeks ago. It was just a toe. My doctor said I needed to have minor surgery to deal with an over zealous toenail that turned on me. When he mentioned recovery time I thought about my busy schedule and procrastinated. Last week I ended up having to get antibiotics to deal with  painful infection. My toe (little thing that it is) screamed at me like a street full of car alarms set off by an rebellious teenager at 3 a.m..  Yesterday, my adorable three-year old granddaughter was asserting her newly discovered independence over whether or not she needed to wear a hoodie (which she calls a “heady”). In the  process she expressed her opinion with a vehement stomp. Unfortunately my toe was under her stomp.

Now I love this child dearly but had it not been for the grace of the Lord in teaching me a bit of self-control by this point in my life I could have let loose some pithy words that carry emotional weight.

When we lose it and our tempers over-ride the mouth gate control, or when other people unload their verbal semi-automatic assault weapons on us, it is often because issues were not dealt with while they were still minor. Sometimes minor offences fester like a sore toe we have ignored for too long. Woe betide the one who brushes against a sensitive spot.

Some of the things we ignore are minor wounds that occur when people make demands that require us to give more than we think we can afford. This can feel like someone is stealing our time, attention, money, dignity – all sorts of things. One of the hardest I find to deal with is the implication, “You are a Christian. You are required to love and forgive so I expect you to forgive me immediately no matter what I do.”

Gayle Erwin talks about the problem of relating to people who say, “So you want to be a servant. Well, I’ve always wanted one of those.” There is a difference between being a servant of God and a servant of a person who wants you to indulge their selfishness. Since when does love mean enabling poor choices?

Boundaries discussed and established early in a relationship can help avoid misunderstandings later. Love must be voluntary in order to be love. If I lay down my own needs to meet yours it must be because I choose to, and not because you have removed my options. The joy of giving is stolen when it is coerced.

Sometimes ultra-sensitive unhealed wounds caused by painful past events are protected by anger. (I wrote about that here.) Prickly people use anger to keep anyone from getting too close. Right now I am very wary of anyone who comes too close to my toe. This has nothing to do with you but if it looks like you might drop that armload of firewood I might yell at you to back off.

There are many triggers for anger – fear of lack, fear of being out of control, fear of being left out or unloved, fear of being deceived or taken advantage of. (There are also physiological conditions that produce feelings of irritation and anger.) I’m not going to join the accuser of the brethren here. He has enough helpers on the internet. But sometimes the accuser is owned himself when God allows satan’s nastiness to point out an area that is not working for us. Sometimes unpleasant feelings of being overwhelmed by anger, like feelings of pain,  can be the thing that points to something God intends to heal next. If we seek the Lord to understand the reason behind our upsetting reaction he will be there waiting.

Yes. I need healing -inside and out. But who doesn’t in some way? The humble person who is aware of their weaknesses as well as their strengths, who knows their need for grace, who has known what it is to be forgiven, is in a place to offer that same grace when they see someone else boil over. They get it.

I’m making an appointment with my doctor to address the problem with my toe when I get back home – but I’m also praying for divine intervention in seeking healing not only for my toe, but for other little wounds of the heart I have ignored for too long.

If you find yourself in a place where you realize you need healing for something, but are not sure what, don’t be afraid to ask God. He loves you dearly and he is relentlessly kind.

 

 

 

Freedom Training

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As the reflections of our pride upon our defects are bitter, disheartening, and vexatious, so the return of the soul towards God is peaceful and sustained by confidence. You will find by experience how much more your progress will be aided by this simple, peaceful turning towards God, than by all your chagrin and spite at the faults that exist in you.
– Francois Fenelon

A few years ago, when he was a wee lad, a child I know and love was becoming accustomed to the concept of both freedom and taking increasing responsibility for his choices. I watched him as he encountered one of the first steps to maturity: potty training.

Spiderman underwear was fun to wear and all, but sometimes the burden of getting up and walking away from the sandbox or the Lego blocks when he was in the creative zone was too heavy. Sometimes you don’t know what your limits are until you’ve passed them. And he passed them.

We noticed (eventually) that in moments like these the little guy disappeared. We went looking for him. His daddy called and called but he made no response. Finally, following his nose, his father found him hiding, sometimes in the closet, sometimes behind the furniture, sometimes behind the drapes.

You see, part of the problem was that he had an older sibling, a sibling who taunted him with, “You’re in trouble now! Wait until Daddy gets home! You’re in for it.”

Daddy was perhaps disappointed, but not angry. He understood the weakness of little boys. He did not expect perfection in the learning stages. He wanted his son to succeed and he loved this little boy with a love so big he would have laid down his life for him. Poopy pants was not a deal breaker.

I realized one day that this is often our reaction when we fail to live consistently with changes we want to make in our lives. Like the wee lad we run and hide in shame from the only One who is able to clean us up and set us back on our feet in a refreshed state. Sometimes we sit alone in the closet in poopy pants for days, or even years,  avoiding the very One who offers us mercy and forgiveness. Our heavenly Father loves us so much. He is not surprised by our weaknesses but wants to help us gain freedom from stinky habits by showing us a better way.

Lately I’ve been aware of older sibling-type people who get out their social media megaphones and preach the bad news of “Wait until Daddy gets home! You’re in for it now!” For some reason they are surprised when people don’t run in the direction they suggest. Instead of encouragement older brother-types tend to heap on larger and larger piles of shame that keep those who cannot keep up to standards hiding in dark places.

Jesus Christ says, “Come to me if you are weak. Come to me if you find the burdens placed upon you too heavy. Come to me and I will give you rest and peace in your lonely souls because I am meek and lowly of heart.  I am willing to get down to your level and put my arms around you and love you just as you are, poopy pants and all. Let me clean you up. There is so much more I want to show you! Let’s do this together.”

It’s called grace. Amazing grace.

 

The Return

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Then he came to his senses and cried aloud, ‘Why, dozens of my father’s hired men have got more food than they can eat and here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go back to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have done wrong in the sight of Heaven and in your eyes. I don’t deserve to be called your son any more. Please take me on as one of your hired men.”’

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still some distance off, his father saw him and his heart went out to him, and he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

– Jesus, from his story of The Father’s Prodigious Love.

Like a Night Watchman Waiting

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A song I haven’t heard for a long time was playing in my dreams last night. I’ve learned to pay attention to songs that wake me in the night.

My Soul Waits, by Bill Batstone, is based on Psalm 130.

I call to you from out of the deep, “Oh Lord, most high!”
Aware of my sin and the distance I keep from the light, Oh Lord.

But there is forgiveness with Thee,
and in wonder I fall on my knees.
My soul waits for the Lord in the hope of his promise,
in the hope of his promise deliverance will come.
My soul waits for the Lord through the night ’til the morning,
like a night watchman waiting for the coming of the dawn.

Look to the Lord all you people in need, for he is kind.
He will break the chains of your soul’s slavery for all time.

There is forgiveness with Thee and in wonder I fall on my knees.
My souls waits for the Lord in the hope of his promise…
like a night watchman waiting for the coming of the dawn,
like a night watchman waiting for the coming of the dawn.

 

My grandfather was a night watchman. For twenty five years he worked while the rest of us slept. I didn’t realize, until he developed dementia and relived in his own house those lonely dark nights of climbing miles and miles of stairs, how much he longed for daylight. He was man of small stature armed only with a huge flashlight. More than once he encountered thieves who came in the night to take what was not theirs. More than once he scared them off with his light and the authority his uniform communicated. A couple of times he called the alarm when his life was in danger. At least once his huge flashlight became a physical weapon of defense.

I didn’t realize until the day he retired and took off his uniform and boots for the last time how much he longed for the dawn. He left a big X on each calendar day leading up to the promise of a pension. Guarding the factory while others slept, and sleeping while others played left him out of sync with the rest of the world. It took a toll, but he was faithful to his employers all those years.

After his retirement Grandpa never missed a sunrise. He rose early to wait for it. He soaked in the light of the day working in his garden as much as possible.

Spiritual watchmen pray during the night watches. Sometimes they are aware of dangers  that others know nothing about as the Lord calls them to intercede. Even in the darkness they learn to walk in the light of God’s love. They are prayer warriors and use their authority as beloved sons and daughters of God to turn back meddlesome threats. They do not fight with the weapons of the world but with divine weapons designed to bring light and  pull down strongholds of deception. Sometimes they sound the alarm and call for backup when greater threats appear. It can be a lonely solitary calling, but they are the first ones to see the dawn coming.

And the dawn is coming.