By the Waters of Comfort

Relieve and comfort all the persecuted and afflicted;

speak peace to troubled consciences;

strengthen the weak;

confirm the strong;

instruct the ignorant;

deliver the oppressed from him that spoileth him;

and relieve the needy that hath no helper;

and being by us all, by the waters of comfort,

and in the ways of righteousness,

to the Kingdom of rest and glory,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

-Jeremy Taylor

I sat in a waiting room this week. I knew before I got there the wait would be long. The day after Christmas and New Years holidays were over had a fun-is-done back-to-business feeling at the medical lab. It may have been business-like, but there were so many feelings swirling about in that room.

Legal measures taken to protect patient privacy are trumped by thin curtains between beds or loud conversations between patients and a masked receptionist behind a plexiglass wall. It reminds me of a scene from the old comedy show “Get Smart” when secret agents are covered by a “cone of silence” which required them to yell because they couldn’t hear each other. When the plexiglass wall of silence is in the middle of a crowded waiting room, all pretense of privacy is gone.

Some people are mortified at having to explain what is in the sample bottle they are dropping off and they avoid eye contact with other humans for the rest of the day. Others don’t seem to care. In fact, some people give their information freely (and repeatedly due to the impediments to communication). Then they take a number, sit down, and look for someone to tell their troubles to. There are a lot of troubles expressed in a crowded waiting room at the hospital lab in the week after the holidays.

I’m not good at blocking the sights and sounds out. I’ve been given advice on how to ignore sad stories whether they are told in winces and groans or given in long detailed descriptions, but I know what it is like to cry and not be heard. So I listen. It’s something I actually like about myself, so I’m not likely to take the advice to block people out. I can’t imagine a caring Jesus blocking out people out. Prioritizing getting away to a quiet place where he could hear his Father’s voice? Yes, but not by pretending he didn’t notice or treating people as if their stories were not important. He always brought encouragement.

It’s the getting away to be heard by our heavenly Father, and to listen to His peace and kindness that heals our own souls and allows us to walk in hope in the middle of hopelessness. The comfort he has given us is shareable. It’s called compassion.

Earlier, while waiting for my husband at his own appointment, I was able to stop by the lake on a cool cloudy January day. There, by the waters of comfort, I found peace in the presence of the Lover of my soul. I could continue a day of tests of various types knowing, no matter what, I am loved and therefore able to extend love. And when I’m running low, I’m learning there’s plenty more where that came from.

The Road Back: Psalms of The Sons of Korah, “With Our Own Eyes”

Psalm 48

Jerusalem, The Eastern Gate, From the Inside

As we have heard stories of Your greatness,
    now we have also seen it with our own eyes
    right here, in the city of the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies.
Right here, in our God’s city,
    the True God will preserve her forever.

We have meditated upon Your loyal love, O God,
    within Your holy temple.
Just as Your name reaches to the ends of the earth, O God,
    so Your praise flows there too;
Your right hand holds justice.

(Psalm 48:8-10 The Voice)

When I was a young child, I thought World War II happened in a place where everything was black and white. All the stories about the war were in black and white, well grey actually, because the films were shot in black and white and shown on black and white television. Then one day I saw a colour film of the people in the Netherlands coming out of their shelters to greet the Canadian soldiers who had fought for their freedom. It seemed more real. Then my uncle, who had been there, told us what it was like then and what it was like when he returned decades later to the same demonstrations of honour. That was even more real because someone I knew had been there. I watched his face. He had seen it with his own eyes.

It’s one thing to hear stories, or read stories, or study stories. It’s another to see it with your own eyes. Generations of the Sons of Korah had heard stories about God’s greatness, but in Psalm 48 the generation of a new era sings about what they have seen and experienced in the reality of life in Jerusalem. This is the account of what happened on the first day in the temple David’s son, Solomon, built:

When the Levitical priests returned to the crowd from the most holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves for this special occasion, regardless of their duties), all the Levitical singers (Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and their relatives) were wearing fine linen, standing east of the altar, playing cymbals, harps, and lyres, along with priests blowing 120 trumpets. In unison, the musicians and singers with trumpets and cymbals and instruments praised and glorified the Eternal.

Levitical Choir: He is good! His loyal love will continue forever!

At the sound of the music, the Eternal’s temple was filled with a cloud, the glory of God, which prevented the priests from continuing to minister to the Eternal. The descent of the glory of God filled the house of the God of Israel. (2 Chronicles 5:11-14)

It was a sight their ancestors never imagined when they decided to rebel in the desert. The sons of Korah knew what it was to be bereft of hope (see Psalm 43). Now the restored generation of worshipping Sons of Korah wanted not only to celebrate what they had experienced, but to tell the next generation.

So because of Your judgments,
    may Mount Zion be delighted!
    May the villages of Judah celebrate!

Explore Zion; make an accounting,
    note all her towers;
Reflect upon her defenses;
    stroll through her palaces
So that you can tell the coming generation all about her.
For so is God,
    our True God, forever and ever;
    He will be our guide till the end.
(Psalm 48:11-14)

When people ask me why I talk about God so much, I say I can’t help it. In the temple made of living stone, in the place where the Holy Spirit dwells and where I meditate on his love, I have seen the greatness of God. I have experienced his love and sensed his glory.

I want to tell what I have seen. Like the restored Sons of Korah in the temple and like the disciple Philip in Galilee who went to look for his friend, Nathaniel I want to urge, “Come and see! We have found the One. Moses wrote about Him in the Law, all the prophets spoke of the day when He would come, and now He is here—His name is Jesus!” (John 1:4)

Come and see!

Do You Love Me?

It’s been about thirty years since I gave up. I gave up trying to please God, or perhaps more accurately, to please God according to the job list people who put themselves in charge of the Pleasing God Committee gave me.

I quit trying, but I quit with a question: So, God, if I don’t do any of this stuff, if I walk away from trying so hard, will you still love me, or is your love conditional?

I’m a slow and stubborn learner and I had erected a lot of self-protective barriers. Wounded people do that. But God has grace and patience beyond — way beyond — anything I could imagine based on what I could drum up myself.

Since that time, his kindness and faithfulness have won my heart. He met me in the desert. He wooed me, or as Hosea wrote about God’s actions toward the unfaithful wife symbolizing a nation that went after every pleasure but God, he “allured” me. Like the woman in the desert, I eventually responded with my own song of love.

Now, all these years later, I hear him asking me the question. “If I don’t give you what you want when you want it, will you still love me, or is your love conditional?”

There are a lot of things I want, and as the beloved of the King of Kings am entitled to. I want good health. I want financial security. I want my children and grandchildren to have easy lives and a great relationship with God. I want my city and my country to prosper. Most of all, I want to be understood.

As I ponder, I remember this is the question posed to many people in the Bible from Abraham with his precious promised son, to Job with his wealth and healthy family, to Solomon with his fine mind and reputation, to Jesus himself who laid down the right to the recognition and worship owed him.

Like Peter, I remember the night of denial. “Jesus is ok,” I said, “But I don’t trust God the Father not to use me, then throw me away.”

Like Peter on the beach with Jesus, with the scent of a charcoal fire in the air to remind him of the night of denial, I hear the question. “Do you love me for who I am and not just for what I give you?”

I know my weaknesses. I know how easily the rug is still pulled out from under me when I feel harshly criticized or misunderstood. I know that in my own strength I can’t say yes.

I also know that his strength is made perfect in weakness. I also know that he gives me his love so I have something to give back to him. Everything comes from him, and in him and through him I live and move and have my being.

Yesterday the words from a song sung by Celine Dion played in my dreams:

You were my strength when I was weak.
You were my voice when I couldn’t speak.
You were my eyes when I couldn’t see.
You saw the best there was in me.
Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach.
You gave me faith ’cause you believed.
I’m everything I am
Because you loved me

This morning I was singing a song in my spirit. The words come from Psalm 73 which, in the New Living Testament, reads:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
    but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.

Here

Get up, my dear friend, fair and beautiful lover—come to me! Look around you: Winter is over; the winter rains are over, gone! Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir—and singing! 

(Song of Solomon 2:11,12 MSG)

Sometimes, when shrill voices tell us to look at what’s happening there, and there, or over there, we overlook the still, quiet voice of the Lover of our souls inviting us to look here. I was looking for photo-worthy balsam root blossoms that thrive in the Okanagan. I wanted to photograph a patch, but they all seemed to grow in places where I couldn’t stop the car, or places too hard for me to walk to.

When I told my daughter my frustration she said, “Oh, we have some here in the forest beside our house where the children play.”

I found them! What a wonderful place to be a child! I’m so happy for them!

When I was a young child, our little house was in a eastside neighbourhood squeezed between a meat packing plant, an oil refinery, and a railway yard. No matter which way the wind blew it never smelled like a forest of flowers and evergreen trees.

When I was a child, I carried worries that were too heavy for a little kid. I thought God was mad at me all the time like everyone else seemed to be. I didn’t know that he actually liked me and wanted to be with me. It was many years before I could hear him calling me to come away with him, not to do a job for him, but because he loved me and wanted to be with me.

It’s so easy to say, “I’ll be happy when this is over, or when this is done.” We can have joy now, in this moment. I hear the loving invitation of my Lord inviting me to leave stress and worry behind, to come away with him, and appreciate the song that beauty sings here in the secret place he created for the two of us, here where he made it accessible. Here –in my heart.

But I Call You Friends

Old Friends

In my grandmother’s day, people did not call each other by first names without permission. Sometimes that permission was not granted for years. I use the word much more freely, sometimes calling a person “my friend” after merely agreeing me once or twice on social media. To the women in my grandmother’s circle the friend designation carried a certain responsibility. Friendship meant loyalty. It meant standing up for each other and contending for another woman’s welfare if called upon. Grandma knew a lot of people. She was an extrovert before the word was invented. The word may have been invented to describe her. She knew a lot of people, but she had only a few fast friends.

People I have met who are well-known enough to have fans tell me that many of their devoted followers are quick to claim close relationship without permission. (Neither confirming nor denying anything here.) Photos — especially selfies — do lie. Six seconds in the same camera frame backstage do not a friendship make. Fans can turn on a celebrity in a minute if they feel personally disappointed by a cancelled concert or even a change in marital status. Fans think they know a famous person when in truth they do not. Most of what they perceive is either from P.R. staff or media coverage published by people who really don’t know the heart of the famous person either.

Jesus was a famous person. He spoke to crowds but he didn’t need them. He had compassion but found the mass of neediness exhausting. He knew what was in the hearts of those who wanted to use him for their own purposes. When he did not give them a political solution to their deeper spiritual problem many former “fans” turned on him.

The night before they did though, he had Passover supper with the men who knew him best. He said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

A person offering friendship shares more than opinions. A friend shares his or her heart. He told them straight out who he was and what was about to happen.  

The disciples didn’t fully grasp what it meant to be a friend of the Messiah. Most of them disappeared when the going got tough. One of them even betrayed him, trading the inside information he was trusted with to tell the authorities where they could find Jesus away from the crowd that could potentially get in the way or make a scene.

Betrayal is part of the risk of friendship. Being a friend means we give another person all the ammunition they need to deeply hurt us. Real betrayal only comes from those close enough to truly wound us. Jesus taught us how to be fully human by allowing himself to be vulnerable to the kind of pain only those we love can inflict.

Jesus showed them that real love means the willingness to lay your life down for a friend. He demonstrated this love by laying his life down for his friends. His action requires response. He says to us, “Real love looks like this. I gave everything for you. Are you willing to give everything for me? I call you friend. Can you call me friend knowing what it means to be a friend of the Son of God?”

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9-17 NIV)

I hear him saying “I love you so much I went through hell and back for you. I offer you my friendship. Now let me ask you, are you my friend or just a fan?”

Truth

Truth, real truth, total truth is like a burning laser light. Most of us can’t handle the truth.

When the prophet Isaiah encountered God in a vision, he encountered Truth. He cried out, “Woe is me for I am a man with unclean lips.” The blindingly holy light of truth revealed that he (like most of us) had spoken things that were untrue. I wonder what would have happened if God had not ministered mercy by sending an angel to purify his lips with a hot coal. I’ve also noticed that sometimes truth leaves scars.

Here’s the thing. Truth without love is harsh. Very harsh.

Have you ever watched two people fall in love? When most couples go on a first date, both put great effort into creating a good impression. The truth is, they don’t always look this good, smell this good, or act so thoughtfully. They keep some important information to themselves and may add a sheen to unavoidable details if they want a second date. As time goes on, they begin to test the interest level by gradually revealing minor unappealing aspects about themselves to see if the other will stick around. Love grows in an atmosphere of safety and acceptance. More truth can be told. Sadly, some people keep up a false image until the effort half kills them and everything falls apart. The truth will eventually come out.

Many of us are still vainly attempting to impress God while concealing aspects of ourselves that trigger shame. Hiding stuff doesn’t work. He knows. That fact alone sends millions into metaphorical sewing of fig-leaf wear whilst hiding in the shrubbery like Adam and Eve.

For those who don’t read social cues well and are whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth tellers, this whole dating thing is a mine field.

“You told her she needed a better deodorant?” I exclaimed with shock when my neuro-divergent friend told me about meeting a girl he liked. “I was only telling her the truth. I care about her. She should know.”

My explanation to him involved caring truth-telling about the way neuro-typicals perceive information. (At least I hope he perceived it as caring.) He was telling her the truth, but how was she to know he cared? How did he demonstrate that? Telling her she needed better deodorant could have felt a bit hurtful even if it was true. Most people can’t handle the truth, especially truth about themselves. Truth must be wrapped in communicated love, or it feels like a frying pan to the face and that’s the end of that.

Before Jesus was taken away to be killed, he told his friends, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”  (John 16: 12,13)

The disciples were not ready to bear all the truth Jesus wanted to tell them. Jesus is The Truth, but he is also Love. Love doesn’t lie, and Godly truth gives us only as much truth as we can handle. He understands out frailty, but he also wants us to grow. Without a solid understanding of who God is, and that his lovingkindness and mercy endure forever, all of us, including the extremely narcissistic, tend to mix our truth medicine with a spoonful of denial, if not a cup of outright fantasy. Maturity is being able to appreciate the whole truth without being blown away by it. We need help getting to that point, but God provided for that too.

J.B. Phillips phrased it this way in his paraphrase of Ephesians 4:11-16

His “gifts to men” were varied. Some he made his messengers, some prophets, some preachers of the Gospel; to some he gave the power to guide and teach his people. His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for their service, that the whole body might be built up until the time comes when, in the unity of the common faith and common knowledge of the Son of God, we arrive at real maturity—that measure of development which is meant by the “fullness of Christ”.

We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love.

The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, but patiently, not by dumping it all on our heads all at once. He is kind. Sometimes it’s a wonderful warm experience and sometimes it feels like receiving a father’s concerned discipline, but it always carries the scent of merciful lovingkindness.

Like many aspects of spiritual maturity, the ability to comprehend truth and see the way God sees is a process. I am learning that being Christ-centered and acknowledging Jesus in everything means becoming as intentional about a deepening relationship as he is.

It’s all about getting to know him.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word Prompt: Truth

Aroma

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:2 NLT)

I love the scent of poplar trees when the sap begins to flow. It reminds me of paddling down a sun-dappled river with my friends when I was a teenager. I have to stop in a pine forest just to breathe the fragrance in the air. It carries memories of carefree Saturdays in the mountains with my family when I was a child.

My friend feels differently. The aroma of spring sends her to the pharmacy for tissues and antihistamines in preparation for allergy season. I understand. Personally, I hate the smell of motor oil. It reminds me of the disappointment of a broken car being worked on in the garage instead of taking us on another adventure. I’m obviously not a mechanic who enjoys hours tinkering under the hood.

Many passages of scripture tell us that certain aromas carry a sweet fragrant aroma of a sacrifice which is pleasing to God. I wonder if it the aroma metaphorically carries the attitude of worship to him, the way the aroma of freshly baked bread carried the message of motherlove to me.

Some passages of scriptures continue the metaphor of aroma and tell us some smells are good and some are bad. Evil rebellious people are like a bad stink to God:

All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemesThese people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away. (Isaiah 65:2 & 5)

A life filled with sacrificial love is pleasing aroma to God. False love (aka manipulation) smells, well, off. We say something smells fishy when we are around people whose services seem self-serving. Something is off. We detect a stink under the rose water. In contrast, the kind of love Christ demonstrated is a pleasing aroma. God discerns the attitude of the heart.

In dream symbolism the nose often represents discernment. It’s that sense that detects what usually cannot be seen. Some people have told me they can discern what spirit is operating behind the scenes in room by pleasant and unpleasant smells. Apparently demonic spirits can stink like latrines or decaying flesh.

I once detected the beautiful scent of orange blossoms while in worship with friends. No one was wearing that fragrance. It was wonderful! Have you ever sensed something like it? Let me know in the comments.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Aroma

Carry

Creative Meditations for Lent. Word prompt: Carry

There are so many ways I could go with the word carry. Carry out, carry through, carry on, carry over, carry away, carry around…  What I hear in my heart is a line from a song by Selah called “Audrey’s Song.” The part of the song I keep hearing is “I will carry you.”

The song is sung by a mother to her child in the womb. Doctors told the parents that the baby had anomalies incompatible with life and recommended abortion. Instead, the they chose to love their child and honour the life she had, how ever short it would be. (Warning, it’s a tear-jerker.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MI9duC9mXQ

I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song) by Selah from the album “You Deliver Me”

There were photographs I wanted to take

Things I wanted to show you

Sing sweet lullabies, wipe your teary eyes

Who could love you like this?

People say that I am brave but I’m not

Truth is I’m barely hanging on

But there’s a greater story

Written long before me

Because He loves you like this

I will carry you

While your heart beats here

Long beyond the empty cradle

Through the coming years I will carry you

All my life

And I will praise the One Who’s chosen me

To carry you

Such a short time

Such a long road

All this madness

But I know

That the silence

Has brought me to His voice

And He says … I’ve shown her photographs of time beginning

Walked her through the parted seas

Angel lullabies, no more teary eyes

Who could love her like this?

I thought about others in the faith who died young. I have often wondered why Jesus chose James, along with his brother of John – the other half of the sons of thunder— and Peter, to be his three closest companions. Jesus would have known that James wasn’t going to live long. King Herod had him “put to the sword.” In a manner all too common in political machinations, when he saw favourable numbers in the local population’s response to his handling of the disruption caused by these Jesus followers, Herod decided to kill some more of them. Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, but James hadn’t been. James was killed.

Why would Jesus invest so heavily in someone who wouldn’t be around very long? Who can say James’ life was of less value than the life of John who lived to a very old age? Jesus obviously loved him and could have rescued him. James obviously had faith and he was surrounded by the same faithful people who prayed for Peter to be released.

Somehow, we have adopted the idea that a successful life is a long life, that people ought to be valued for accomplishments, or at least potential accomplishments. Baby Audrey lived outside her mother’s womb for only two hours, but I believe God saw her life was as valuable and he loved and appreciated her as much as a 100-year-old woman with many accolades.

God loves us for who we are. He loves us because he loves us. Nothing we do or don’t do can make him love us any more or any less. Can we also take the risk of loving someone who may be leaving life on earth shortly? Being separated from a loved one is extremely painful, but not eternally painful. I admire those who can risk the pain of loss and love freely, carrying another person in their heart because they know they are loved by Love Himself.

He will carry them too.

Why the photo of spring flowers on the windowsill? These words in 1 Peter inspired me.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

For, ‘All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
     but the word of the Lord endures forever.’

And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)

Let

After their last supper together, Jesus asked Peter to let him wash his feet. Peter protested.

Peter looked at Jesus and said, “You’ll never wash my dirty feet—never!”
“But Peter, if you don’t allow me to wash your feet,” Jesus responded, “then you will not be able to share life with me.” (from John 13 in The Passion Translation)

Jesus confronted him sternly. This was important. This was so important that Jesus said Peter could not be a part of him if he did not let Jesus wash his feet.

On that evening full of important parting instructions, he also said, “So this is my parting command: Love one another deeply!” (verse 17)

Loving one another deeply requires mutual submission. Submission is not a word I like. Surrender is even worse. By confronting Peter he gave the clear message: Unless you are willing to accept help — my help — you can’t be a part of this.

This is the aspect of submission that I’ve missed for so many years. Submission doesn’t mean being a doormat to someone who would take advantage. Submission means saying, “How can I extend myself to help you to become all Christ means you to be?” Submission also means surrendering to Christ when he says, “Let me help you.”

Submission means becoming vulnerable to God’s goodness.

Experiencing God’s goodness is a prerequisite to loving one another.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Let