Taking Refuge

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In the front of the little white Bible my parents gave me, when I was old enough to keep it mostly white, was an inscription. I found it recently. In my mother’s delicate handwriting on the page inside the cover, I saw “Our prayer for you. Psalm 91.”

Am I the only one who doesn’t remember numbers or scripture references and who seldom takes the time to look them up? I have to admit that unless it is a very common reference like John 3:16, I nod and move on when a card is signed,
Best wishes on your birthday!
1 Samuel 21:14

“Thank you for your kind thoughts,” I say, and set it on the shelf until enough time has passed to drop it in the recycling bin without insulting anyone.

In the process of paring down our book collection a few years ago, I found my old Bible and read the flyleaf. At the time I felt the Lord was asking me to read Psalm 91 over and over, for weeks, because I wasn’t getting it. Somehow I knew it was important to get it.

I didn’t think it was meant for me. Such promises must have been written to a king, or maybe the Messiah. It felt presumptuous in a pathologically narcissistic way to think that I could take a passage of scripture written in another time for someone else and apply it to myself.

“Its too good for the likes of me,” I thought.

Psalm 91 kept showing up, though, in songs, in stories, in podcasts, sermons and accidental openings to that page.

Does Psalm 91 apply to everyone?” I asked the Lord. The answer is in the first verse. Who is this for? No. It’s not for everyone. It’s for those who take refuge in the shelter of the Most High.

Taking shelter is an action. It means choosing to run to God and not away from him. It means abiding in him, dwelling with him, staying close to him in the secret place in my spirit where we meet and spend time together. It means taking shelter under his wings instead of demanding explanations or running off to fix things myself. It’s believing there is something greater than my own understanding. It’s submitting by letting him help me. It’s admitting that God is God and I am not.

I don’t think baby birds can see much when they’re under Mama bird’s wings. It’s dark in there. I’m sure they are curious about what is going on outside where lights are flashing and siren voices screaming in alarm.

I don’t understand what is going on out in the world right now. What I am getting is a lot of reminders of Psalm 91. This is a time to run under his wings and submit to the one who offers protection.

I get it now.

Psalm 91

He who takes refuge in the shelter of the Most High
will be safe in the shadow of the Almighty.
He will say to the Eternal, “My shelter, my mighty fortress,
my God, I place all my trust in You.”
For He will rescue you from the snares set by your enemies who entrap you
and from deadly plagues.

Like a bird protecting its young, God will cover you with His feathers,
will protect you under His great wings;

You will not dread the terrors that haunt the night
or enemy arrows that fly in the day
or the plagues that lurk in darkness
or the disasters that wreak havoc at noon.

A thousand may fall on your left,
ten thousand may die on your right,
but these horrors won’t come near you.
Only your eyes will witness
the punishment that awaits the evil,
but you will not suffer because of it.
For you made the Eternal refuge,
the Most High your only home.
No evil will come to you;
plagues will be turned away at your door.

He will command His heavenly messengers to guard you,
to keep you safe in every way.
They will hold you up in their hands
so that you will not crash, or fall, or even graze your foot on a stone.
You will walk on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the lion and the serpent underfoot.

“Because he clings to Me in love,
I will rescue him from harm;
I will set him above danger.
Because he has known Me by name,
He will call on Me, and I will answer.
I’ll be with him through hard times;
I’ll rescue him and grant him honor.
I’ll reward him with many good years on this earth
and let him witness My salvation.”

-The Passion Translation

Marty Goetz sings a beautiful version:

 

 

For Such a Time As This: Esther in Ephesians

The Jewish celebration of Purim starts at sundown this evening. Purim marks the story told in the book of Esther when the Jewish people were saved from the intentions of an evil royal advisor named Haman. He was hung on the gallows he prepared for someone else.
This morning this passage from the Psalms came up in my reading for the day. In it the psalmist David, who has been harassed endlessly by those who were out to kill him. King Saul was motivated, as was Haman, by jealousy.

“‘We have devised the perfect plan!’
Yes, the human heart and mind are cunning.
But God himself will shoot them with his arrows,
suddenly striking them down.
Their own tongues will ruin them,
and all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
Then everyone will be afraid;
they will proclaim the mighty acts of God
and realize all the amazing things he does.
The godly will rejoice in the LORD
and find shelter in him.
And those who do what is right
will praise him.”
(Psalm 64:4-10 NIV)

This was written generations before the time of Esther and thousands of years before our own time. I do believe that God, in his goodness, sometimes says, “Time’s up!” and moves to protect the innocent. Are we in such a time?
Esther’s story has become important to me since receiving a dramatic dream. I wrote about it here. I think it’s time for a re-blog.

Charis: Subject to Change

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Yesterday I heard a friend talk about Esther. He reminded us of the preparation she went through to bring her to a unique position of influence. I’ve been fascinated by the life of the orphan queen ever since I had a dream involving Esther.

The story is told in the Bible of a young parent-less Jewish woman, adopted by her cousin, who rose from obscurity to the position of queen in the land where her people lived in exile. She dared to defy protocol and approached the king in the throne room without first having been summoned by him. As her cousin, Mordecai, reasoned, it looked like God arranged for her to be there to help her people in a time of crisis. It’s great story, the kind that is made into Hollywood movies. But, if you take time to read it, you will notice that the story is not…

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I’ve Seen This Before

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Lord Yahweh, you are my glorious God! I will exalt you and praise your name forever, for you have done so many wonderful things. Well-thought-out plans you formed in ages past; you’ve been faithful and true to fulfill them all!

(Isaiah 25:1 TPT)

When I’m tempted to agree with the fear broadcasts in the atmosphere all around me, I take time to remember how God got me through the last crisis, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that…

Lord, you’ve been so good to me. Thank you. I will praise you and never forget your goodness in times of trouble. I trust you.

Can You Hear Me Now?

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Yesterday I wrote about my struggle to choose to do what is right and place my trust in the One who has always cared for me. Only yesterday. (Here.)

Less than an hour after I got home I took a phone message for my husband from a shop in town where we take our car for servicing. When he came home he returned the call.

“We won something,” he said. “Bluetooth earphones.”

“Wow! I don’t remember entering a contest. Did you?” I asked.

“No. Apparently we were entered automatically the last time we took the car in.”

When I was finished with my meeting he presented me with two sets of Bose earphones – one for each of us. A couple of years ago I tried out a similar pair. I loved them, but there was no way I could buy such an extravagant thing for myself.

Eagerly I hooked them up to my phone (My kind husband gave me a new one when his crashed. He took my old one since I’m the one who fills up the memory space with music and photos.) I recently I compiled a list of songs of praise. They were in no particular order. When the ear phones came alive I heard Selah singing “Standing on the Promises.”

Standing on the promises, I cannot fail when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail.

This was followed by Lauren Daigle singing “Everything.”

Even the sparrow has a place to lay its heads so why would I let worries steal my breath?

When “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood starting playing I cried happy tears.

Lord, I lift up my eyes unto the hills knowing my help is coming from you.

In less than an hour after I chose to obey and go pay what I felt was an unfair bill, I received not just one unexpected gift, but two! If God can provide something that I desired but thought was out of reach, he will surely meet all our needs.

Yes, Lord, I can hear you. I lift my hands in total praise to You!

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This morning my husband is catching up on emails surrounded by a symphony playing Beethoven (at a volume perfect for him.) He told me he felt like the Lord was saying, “I’m giving you back the gift of music, which you have forgotten.”

Fix Your Heart

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Don’t follow after the wicked ones or be jealous of their wealth.
Don’t think for a moment they’re better off than you.

They and their short-lived success
will soon shrivel up and quickly fade away
like grass clippings in the hot sun.
 
Keep trusting in the Lord and do what is right in his eyes.
Fix your heart on the promises of God and you will be secure,
feasting on his faithfulness.

(Psalm 37:1-3 TPT)

This is a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is morning. I’m off to pay a bill. A very large bill – more than I get in pension for a month. It’s the result of failing to read the well-hidden small print that negated previous promises.

I’ve wrestled with feeling betrayed and wanted to respond in like manner by refusing to pay.

I asked the Lord what I should do. Psalm 37 was my scheduled reading for today.

I feel the Lord is telling me that the problem is not the size of the bill. It’s my fear of lack. Forgiveness gets us back on the road where trust for God’s provision is concerned. Succumbing to the temptation to do business “the way business is done” doesn’t increase a sense of security in the long run. It’s doing what is right in his eyes that brings freedom.

I have learned that God’s faithfulness is greater than any maneuverings I might come up with. Instead I choose to do what is right and place my trust in the One who has always cared for me. His provision graces us with a security much greater than a pension check.

Laughter in the rain, walking hand in hand under stormy skies. Here we go.

I just hope I don’t cry.

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Extravagant Love

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My heart, O God, is quiet and confident.
Now I can sing with passion your wonderful praises!

Awake, O my soul, with the music of his splendor-song!
Arise, my soul, and sing his praises!
My worship will awaken the dawn,
greeting the daybreak with my songs of praise!
 
Wherever I go I will thank you, my God.
Among all the nations they will hear my praise songs to you.
 
Your love is so extravagant it reaches to the heavens,
Your faithfulness so astonishing it stretches to the sky!
 
Lord God, be exalted as you soar throughout the heavens.
May your shining glory be shown in the skies!
Let it be seen high above all the earth!

(Psalm 57:7-11 TPT)

One of the hardest challenges some of us face is forgiving ourselves. When we can’t forgive ourselves it’s hard to imagine that our heavenly Father does.

I should know better by now. I feel the urgency of the hour. Time becomes more precious, yet easier to waste as I grow older. I give in to self-pity. Negative thinking inevitably leads to conclusions that leave God’s extravagant love out of the picture and end up in a vortex of catastrophic projections.

I hear his voice gently whispering, “You! Eyes here. Look at me! My strength is made perfect in weakness. My strength, not yours. Your weakness, not mine. I’ve got this.”

I see the morning light in a corner of the sky.

“I’m sorry. I was wrong. I know you do,” I tell him.

“I forgive you. Now forgive yourself and let’s start again. It’s a new day and I love you. Do you hear me? I really, really love you.”

Thank you. I trust you, Lord.

Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed your hand has provided. Great is your faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

 

Briefly: Accumulating Value

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Family members met yesterday to sort and distribute the last of my husband’s mother’s things. This is the third time I’ve shared this responsibility. It doesn’t get easier.

It’s a strange task, this going through other people’s spaces, looking at photos of people you never knew, discovering souvenirs from vacations you never took, and reading notes you were never meant to read. We had boxes and boxes of items to take to charities organizations. So many things a person saves hold little meaning for children and grandchildren who value tidiness, personal taste, and room to move in their own homes over sentimentality. “This was Mom’s favourite spatula” is not a good enough reason to add the collection already jamming a kitchen drawer.

Our parents saw harder times than we have known. My mother-in-law knew what it was like to lose everything to invaders in Rangoon during WWII. My parents knew what it was like to go hungry during the catastrophic climate-change known as The Dirty Thirties on the prairies. I understand why the shortages they experienced led to the habit of saving everything, but they set aside so many things for us that we don’t need. Their hard work actually did build a better life for us.

The problem of not knowing what to do with all the stuff left when an older family member passes away is relatively new in this land. Most of us are the descendants of immigrants and refugees who arrived with little. We don’t recognize the problem as a sign of how wealthy we’ve actually become. Our most treasured inheritance is their trust in God, faithfulness to family, and demonstrations of valiant endurance, not china tea cups or balls of string.

As we cope with boxes and bins of former treasures, I think about all the things we ourselves worked hard to accumulate. I wonder if my children and grandchildren will also send most of our stuff to the thrift shop or recycling center for who knows whom. (I’m working on down-sizing, kids, really I am.)

My mother-in-law lived into her nineties, but I know she still felt her time was too short. I was thinking about how quickly life passes, and how many of the things she once treasured are sitting in boxes by the back door, when I came across Psalm 39 in my scheduled reading today.

What a brief time you’ve given me to live!
Compared to you my lifetime is nothing at all!
Nothing more than a puff of air, I’m gone so swiftly.
So too are the grandest of men;
they are nothing but a fleeting shadow!”
Pause in his presence

We live our lives like those living in shadows.
All our activities and energies are spent for things that pass away.
We gather, we hoard, we cling to our things,
only to leave them all behind for who knows who.

And now, God, I’m left with one conclusion:
my only hope is to hope in you alone!

Psalm 39:5-7 TPT

I don’t want my remaining time to be spent accumulating things that pass away. The treasure I most wish to leave to my progeny is the story of God’s faithfulness, his empowering grace and hope – joyful expectation – that Christ alone is all the provision they need.

Banquet of Blessings

 

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“Then how glad the nations will be when you are their King.
They will sing, they will shout, for you give true justice to the people.
Yes! You, Lord, are the shepherd of the nations!
Pause in his presence.

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No wonder the peoples praise you!
Let all the people praise you more!

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The harvest of the earth is here!
God, the very God we worship,
keeps us satisfied at his banquet of blessings.

Psalm 26:4-6 The Passion Translation

 

Shepherd on Horseback: Guarding Against Fear and Hopelessness

 

horseback shepherd shee cowboy trail crop DSC_0122When I was a child we received official government pamphlets in the mail that frightened me. They showed red circles, like ripples, over a map of a city. The closer you lived to the center of the circles the more likely you would die from the inevitable nuclear holocaust about to be dropped on our northern Canadian city.

“It’s because of the oil and pipelines,” I heard the adults say. “They make us a target.”

I remember what it was like to be raised in an atmosphere of fear by a generation scarred by memories of WWII and The Depression. I was a powerless child who felt responsible for stopping the bomb. I was part of the generation who could not trust authority because, after all, it was “the good guys” who dropped the bomb the first time. There was no hope for the world. As young adults we sought escape in self-indulgent sexual activity and recreational drugs. We questioned the wisdom of bringing children into such a world.

The great world-ending event never happened in my parent’s lifetime — not that it couldn’t have happened, but it didn’t. Thus far it has not happened in mine, nor in my adult children’s. In fact, we enjoy a higher standard of living than my parents or grandparents did.

When I read about the history of various faith movements that went off the rails after a generation or two, the same factors keep showing up: the exploitation of power, and fear of the end of the world — situations where people cast aside discernment and agreed to rash actions because of the “extenuating circumstances.”

This morning I read a poll asking for people’s reactions to the impending end of the world due to climate change and the carbon mess my admittedly self-focussed generation brought down upon our heads. The poll gave these options. Essentially they were:

1) We will soon be doomed.  2) We’re doomed now.  3) Maybe the people who created the problem could be trusted to fix it? 4) Never mind. We’re doomed.

I listen to my grandchildren who tell me, with desperation in their voices, that their teachers say the world will end in twelve years because of carbon emissions and plastic pollution. A young friend talked about the “immorality” of giving birth to another generation born to certain death.

I recognize the same net that held me captive for so many years: fear.

The reasons for concern could be true. The reasons for hopelessness are not.

If we fail to consult the Creator, who understands his creation much better than we do, we are left feeling like the helpless children of the sixties reading the red circle pamphlets. They were burdened with responsibility without authority. When we try to solve the problem all by ourselves, we are like shepherd-less sheep each wandering off right into the danger we fear most. Our debriefing sessions, if we live long enough to schedule them, include the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Fear and hopelessness were the weapons the enemy of my soul used to manipulate my actions and willingness to surrender power for most of my life. I see him tripping up this generation in the same way. Fear manipulates their thinking to the point where many see no future for themselves or the children they will not allow to be born – even if those children, like many generations before them, carry solutions their parents could not envision.

The Good Shepherd has resources the sheep do not have. He is willing to put himself between them and the predator. He is willing to venture into the wilderness to save the one who foolishly got him/herself into a terrible mess of brambles. Like the shepherd on horseback I saw on the Cowboy Trail last week, he is near — and he is good.

Psalm 23 was written by a King, and former shepherd, who found himself in a terrible mess of his own making. He recognizes another option to the trajectory his foolishness started: 5) Turn to God and trust in his ways.

The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
 
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.
 
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name….

…So why would I fear the future?
For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life…

(Psalm 23:1-3, 6a The Passion Translation)

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