“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand… In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” -from Ephesians 6 NIV
Like it or not we were born into a war. The powers of darkness still hate the Kingdom of Light. I see his warriors like much-loved children. Their armour and weapons are not impressive to most people in the world, but they are mighty for pulling down strongholds of satan’s lies and even their own vain imaginations.
They fight evil with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
They stand in the strength of the Lord, and not in their own might. They know where their authority comes from.
Can I be honest? I’ve been feeling down lately. It’s not just flesh and blood loved ones I miss in this current bout of voluntary house arrest, I miss the sights, sounds, and scents of being out in nature. Because of two very messed up, very painful knees I haven’t been able to go for a walk for almost a year. Being out in the forests and mountains, talking with the God I love, has always refreshed my soul. I’m mourning the loss of hours enjoyed walking in this wonderful place.
A prophetic artist, knowing nothing about my situation, said she had a picture for me. She said she saw me walking out in nature, receiving healing for my soul, and the Lord told her, “It’s not over yet.”
If you feel a nudge and like you may have a word of encouragement for someone, don’t hold back. You have no idea how much it may mean to someone who is struggling.
I’m not able to get out yet, although I finally received a diagnosis on Monday and have some hope that healing is on its way, with or without medical intervention. In the meantime I decided to imagine one of the spots I love and quickly painted it. I can still hear the Lord’s invitation to walk with him in the secret place.
I’ll get back outside someday. A God who created such beauty around us surely has plans for beauty in our future. He hasn’t abandoned us.
My lovely friend and neighbour moved to the other side of the continent for work this week. I’ll miss her and the chats we have had from a distance across the road. I gave her the painting so she can take a little bit of this corner of the world with her with my love and appreciation. T
There will be more.
I look up to the mountains and hills, longing for God’s help. But then I realize that our true help and protection come only from the Lord, our Creator who made the heavens and the earth. He will guard and guide me, never letting me stumble or fall.
When this season of challenges began, many people found refuge in the promises of Psalm 91 that begins:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. (NASB)
It is still one of my favourite psalms, but may I confess that sometimes I find it difficult to remain in that place near to the heart of God where His thoughts conquer my worries? Psalm 15 describes the characteristics of those who dwell in that place. The Passion version caught my attention.
Lord, who dares to dwell with you? Who presumes the privilege of being close to you, living next to you in your shining place of glory?
Who are those who daily dwell in the life of the Holy Spirit?
They are passionate and wholehearted, always sincere and always speaking the truth— for their hearts are trustworthy.
They refuse to slander or insult others; they’ll never listen to gossip or rumors, nor would they ever harm another with their words.
They will speak out passionately against evil and evil workers while commending the faithful ones who follow after the truth.
They make firm commitments and follow through, even at great cost.
They never crush others with exploitation or abuse and they would never be bought with a bribe against the innocent.
They will never be shaken; they will stand firm forever.
This raises questions for me. Are these traits the result of spending time with the Lord in the secret place or qualifications for entering and staying?
After pondering, I believe the answer is both. Knowing that I can never be good enough through my own efforts and that I am dependent on the righteousness of Christ to be my righteousness, what does God require of me?
God makes the first move. He extends the invitation. His grace empowers us to change. The more time we spend with him, the more we become like him, but transformation requires intent and cooperation.
I adore my grandchildren, but if they thoughtlessly track mud into my clean house I will tell them to go back out and leave their muddy boots on the step. Toddlers receive a gentler reminder and more assistance than teens. It is called respect (and maybe even the fear of Grandma). Learning to honour the things that matter to parents and grandparents and others in authority is something children need to learn in safe, loving relationships.
If we wish to dwell in the presence of the Holy One we need to respect the things that matter to Him. We enter with praise but also with clean hands and a pure heart. I wonder if sometimes the distance we feel from the Lord is because he is reminding us to leave the mud outside and to drop some ideas and attitudes that do not belong in his dwelling place.
The first one I need to leave outside is apathy and a lack of passion for holiness I have picked up from the doom and gloom and hopelessness that is so prevalent on the streets in the world.
The song that comes to mind is Refiner’s Fire. The chorus from Brian Doerkson’s song:
Refiner’s fire My heart’s one desire Is to be holy Set apart for You, Lord I choose to be holy Set apart for You, my Master Ready to do Your will
I watched two people play statistics wars. Both debaters adamantly claimed ownership of diagrams and charts that backed their positions. Now I’m not a scientist, but I live with one. I’ve been around academics long enough to recognize poor research protocols and an apples and oranges argument. I’ve also learned it’s pointless to say anything to people who have their minds made up, academics included.
I walked away to make coffee when a line from Simon and Garfunkle’s song, The Boxer, began to play in my head.
All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.
When my coffee was ready, before I even started my Bible reading for today, I remembered this verse from my childhood:
You desire truth in the inward parts.
The Passion translation phrases it this way:
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. (Psalm 51:6)
Deceit is deceiving. No one believes a lie or jest intentionally, but very few ask to have falsehoods they believe publicly exposed. Gullibility feels like a character flaw, like a failure to fact check with the right fact checkers backed by the right authorities. With playground taunts still ringing in their ears many people will double down before admitting error.
Sometimes we absorb untruths because we need them to fit into a construct that allows us to feel less insecure. Sometimes we believe lies simply because we trusted the wrong people. Is that not the theme of millions of stories since the Garden of Eden?
Still thinking about the song (and about them and the lies they believed) and how that fit in with the verse about truth, the Lord arrested me with, “Let’s talk about some truths I’d like to set in your heart. There are some things that need displacing.”
He’s kind like that. He doesn’t talk about my stupidity for believing a falsehood, he talks about a truth that is lacking, a gap in my understanding temporarily filled in by something else. Cooperating with the process is called transformation.
Earlier this week, while I listened to some uplifting worship and encouraging speakers, I tried to paint my feelings about this time of isolation I find myself in. It feels like the Lover of my soul is asking me to come away with him and simply sit quietly in this prepared time and appointed place. I do believe we are stepping into a new era and this long pause is a gift to reflect on embarrassingly wonky values and ideas I’ve accepted that need to be replaced with truths before we journey on.
A little defensively I ask, “Who can I trust anyway? What is the truth?”
“Me,” he says. “In answer to both questions. Let’s start with how much I love you — and how much I love them — because you don’t really believe me yet.”
Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves.
About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him.
But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!”
Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.
(Mark 6:47-56 NLT)
The disciples were in a storm struggling against the wind and waves. Everything in their evidence-based experience told them this was bad. Very bad.
Jesus saw their struggle.
If this pandemic experience had happened earlier in my life I would probably have felt overwhelmed with anxiety. It’s a sign of how much the Lord has healed my heart that even though I am in the high risk for complications category in several ways should I come into contact with the virus, I have more peace now than I’ve ever had before.
Like the disciples in the boat, my experience tells me this is bad. But unlike the disciples at that time, my heart has been softened by seeing Jesus do the unexpected. Sometimes the scary ‘what-ifs’ break through, but most of the time I can trust that no matter what, God still loves me and still loves and cares for the people I love.
I had no grid for God’s intervention back in the years of anxiety and depression. I struggled against the wind, but all I saw was the waves. Like Jesus’ friends, I interpreted anything supernatural as something even scarier than the storm.
Jesus didn’t shame them for what they felt. He responded to their cries. “I’m here!”
He had compassion and showed them what it was like to be at peace. He demonstrated authority over not only chaos in the physical atmosphere, but in the spiritual atmosphere as well. He put himself in the same position they were in and the wind stopped.
During a time of turbulent emotions stirred up by fear and illness, I painted a prayer of wanting to see Jesus in the emotional storm that raged around my heart. I had almost forgotten about it until I read this story in Mark today.
In a dream this week, I waited and waited in a church hoping for an encounter with God. When I could no longer stay because the last person turned off the lights and indicated he wanted to lock up, I went out into the dark rainy night. To my surprise, Jesus was waiting in the parking lot for me. When he touched my hand all fear was gone.
He wasn’t in the decently-and-in-order building with its platform and neat rows of seats. He was outside in the storm.
Some people love routine. If asked what they are doing at 2:15 p.m., Wednesday, February 19, 2021, they can tell you. Because it’s a Thursday. At 2:15 p.m.. Assuming no unforeseen circumstances interrupt the schedule, they will be doing what they always do on Thursdays at 2:15.
I hate routine. It feels like prison to me. I don’t even like taking the same route to the grocery store twice in a row. Loss of efficiency is not so much a factor as lack of expansion.
Lately I fell into a routine. It’s not a good sign. My routine involved a prolonged daily stop at Procrastination Station. I’ve been neither exploring nor creating. Worse, I realized I’ve hunkered down, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as my pessimistic former self would say. Other people can accomplish more when routines make sure they remember to remember, but when I choose routine, it’s because I lack energy for growth and I am protecting myself from disappointment.
I prayed about this as I stared at another blank page, bereft of creative energy. I realized that loss of wonder is connected to loss of hope. Loss of hope, for me, darkens and curls the pages of my story when I allow cares of this world to overshadow the goodness of God. Recently I’ve I allowed myself to become burdened by cares for my divided country, cares for my friends’ predicaments, and especially cares for my family’s pains, feeling a responsibility to do something about situations outside my purview. It hasn’t been working.
This past weekend, I agreed to paint at a gathering of believers as they played and sang worship songs. I had a few ideas for a subject, but none really moved me. Then, a couple of hours before gathering up my art paraphernalia to toss in the trunk of the car, a photo of my little granddaughter showed up on Facebook Memories. She was beside the street in bare feet, waiting excitedly for guests to arrive for a birthday party.
She waited in expectation of something good about to happen. I thought, Wait a minute…hope is expectation of the goodness of God. I need to paint this. I started it on Friday evening. What I didn’t know then was that the speaker’s theme on Saturday evening would be “Child-like Expectation.”
I had asked the Lord where I went off track. This weekend, I felt him saying it was when I lost the perspective of a child. When I forgot that I am a child of God I gave up wonder. When I neglected to cling to the hope –the expectation– of seeing the goodness of God in the land of the living, I took my eyes off Jesus and began to shut down creatively.
My hope is not in what I can do. My hope is in who God is. I am not a person left alone to figure it all out all by myself. I am a child of the King and I have the best Dad in the whole wide world.
“Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.” – Jesus
“Holy Ambush” Painted September 14 and 15 during worship services.
I love the story of the woman at the well. I’ve written about her before (here).
Jesus sent his disciples ahead so he could wait to talk to someone who was the wrong sex, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong religion, and had the wrong social standing, according to contemporary religious types.
She had her defenses up. But when she was honest with this strange man who broke with all social convention, he was open with her. He spoke plainly to her about who he was. After that encounter, she became a woman of influence.
I painted Jesus waiting for her. I usually avoid painting representations of the Messiah. There is already a very long history of artists imposing their culture on the stories told in the Bible. How does one paint someone who was both God and man? And did they really dress like Medieval peasants at that time? The metaphors nature provides are safer and less likely to attract critics whose minds snag on possible historical anachronisms.
At the end of the first worship session all I had on my canvas was something that looked like the background for the flannel board lesson my grandmother used to teach at Happy Hour Bible Club on Thursday afternoons after school. The problem was that I didn’t know what this story was going to be about. The creative imagery screen in my mind was playing a test pattern. I was blank.
I thought about sneaking all my painting paraphernalia out the side door and taking my regular seat at the next service. I worried that I was falling into the old performance trap. It would be better to admit I had no ideas than to forge on trying to look good because I enjoyed the compliments I received before. Been there. Have you seen my T-shirt collection?
Then the speaker began to teach about honesty and the Samaritan woman. The part of the story that struck me this time was that Jesus, who listened to his Father, probably knew she would be coming to the well alone. He sent the disciples ahead because this encounter would be way out of the box for them.
Then he waited for her.
Sunday morning I put the painting, such as it was, back on the easel and began to paint the picture I now had in my head. I know that 2000+ years ago Jesus wasn’t mostly white like me. He didn’t speak English, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t wear jeans. But when he invites me to sit and be open and honest with him, he speaks my language. He understands my landscape and my culture. He knows me and my history and all my shame and that wretched fear of rejection. He offers more love and acceptance than I ever hoped for.
He still waits to reveal who he really is to those brave enough to respond honestly to him. The rejected, the overlooked, the ostracized, the marginalized? They are the ones to whom he reveals his true self first. It’s a holy ambush.
This is how I fight my battles. I paint my prayers. I started this piece at class on Monday eve, but it was not right. Too dark. I worked on it some more this evening.
Since Easter I have been running into the word “Remember.” Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was important. When you are on your way out you tend to make sure you talk about the things that matter most. He talked about remembering his broken body and spilled blood every time we take bread and wine together. He washed his friends’ feet as a demonstration of a servant’s attitude, but also as a reminder, especially to Peter, that we cannot do this on our own. We need Him. We must let him help us before we can help others.
We also need to let other disciples help us and admit when we are weak. This is about family and relationship and the giving and taking goes both ways. On Sunday I was on the prayer team and prayed for others. Tonight I am praying for my sixteen-year old granddaughter who is an exchange student in France. We just learned she is in hospital after a head injury. I am also asking friends to come alongside and pray for her and for her parents and brother and us, her grandparents who are all a continent and ocean away.
This is my painted prayer. Bread, wine, water, basin, towel, candle. “Remember.” I remember all he has done for us and I praise and thank him. Jesus is the light of the world. God is love. He is faithful.