Friday, December 02, 2016

Fire and Water

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This morning we sang again.

I always feel a bit chary of singing in a corner somewhere when there’s company and we’ve had company for several weeks now.

Well, not precisely company. Our two grandsons, our son-in-law and his company – a very helpful Frenchman.

But this afternoon my husband and I had a couple of hours alone and so we sang a few Psalms before we read together.

I love verse three of 66C:

Bless God, O peoples, sound His praise;

He who appoints our soul to live,

And keeps our feet from slipping.

As silver, God, You tested us,

Delivered us into a net,

Oppressed us with a burden.

Men rode o’er us;

We have gone through fire and water

By Your doing.

Yet you brought us out to freedom.

Its the title song on the first album I ever purchased from Crown and Covenant,“Through Fire and Water: Songs of Deliverance.”

So theoretically I could have learned it off the album. But that’s never worked for me – I have to see the notes!

Which is why from the moment I started thinking about Topic # 18 “Tools or Appliances” from the Beauty in EVERYday 30 Day Challenge that I’ve been (slowly!) working through, I immediately thought of the Psalms for Worship app on my tablet.

We have learned so many really beautiful songs using this tool – songs that have strengthened and enriched our lives.

Songs that brought to life the Psalms that helped us through the fire and water.

Friday, November 18, 2016

My Hand in God’s Hand

Did you ever wonder how Barak and Samson made that great roll of faithfuls in Hebrews 11? I mean, shouldn’t it be Deborah instead of Barak? And Samson?! Now that’s just…. unbelievable!

Or how about the Apostle Paul’s glowing words about Abraham

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, Rom 4:19-20)

What does Paul mean “He did not weaken in faith” and “No unbelief made him waver”?

What about Hagar?!

The truth is, men never live up to their ideals – and God is GRACIOUS. Men are not always so gracious!

And yet, sometimes they are…. 

2016-10-24 13.50.31Tohoku JECA Pastors

How grateful I am for this group of local pastors - and how it warmed my heart to see them reach out their hands (literally) to my husband hoping to,

Strengthen the weak hands,

and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,

"Be strong; fear not!”


Isaiah 35:3-4

It is still hard to shed the anxiety that gripped us for so long.

We have to believe that God rules - and overrules.

Joseph told his brothers in Gen 50v20,   “God turned into good what you meant for evil.”  And the truth is we will never shed our anxious hearts until we believe this to be true in our lives – always true.

Often we don’t really know that those who have hurt us “meant it for evil”...   It is difficult to know the hearts of men and women.

But when we question motives, when things seem wrong, Joseph’s words ought to remind us that God allows even things that seem totally bad to us and (whether we understand and agree with the motive or not)  He can always use these “bad things” to bring about His good purposes.

But I need to be reminded:

…Therefore lift your drooping hands

and strengthen your weak knees,

and make straight paths for your feet,

so that what is lame may not be put out of joint

but rather be healed.

Hebrews 12:12-13

And we feel our hands in God’s hands as friends and colleagues reach out their hands (real and figurative) to us in love.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Better Than Perfume

Yesterday morning I was still in bed when the phone rang, “Daphne!”

Just the sound of her voice… and immediately I felt that everything would be alright. She’s always affected me that way.

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The first time I met her I was a struggling new missionary in language school and wondering  (if I had only dared admit it) if I had just made the most colossal mistake of my life. I don’t remember the meeting now, only that Daphne slipped in in her Daphne way and as I listened to her I felt like fresh breeze had just broken into a stale and stuffy room.

She was so “real!”

A few years later when we both ended up in Aomori I often went out of my way to benefit from this “realness” – her great honesty and common sense.

I often tell people that when I was a young woman I “collected mothers” meaning, I suppose, that I sought out women my mother’s age to support me in the way my mother would have done if only she had been on the same continent (or in my case, island) instead of on the other side of the world.

There were a number of these women in my life, but no one quite like Daphne!

She’s in Australia now and probably approaching 90. (Her younger sister is over 85.) But I’m so glad she’s still in my life. Comforting. Encouraging. And still full of that “realness” – that honesty that first attracted me to her.

Perfume and incense bring joy to your heart.

And a friend is sweeter when (s)he gives you honest advice.  

  -Proverbs 27:9

For we are the aroma of Christ to God

…we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as (wo)men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

-  2 Corinthians 2:15-17)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Unconditional Love

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Love bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things.


                                  -  1 Corinthians 13:7

As I slowly – very slowly it seems – work my way through the 30 Day Challenge from Kathleen Ann Thompson’s Beauty in Every Day, I really do find myself challenged.

It’s not hard to see beauty every day! I’ve done that all my life. But this time I’ve been looking for something more. 

As we found ourselves (like the old hymn says) tempest tossed on life’s billows, discouraged, and sometimes fearing all was lost, it seemed to me that counting blessings was perhaps the best antidote for spiritual seasickness.

So this time, as I work through the list of topics for the 30 Day Challenge I’ve been trying to find God’s special encouragements for me in the beauty all around me.

For Challenge # 15 it wasn’t hard to fix on my dog as someone who loves me unconditionally. I have already touched on this topic a little (here) but it seems worth elaborating.

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My dog, Yae.

Eternally hopeful!

My husband maintains that this is the definition of dog:   always, always hopeful even in the face of continuing disappointment.

My experience bears his definition out. No matter how many times I fail Yae, she bears it, continues to believe in me, still looks at me with enduring hope in her eyes!

And I respond!

For a long time I resisted, but that trusting look of hers has won out. I love her, too.

Until Yae, I was always a cat woman.

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We almost always have three or four cats around the house.

In 2012 it was difficult to find someone to fill in for us while we were in North America and we unfortunately had to leave our home empty for the first few weeks. During this time, although church members fed the animals, the cats were locked out of the house.

They did not soon forgive us!

If you have ever been punished by a cat you will understand why after this my ardor for cats cooled significantly for awhile!

My favorite cat took it the worst. Not only did she develop obnoxious retaliative behaviours, she also began to deteriorate physically.

I think there is a spiritual lesson for me in this matter of dogs and cats.

We have suffered a bitter blow.

And it would be so easy to react like those unforgiving cats! But that’s a lose/lose proposition.

And so I choose instead to emulate the (ever hopeful) dog.

I choose to take to heart those verses that have been hanging on the bathroom door for nearly 20 years:

…we rejoice in our sufferings,

knowing that suffering produces endurance,

and endurance produces character,

and character produces hope,

and hope does not put us to shame,

because God's love has been poured into our hearts

through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

- Romans  5:3-5

Here is another verse that I’ve been reflecting on lately.

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Yes, God! We put our trust in you!

Fill us with your joy and peace. And, by the power of your Holy Spirit, may we overflow with great hope.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

On My Side

Today's thought provoking prayer from Seeking God’s Face: Praying With the Bible Through the Year began,
"Sovereign God, I want to claim you for my cause, but you will not be made a mascot for my squad; you call me to your kingdom."
That sure got my attention!

But I think the real meat of the matter was covered in the next few lines,
"Rule me by your Word and Spirit so that more and more I may stand on the holy ground of obedience to you."
I'm pretty sure it was bouncing off the Joshua 5:15 reading where Joshua asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” and receives for reply, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”

But it reminds me of Samuel's caution to Saul,  "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”  - 1 Samuel 15:22

Over the years, I have so often heard people say after some great fiasco, “But we prayed so hard.”

Indeed! So have I!

But is it really prayer that sanctifies an action? Is it not obedience to God’s principles?  And an understanding of his will?

I have thought a lot about this in recent months.

Can godly men be mistaken? You know the answer to that one! At least you had better know it! During every election and every war, and concerning all the issues there are “godly” men on all sides of the question. At least, if you define godly as religious.

When Peter and John stood up and said, “"Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,” (Acts 4:19) they were talking to their religious leaders.

These religious leaders were not always all bad.

I grew up believing that Pharisees were all horrible, godless men. So were all Catholics at the time of the Reformation. (And conversely, Luther was all good.)

NOT so!

Good men can be mistaken - even when they pray!

For that matter, I can be mistaken!

We have hanging on our wall a verse that a friend sent to us recently.


It’s so comforting, sustaining. But it’s important to remember the context! This is not talking about God taking “my side”. Rather it’s about God’s great love for me. His protection.

And this he offers to me whether I am right or wrong – if I look to him. Its about recognizing God as God.

Am I looking to him?

Listening to him?

Clinging to him?


Thursday, September 01, 2016

In the Shadow of His Wings – Don’t be Afraid!

I was going to write about “someone who loves me unconditionally” - that would probably be my dog!

But tonight I feel like Jem after the trial in “To Kill A Mockingbird” – socked in the gut by the injustice of it all.

“How could they do it, how could they?”

Today we received a dismissal from an organization to which I gave two thirds of my life. I want to argue my case. But no one is listening.

So I’m back to where I was in my May blogpost, begging God Himself to take up the shield and buckler and Our Defender be!

No shame

Ever since this morning when I woke to sun and the realization that Typhoon # 10 had passed us over, I have been thinking of Psalm 57:1

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,

for in you my soul takes refuge;

in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,

till the storms of destruction pass by.

All day I hoped the symbolism was significant – I harbored a great hope that the figurative storm was also past. This even though the “Atticus” in my life assures us that there will have to be a long and thorough process of calling to account – and years before we see justice.

He and others tell us that we need to get on with our lives. But I hardly know what my life is anymore.

I cry out to God Most High,

to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;

He will put to shame him who tramples on me.

Selah.

God will send out his steadfast love

and his faithfulness!

Psalm 57:2-3

What is His purpose for us?   

I’m not sure yet – but we know that His purposes for us are good. And when we forget, our family and friends remind us with verses like this one:

deuteronomy

So tonight we look to the Lord our Defender.

We look the God who will be with us, who will neither fail nor abandon us.

We look to the Lifter of our Heads.

We look to You!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress

I’ve been thinking about inner beauty for over a week now. And today as we watched “Wish You Well” (a film based on David Baldacci’s novel of the same name) I found it in the character “Louisa”.

Kind, wise, strong…  everything I want to be. Although maybe not the shotgun.

louisa

The storyline runs roughly along these lines:  famous author living in New York City (and writing about his boyhood home in mountains) is killed in a car crash so his family goes back home to live with Great-Grandma Louisa in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. Life is hard, and harder. However, Louisa shows them it still a good life – the mountains will take care of them.

Then the coal company comes to grab the land.

It was a good thinking story to keep our minds off the approaching typhoon – both the literal and the figurative.

But the story cut a little close to home after Louisa’s stroke – a stroke which leads ultimately to her death.

After her stroke the coal company goes for  Louisa’s land. The courtroom scene seemed to mirror a recent scene in my own life. It’s much like the courtroom scene in “To Kill a Mockingbird”:   although the defense lawyer presents a clear case, the jury remains unmoved. The children are stunned. “How could they?”

I was still contemplating the injustice of it all when a happy ending rolled by.

Because unlike “To Kill a Mockingbird” this miscarriage of justice ends happily. They lose in the courtroom, and Louisa dies, but Mama wakes up, marries the lawyer and they get to keep the land for reasons that escaped me.

I was still thinking about the courtroom scene.

And for some reason a phrase from an old hymn started playing through my head, “What more can He say than to you He hath said.”

We sang it at supper.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

And I thought about what He says to us:  Psalm 30, Psalm 35:1-6, Psalm 40:10-17, Psalm 85:1-7….  so many, many promises of mercy and vindication. A God who doesn’t shame!

I love the rest of the hymn:

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

It’s so easy to be frightened, dismayed and I so often need to be reassured that though the water may be deep we won’t drown, and though trials are fiery the fire won’t hurt us. He won’t desert us to our foes!

But tonight the part that really touched us was the thought that He will actually BLESS our troubles and sanctify to us our deepest distress.

Yes, Lord! Do!

Our eyes are on You – shine Your face upon us.