Work in Progress

I often help my granddaughter with her online school assignments via Skype. Today, her assignment included a discussion of the poem, “Work in Progress*,” by Jon Jorgenson. We had an delightfully enlightening chat, but I think the work may have spoken to me more than to a pre-adolescent girl. She accepts that she is a student and her vocation right now is study (which one cannot do until they accept both a state of ignorance and the capability of changing that state. Some call the trait meekness.)

I often feel frustrated because I think I should be further along in spiritual maturity by now. The poem helped me remember I am also a work in progress. I’m still changing. Sometimes grace comes in the form of an overheard lesson.

*Link in comments.

Fog

I love the mystery of foggy days. Since we see neither what lies ahead nor what lies behind, fog provides a space for just being. Fog can feel like a misty wall that turns acres of woods into a room of one’s own where time slows down and thoughts and feelings can be as imprecise and yet as real as an expressionist painting.

I hate the impediment of fog when I am in a hurry with places to go and things to do. A familiar road morphs into something strange and an unfamiliar highway provokes the kind of apprehension a horror movie director communicates with an over-the-shoulder shot. Is there a jack-knifed logging truck around the next bend? Cue the ominous music.

This time of uncertainty we live in reminds me of fog. The solitude we introverts usually enjoy is losing its romantic edge. I am ready for it to lift and leave a world of invigorating sunshine and sparkling frost on the trees instead. I long to get out on the highway to visit people dear to me in places beyond restricted borders.

How long will it be? When will the lockdowns and impediments of virus mitigation be over? With all the political chaos and hate-filled mixed messages we hear all around us, what kind of world will we see when the fog of propaganda war lifts?

I read a quote by Corrie ten Boom yesterday. She and her father and sister were sent to concentration camps for sheltering Jews during the second world war. Corrie was the only one to survive. She wrote: Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.

Perhaps God is giving us this time to consider who he is and who we are and who or what we place our faith in. Perhaps we are not as in charge as we like to think. Perhaps he has a plan that relies on his goodness and his desire to kiss a guilty world in love. Maybe it’s about finding faith in his faithfulness and learning to see through his all-seeing eyes.

As I sit here, frustrated that my plans have been stymied by circumstances beyond my control, I am left with this conclusion. God is God and I am not. He has always been faithful to me. His love is unconditional. I hear him ask me to stay a little longer for a state of the relationship type chat. He asks if I trust him even when I cannot see though the fog. In other words, do I love him?

In this place, in the present in his presence, I let go of my need to figure everything out and sing:

I love you, Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship You
Oh, my soul, rejoice!


Take joy my King
In what You hear
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
In Your ear
.

(Words and music by Laurie Klein)

Flabby Faith in God’s Gym

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you.

So we will never fear
even if every structure of support were to crumble away.

We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes,
moving mountains and casting them into the sea.

For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves
cannot erode our faith in you. “

(Psalm 46: 1-3 TPT)

Recently while I was on a Zoom call with friends who were checking on each others welfare, one said, “I’ve come to realize that I am responsible for my own flabby faith. I need to exercise it.” I knew she was right.

Faith is taking the risk of trust. When we sow seeds of fear, we reap a harvest of distrust. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a constant barrage of fear-inducing reports like the ones that saturate the atmosphere right now. So many of us raised with the fear of a punishing God are triggered by this negativity. We need to get to know in an experiential way who God really is and take steps toward trust.

I watched a lad sit perfectly still for hours as he reached his hand out to a wounded. I didn’t see any progress so I left to do something I hoped would be more productive. When I came back later in the day, the little creature was settled in the palm of the boy’s hand. God is like that. He has enormous patience. He is also a great trainer and gives us increasingly greater challenges to grow and strengthen our faith.

I sense we are heading into a time when we will need more than flabby faith. When foundations crumble, we need to be familiar with the Holy Spirit’s still small voice and the safety of the hand of our Creator. It starts with one step and grows in strength through exercise until deeper experience of His love conquers all fear.

Don’t Ask

When I was a kid we had to do lesson books for Sunday School. At the end of the lesson was a space asking for my personal response. I gave it. My teacher marked it wrong with a big black X.

I was upset because I gave my honest opinion and I thought it was about expressing my thoughts, not parroting an answer. This still happens today out in the big world. Students can lose grades and employees can lose jobs for answering a request for their personal feelings about a non-work related issue.

I may not agree, but a personal opinion is a personal opinion. It’s a thought from a person who is processing. If you can’t handle the answer, don’t ask the question.

Stability in Changing Times

He will be your constant source of stability in changing times,

    and out of his abundant love he gives you

    the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.

    Yes, the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure!

Isaiah 36:3 TPT

I’ve been in a court room more than once. The first time I heard, “All rise,” I was performing my civic duty on a jury. The judge frequently asked us to leave the room as discussions continued over whether or not we should hear a particular piece of evidence. We may have been charged with bringing a verdict, but he was clearly the no-nonsense authority in that room.

The second time I appeared in court was as a witness. I felt with uncomfortable nervousness the weight of responsibility. I wanted to give details clearly and honestly. I also wanted to be understood for the sake of the victims’ future. I wasn’t sure the judge would listen or take me seriously. He did.

The third time in court, I watched someone I loved being falsely accused by the defense team. I watched some of the witnesses stumble over details as the accused’s lawyers expertly tripped them up in cross-examination. I had to sit still while defense witnesses outright lied. I was terribly anxious and upset. I worried the judge would believe them, but he saw through the falsehoods. He made sure the victims were heard and protected from further harm.

The last time I was in court I was the accused. I did it — or rather didn’t do it, which is what landed me there. Somehow we either missed or didn’t receive the usual notice from the car insurance company that our renewal was due. Neither of us noticed until the policeman stopped me on the way home from the grocery store and pointed to the license plate sticker which had expired a couple of days before. I received a ticket with an eye-watering fine and ended up in traffic court. I was honest. I was polite. I admitted fault –and I was scared spitless. I gave my side of the story about not receiving notice and hoped for leniency… and then I paid the hefty fine.

Why am I telling you this? I have been trying for many years to understand what “the fear of the Lord” means. I was raised in an environment where God was presented as someone to be afraid of more than someone who loved me. I lost many years trying to appease a judge I was afraid didn’t understand, and who cared only for his own ego. While He demonstrated his sacrificial love for me and I learned I didn’t need to distrust the power of someone who wanted nothing less than an unhindered relationship and the absolute best for me, I still had trouble understanding why the Bible tells us to “fear not” and “fear the Lord” at the same time.

Looking back, I can see that each of the judges I met in court seemed scary to me because of the power they held. Fortunately, in my experience, they all acted fairly and in the best interest of society, including the one who found me guilty of neglecting my responsibility to buy car insurance on time. Not all judges are corruption free, but the God of love and the Creator of the universe who has perfect understanding of how he made everything to run is without fault.

The Triune God can say with both love and justice, “No. You may not abuse the earth, other people, or even yourself. You disrespect me when you do that.” He is merciful, but his love is not the same as indulgence. His grace empowers us to be all he intended. He sees the big picture that spans time and space in a way we cannot comprehend. He is the ultimate authority on all things.

The difference between God’s wisdom and a human’s best understanding can be greater than the difference between a tin shack and a solid mountain. Who do we trust more to be the source of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

This caused me to think about who I have placed in positions over God as the ultimate authority in my life. I co-operate with and pray for bosses, church leaders, government authorities, and yes, even my spouse, for the sake of smooth sailing in society even when I may disagree on the best route to an agreed destination — unless they try to usurp God’s throne.

We have all trusted institutions which turned out later to not be exactly trustworthy. It can be a rattling experience when the foundations shake. I suspect we are about to see more shaking. Alas, some people who crave power are more enamored with self-aggrandizement than responsibility for the well-being of their charges. In the end there is only One who is the totally trustworthy bastion of both love and justice, only One who is our constant source of stability in changing times. Out of his abundant love he gives us the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. His beloved children receive the right to boldly approach his throne and ask for them.

Do Not Yield to Fear

Do not yield to fear, for I am always near.
    Never turn your gaze from me, for I am your faithful God.
    I will infuse you with my strength
    and help you in every situation.
    I will hold you firmly with my victorious right hand.

(Isaiah 41:10 TPT)

To yield is to surrender, to capitulate, defer, relent, submit. To yield is to admit inferior strength.

Is fear something we are helpless to resist when it darkens our path?

Is fear a failure to keep our eyes on the One who is our strength in weakness?

Is there a better choice?

Invaluable

The power to endure is greatly undervalued. In a culture where rapid solutions win the rat race we have little appreciation for the seasons in which God’s grace is empowering us to endure all things while keeping hope and faith alive. We want the comfortable stuff and the fun stuff — now! God sometimes has other plans. Endurance, like patience, cannot be developed in a hurry.

We’re heading into another winter season with so many unknowns battering our feeble understanding of peace and progress. Although the gap between striving to up our faith and leaning on his faithfulness is painfully evident, his grace is still abundant.

This morning I woke with song of encouragement playing in my head.

I know Your thoughts
Your plans for me are good
And I know You hold
My future and my hope
Your promises never fail
Your promises never fail

(from Your Promises Never Fail by Jason Ingram and Ben Fielding)

The Hebrew word for peace, Shalom, means, in part, nothing missing and nothing lacking. Even when we can’t see it the Holy Spirit is working in us to transform us into his image.

My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things. And then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking. (James 1:1-4 TPT)

The Torch: Be Yours to Hold It High

When I was a young bride far from my family in the days before easy communication, four elderly women who lived together in a heritage house  extended themselves to become family. Rhea and Kathleen, the sisters who inherited the house, showed me how to can fruit, and frame artwork.  They invited us to important events and introduced us to influential people. Dorothy, a retired college principal, recommended excellent books and engaged us in thought-provoking conversations. Mavis, a retired English nanny, became my much-appreciated resource when our first baby was born. I loved these women.

Something made me wonder though. They were outstanding women of character, intelligence, and grace. Old photos showed them as once attractive, fashion-conscious girls and young women. Why were they all single?

Finally, I asked Kathleen, “Did you ever think about getting married?”

“Of course,” she said. “But my young man died in the war.”

“Oh Kathleen! I’m so sorry. I never knew. What was his name?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “He died before I met him.”

She told me this with the mischievousness of someone who had lighted upon an answer that served her well for many years. There was also a sting of truth to it I had not considered before.

Her sister explained, “When we reached the age to consider marriage, we realized many of the young men we had known never came home after the first world war. There was a severe shortage of men. Frankly, neither of us met anyone who shared our interests and passions and we didn’t care to compromise. Between our careers and caring for our parents as they grew older, we filled our time well enough and were content. We learned how to create family in other ways.”

Each Remembrance Day we honour those who fought for freedom from oppression. We sing songs, recite poems, lay wreaths, and invite school children to submit artwork and essays to express thanks to those who served in the military. This year, as I remember the old house and the ladies who showed us how to celebrate each day as a gift, I would like to honour those who bore the heavy burden of war as bereaved parents, widows, fatherless children, and young women whose lovers died before they had a chance to meet. They were the ones who picked up the torch and held it high.

To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

– John McCrae