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?

Reverence

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Hiking – I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word.

Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers.

Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

-John Muir

The mountains are my Holy Land. I go there to pray and rest in the presence of the Lover of my soul. It’s holy because He is holy.

Glimpse

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When I’m walking on ice I keep my head down. A broken arm and a broken leg taught me the wisdom of minding my step. My legs and ankles tense up as I carefully find the least slippery route, often on the edge of the path where dead thorn bushes poke through the snow.

One day I was walking through a shadowy part of the forest on an ice-covered trail when I caught a glimpse of the sky in a tiny puddle. I had been concentrating so hard on not falling that I lost sight of the rest of my surroundings. The reflection reminded me to look up.

When Moses asked to see God he was permitted to see only a glimpse from inside a cleft of a rock. The aspect of himself God chose to show was his goodness, and only a fraction of that lest Moses be overwhelmed.

Sometimes seeing a glimpse of God’s goodness, or grasping a few words from the love song he sings over us in the night, or hearing his voice in nature or scripture or right out loud, causes us to feel amazed – and then frustrated that we can’t hear more.

Those who have had encounters with who God really is are often wrecked for trudging through a cold, grey, sinful, sorrowful world with an it-is-what-it-is attitude. Now they long for more – because they have had a glimpse of more.

Frustration is a sign that God is about to increase our capacity to receive more. We wonder why we feel so uncomfortable. We can walk away at that point, or we can look up, preparing for the enlarging aspect of himself he intends to show us next. It may not be the one people around us may seem to be experiencing though. He knows who we really are too.

Isaac Watts, who wrote Joy to the World, understood.

Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing…

There is more.

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Hearts Flooded with Light

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I have not stopped thanking God for you.

I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.

Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come.

God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

(Ephesians 1: 16-23 NLT)

Sometimes if we take what we think we think about God and what we actually feel about God and put them in a room together we are surprised that they don’t look the same. Sometimes they don’t even look remotely related.  When we don’t have unity within ourselves? Well, that’s just crazy-making.

Both can be right and both can be wrong. When they are not aligned with who God really is both can string a barb wire fence between us and seeing the majesty of God. Both can place barriers in the way of stepping into a greater understanding of the incredible greatness of God’s power for those who believe in him. Both can restrain us from attaining everything he has for us.

“But I was always taught…”

“That reminds me of a painful time…”

His light soothes and comforts the downtrodden, the tired, and the despairing because it floods our hearts and replaces false ideas and bad memories with the trustworthiness of his splendour, his glory, his infinite grace.

He longs to give us spiritual wisdom and insight so that we might grow in increasing knowledge of God.

There is a reason why Jesus is called the Wonderful Counselor. He came to gently expose the lies we have absorbed and show us what his Father is really like. That knowledge is the foundation for confident hope.

Jesus is the light of the world.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

’til he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…

(From Oh Holy Night by Adolphe Adams, English lyrics by John Sullivan Dwight)

There is more.

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Upheaval

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When I was a kid we looked forward to seeing cheesy old black and white movies about saints and Bible characters or missionaries and martyrs. They were the only non-TV movies we were allowed to go to because they were shown at a church and not in a theater. Sometimes the sound of the film projector was louder than the incredibly wordy dialogue, but still I was impressed. I wanted to be a martyr for God like that.

I remember the otherworldly holy gaze upward nearly all the actors displayed when faced with a call to lay down their lives to the glory of God. I practised it in front of a mirror.

Clutching my little red Gideon New Testament plus the Psalms to my chest I tilted my head slightly to the left and looked up at the desk lamp now shining down spotlight fashion from the top of a pile of books on Dad’s dresser. Moving only my eyeballs I checked my image in the long mirror on the back of the door to see if I had it right.

Maybe, someday, if I worked hard enough and pleased God enough He would use me in some dramatic spotlit way. I needed to get the holy look down.

The truth is half a century later I’ve never managed to look like the holy guys in the movies. Neither do any of the humbly honest people I know dedicated to keeping it real while placing high priority on getting to know God’s reality. They are just folks who know they are loved. All of them are still  works in progress (although some seem to need less work than others.)

Even though I don’t always say it out loud, when the phone rings lately my reaction is more likely to be a full eye roll and a “Now what?” than the sacred upward half eye roll. (which is an improvement over total panic, but not where I would like to be as far as joyful response goes.)

IMG_1515 flat tire bw chSo much news of major disruptions in the lives of family and friends has arrived by text message or phone in the last few months that I’m tempted not to pick it up when it rings. Marriage problems, health crises, business fiascos, loss of property, the sudden death of loved ones, unjust treatment, the revelation of corruption in unexpected places, misunderstandings bound in red tape, and dreams deflated like a flat tire… It seems I’ve mourned with a lot of people lately.

I know that in every situation there is a provision for more grace and that God is never stymied by human foibles or unseasonable weather or budget restraints or talking head prognosticators. I know Jesus is victor and the enemy is defeated. I know he has brought us through thus far and he promises to never leave. I know the outcome of walking through the storm is finding the gold on the other side.

But sometimes there’s a lot of upheaval in the process.

While I was praying about this (and confessing my lousy attitude) I remembered a dream I had a while ago. In the dream I was walking outside a schoolyard beside a chain link fence. Suddenly the ground began to shake. On either side of the path a wall of moving earth and rocks and boulders rose up. It looked like an animated scene from an old  church basement movie depicting the crossing of the Red Sea – only the water was not parted. The ground was.

Boulders flew around pulverizing each other to dust and dirt flowed in massive waves. But all of it regarded the boundaries on either side of the path and never crossed the line, like the wall of water in the movies.

“What the…?” I asked, in my less than church movie-worthy holy stance.

“Don’t look to the right or to the left. Keep your eyes on the path,” I heard.

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“What’s happening?” I asked, trying hard to ignore hurtling objects in my peripheral vision that made me want to duck – fast.

“I’m moving heaven and earth for you.” (I wish English had a plural for you. It felt plural.)

There are some things you can’t learn in school. There are some lessons about the character of God and Christ’s unrelenting love for us that can only be demonstrated in the midst of boulders shattering on either side of our heads and the ground trembling beneath our feet, when the things we relied upon to be stable are suddenly anything but.

Sometimes change involves the kind of upheaval that exposes things you would rather not know. Sometimes change creates such a dust-up you have to concentrate on where to place your next step because that’s as far as you can see.

Sometimes, when God is answering our prayers, he does it in ways we don’t expect. We think, “This can’t be from God. My Jesus is sweet and gentle and meek and mild, like a rose trampled on the ground. He wouldn’t be behind a messy upheaval of all the things we’ve worked so hard to build.”

I’ve learned that expecting the Creator of the Universe to squeeze himself into the limitations of what makes me feel good is a kind of idolatry. When the shaking starts he’s about to show himself a whole lot bigger than we ever imagined. Our concept is not majestic enough. We’re about to get an upgrade.

For some of us the scenery on this part of the journey is not exactly tidy or decent or in order right now. All I know is that Himself is right here walking it with us. Just like He did last time, and the time before that, and the time before that…

He’s just that good.

 

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