There’s More

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When I was a young girl my parents gave me a white leather-bound Bible for my tenth birthday. On the dedication page they wrote: “Our prayer for you – Psalm 91″

Years later I decided to record a list of scripture verses that have stood out to me, that got me through tough times, or spoke to me about my relationship with God. The 91st Psalm was one. I realized this psalm was part of my inheritance and had been for a long time. I took time to study it and meditate on it daily, mining it for riches I had previously overlooked. It became precious to me. In time I moved on to other personally meaningful passages.

This morning I awoke with a line from a line from song recorded by Selah playing in my head. “When I feel like I can’t go on You deliver me. When the road is winding and way too long, You deliver me…”

What does “deliver” actually mean? Maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions. I learned the word “deliver” used in many translations of the Bible can come from more than one word in the Hebrew language. One means to transport like delivering a prisoner to a jail. One means to snatch away, rescue or provide a means of escape. (That’s the meaning I was assuming.) Another can mean to rescue but it can also mean to arm, equip, invigorate or make strong.

Psalm 91 uses two different words. The third verse talks about being delivered from a trap. This is the “plucked out/escape” word, natsal. The other word, chalats, shows up in verse 15. The Passion Translation recognizes the difference. Instead of saying you will be taken out of the situation it says, “You will find and feel my presence even in your time of pressure and trouble.”

Yesterday I was looking at photos I took on the drive home from a hospital a day’s drive away. I spent two days there undergoing specialized tests looking for more cancerous tumours. That’s a scary prospect.

Most of the time I am at peace, but sometimes I feel stressed. Driving up the steep Kootenay Pass on the side of the east side of the mountain with no guard rails between us and a sudden drop of hundreds of feet was one of those moments. I don’t have any photos. There is no place to stop.

I didn’t really want to stop. I just wanted to get out of there.

We parked in a wide lot when we reached the top and I walked around beside the little lake up there. Pacing helps me regain calm.

I took this photo from inside a cabin beside the road. When I looked at it this morning I felt I saw in the picture an open-door invitation to step out of the confines of my own thinking into a greater concept of what safe and secure deliverance means. It could mean being rescued from a situation or it could mean being armed and invigorated in preparation for a greater victory right in the circumstance.

God is creative and not reactive. The road up the mountain is the same road whether a guardrail is visible or not. I don’t know the results of the tests yet. From here the view is a bit scary, but he provides shelter and rest stops along the way. Whether he rescues me from this circumstance or equips me for battle and wider definition of what victory  and holding ground looks like, he has assured me of his presence. He’s got this and he’s not leaving.

After all these years there is even more to be learned from this precious psalm.

For here is what the Lord has spoken to me:
“Because you have delighted in me as my great lover,
I will greatly protect you.
I will set you in a high place,
Safe and secure before my face.
I will answer your cry for help every time you pray,
And you will find and feel my presence
Even in your time of pressure and trouble.
I will be your glorious Hero and give you a feast!
You will be satisfied with a full life
And with all that I do for you.
For you will enjoy
The fullness of my salvation!”

Psalm 91:14-16 The Passion Translation

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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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Love Never Gives Up

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In the middle of the first letter sent to the new believers in Corinthians (with instructions on how to use the gifts or tools the Holy Spirit gives) Paul gives is this warning:

Without love, it’s all a gong show (my loose translation).

As Christians we talk about love. We urge people to take the job of showing love seriously. We quote the verse about turning the other cheek. But who knew the charge to love our neighbours as ourselves could turn into a burden that keeps people weighted down with disappointment in themselves and in other less-than-considerate members of the church that is supposed to lead in this area? Who knew the instruction to love could make us feel less loveable?

I used to think that love meant I should be able to conjure up feelings of affection on demand. I thought if I tried hard I could. I learned I can’t. I know I’m not the only one. With very little effort I can give you hundreds of examples of my failure to love in spite of my best efforts.

 

I even fail to love people who, like me, mean well, but leave a mess to clean up in their short-sighted efforts to demonstrate it.

I can’t even imagine what it is like for the victims of extreme persecution to hear sermons about extending love to those who hate them.

Love is all very good in theory, but, as is evident in nasty posts on various media  platforms, people who differ on political ideas, or even styles of music and fashion have a hard time showing it. Love, real love and not merely feel-good self-serving or erotic love is hard to come by. There are some days when I wonder if it is even possible.

And yet Jesus is clear about the command to love.

“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22: 37-40)

The identifying mark of the early church was expressed this way, “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples – that you have love for one another.”

Recently I hear another full-voiced charge from a pulpit that we should love like Jesus. I wanted to stand up and yell back, “Don’t keep telling us we should love without telling us how!”

People know the difference between genuine caring and marketing. They have a word for it. Hypocrisy.

Then the Lord reminded me he is not dependent on my efforts to do this without him. It’s about His love, not mine. He loved us first. I respond with that little bit that I can grasp before it falls through the holes in my heart and give it back to him. Then he pours out more love.

Paul described this kind of love – agape love, unselfish love from a perfect Father, in the passage in 1 Corinthians 13. I like to read it in different translations. The Passion Translation, which seeks to include emotional communication, calls this kind of love “large.” This is what Jesus came to show us. This is what Christ in us, the hope of glory, looks like and feels like. Large.

I need to soak in it. As I write this I am soaking my foot in a sterilized water and salt solution as part of the healing plan after minor surgery. In the same way, metaphorically speaking, I need to soak in God’s love for continuous healing of soul wounds. Abiding in his company purifies and removes distractions so I can know that I am the object of this love and that the Creator of the universe values me enough to never quit loving me. Only then can I give love the love I have received without risking burn-out or spiritual bankruptcy.

Developing a relationship with God and learning to abide, rest, dwell, and take up residency in the place of intimacy where we learn to accept a love we can’t earn is not for mystics who are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. It is the essential source for anyone who prays, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God never takes failure as defeat, for he never gives up.