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!

… 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!

Gotta Have Goals

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:14-15

Cross country running is no joke. This is particularly true here in Tennessee where summer has dug in her heels, refusing to give way to autumn. Because of this, I have tremendous admiration for my youngest daughter and her friends (many of whom I’ve unofficially adopted) on our school’s cross country team.

I’ll admit today is a breezy 88 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s small comfort when even the trees are calling it quits and dropping their leaves under the relentless sun.

But my cross country kids don’t quit. They persevere.

At the last race, I darted from place to place yelling my atta-boys to the kids as they pushed through temperatures in excess of 96 degrees Fahrenheit/35 degrees Celsius.

Several of the kids have their own health conditions to deal with, making running harder, but they ran it anyway. Occasionally, there’s vomiting along the way, but the kids keep going. Some are faster, others not so fast, yet we scream just as loudly no matter where our runners fall in the pack.

Those who are finished or waiting to run stand alongside the parents, yelling encouragement or handing out water in the chute after the finish line.

These kids are fighters. They stick to it even when it’s tough and they take care of each other. They’ll run beside a struggling teammate. Sometimes, they sacrifice their own race time to stick by the side of a friend in distress.

Suddenly, it hit me why I love these kids so fiercely. They are a microcosm of Christian community done well.

Brothers and sisters, we who are in Christ are not in opposition to one another. We are a team.

We’re running this race together, and we’re running it for the glory of our King. Not for our own prestige. For Christ’s.

When one of our brothers or sisters stumble, we ought to lend our presence and support. When their strength falters, we can run alongside them, offering encouragement.

No matter where they are in the race – way ahead or far behind – we should be there on the sidelines, cheering as madly as if they were in first place.

After all, sometimes just the running is grueling. Even if our runner finishes dead last, at least he ran. At least she finished.

When our own run is a battle through difficult circumstances, we run anyway. We press on to the finish.

We should know each other well enough to know the secret battles we fight, the burdens others carry that make even putting one foot in front of the other a struggle. We ought to shout our support all the louder for it.

In fact, as long as our fellows are running towards the finish line and not away from it, we should be their most fervent supporters!

And if they become disoriented and turn the wrong way, we need to have the guts to step in and point them in the right direction, running right by their side to show them the way.

Did I say we’re a team? It’s more. We are a family. Different parts of one Body.

Our job isn’t to critique each other’s form or ability. Instead, we ought to be sharing in the effort it takes to pursue holiness in a broken and sick world. In broken and sick bodies.

The race is hard. Some days are worse than others. We need each other. We need to take care of each other. The world surely won’t.

So what do you say? Let’s make it our goal to finish strong and not grow weary; to enter the chute on both feet. And let’s help our brothers and sisters any way we can, every step of the way. Even if it costs us personally.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:1-2

Tuesday Prayer: Save

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:2-5

Blessed Savior, I am thankful for all You have done for me! When I was blind, held captive by sin and shame, alone in the darkness and without hope, You called to me. You opened my eyes to see my sin and my caused heart to long for the way back to You.

Though my crimes were against my Creator and deserving of death, You traded Your life for mine. By laying down Your life, You paid my debt. By taking up Your life once again, You gave me a hope and a future, a new life free from bondage to sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:8-11

Today, my Deliverer, my heart is heavy for the many who are yet enslaved, captives to fear or circumstance, to addiction, to despair. There are many lost, still blinded by the god of this world and imprisoned in deepest darkness. Some of these, I know. Some, I love.

Lord God, save! I plead for them before the Throne of Grace – have mercy! Open their eyes that they may see; soften their hearts that they may believe. Bless them with a Godly grief leading to repentance and salvation without regret and lead them in the Way everlasting!

Their names You know, Lord, for often I cry out to You on their behalf. Many of them live without any hope beyond the few years we are granted on earth. These groan beneath the weight of their chains. Please grant them freedom in Christ!

Others do not even know they are in captivity, having been lured into a cozy prison by the appearance of comfort or pleasure. Of those, some now grope in growing darkness, trying to remember the way out, not realizing what once brought enjoyment has become their prison.

For all of them – for all of us – You have provided salvation through Yeshua Messiah, Jesus the Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Call to them, Lord, and draw them all to Him. Let them see by His light and lead them through that narrow gate which leads to life.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14

Please, heal what is wounded in their hearts and restore those who are broken in spirit. Remember that they are dust, Lord, and in compassion, have mercy on them as You did on me. Rescue them, my mighty God, and deliver them from death to life.

How I long to praise You for their salvation! I know that You are merciful and gracious, and I eagerly look for the redemption of those whose names I continually lift up to You. Break down their resistance, Lord, and save them even from themselves, amen.

O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations… 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.

Daniel 9:18-19a