“Entering His Rest”: A Weekend Worship Poem

Every Friday, I awake in peace–not on schedule, but when my body has had enough rest. I drink an ENORMOUS London Fog, overly sweetened with vanilla and tasting of a quaint sort of purity. Do I need thirty-six ounces of hot beverage? Most of you would say no, but on this day, I do! Well, as the day continues, I worship… I sing with those who love Jesus–everything from Stuart Townend, Don Moen, and Keith Green to old, nostalgic children’s artists like Ernie Rettino… Anyone who loves our Lord. I write, and I teach the Word, and I pray and read. I walk on the treadmill because it is a glorious means of bowing my heart before Him, but I do not engage in other exercises. I do crucial housework, like putting away medication shipments that must be frozen, but I don’t do any straightening beyond that. I communicate on spiritual levels, but I don’t answer work- or class-related calls. I spend time with loved-ones, and it is beautiful. I enjoy my guide-dog, for it is on this day that we have time to just be together, she and I, without the busyness that attends the rest of the week. I anoint the places I and my loved-ones frequent most, praying for them directly or by proxy. Often, I undertake a project related to the things of the Lord–unpacking several volumes of a Braille Bible and comparing the new translation with my other Bible versions, reading the Passion accounts in John 18-19, working toward completing a Bible-based Librivox recording… I listen only to material contained on my iPod–Shekinah-related, or at the least wholesome, material that I KNOW to be righteous. I take time to look at collections and collages of beauty–things like polished rocks, not one like any of the others. I find quiet sanctuaries–rooms and times and places to be alone with the Lord. I end the day with a semi-extravagant meal, worshiping all the while. And then, there’s the close of the day–rest and slumber, knowing that I have been washed from weariness, both inside and out.

This is my Sabbath.

Why on Friday? Logistics only, beloved readers. Both Saturday and Sunday tend to be overflowing with necessary work–errands that can only be run over the weekend, an extroverted church that tends to overwhelm my introverted self, much hustle and bustle and noise. By contrast, Friday is quiet and restful enough to really treasure. So, for the time being, Friday it is. The heart intent of the fourth commandment, as I see it, is to set aside a day consecrated to the Lord, and to rest on that day–doing nothing in my own strength, but dedicating my VERY to Him.

This Friday’s PROJECT involves telling others what He has done for me. Last week’s moment of “spiritual productivity”, not work but an outpouring of praise, consisted of a little poem that God gave me. I’m pasting it below for any possible edification it might hold. Before you read it, though, a few concepts:

I. This poem was supposed to consist of seven stanzas, each with seven lines–completion and perfection in the Lord. However, He gave me another verse, and I couldn’t discard it…

II. Mariocoi is the Greek word for “blessed”, but means something greater than a mere sort of happy reward. It means something akin to “joyed, satisfied, and contented at your very core, deep within your soul and spirit”.

III. Hesed: An English transliteration of a Hebrew term meaning “lovingkindness”–the Hebrew equivalent of agape.

IV. “Bread and wine”: In that stanza, I’m referring to Communion, but also to the Friday evening meal I often enjoy with my loved-ones. Private Communion first, often earlier in the day, and then this celebratory meal, in which there is sometimes literal wine and a large loaf of bread on the table.

V. The fireplace referred to in the seventh stanza is actually symbolic of certain wholesome books that I take in each Friday. Though not directly Christian, they are gentle and nostalgic, like playing a board game or, yes, like a crackling fireplace. A good way to relax so that I can sleep that night, a transition between radiantly holy things and mundane matters. They still border on brightness and joy, but they also act as camomile, making it less challenging to transition between rest and work.

VI. Chiming hours: Not because of a clock, but because of the Northern Lights. I own various sets of chimes, many of them decorated with Christian symbols and inscriptions, all of varied and beautiful sounds. They sing of church bells, of harps, of pianos and tambourines, of wholehearted praise. I was once told that the Northern Lights are the visual equivalent of those chimes. So, chiming hours refers to wind-chimes and to what the Alaskan Northern Lights must surely be like.

VII. The title, “Entering His Rest”, comes from Hebrews 4. For, my beloved reader, whether or not you agree that I should be observing a day set apart, or that that day should be a non-Sunday, this Sabbath poem is really more metonymy than anything else. “Sabbath” is a part of a whole, an earthly part of the whole, wondrous rest that our Lord Jesus provides.
And, on that note:

Entering His Rest

Listen to the Sabbath silence–
Look back on all the days
You served with diligence and care
With excellence and praise…
But in these early morning hours,
Simply thank Him for His rest.
Oh, today! Today, the Sabbath!

Listen to the Sabbath stillness–
Raise your hands and bow,
And as you hear His still, small voice,
Surrender hoe and plough.
For it is by His might, not yours,
That all your toil is blessed.
Oh, worship Him this Sabbath!

Listen to the Sabbath, singing–
Walk with Him each step
In fear and awe and holiness,
And let Him guide, direct…
See Him go before you
As you’re walking, fully dressed
In royal robes, for Sabbath.

Listen to the Sabbath, shouting–
Read till mariocoi
Sweeps through you, cleansing, filling you
And dancing you with joy.
Shalom your heart, abide in Him,
And take in His hesed.
Oh, hide His Word this Sabbath!

Listen to the Sabbath, speechless.
Encourage from His Word,
For ministry is never work
When poured out through the Lord.
Yes, in your heart, be speechless,
But use your mouth! Attest
That you are His, this Sabbath.

Listen to the Sabbath, soaring!–
Feast on bread and wine,
Make all your moments gifts to Him,
In spirit, soul, and mind.
Yes, even mundane things are filled
With joyful, wondering zest
Upon this holy Sabbath.

Listen to the Sabbath, smiling,
Treasuring the time
He gives to you for earthly things–
For family, fireplace, and rhyme.
Enjoy these chiming evening hours
Of leisure at its best.
Oh, cherish this, your Sabbath.

Listen to the Sabbath, sleeping–
A gift for His beloved.
Let peace and comfort cover you
And let your soul be salved.
For you are free, pure, clean, and whole,
No longer bound, oppressed…
Lord, thank You for this Sabbath.

“Talitha Cumi”: His Touch, His Word, His Voice

Please Note: This is the text of a speech that I recently delivered to a Bible class. If you have any further questions, please feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll get back with you.
Beloved readers, my heart would like to ask yours a question. Have you ever felt like you were dying–even after you came to know Jesus? Have you ever felt shriveled up, weighed down by sorrow or pain or fear, like you were going to wither away? Have you ever felt dry and parched spiritually? I know I have–sometimes for weeks or months. All the gory details would fill pages, perhaps volumes, if I wrote them down. But the Lord Jesus has given me an answer so great, so glorious, that it would fill entire libraries–never mind my few pages!
In Mark 5:40-43, we read of a child who had just died: Jesus “took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”
This child had died physically; have we ever felt so sick at heart, or in soul or spirit, that nothing else mattered and we couldn’t see clearly?
And yet, my beloved readers… Can you see Him? In that desolate room, amid such grief, He took the child by the hand. He does the same for us–He touches us with tenderness, comfort, compassion. Then, He speaks. His message to us has three parts:
“Little girl”… We may not be able to understand the intensity of this because of cultural differences, but He was identifying with who she was in that moment. Perhaps the translation read more like, “My child.” How does He address you? “My son? My daughter? Dearly-beloved? Young man? Chosen vessel? Man of valor”? Or does He call you by name?
“I say to you”… This is so powerful because Jesus’ authority is more than enough for our need, no matter how great it may seem to us. “I say to you,” says our Father, says His Son, says the Holy Spirit. This is the most important part of the message, and it is enough. Oh, do you hear that authority in His voice!?
“Arise.” That simple command follows directly from Jesus’ authority. Because He is all-powerful, we may arise–not in our own strength, but in His.
This is what Jesus says to us. Now, let’s look at what He does for us.
The girl stood and walked. Immediately–there was no protracted recovery, no continually feeling weak, no waiting to see whether she was really healed. No, she stood and walked, and ate. That is the power of God–His power allows us not only to rise, but also makes us whole enough, often immediately, to walk with Him and to feast on the Bread of Life.
And when He does, the result isn’t just revival in our own hearts. Mark says that all who knew of the girl’s healing were amazed. When Jesus touches us, we are able to so radiate His glory and presence that others will see His work in us and glorify God. That goes back to what many of us are learning about ministry–God works in us to comfort others, all for the aim of furthering God’s kingdom.
I hope the answer for you is no, but I’ll ask again. Do you ever feel like you’re dying–though you have tasted His goodness? Call out to Him. Ask, seek, and knock. He says the same thing to all of our hearts. Calling to you tenderly, touching your life, He will command, “I say to you, arise.” And soon, perhaps in the next instant, you will be strengthened. Even those around you will be amazed, and you will go on your way, leaping and singing and feasting… REJOICING!

The Chocolate Muffin; or, Doctrine, Biblical Symbolism, and Worship–With Illustrations!

Note: I’m placing this in “Allegory” because it focuses on symbolism and I feel that creating a category solely devoted to symbolism would be counter-productive.

Sunday, 15 April 2012. It was the first time I had been to church in over six months. There was prayer, there was worship, there was a beautiful if slightly percussive rendition of “Amazing Grace”. There was Scripture reading, from a translation somewhere between the Living Bible and the Message paraphrase. The sermon was good, relatable to most, very sound. The church believed in the active gifts of the Spirit, in baptism by immersion, in the cleansing gift of salvation.

But I’m not here to talk about the church or that service. I’m here to talk about Naomi, the church bulletin, and a chocolate-chip muffin.

For months, we had been inundated by false doctrine. I shan’t go into detail here, but will say only that several churches in our area had been teaching in error. Now, Naomi and I were both so nervous and weary that we were on our guards against nearly everything. As she skimmed the bulletin that morning, a name jumped out at her–a guest speaker? A pastor? A missionary? I do quite a bit of apologetic reading, so she directed her inquiry to me. “Otis Spunkmeyer–is he sound?”

Well, as most of my readers are aware, Otis Spunkmeyer has never made himself any sort of public evangelist–at least, not that I’ve read… A closer reading of the bulletin revealed that “Coffee and Otis Spunkmeyer pastries will be served in the fellowship hall”. Well, I’ve heard of a fruit-check–the Word clearly states that men are known by their fruits–but a pastry-company check?

Looking back, I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or analyze–chuckle over the reading faux pas, or weep for the caution that drove us to such extremes. Frankly, it is a poignant moment if you’ve been so long in a fellowship wilderness that you must question every name that comes to you from a bulletin. However, I think a different course of action is in order. I don’t believe Naomi ever got her question answered, and what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t take her seriously? Does Otis Spunkmeyer, or does he not, have good theology? Let’s investigate.

Well, I know that I used to invite this gentleman into a place of worship. For several years, my home contained a room we all designated The Chapel–a place of Scripture reading, working on ministry projects, and general moments in Jesus. During several evenings in 2004, I took a cup of coffee and a chocolate-chip Otis Spunkmeyer muffin into that apartment and placed them on a low stool. Using the stool as a table, I sat on the floor near the bookcase, where I had easy access to the Bible and the CD case full of worship materials. And then, abandoning my dessert tradition before it had even begun, I would listen and read. 1 John 2:27. “Let Your Anointing Fall” by Don Moen. Prayers for more and more of His glory–rivers of living water. Feeble but heart-felt attempts at knitting a Bible case for Naomi. More worship. Purest adoration, basking in His presence. Although there were days when the coffee grew cold and the muffin dried out before I even thought to eat it, the fact of an Otis Spunkmeyer muffin in the Chapel remains. Now, I ask you, would I bring a man who wasn’t sound into these precious 2004 moments?

But all of that is personal experience. Let’s be a bit more scientific about it, shall we? We shan’t examine such things as calories and micronutrients, for those elements are never mentioned in Scripture. Instead…

* Firstly, I believe that the package designates Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate-chip muffins as Kosher dairy. Beauty, peace, and holiness! Kosher items are always sound.

* Wheat flour… What of all those wheat-related parables in Matthew 13?

* Milk products: Hmm. The Israelites were promised “a land flowing with milk and honey”, and we are told to “desire the pure milk of the Word”. More Biblical significance.

* I have no immediate access to the ingredients on a typical chocolate-chip muffin, but it would be more than reasonable for the pastries to contain salt. Symbolism: “You are the salt of the earth”…

* These muffins contain sugar, which is not nearly as Biblical as honey. However, just as no Christian is perfect, not all ingredients in food are perfectly Biblical. This symbolizes grace.

* Again, this is hearsay since I do not have access to an ingredient list, but I assume that these muffins came into contact with water at some point. I’ll let you figure that one out on your own. Naomi knows. If she ever stumbles onto this post, I will say for her benefit, “crystal-clear”.

* Of necessity, these pastries contain leavening. What of the parable of the yeast? Oh, I cherish Matthew 13!

* While certainly not present in chocolate-chip muffins, Otis Spunkmeyer cinnamon rolls contain, well, cinnamon! And did it ever occur to you, my beloved readers, that cinnamon is mentioned in Exodus and in the Song of Solomon?

* All muffins are wrapped in plastic, which isn’t Biblical in the slightest… But they are also encased in paper. Paper—parchment. Parchment–very special words, some of these being red letters. Not a direct correlation, but a vague association.

So much Scripture attached to so many ingredients. Such an abundance of joy and celebration during those prayer-closet dessert sessions.

Now, I could conclude this post one of two ways. I could play the role of a teacher and say, “My beloved readers, this is the way we must strive to think daily. Every minute of every hour, we should contemplate the things of the Lord–when we lie down and when we rise up, when we come in and when we go out. Prayer without ceasing. Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure–think on these things. To attach Biblical significance and symbolism to mundane experiences transforms those temporal objects and brings us closer to the Lord, even in our thoughts.” I could continue in this line of lecturing for several paragraphs, but to do so would be in clear violation of the “show, don’t tell” principle. So I will take the other route and conclude that:

Yes, dear Naomi, Otis Spunkmeyer is doctrinally sound.

Addendum: This post was composed while enjoying a glass of milk and–you probably guessed it!–a chocolate-chip Otis Spunkmeyer muffin. It was written not in the Chapel, but in the Sanctuary, another one of the many prayer-closets that comprise my life.

A Words Sketch… Of Words!

Lamb.

Seek.

Salt.

Fasting.

Table.

Birds.

Fisher…

Banquet.

Manna.

This is the evening-word tradition, and it is exquisite in beauty. It is the last thing Jedidiah says to me every night—the last human interaction I have at all, in fact, before ’tis off to rest and repose for me.

It all began several months ago. I had remarked to Naomi, Hannah, and Jedidiah that it would be so nice to conclude the day with something beautiful or edifying or even simply wholesome. Too often, we have a stress sandwich in our lives—a thick slice of turmoil, a thin and watered-down spreading of respite, followed by another coarse and grainy slice of strife–when we should have a joy sandwich, in which the Bread of Life is primary and frustration is not the focus. I proposed the “last wholesome word” idea in order to minimize some of that emotional tumult. Complete all that we need to do, then read and sing, then pray, then take ourselves off to bed with one single thought in mind. We all agreed to do it, but Jedidiah is the only one who has consistently remembered. Even after I long would have forgotten this part of our evening routine, Jedidiah continues with our word-recitation. Our WORD recitation?

And so it is every night around 11:00 PM: “David”. “Tabernacle”. “Seeking”. “River”. “Fruit”. “Solomon”. Once, the word was something like “lampstand”. In three seconds and two syllables or less, we’ve discussed everything from Levitical offerings and the glory of our risen Lord as found in Revelation to Jesus’ interactions with those who loved Him. Often, the word is abstract and I really have to ponder it before understanding the reference. Other times, the word has multiple meanings. When Jedidiah said “birds”, he could have been referring to the specific references to the seven pairs of birds brought onto the ark, to the many Scriptures about doves, or to the verse that proclaims that we shall mount up with wings like eagles. Jedidiah seldom explains the words he has chosen; they are for me to internalize—”show, don’t tell”, you know.

Sometimes, I attempt to exchange words with Jedidiah—he says “tablet”, and I am very tempted to say “covering” or “cheribum”. But then, just as I begin to hand him the word I have spent all night thinking of, something in his tone or in the very majesty of the word he has chosen stops me—stuns me into awed silence at the beauty of our holy, holy God. So, usually, the words go only one way.

I wonder if he knows, Jedidiah, the man whom the Lord loves. I wonder if he knows that I cherish the word-a-day tradition and the principle behind it. He has read Deuteronomy—numerous times, I’m sure—but does he remember what is written in chapter six, verses seven through nine: “[you] shall talk of [God’s commandments] when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates”? Does he remember, and does he know how intensely meaningful the tradition is to me?

I have a word for him. It is morning as I write this, not evening. Jedidiah has not yet given me his treasure of a word, so I cannot be so swept away by God’s awesomeness as to forget my meagre little phrase. Writing it is not part of this tradition—too formal for something generally spontaneous. And yet, despite all of this, I have a word—nay, perhaps several words–for Jedidiah today…

Brother.

Beloved.

Servant.

Agape.

Grammatical Aside: You don’t get an addendum today—just a critique of our language! I wrote of “three seconds … or less”. Shouldn’t that more accurately be “fewer”—”three seconds or fewer”—since “seconds”, unlike “sand” or “water” or even “time”, can be tangibly counted? Yes, “three seconds and two syllables or FEWER”.

Restoration and Holiness, Part VI-B: “Happiness Is the Lord”

Project Walking by Faith got off to a beautiful start when the Lord used Bible Student to align my thinking. There then followed a week-long interlude in which I began to discover so very much about my status as a child of the King of Kings, and to find His faithfulness ever-present in my life despite trials.

You may remember this, my beloved reader:

* I take life literally—the Scriptures, of course, but also others’ flippant comments, utterly ridiculous jokes, things I hear in passing on the radio or television… I use the word “furlong” because it is in the King James Version, but never without thinking of a cat with long, shaggy fur—”fur-long”. It drives everyone I know crazy.

* I have life policies that prove both a blessing and a challenge. For example, if asked a question, no matter how personal, I feel it my duty before the Lord to answer as thoroughly and honestly as possible. Consequently, a simple question like “what did you eat today?” might elicit the response, “Well, I had a frapuccino drink. I believe that was right before the Lord… And one Pop-Tart, whose glazed surface bespoke nostalgia and sentiment. An alfredo dish this evening, with bread symbolic of promise and broccoli that represents relief… Bow-ties, garlic… And all of these things were right before the Lord. The alfredo sauce alone might not have been such a good idea for the temple of the Holy Spirit, but I hadn’t eaten terribly much else and I did get in quite a bit of exercise. Oh, and I had a chocolate-covered coffee bean, which I’m not sure how to evaluate.” All of that for a generalized question.

* I love the books of Leviticus and Revelation. For six months in 2003, I read almost nothing save the Old Testament, much to the consternation of some Christians who wondered why I was not more entrenched in the Gospels. They had no way of knowing that I was constantly relating what I read in Deuteronomy and Chronicles to the things of Christ Jesus. And there was no way they could have known, unless I had been bold enough to tell them, that I was so absorbed in the Hebrew Scriptures because the Lord had impressed it upon my heart to do just that.

* My favorite hymn is not “Amazing Grace” or “Sweet Hour of Prayer”, but “Arise, My Soul, Arise”. I know obscure hymns like this, but had to be introduced to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” a few years ago, because I had never heard it before. My knowledge of Christian hymnody—and, I suspect, of musical worship in general, tends to run many FURLONGS deep but not terribly wide.

* I think aloud, to blatant and sometimes surprising effect. If someone uses the phrase “well enough”, I might remark, “well enough… “It Is Well…”, “well done, thou good and faithful servant”!”.

* Most people remember faces. I remember names if they carry some sort of spiritual or emotional connotation. If a name doesn’t fit a person—if I know, for example, that a person’s name is based on Greek mythology even though the person herself has nothing to do with such things, I don’t use her name. But more than names, I remember people by what they say. If my dear friend, Tova, comes into the conversation, what immediately comes to mind is the fully-detailed memory, like a picture, of her describing the process of making challah, because that description was engaging on three or four levels and was done with the kind of instructional, intellectual je ne sais quoi that characterizes her as a person. The same principle applies for everyone I know. Sincere Sister is catalogued under two precious questions. Good Samaritan had a phrase she used that was at once gratifying and bemusing. A girl I knew in my senior year of high-school comes to mind with a bitter and angry remark she made, behind which was the most abject desperation you’ve ever seen—it would make your heart break for her. Holy Hands is in my mind as one who praises God exuberantly, like what Elizabeth must have done in Luke I. Perhaps I’m seeing the faces of their hearts?

* I once tore several important documents in such a way that some of the print material in them must surely be unrecognizable, though the non-print material remained intact. My solution to this was to tape the documents. The paper is still scarred beneath the Scotch-tape smoothings-over, but I see beauty there. The tape represents mending of something that, on the surface at least, appears hopeless.

* For the record, I don’t like the word “hopeless”. In Him, there is always hope.

* I also don’t particularly like the days of the week or the months of the year, certain idioms that have their origin so far back in medieval antiquity that few people remember those word histories anymore, and referring to Resurrection Day by any other name. I do not describe happy experiences as “wonderful” or “awesome” because those adjectives belong to the things of God. I try not to say that pain, no matter how it causes one to writher about in misery, is “excruciating”, because that word originally came from the Latin “crucify”, and what Jesus Christ did for us is too beautiful… Sadly or joyfully, however you want to think about it, I know too much about English, and I believe we Christians really ought to find a new language to speak in our day-to-day lives. Would that that were possible!

* I write Resurrection Day and Baptism-of-the-Holy-Spirit-Anniversary-Day and Freedom-Day and Just-Because-Day and Pentecost letters. I do not write Christmas letters. I do celebrate Christmas, emphatically and with all my heart and with a cross atop the Christmas tree, but I do not send letters because I’m too busy in worship, and because newsy updates are more fun to receive at other times of the year.

* If I disagree with something someone has said, I analyze his grammar.

* Peppermint tea tastes like Keith Green songs; honeybush hazelnut tastes like sunshine, running through a meadow, and the voices of loved-ones.

* I collect things—neatly-coded rather than titled songs into categories on my iPod, books for review on Bookshare, moments and memories in a little compendiom, binders of childhood experiences, fabric swatches, instruments, CDs of nostalgic sound effects… However, I have never collected “typical” items like dolls, stamps, or coins. When I was two, I had a collection of balls that must be present and accounted for at all times; when one ball whent missing, the entire collection lost its value. Now, the collections are much more complex. I have collections of collections. Trust me—I have made it a principle not to use sarcasm in this post.

* I do not take pain medication, no matter how intense the agony, because I would rather suffer searing anguish than endure ten minutes of nausea or uncontrolled drowsiness.

* I do not use contractions most of the time because they generally take up more space in Braille and because not using them provides one or two syllables’ longer of an opportunity to think before I say something that I might regret.

* I list out the events of the day right down to how many maraschino cherries will go atop my strawberry shortcake (that’s called a strawberry split, by the way, when you add extra ingredients.) Life runs better with lists…

* And rules! If I eat dinner before I feed my dog, life just doesn’t feel the same that day. The same principle applies if I end up running errands that don’t go together, or if I try to listen to a specific song on the living-room sofa when I’m used to hearing it, say, while on the porch swing.

* I name the rooms in my house. There is the Chapel, the Sanctuary, Bethel, Sunflower… The house itself is Bethesda.

* Hot water, heating blankets, tea, and Nichole Nordeman’s slower ballad-type songs are related.

* All literature expresses some universal purpose. By that definition, a children’s book like HEIDI might just be more literary than, say, ROMEO AND JULIET. I’ll debate that point at another time, but that thought has always comprised part of my general make-up.

* I am subscribed to the Children’s Bible Hour weekly podcast, and I have gleaned much in the way of joy, peace, revival, promise, and, yes, instruction from it. God’s people are God’s people, are they not, regardless of age demographics?

* I have an absolute passion for the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. I once left a voice-mail giving my E-mail address as “B as in Bravo, E as in Echo, T as in Tango…” The next day, my call was returned. The man must have decided to have a little fun with this idiosynchracy of mine, because he said, “Our website is November-Golf-Tango, and then the word “voice”…”

* Conversely… I do remember most everything that has ever happened in my life, to include the pain of a near-surgical procedure performed without anesthesia when I was an infant. I remember resisting the pain, then giving up and having my months-old thoughts consumed by the sensory overload.

* The sound of metal grating upon metal (i.e., a spoon in a metal mixing bowl) is thoroughly nauseating and I will do everything within my power to avoid it. The same goes for vegetables being cut on a plastic cutting board, and for nutmeg being grated.

* Both beef stew and, ironically, chicken noodle soup, carry loneliness with them.

* If something is bothering me, joking about it or changing the subject is invariably like rubbing salt in the wound. I don’t care what the self-help books say about either method—the only thing that works for me is staying focused on the problem and trying to solve it through prayer.

* I do multi-task, I do. I perform varied and divers activities while breathing at the same time. Other than that, most multi-tasking is close to impossible. There is no way to carry on a conversation while unloading the dishwasher and taking occasional sips of coffee simultaneously.

* If I feel that my relationship with God has been threatened—that is, if another Christian says something that I rightly or wrongly connect with my spiritual life—I am so torn up within that I cannot even single-task. This lasts as long as the struggle does, until the Lord sets me free. Anywhere from an hour to over six months.

* I’m terribly, terribly shy and sometimes find myself either at a loss for words or saying things that make sense only to me—a stumbling, nervous sort of sense.

I can write of all of this with a matter-of-fact confidence now, but it used to bother me intensely. It used to baffle and frustrate me that I was not a square peg in a round hole, or a round peg in a square hole, but an intricately-shaped, only half-polished pebble that wasn’t designed to fit into a peg-notch at all. That really upset me, and I used to spend countless hours thumbing through psychological reference texts in a fruitless attempt to find out why I was the way I was—why I had been created with such a deep perception of joy and sorrow, and why it all culminated in such an overarching sense of being the exception to every rule. Many days, I remembered and clung to the Scripture that states that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but much of the time that knowledge was coupled with the disconcerting feeling of being a foreigner, even among my closest loved-ones.

But during the first days of Project Walking by Faith, all of that changed. Suddenly, I found that praying for friends and family consumed much more of my time than self-improvement did. I found that subscribing to podcasts of old-time classic Christian books brought more joy than skimming through the DSM-IV. That putting what I termed “revival treasures” on my iPod was more beautiful than focusing on self, self, self. That listening to said treasures, spending my mornings in the Gospel of Matthew, listening to worship music of all varieties, and allowing my heart to kneel and bow before our Lord Jesus, was so much superior to this dwelling on the various facets of my flesh. That all my analytical energies were better spent serving others.

In short, I found—no, I remembered—who I am in Christ Jesus. All else faded in the light of His glory. Suddenly, it was irrelevant whether I was like most people or living on some island faraway from the ideals of American civilization. It just didn’t matter. In those days, the Lord showed me anew that I was His servant, His child, one of His sheep—plain and simple. And when we find ourselves, our whole being, in Jesus, then there is no room for anything else—either for analyzing/taking pride in/trying to figure out our good points, or for criticizing and condemning ourselves for our sins and flaws. (I am not saying that we should not repent, but that we perfectionists, after we have asked the Lord’s forgiveness, need not dwell on our faults to the exclusion of God and His grace.) In picking myself apart all these years, I was in effect asking the Potter why He had made me the way He did—why I was the kind of vessel I was, and why I couldn’t be something else. According to Romans, I have no business questioning Him in this way!

And all of this—this laying down of self and of needless analysis, this relinquishment of self-improvement research—made room for so much in Him. Slowly, He began reminding me of things I had forgotten. I had not remembered for years the Scripture which exhorts us to “resist the devil, and he will flee”. The Lord instilled it in me again. I had stopped praying for others, feeling that my feeble prayers lacked faith and were not effectual. The Lord realigned my thinking. As He did, He filled me with a deep and abiding need to cling to His Word, to devour the Gospels as the nourishing bread of life that they are.

Then, too, I began remembering little things—not great and lofty pillars of our precious faith, necessarily, but things that used to be a blessing in the Lord. One day, I needed to know how much Coumadin I had and when I would need to get my prescription refill. Without thinking, I flung myself down on the nearest sittable surface, poured my remaining Coumadin out of the bottle, and began counting it precisely. By the end of the exercise, I had something like 58.75 mg., which translated to so many days of medication before I would need that refill. Only after I had made sure that each and every quarter-tablet was safely back in the Coumadin bottle, after I had lept up and gone about my business as though nothing had happened, did I realize why I counted out the Coumadin the way I did. In the very early days, just after I received the Holy Spirit, I counted medication this way some evenings because I thought I might be completely healed soon and wanted to know how much Coumadin would be left if that took place within a certain amount of time. I understand that my actions were imposing my timing on God’s, but as a very young Christian this was an act of worship, of trusting that God was able. Now, I know that He is still able; I still believe that He can and will heal me in His timing, whether or not I demonstrate it by measuring out medication. That day was just a reminder of how I love and loved Him, where my heart should be, and how fervently I should trust and worship Him.

Then, there was the day when earthly cares were threatening to overwhelm me like quicksand. One situation in particular was close to devastating and had my heart twisted into knots. But do you know what I remember about that moment? Being utterly miserable, crying out to God… And then trusting Him. Allowing Him to set me free from that fear in a matter of mere moments, and knowing in the Holy Spirit that everything was going to be all right, that He was in control and that I should trust Him. This is unlike me, in the flesh. On any other occasion, I might have been consumed by a situation like the one I was experiencing for days. Now, though, I simply focused on praying for the people involved—praying day and night, without ceasing, but giving all fear and pain to the One Who alone is able to heal both.

All of this, the rediscovered prayer and Scripture reading, as well as the smaller acts of worship, laid the groundwork for what the Lord was about to do. In the next post–FINALLY!—I will relate the events I have been longing to describe for five months. 21 May is coming up!

Addendum: Everyone should have the opportunity to hear “Happiness Is the Lord” at least once. The song is just that—the concept that all of our fulfillment comes not from who or what we are—or aren’t!—in the flesh, but through a relationship with our Lord and Savior. Try to find the version sung by the Heritage Singers—it is absolutely beautiful.

Restoration and Holiness, Part VI-A: “We Worship You in Spirit and in Truth”

Finally, back to the multi-part “Restoration and Holiness” series! There are reasons I ceased, but they are for exploration in another post.

In my last installment, I had noted that most of my life consisted of “enrichment reading”—books of an educational but non-spiritual nature that I felt expanded my horizons. On Friday, 9 May, I was convicted to relinquish these for a month and ten days, right up until the morning of 19 June. The time that would then be freed up, I was to spend in purest adoration.

Saturday, 10 May, was my first day of Project Walking by Faith. I can’t say that terribly much was different in my life. I read more of the Word, but I’m not sure that my Matthew IV readings absorbed as deeply into my heart as I would have liked. Instead, I was steadfastly focused on a very carnal problem in my life, an earthly want and desire that, while not unrighteous in and of itself, was certainly distracting me from seeking the Lord with all my heart. I prayed about this complication, I attempted to surrender it to God, I looked for some earthly solutions in order to temporarily silence the thoughts, but nothing seemed to do any lasting good.

I went to bed that Saturday evening with the burden still firmly affixed to my back—in fact, it had only become heavier as I dragged it along. But there was a glimmer of hope, too. A few days earlier, the Lord had impressed upon me that He would soon show me His glory in a mighty way and that I would eventually worship with overflowing, inexpressible joy in the place that I had come to know as The Sanctuary. I believed it, as we do all God’s promises, but I could not conceptualize of such a thing on Saturday night as I prepared for rest. We can have faith without trust—faith that what God says is true, holistically and in the long run, without necessarily trusting in the moment. That was my state of mind.

Then, too, I knew I would have to do something on Sunday that I was not looking forward to. Bible Student, whom I now realize is everything I hope to be in forty years, had been encouraging me to contact her so we could discuss the Word. I now see that the enemy was attacking me enough to discourage me from ever contacting Bible Student, but all I saw then was that I dreaded doing so. For one thing, there is a movement in my area that is so outside of Christianity that I can only call it a cult, but many sincere Christians are subscribing to this movement’s teachings—only to discover later that they are corrupt and contrary to Scripture. What if Bible Student was involved in this movement? I couldn’t say I was in the mood to spend an afternoon evaluating someone else’s fruit. Then, too, what if she interrogated me about my spiritual life and found me lacking, somehow? It was all very complicated, and I wasn’t sure I would ever be ready to take that sort of plunge.

That Sunday, though, I knew I could put Bible Student off no longer. I prayed for courage, wisdom, and—yes—discernment, then dialed her lopng-distance.

“You have the New King James?” she said as soon as I had her on the phone. “In Braille, right? Good! Audio is fine, but you’ll want to read for yourself when we’re studying… Now, you’ll need the volume containing Romans—and, let me see, the one with Matthew.”

What? No interrogation? No words designed to make me feel like less of a Christian? No questions as to why I had so obviously put off calling? And you, my beloved reader, are probably wondering what experiences I could possibly have had that would cause me to stamp such accusations on a believer I had never even met. It’s a long story… Suffice it to say that not everyone I’ve ever met has acted in love, and my interactions with them sometimes color my communications with other believers. The Lord is still working on me…

For the rest of that glorious hour, Bible Student expounded the Scriptures, and my thirsty soul drank in every truth-filled word. Together, we examined pairs of concepts in Romans 1 and how they built upon, clarified, or contrasted with one another. We discussed Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane and talked about His cry to the Father, “If it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me”, followed by surrender—”nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will, be done”. Bible Student suggested this as a model for our own moments of surrender to the Lord.

And then, there was the whole concept of worshiping the Almighty, the one true God, of the Scriptures, rather than idolizing something of our own creation. We believers do this, too, you know. We probably don’t have statues in our houses, but we do lie to ourselves about who we are serving. (Note a deliberate lack of pronoun capitalization in the previous sentence.) We tell ourselves that God does not care if we sin, that this is why grace exists and abounds to us, that we may do as we please without consequence. Grace does abound to us, more than we could ever know or conceive, but liberty is not to be abused and God is still grieved when we sin. Others among us say that grace is not enough, that we must work and strive and beat ourselves about the head if we want forgiveness from God. I tend to fall into this camp more often that I would like to admit. But what does the Word say? Does it say that a perfect home and body, perfect relations, a perfectly-stewarded and well-balanced bank account, and the outward appearance of a flawless spiritual life are necessary to earn His love, favor, and grace? Certainly not! There are other lies we tell ourselves—perhaps God loves everyone but us, perhaps He does not hear our prayers, perhaps we are not forgiven, perhaps we are separated from Him… All these possibilities! But each and every one of them involves taking one or two passages of Scripture and twisting them without proper context, or conceptualizing who we believe God to be and acting upon it, or both. This is inventing something to serve from our own imagination, a mental image of God rather than the God of Scripture.

My beloved readers, have you any idea how wonderful it is to have your theology realigned, especially when it is done with an extraordinary measure of grace? To be told the truth, to accept that truth, to repent of all the lies you’ve believed about God and to determine in your heart that you will worship Him for Who He is—all of this is far, far better than momentary joy or happiness. Te be realigned in your heart, from the Scriptures, far surpasses in beauty the most wonderful experience, because the Holy Bible is our glorious bedrock.

And that’s what the rest of the day entailed—repentance, adoration, worship, singing and making melody in my heart to the Lord. The joy and glory I had been promised a few days earlier was mine on that glorious Sunday, and nothing was ever again capable of taking it away.

Next in the series: what the Lord did between 11 May and 21 May—all the fruit He began to develop on a tree that felt it had been withered. Gnarled and unfruitful no more!

Addendum: The name of the song off of which I based this post is technically “This Is the Time”. However, the most compelling line in that nine-ana-a-half-minute anthem is, “We worship You in spirit and in truth”. How marvelous to be brought back to that place! The song, if you’re interested, is by Terry MacAlmon.

“‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”…

NOTE: I penned the greater part of this piece last night between 1:00 and 2:30 AM. I had no Internet access at the time, but intended to post this when I did. That moment has come. What you are about to read is more a letter to the Lord, an outpouring of thanks for what He has done and provided and taught, the growth and fruit that He is producing. No, I have not lost interest in my multi-part series; I still have much to say on the Lord’s restoration, and I hope to continue when I can.

Several months ago, I was taking that glorious day of rest that every Christian should have—one of those days just for refreshment in the Lord. My day of rest happens to be Sunday, and that Sunday I was meandering my way through family memories and listening to worship music. This, from Robin Mark, was among the auditory treasures I unearthed:

When the rain falls, and it some days will,
Then the pavement under my feet
Sparkles silver and gold in reflected light
That I otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
And when the storm comes and the strong wind blows,
I will bow my head to push through,
And every step that I take, I will watch and pray
And be sure my foothold is true.

Now, I could say “amen” to all of that! I had been through my share of difficult times and had even discovered treasures in some of that darkness. But it was the song’s refrain that began to trip me up:

Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm;
I want to walk that sacred ground,
For You are Master of it all
And I am but a lost-and-found.

Now, I wasn’t questioning Robin Mark’s theology—I knew that his words were Biblically sound. But on the other hand, I didn’t feel I could ever come to a point of praying such a thing. “Don’t keep me from the storm”? “Don’t keep me from it, if You can use it in my life”? Well, God’s will be done, but how could I ever actually pray, ask for, petition God for, treasure, cherish, appreciate, or value difficult times? It wasn’t humanly possible, I concluded, to say in effect, “The sand of this place scorches my feet, the nearest oasis is miles away, and I am parched—but, oh, thank You for all the manna!”

Nearly four months hqave passed since I heard that song and admired Robin Mark’s bravery from a distance. Now, I know exactly what he meant.

It all began on 13 June. I awoke that morning, read Matthew and immersed myself in worship, and then deecided that I would update the content on my iPod. Simple enough, and not much to be learned, you say. Ah, but the device wouldn’t synchronize with my computer. Instead, it kept going into recovery mode, then wouldn’t even try to sync… Three, four, and five times we tried—first Naomi, then Hannah. We tried with different iPods; we tried uninstalling iTunes and downloading it anew; we tried manual syncing. Each time, we encountered fresh challenges. Now, don’t misunderstand—this did not leave me without a few silly songs and a movie or two. It left me without ten thousand songs’ worth of worship music and hundreds of sermons but, much worse, I was also without my eleven audio Bibles. If I wanted the Word, it was going to have to be a Braille edition—nothing wrong with that, but not as effective for quick, efficient study. Besides, I like to listen to the Scriptures as I’m drifting off to sleep, and I was now being denied this delightful pursuit. But do you know, my beloved reader, what came of it all? In the twelve-hour gap between the problem and the tenuous resolution I reached that night, the Lord put a song in my heart and a precious knowledge of His presence deep within my spirit. My refrain all that day was, “Lord, I will read Your Word in whatever format I can find. If that’s just one version, it is enough. Your presence, O Lord, Your Holy Spirit alone is more than enough.” And there was such a sense of His holiness in that day!—such a knowledge that He was with me? Would I ever relish having my iPod malfunction? No, not in the flesh—but the Lord did use this experience to teach me something about Himself and to reinforce to my heart that He is my everything.

“If that is what you call a desert,” you say, “then you really haven’t lived life. What you believe to be a storm was a gentle sprinkle of a rain-shower…”

Fast forward to last Monday. In the past ten days, I have been displaced from my apartment due to an exploding hot water that resulted in a destructive flood that ruined my carpet; we have temporarily lost our internet; two members of our extended family are seriously ill; anger, sorrow, and anxiety have filled my interpersonal communications with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ; I have faced challenges on both employment and guide-dog fronts; Naomi has suffered health difficulties; feelings of worthless and failure have threatened to sweep me away; and I have felt highly unforgiven by God, separated from Him and no longer permitted to come into His presence. My “church community”, y brothers and sisters in Christ, and I have been attacked in so many areas, and even now it has been difficult to wrap my heart around solutions. If you’re covered with bruises and you only have so many ice packs, which injuries do you tend to first?

First for me, and first for anyone who may be reading wthis with a similar list of heartaches stretching before them, is to address any outlying spiritual concerns. I tend to conntct every event, be it pleasant or unpleasant, with my walk with the Lord, so I was really in a bit of a bind. When the hot water heater burst, we all became stressed; when we were stressed, we got impatient with each other; when we became impatient, things were said that we might later regret; when something critical but unspiritual was said to me, I decided that it was a reflection of how I was living before God and, what’s more, a reflection of His heart toward me. My beloved readers, don’t travel down that slippery slope—it’s one I know all too well, and it invariably ends in quicksand.

What got me out of my spiritual valley was a little book by Jennifer Rees-Larcombe entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD? In it, the author reiterated some truths about God’s love that my heart really needed to hear. Then, too, the fact of these difficult moments in our spiritual lives was treated seriously and sensitively, which I can’t say for very many writers/pastors/theologians/books/treatises/dissertations… You get the idea. So, that book was helpful, but as we all know, things like this are only a tool in the Lord’s hands. It was really my prayers for forgiveness, an acceptance of His love and grace, a few tearful pleas to “start anew”, and, above all, the ever-present love, compassion, and mercy of the Trinity that set me free from the spiritual part of this valley. Am I still tempted to proclaim myself outside of His care, especially in these last few days and especially when some carnal concern makes me feel like a failure? Yes, I am—but now I can take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ, know that He will free me from them, and move forward in His joy and peace.

So, thus much of spiritual trials. Did my human suffering fade when I repented of last week’s sins and began to move forward in the Lord? Not quite. We’re still dealing with illness and anguish, pain in our hearts and aches in our bodies. But—don’t you know?—all of this is drawing me ever nearer to God, making me rely on Him more and more for every ounce of strength I possess.

At the moment, all of my furniture is outside my apartment, with boxes stacked against the dressers and headboard and tables. I am living in a small, unfurnished room that I have made comfortable and as home-like as possible just because it is my nature to do so. True, my “bed” is an air mattress on the floor, topped with a pillow-topper that I salvaged from the flood that threatened all of my apartment’s carefully-chosen accoutrements. The Faith Box, a large chest in which I keep anointing oil, Bibles, Communion wafers, and spiritual mementos, is now serving as a table. The rest of the room is filled to capacity with bags and boxes of things I did not wish to lose track of during this transition from old carpet to new.

What is my point in all of this? That the room in which I’m now staying, and the bits and pieces I’ve put into it, are almost symbolic. I have always named living spaces—Bethesda, Bethel, The Chapel, The Sanctuary. Accordingly, these new quarters are The Oasis. The Oasis, despite the unique circumstances. The Oasis because, though not a place of safety itself, it has come to represent a place of security. The Oasis, because it is here that I come when burdens are unbearable. The Oasis, because here almost more than ever, I seek and I find the presence of the Lord. His Shekinah glory is here. His light fills this place, even when my life and thoughts and day have seemed so dark. His comfort is constant—both in this physical room and in my day-to-day life, as I navigate our current trials. Here, I have seen and experienced and known with all my heart the holiness of God. Holy ground, even when my mouth is parched. Joyous ground, with plenty of manna. Awesome ground, even when the heat of circumstance presses in. Everything He provides here is all the more precious as I learn to trust Him more.

Am I enjoying all of this, every iota and each tiny detail? No, humanly speaking, I find it hard most of the time. But now, now more than ever, I’m being taught how to rely on the Lord, and on the Lord alone, to meet all of my needs. Minute by minute and day by day, I’m being given strength, wisdom, grace, mercy, peace, love, and even profound and inexpressible joy that surpasses all the fiery darts that the enemy could possibly hurl at me or my loved-ones.

Now, I understand Robin Mark’s prayer-song, “Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm.” Now, too, I know what is meant by a few lines in that beautiful worship ballad “Just Let Me Say”:

Let me find You in the desert
Till this sand is holy ground,
And I am found completely surrendered
To You, my Lord and friend.

I will trust Him in the deserts of life, whether they be carnal and temporal wilderneses like our saga of the ruined carpet or more serious matters such as a wounded heart and a crushed spirit. Trust, surrender, relinquishment—”peace, wonderful peace”.