Alignment: What’s Your Point?

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word Prompt: Alignment

I thought the illustration for today’s Creative Meditations for Lent word would be easy. Alignment. Of course, I want to be aligned with God’s purposes. I want to hear his heart and direct my energies to serving him by doing the works he created me to do. How can I illustrate that? I could draw a picture of two people running together toward a goal, or take a photo of machine parts in alignment working together, or maybe I could find an older photo of railroad tracks going in the same direction.

I began to think about what it means to align with God’s intent and purposes. (My husband says God is a good listener, but he doesn’t take advice well. We could save ourselves a lot of bother if we just knew what he was up to.) But I kept getting interrupted, first by grumbling and trying to use a straight iron to fix a haircut that is much shorter than I wanted, then by a meeting, then by an appointment with the dentist and a little shopping while I was in that part of town, then by some rabbit trail research, then by a nap, then by a chat, then another meeting, then a little browsing through YouTube and Twitter (dangerous diversion, that), then writing and deleting a long reactionary post on a topic which I finally admitted I knew too little about to venture an informed opinion, then by cooking supper and tidying up, then by doing a last minute favour for someone that only took an hour or so, then stopping to pick up something at the store that I forgot to get earlier before coming home and talking to my husband about his day, then fixing myself a bed-time snack. Now the day is nearly done and the thing I set out to do this morning is not nearly done.

I realized how easy it is to fritter away time, and the older I get, the more whatever time I have left increases in value. I felt the Lord ask, “If your desire is really to get in line with my purposes, why are you letting all these other things distract you?”

I wonder if the devil can’t convince us to take part in outright rebellion if he just gets us to fail in our purpose by throwing interesting and often pleasant distractions in the way. I really should be working on my book. Oh look! A shiny!

What’s my point? I want to say “yes” to God, to be in alignment with him. But saying yes to him means saying no to other things. Even voluntary creative meditations require focus. My pencils are all lined up and ready to go, but they won’t produce anything useful without my intent to align with God’s intent. Alignment is not so easy.

Awe

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” (Acts 2:43 NIV)

Today’s word for Creative Meditations for Lent has taken me in a different direction than I expected. I started thinking about awe in the above verse.

I’ve decided my definition of awe (like most other people’s, I suspect) has been entirely inadequate. We use it so casually as in, “You did an awesome job, kid.”

Other translations of the Bible use the word fear instead of awe. I looked it up. The word in Greek is phobos, the root of ‘phobia’ –a fear so strong it makes us want to run away (like the Children of Israel wanted to run away when God showed up on Mt. Sinai.)

Phobos appears in this passage as well:

People will faint from terror [phobos], apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. (Luke 21:26)

If we use the word awe instead of fear it gives a sense of how much the word awe has been devalued.

People will faint from awe.

For years I have sung “Our God is an awesome God” with the same fervour as if the lyrics had been, “Our God is a pretty impressive God.” Some of us have hit the other ditch in reaction to the sermons about a wrathful, vengeful God that neglected emphasis on his overwhelming love, mercy, and grace. Have we gone too far the other way? We can’t ignore the scripture about awe/fear of a God more powerful than we can imagine. Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

We have no idea what awe really means. But I think we are about to find out.

Old Things Have Passed Away

Word prompt for today’s Lent meditation: Old/New

I saw these old dead flowers in a flower bed by the church down the street. When I had my own garden I gathered spent flowers and threw them in a compost bin. Later, I shoveled the unrecognizable rotted material into the garden and worked it into the soil.

I suppose that if we are what we eat, plants are what they eat too. The nutrients in old dead flowers become green beans or sugar peas or sunflowers that may bear no resemblance to the plants of the former season.

The transformation Christ creates in us is even more dramatic. He says that baptism is a symbol of the old self dead and buried and the new self raised and living a life transformed. Holy Spirit is in us to oversee the change into the image of Christ.

“For if a man is in Christ he becomes a new person altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

We get a re-do, this time with access to the throne of Creator of the Universe — the Three in One who has never lost a battle.

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.

 

Infuse

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I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Romans 15:13 The Voice)

When I see different thought streams start to converge and ideas come together I feel excited. I want to talk about them – a lot. I’m a verbal processor and for some reason I can I hear my thoughts better when I bounce them off people.

This can be wearing on friends, I know. To spare them from a barrage of words and ideas which I may discard the next day, I intentionally spend most of my time alone. Sometimes I journal. Sometimes I ruminate. But nothing works as well as a listening ear. Fortunately my husband understands. He’s a verbal processor too.

I’ve learned not to take him seriously until he comes to some sort of conclusion and he does the same for me – most of the time. Both of us have to keep apologizing because when we’re on a roll it’s hard for people who think hard before they speak to find a gap in the conversation large enough to stick a sentence in.

I’m learning to be a better listener and to ask better questions and honour long silent gaps in a conversation. I’m also learning to bracket interesting tangents my friends may inspire and come back to them later. But it’s not a consistent habit yet. It still takes conscious effort.

There are other areas of my life the Lord is working on. It’s like an episode of a TV show about hoarders. He has moved into the central living room of my life and the hearth of my heart, but the outer rooms are still being cleared.  Some of them are still piled with superfluous stuff like habits and unexamined ideas I’ve collected from garage sales. My intent was to re-purpose them into something, if not beautiful, then at least useful. Yeah. I know. That never really happened. Clutter. Toss it.

Changing annoying habits based on stupid ideas is a lot easier in theory than in practice. As long as I am concentrating on eating only healthy vegetables, for example, all is well. If I’m watching an exciting movie and an open bag of potato chips just happens to perch itself on the coffee table, I can crunch through a couple of handfuls before I even notice. And I don’t even like potato chips.

Change starts with an idea, but remains merely theoretical without practice.

Lately the Lord has been bringing opportunities to put into practice the things he has been teaching me, like listening more, and responding with a positive, trusting attitude when he sends prompts to engage his promises. It’s a chance to live in an abundance of peace and joy and overflowing hope. Alas, my response is not yet automatic when I am reading the instructions for preparations for another scope or scan, like I was doing this morning. I tend to catastrophize.

I need a better thought.

Sometimes I need to let new ideas infuse themselves into my life before the actions they inspire show up in all my words and actions. Like the process for making a proper cup of tea the process for heart-change cannot be rushed. I need to let it steep for a while. I need to listen and re-listen and meditate and study God’s words before they start to infuse every part of my life.

How to meditate? Someone told me once that if you can worry, you can meditate. Instead of mulling over the eternal ramifications of what can go wrong, try looking at what can go right, at what God has promised you, the dreams he placed in your heart, the way he has, by his grace, brought you this far. Rest in his presence and enjoy his company.

I just looked up and saw a post-it note I plastered to the edge of the shelf above my computer a few weeks ago. It says: Your God is present among you. Happy to have you back, he’ll calm you with his love and delight you with his songs. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Time to listen to his choice in music.

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Pure Imagination

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A hand-painted ceramic plaque hung, at various times, on various walls in our house. I was always surprised when it appeared in the bathroom or kitchen after previously filling a blank space in the hallway or dining room. Maybe Mom was trying to remind us of the message written on it. To be honest, my reaction was usually, “Yeah, I know. I should spend more time in Bible study. I should pray more. I should pay more attention in church. I should try to appreciate family devotions in the morning. I should stop groaning when it’s time to stop having fun and settle down and get serious for ‘the devotional’ at youth group. If I did I might be a nicer, less anxious teen, or at least less moody.”

After Mom died and Dad moved into the senior’s facility I took the plaque off the bedroom wall and brought it home with me. I think it’s in the memorabilia trunk that’s in storage until our house is repaired.

I thought about it when a song started playing in my head the other day. I have been praying for peace. Distractive worries have messed with my ability to concentrate lately. The words in the simple repetitive chorus were:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.

I’m learning to pay attention, and I know the Lord is reminding me of Isaiah 11:26 for a reason. I decided to meditate on it. First I looked it up in several translations. Then I checked the meanings of key words in a Hebrew lexicon. I found a great deal more hidden in the short passage than an annoying wheelbarrow load of ‘should.’

Keep

‘Keep’ comes from the word that means to protect, shield from danger, surround with a blockade, watch, or guard with fidelity. Natsar describes a security detail like the secret service agents we often see guarding VIPs in news stories.

Perfect Peace

‘Perfect peace’ is written in the original language as shalom, shalom. Double shalom. Shalom is more than a greeting or wish for peace without conflict. Shalom calls for everything to align in perfect harmony to bring about physical and spiritual well-being. Nothing missing, nothing broken, nothing in the way. We have no word in English for a concept of peace this big, so most translators just call it ‘perfect.’

Mind

The word translated ‘mind’ in the olde King James Version means much more than the organ that analyzes and stores sensory input. Yetser refers to a framework, a construct, a mindset if you will. It’s the control center that addresses why we choose to believe and act the way we do. More than that, it means imagination, like the purpose that exists before a creator’s hand forms an object, or writes a description of a character in a work of fiction, or makes a grand gesture in a dance.

Before I started writing today’s entry I had an idea. I collected information, I mused over illustrations from my life, I found photos, I made notes and formed a loose outline. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but, in essence, the words you are reading here formed first in my yetser – my imagination.

Imagination can be in vain and lead us in a destructive direction when it is not connected to God’s truth, but the Creator of the universe created us to be creative, not merely to follow directions as if we were assembling furniture from a Swedish big block store. If the most important thing in life is what we think about God, imagination is central to spiritual well-being – shalom.

Stayed

I learned the word ‘stayed’ represented the concept of being sustained, supported, upheld, propped up, borne, established, rested, braced, set, revived and refreshed. Camak carries so much more meaning than ‘stay’ (which reminds me of the plastic whalebone ‘stays’ in my grandmother’s formidable corset – the device which restrained Grandma’s ample flesh with the message it could go no further than the boundaries they defined.)

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Yesterday I planted tomatoes which, up until now, have happily resided at Casey’s Greenhouse. I prepared and enriched the soil, then placed them in holes I dug for them in my garden beds. I put stakes and wire cages around them to prop them up and protect them from the wind and, I hope, stray balls when the grandchildren come to play. These varieties can grow heavy fruit; they need support.

My hands were gently tying the stems when the song containing the verse began to play in my head again. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee. But now I understood it better. I want my tomatoes to grow. I did all the work. Their job is to receive water and sun and soil nutrients and produce fruit. I thought about my Heavenly Father as my protector, my propper-upper, my provider.

tomato cage 1 IMG_7902Unlike passive plants, we have the choice to stay or walk away. We can easily fill our imaginations with dismal forebodings, angry reactions or alternative coping strategies. We can choose to give away our authority to other voices with other plans. God has given us the right to reject his embrace.

I remembered a time when I felt supporting arms upholding me and bracing me in a tough time. Our son-in-law was in the intensive care unit. His condition was so dire surgeons decided the risk of moving him across the hall to the operating room was too great. In a last ditch effort to stop the hemorrhaging in his lungs and to remove more infected fascia from his leg they prepared to operate in right there in his room.

A nurse with tears in her eyes called for his wife, parents, and brother. We all knew by the atmosphere this was to give them a chance to say goodbye. I watched my dearly loved daughter walk down the hallway in a daze. My knees buckled and I slid down the wall I had been leaning against. I had been brave all week but now I sobbed.

We had seen miraculous answers as people prayed day and night. We saw blood circulation restored to his feet as children prayed for his toes. We saw thousands of people respond to a call to pray in unity. And now this.

He was bleeding out and in danger of throwing clots at the same time. He was on 100% oxygen. He couldn’t breathe. He was dying.

I felt so abandoned. So helpless. So weak. I was embarrassed by my inability to keep it together. I wanted to be strong for others, but I wasn’t.

Then two of our daughter and son-in-law’s friends came out into the hallway and stood on either side of me. I didn’t want to be touched but they lifted me to my feet. Each one held an elbow and literally held me up, sustained, supported, propped up, bore my weight, and held on until I felt steadied.

I remember telling Debbie that I knew God was doing something, but at that moment it was just too hard. She and John Murdo comforted and encouraged me. They reminded me of God’s faithfulness no matter what happened.

Some months before he was in a coma, our son-in-love told me about meeting an amazingly accurate prophetic guy. Shawn Bolz told Bruce about the plans God had for his life – and those plans did not include dying at a young age. He said he had never said that to anyone before but the Lord impressed on him that he needed to know.

My daughter and I knew we had to take those prophetic promises and go to war with them. Feeling stronger now I marched up and down the hall in the opposite spirit that prevailed in the hospital wing. I sang praises (softly -–this was a hospital). I sang in English and I sang in the Spirit, something I had always kept very private. I know people passing by must have thought I was insane, but I didn’t care what they thought. This was war. I was standing on those prophetic promises. My imagination chose to see them being fulfilled. My trust in God’s goodness grew with every lap.

My eyes were closed a lot of the time and I was so focused I didn’t notice the hospital halls filling with people who had come to pray that Good Friday morning. Many more in the ICU waiting room, including my husband, had already been there for hours. Hundreds more prayed in churches and home groups when they received text messages. Then thousands around the world joined. We declared he would live.

He did.

On Easter morning he responded to his name and opened his eyes briefly. On Pentecost Sunday he walked into church a whole man with no loss of limb, or brain damage, and with better kidney and lung function than before he became ill. God had a plan and it included miraculous revival.

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I was listening to an album by Selah on my iPod as I finished working in the garden and recalling that day. The song medley, “Standing On the Promises/Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” began to play.

“What are you saying, Lord?” I asked.
“Put the pieces together.”

I rewrote the verse on Mom’s plaque in my own words.

You, Abba, my Father, will faithfully guard and surround with shalom, shalom, those whose mindsets and imaginations are planted, sustained, upheld, supported, braced, embraced and borne by You, because they trust You. They stand on your promises. They lean on your mighty arms – and You provide everything they need to produce abundant fruit.

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In the Quiet Misty Morning

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As I walked beside the still water in the quiet misty morning a thought came to mind. If I am capable of worrying I am capable of meditating on the goodness of God. It’s just a matter of changing the subject. Remembering what I have seen of God’s promises is much more satisfying than speculating about those things that are still mystifying.

 

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8)

One Thing I Have Asked

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The Lord is my Light and my Salvation—whom shall I fear or dread? The Lord is the Refuge and Stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, [even then] in this will I be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek, inquire for, and [insistently] require: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord [in His presence] all the days of my life, to behold and gaze upon the beauty [the sweet attractiveness and the delightful loveliness] of the Lord and to meditate, consider, and inquire in His temple.

For in the day of trouble He will hide me in His shelter; in the secret place of His tent will He hide me; He will set me high upon a rock.

And now shall my head be lifted up above my enemies round about me; in His tent I will offer sacrifices and shouting of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. (Psalm 27: 1-6 Amplified)