My Little Psalm

I am doing a Bible study with a friend entitled Promised Land; Living for God Where Culture Is Influenced. As a part of the work, we were challenged to write our own psalm, committing ourselves to make God known to the world and to offer it as testimony and a prayer of thankfulness. Here is my feeble attempt to express the inexpressible joy of being loved by God:

When Your power, I flat denied;
Wrapped in darkness, tried to hide;
Still You never left my side;
Oh my King, my everything...
When in grief, my anger burned;
Fury unleashed toward You, unearned;
You never left me, though I spurned
You, my King, my everything...
When confusion throttled me;
Choking chaos, I could not see;
Gently, softly called to me,
The mighty King, my everything...
Then my grief I tried to drown;
In the bottle, played the clown;
Still You never did back down;
My patient King, my everything...
Yet I, in stubborn pride did flee;
A hedonist, thought myself free;
But pleasure still eluded me;
Still waits my King, my everything...
Then intellect became my god;
But over hollow ground I trod;
Each footstep cracked the grand facade;
All wise, this King, owns everything...
Sweet cup of bliss raised to my lips;
But bitter down my throat, it slips.
Denial to frustration, tips -
I won't submit! There is no king...
What looked like freedom, in truth chains;
Weighed down, fear spikes, fury reigns;
Rage overflows, no thought constrains
Me now. Poised to spring, a feral thing...
Frenzied anger, too long pent
Grapples with the King 'til spent;
Then sobbing, clinging, soul's lament
Poured out to the King, my everything...
Blessed surrender, great irony;
The One I fought now sets me free!
All I am belongs to Thee,
My gracious King, my everything!
I live for Him. For Him, I'd die.
No longer lost and lonely, I
Cherish Yahweh, God Most High,
The one true King, my everything.

Thoughts on Halloween

***This is a partial re-write of an old post…

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

Confession: I am a Halloween scrooge.

For one thing, I’ve always suspected a group of economists plotting to stimulate the economy in lagging months are behind certain holidays, of which Halloween is one.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than happy to part with my scant dollars to help someone in need, though I prefer not to leave my name attached to said dollars. But when it comes to forking over cash for extravagant costumes, ghoulish decorations, or mountains of sugar-laden junk, I’m less than eager.

Still, the main reason I dislike October 31 runs a bit deeper.

If you enjoy the ghastly and the macabre, riding through zombie-infested forests or being startled by creaky floors and hideous visages in darkened houses, that’s fine by me. You do you. It’s just that I do not find any pleasure in these things.

For me, Halloween is an annual reminder of the old me; a day which recalls pre-Christ fascinations of which I am now ashamed. As a atheistic teenager, I had a morbid interest in the occult.

In the days before the internet and smart phones existed, I would visit the restricted section of my high school library (yes, we really had one) and read up on the wicca. I made my own Oiuja board and toyed with it, and I listened to dark, sinister bands like Danzig.

In truth, I didn’t really believe in such things, but I had an interest in the possibility of a spiritual realm beyond what I could see. In retrospect, I know now that God has set eternity in our hearts, but since I had convinced myself He wasn’t real, my enemy slipped in and harnessed the reality of my heart-longing for his own nefarious purposes.

But God had a plan for me even then, and He answered the prayers of those who faithfully interceded for me during those dark years.

A handful of experiences left me convinced the things I explored were more than myth. One in particular shook me. At my fast-food job, a man approached the counter with a terrifying grin and a knowing look in his eye. He handed me his card – that of a wiccan high priest, and either told me I’d be able to find them or the message was written on the card. That portion of the memory is unclear, but I do recall the message.

Keep in mind this transpired before internet search history even existed. I’d read actual, paper books and used a home made Ouija board. There was nothing tangible anyone could have used to track my interest. It spooked me.

Between this and a handful of other bizarre occurrences, the mask of this world slipped and I saw there was a very real, very present spiritual element behind the shiny surface of the American dream.

Fortunately for me, God had other plans. Rather than drawing me in, these events terrified me and caused me to reject the darkness vehemently. It was one step in the process which eventually opened my eyes and heart to my Lord Christ. I cannot claim any merit of my own for this, only that the Lord had designs on my life and used my youthful interest to awaken me to a greater reality.

This is why, when I finally came to Christ on my knees and broken that I had ever dabbled in things so vile, I had absolutely no trouble accepting the fact that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness…”  

For me, this passage is not a poetic description but a gritty reality. I had seen those spiritual forces of wickedness, faces leering at me, smug in their certainty that I would come as they beckoned. But I did not.

The fact is, there is an actual evil stalking this world today. It can be seen murdering babies in the womb in the name of convenience and in the “you deserve it” mentality of self-gratification. It is found in children’s programming that champions disrespectful and selfish attitudes and in adult programs that endorse negative thinking towards spouses or children.

Evil is evident as sexual and physical abuse, in the modern slave trade, and it lurks behind the refusal to accept responsibility for sin. It lulls human beings into an entertainment-glutted stupor. It gnaws the face off a homeless man, and it quietly swindles elderly widows, sometimes even in the name of Jesus Christ. Evil is both brutal and subtle, shocking and silent. It displays itself brazenly in hideous, revolting ways and it dazzles and confounds with a sly and handsome facade.

 Evil is a reality, and I simply do not wish to parody or play with it in any way, nor do I wish my children to be desensitized to it in even a small degree. For me, Halloween is a reminder of the greater spiritual battle that we face each morning both out in the world and within our own hearts.

It makes me sorrowful for all those who are yet deceived as I once was, lulled into complacency and unaware of the spiritual battle that rages around them. It reminds me that I am the chief of sinners, once rejecting and mocking the King who died as a substitute for me. I am humbled and grateful at the extent of His forgiveness, and because of it I have no wish to revisit in even the most playful or lighthearted way the darkness of my past.

 I want to be clear: I cast no judgement upon others who find enjoyment in haunted houses and zombie makeup. Perhaps it is simply that my faith is too small for me to enjoy these things. . . I am fine with admitting that, for I have yet to move even a small hill or caused so much as a blade of grass to uproot and plant itself in the sea.

There is nothing in my life to point to a mighty or an earth-shaking faith, and I certainly do not think more highly of myself because I choose not to participate in the October 31 festivities. I simply do not need reminders of the evil in this world.

I would much prefer to avoid all that is fearsome and ghoulish and keep my mind fixed instead on all that is good and just and pure and holy–on the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Only enveloped in His presence do I find hope, joy, and peace. And that, my friends, is precisely where I want to be.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:12-13

Migraine and Forgetfulness

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:2

It’s been a very long time since I wrote a migraine post, so today’s the day. My migraine journey is intertwined with my walk with the Lord, so I can’t really write about one without the other.

Things have been better. One of the newer anti-CGRP prevention medications, Emgality, has cut my headache days down to half or less. What’s more, it also helps with the other, non-headache symptoms such as dizziness, brain fog, and the like.

You see, migraine is not just a really bad headache. It’s actually a neurological illness. Because of this, migraine is a full-body experience that begins before there’s even a slight twinge of pain and ends long after the pain has faded into oblivion (often taking your ability to cognate with it!).

It isn’t just the head and brain that are affected, however. The GI system is often in play, and some people experience numbness or tingling on one side of their body or in their limbs. You can click this link to find out more information.

Lately for me, dizziness has been one of the most alarming warnings of an impending migraine attack. It’s getting bad enough that I no longer climb up on stools or high places without good support because I never know when a dizzy spell will strike.

Thankfully, like I said earlier, Emgality has cut my headache days down to about half. It’s also made my rescue meds actually work much of the time (they weren’t even working before), and has decreased the aphasia and some of the brain fog.

However, half of 30 days is still 15. I’m a long way from well, but you’d be surprised how exciting it is to just have those 15 days back! Even if a good portion of them is still occupied with the prodromal or postdromal phase of a migraine, at least I have more functionality than I have in years past.

Recently, I was tested for celiac disease, which meant I had to eat wheat for several days before the blood draw. The addition of wheat to my diet brought back the persistent daily headache, so I am keenly reminded of how unpleasant the constant, nagging pain can be. It made me so much more thankful for where I am now!

My prayer, though, is that if the migraine situation should continue to improve and the attacks become less and less frequent, I pray I will never forget the lesson. I especially pray that I will never forget my utter dependence on God.

We humans do have a tendency to forget Him when things are humming along nicely.

“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land … with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Deuteronomy 6:10-12

And yet, it’s when things are humming along nicely that we should be praising Him louder, filled to bursting with gratitude.

That’s what He has been working in me lately. Gratitude. Entering His courts with thanksgiving. Setting my mind on Him and not on earthly things – whether good or bad. And again, thanksgiving and gratitude and praise.

For migraine or no, good times or bad, God is good, and He is worthy of all our praise!

Lord and Father, teach our hearts to love You more and more. When things of this life are good, let us set our minds on You and not forget You. When life throws us a curveball or even pelts us with clod of dirt, teach us to set our minds on You still, always giving thanks in every circumstance for the glorious hope we have in Christ Jesus our Savoir, amen.

Freedom

So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 4:31-5:1

I’ve probably mentioned before, but this is the busiest season of my life to date. Just keeping up with my teenagers takes up many hours of my week. Thus my erratic posting…

At any rate, a recent read of the Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass coupled with a study of Galatians has me thinking through Christian freedom.

As briefly as I can, I think I’ve spent much of my journey with the Lord grappling with the idea of freedom. It’s taken me some time to come to grips with exactly what it means to be free.

Perhaps this is due to the bizarre misunderstanding of the term, “freedom” my culture embraces. When most of us think of “freedom” in Christ, the mental picture we seem to conjure is more akin to licence than to actual freedom.

Freedom in Christ is not freedom to do whatever one wants. It’s so much better! The freedom Christ died to give is freedom from enslavement to sin. Freedom to choose not to sin, not freedom to engage in it.

The enemy of our soul is a liar whose goal is to steal our freedom and sell us a cheap substitute instead: a free-for-all instead of freedom. Licence instead of liberty.

Interestingly enough, the slavemasters of the 1800s apparently took a lesson from the ancient snake. As Mr. Douglass writes:

Thus, when the slave asks for virtuous freedom, the cunning slaveholder, knowing his ignorance, cheats him with a dose of vicious dissipation, artfully labelled with the name of liberty. The most of us used to drink it down, and the result was just what might be supposed: many of us were led to think that there was little to choose between liberty and slavery. We felt, and very properly too, that we had almost as well be slaves to man as to rum.

Fredrick Douglass

It’s the oldest trick in the Book. What God offers is genuine Joy, actual Liberty, a glimpse at real Life and honest Love, and our own self as we were created to be.

The enemy asks, “Did God really…?” and makes us question the Divine motive.

The snake makes love look like it’s withholding some mysterious and desirable thing. But in truth, he wants to bind us up in chains of addiction, sorrow, guilt, despair, anxiety, fear – all the nasty things we struggle under.

And that old serpent is so good at the game by now that he manages to convince us that our chains are freedom; that God wants to take something from us rather than turn us loose to live without fear and crippled by the shackles of our own cravings run amok.

The enemy glories in taking our liberty and sells us addiction, imprisonment, servitude. It especially feeds his miserable, vengeful core if he can sell us our bondage and make us think we need it to be happy. But he knows, friends, the greater the bondage, the less happiness we receive from it.

Oh how he loves to watch us squirm.

But Christ does offer freedom. Real, honest freedom.

Freedom to not need drink to have fun. Freedom to not need a hit or the next fix – of whatever.

Freedom to face death without fear, to let our kids go out into the world without anxiety, to meet the worst possible circumstance with a smile and confidence that whatever may happen to us here, our future is secure in Christ.

Freedom to live and die in victory, knowing that for those who are in Christ, death is really only the final freeing of our self from the temporary shelter of our mortal bodies, so that what is mortal can be swallowed up by Life.

Let freedom ring!

Quotable

My current bedtime reading is The Weight of Glory, a collection of sermons and essays by C. S. Lewis. Last night, I came across a quote that embodies my own thoughts so perfectly, I just had to share it. The whole speech is worth a read, and this is part of an entire page I underlined.

I actually tried, rather poorly, to express these very thoughts to a younger person years ago. So I’m taking time I should be working on other projects to share this wonderful, thought-provoking quote originally delivered to a group of university students.

At least I hope it provokes thought. These words are never more timely than at present:

… Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

C. S. Lewis, excerpt from “Learning in Wartime”

Redeeming the Time

Once again, friends, my analog life is taking precedence over my digital one. I have so many things swirling around in my mind but little time to put them down in virtual ink. So for this week, I thought I’d repost an oldie (without rereading it) based on the verse I’ve been meditating on the last day or two.

Hope to see ya soon!

Running the Race

Then watch how carefully you walk, not as unwise, but as wise ones, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16, LITV

After writing what ended up being closer to something like three separate posts concerning my thoughts about the fact, often mentioned in my circles, that Christians are viewed by many people as intolerant, bigoted, self-righteous, and other less-than-flattering labels, I have decided not to publish it… at least not right now.

Instead, as I have studied through the book of Ephesians, it struck me that there are several highly-relevant passages in the little letter that are probably worthy of greater consideration at present than my inane puzzlings over other folks’ perceptions.

For example, the focus for today in Ephesians 5:15-16 is a pretty little jewel that those of us who are in Christ ought to polish and wear prominently as this ugly little election season grinds to…

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… For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.

Daniel 9:18b-19

Lord God, our King and our Redeemer, today I come before Your throne in humility and in repentance. Once again, I have allowed fear to eclipse my faith in You. Once again, I’ve given way to anxiety instead of clinging to Your promises. Again, my mind has strayed from contemplation of Your faithfulness to mull over my own failures.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…

2 Corinthians 10:5

Forgive me, Lord, and help me to truly take every thought captive to obey Christ! Let me not fall prey to despair when my family seems to be far from You, but help me instead to rejoice in You no matter what.

Forgive me for being silent in the face of those who resist discussing Your goodness. Instead, Lord, let my mouth be full of praise to You and my heart filled to the overflow of my love for You. Remind me that even when it seems I walk alone, I am never alone. You are with me.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Despite my frailty, despite my weakness and my ineptitude, Lord, You are still King. You are still on Your throne. Help me to be mindful of this fact, trusting that You can reach the hearts of my family and awaken in them a knowledge of the true depths of Your grace – even if I have failed in every way to present You to them.

For though You are gracious to use me, You do not need me to do Your work, Lord. Like a loving Father, You allow me to participate in Your work. But You are the Craftsman. You are the Master – the One who reshapes my blunders and does the work I cannot do.

But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64:*

I look to You to bring all of my family into right relationship with my Lord Yeshua Messiah. I look to Your Spirit to move in their hearts, shattering idols, quickening true passion for the things of God, slaying pride, and stirring up a keen desire for righteousness and holiness.

I cannot do this work, Lord, nor can my worry over it accomplish anything more than exposing the weakness of my faith. Return my mind once more to a contemplation of the glory of my King, and keep my eyes fixed forever on the light of Your goodness and grace.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:2-3

May my heart be so filled with Your Spirit that the natural overflow of my lips is praise to You. Let my vocal and constant worship of You point others ceaselessly to Your glory.

And Lord, do a mighty work within my family, please. For Your Name’s sake, do not delay but act. Change our hearts so that we seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness in unity, together walking in Your light through this dark world. May our family truly be one who can say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord;” Amen!