The Path to Peace

Be still and know I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. Psalms 46:10 RSV

Want some peace in this world of chaos, warfare and panic? So do I! This ancient verse, written in a time that sounds all too familiar, shows us the way.

Be still. Let’s begin by taking a breath. Calming down. One translation says: “Cease striving.” Ahhh….

Know (remember) He is God. (…and its corollary: I am not!)

Ask yourself: how much of my stress comes from trying to keep myself and everyone around me free from risk, danger, trouble? How much do I try to control others to turn into what I think they should be? How much pressure am I putting on myself to be perfect? How much do I think “it’s all on me?”

I used to live that way. Growing up in a family ruled by addiction and fear, I decided the only way to have the peace and security I longed for was control. I trusted no one else. So I tried. Oh, how I tried! I pushed and nagged and ordered and screamed–making everyone miserable. Including myself.

Finally, I had surrender to the One who really was God, to trust that His plan for me and mine was much better than my own. When I could understand God loved and accepted me as I was, I could accept others as they were, knowing it was His job (not mine) to change what needs changing.

I gave control to One Who is, as Saint Augustine put it, “…Most high, most good, most powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, most secret and most present; most beautiful and most strong; most stable and incomprehensible; unchangeable (yet) changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, and bringing the proud to the (collapse of) old age; ever acting, ever at rest; gathering not needing; carrying and filling and protecting (all things); creating and nourishing and perfecting; seeking, though you lack nothing.” (Quoted in “You Were Made for This Moment,” by Max Lucado.)

We are not even close.

No wonder will He be exalted in the nations (the political world); He will be exalted in the earth (the natural world). The victory over the Enemy and his schemes, over all wickedness and injustice, over warfare itself, is His. He has promised that we will see it (Psalms 37:34) and He does not lie.

Now what was it, exactly, that we were all so worried about?

FATHER GOD: Forgive us for making You too small, too familiar, for exalting ourselves in Your place.
You are God. We bow before You. Amen.

To be published in  “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 31, 2021.

Lord, Wash Our Windows

 

I bought my house for this view.

Back in 1978, the house didn’t look like much—a square little cottage set in the middle of a field–but what I saw when I walked in took my breath away. To the east and the south were windows which swept my eye over the expanse of the valley to the rugged mountains beyond. It was the view I’d dreamed of during six years of exile in the east. I fell in love immediately and have loved it ever since.

When we moved in, I set up my favorite rocking chair before this southeast window with its picture of the Hyalites. There, coffee, Bible and journal at hand, I start my day. Something about morning light, mountains and that view makes prayer come so much easier.

As the fall moved in this year and the miserable smoke of the summer finally began to clear, I realized something. The windows I loved had become downright ugly. The big ones bore the dust and stains; the screens on the small ones were covered with cottonwood fuzz. As I began to schedule the task in my head I realized something else: my creaky old body was not up for it. With my shaky balance and wobbly knee, I shouldn’t even try to climb ladders and reach out with a squeegee in my hand. Sigh…

But there was this person who had washed the windows at church…

A few phone calls later, I had a window washing crew at my house, scrubbing out the screens, washing those windows inside and out.

When I walked in to look at the job, my jaw fell open. The windows were so clean they looked transparent. No steaks, no spots, no hard water residue in the corners. They shined; they gleamed, even. Never, in all the years I’ve lived here, had they ever been so clean! It’s amazing what a professional can do.

I’ve been babbling on about my windows ever since. I felt like the man Jesus healed in John 9, who could not stop crying, “I was blind, but now I see!” (vs. 25)

And that made me think about our spiritual blindness.

We’re spending our days lately as if we’re trying to walk through a fog, groping our way along while our minds are assaulted by angry, conflicting voices, each claiming to know the way, each shouting for our attention and seeking to silence the others. The noise is so loud, so unrelenting that we no longer know what to believe, how to proceed, who to trust. We’re tempted to run and hide, to dissolve into a ball of helpless, quivering fear.

Which is exactly where our Enemy wants us.

We need a good window washing.

I am praying with Paul that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, (Ephesians 1:18) that God will come in and scrape off the grime of our indifference, fear, pride and unbelief. I am asking Him to show us the Truth so clearly that we can’t deny it or pretend it doesn’t exist. No matter how painful or embarrassing that may be.

It’s a big job but He is a Big God. He is, after all, the ultimate Professional…and He’s not afraid of the Truth. For He knows:

in the Truth and only in the Truth will we be set free. (John 8:32)

 

 

 

The Lesson of Limitations

Peter said to him (Jesus), “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” John 13:8 RSV

It’s been a difficult summer.

Early in June, while the skies were still clear and cool, when the mountains gleamed in green invitation, I suffered a bout of my old nemesis: pneumonia. As I struggled to recover, I lost my balance and fell—three times. The worst fall was the second one when I was trying to pull weeds in my garden and fell over backwards, ending up with a bloody lump on my head and a swollen, injured knee.

One of my sons said, only half in jest, “Mom, your goal this weekend is not to end up in the emergency room.”

Gone were my happy plans for trips and camping. And gone, too, was another chunk of my independence.

I, who spent nearly 40 years hiking and skiing, now have to walk with a cane and be very careful about where and how I put my feet. I, who once spent summers maintaining a big vegetable garden, now have to stop myself from pulling pesky thistles from the lawn edge. I, who helped others, now have to ask for and accept help, myself. I’m learning to say the hardest words, “Yes, thank you.”  Yes, I need help weeding my garden. Yes, I’ll lean on your strength when I go down stairs or step off a curb. Yes, I’ll let the folks in the store help me carry out packages.

I confess that, in my heart of hearts, I thought somehow I would waltz off into eternity without dealing with the problems and limitations of old age, that they would happen to everyone else but me!

Admitting those limitations, receiving the service of others, I find, is downright humbling. I have new understanding of Peter’s response to Jesus’ foot washing at the Last Supper. The one he called Lord and Teacher was about to kneel at his stinky feet with a basin and a towel. It was more humility than Peter could bear.

But it was necessary for him, as it is for us all. Jesus knew that.

Humbling teaches us we’re not in control, we’re not the center of the universe, we need other people and the help God provides through them. Humbling softens our hearts, gives us compassion. We learn what every child of God does, sooner or later:

God does His best work when we come to the end of ourselves.

LORD JESUS: I bow before You. Help me to humble myself, to accept my limitations, to realize “…apart from (you), (I) can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” August 8, 2021.

 

 

Different Victims, Same Lion

Be careful—watch out for attacks from Satan, your great enemy. He prowls around like a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to tear apart. Stand firm when he attacks. Trust the Lord…1 Peter 5:8, 9 The Living Bible

Where were you twenty years ago? Like my parents’ generation and Pearl Harbor, everyone above the age of babyhood can say exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attacks of 9/11.
Me—I was lacing up my hiking boots, preparing for the best day of the week. Tuesday was my hiking/skiing day; that September morning was sweet as fresh-pressed cider. I flipped on the radio to get the weather forecast, gasped in horror, but somehow continued to pack my backpack, meet my friend in the usual parking lot.
We climbed into the Bridgers with the aspens fluttering gold around us, the sun warm on our faces, but our feet felt as leaden as our hearts. When a solitary jet zoomed over our heads (on the way to West Yellowstone to pick up FEMA officials), we headed back to the trailhead.
I spent the rest of the day as we all did: glued to the television. But the repeated picture of that plane flying into the North Tower, raining death and chaos on the city of my birth, the city where a branch of my father’s family has lived since 1657, became too much for me. I’d been a long time gone from there but it broke my heart.
Now it’s happened again. The same evil forces have taken over Afghanistan. People innocuous as the folks going to work or climbing on airplanes that fateful Tuesday morning are suffering. American allies, women, children, Christians—members of one of the fastest-growing churches in the world. Reports tell of women rounded up and sold into slavery, Christians hiding in cellars and caves, people shot for having a Bible app on their phones.
Again it breaks my heart.
Evil may change location, methods, victims, but it is still evil. The roaring lion Simon Peter saw still prowls, bringing death and chaos to innocent lives.
Peter called the persecuted church of his day to be aware of evil, to stand with God’s people against the enemy of our souls. I hear his call echo across the centuries.
I must speak up for the oppressed people of Afghanistan—people far away but close in spirit. I must pray for them, help them however I can.
As Luther said, I can do no other.

FATHER GOD: Please help, protect, guide Your people in Afghanistan. Give them the strength and wisdom. I am trusting You. Show me how to help. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 12, 2021.

The Glorious Gift

I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. …God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain goneall the first order of things gone. … Look! I am making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” Revelations 21:3-5 The Message

 

I’ve been to many weddings over the years—big ones, small ones, fancy and simple, casual and formal. The best ones are those which radiate a spirit of love, promise and hope, moments of joy so rich and pure you want to gather them in your heart like a treasure and hold them forever.

I saw such a moment on “The Chosen” in Season 1’s episode called “The Wedding Gift” about the wedding at Cana. Here is the familiar tale: running out of wine, Mother Mary’s plea, Jesus’ turning the jars of water into the best wine of all. The show embroiders the bare bones of John’s story (John 2) with fanciful but delightful background. The mother of the groom is Mother Mary’s best friend; the bride’s family is a little snobby and hard to please; the caterers in the middle of the drama become Jesus’ followers.

I loved it first because we see Jesus having fun—something rarely shown elsewhere. He jokes; he laughs; he drinks wine; he plays with the children. Then at the end of the wedding, everyone breaks into a joyous dance, whirling around and around, arms on each other’s shoulders, shouting and laughing in sheer joy. My eyes filled with tears; I’ve known a precious wedding moment like that.

But when I saw the dance again, I realized I was seeing a glimpse of the joy that awaits us in the Kingdom, when we gather with Jesus and everyone we love in the celebration of His final victory over death and evil. The wedding feast of the Lamb!  I wept with longing.

“…not only death (will be swept away),” writes John Eldredge in All Things New, “but every other form of sorrow, assault, illness and harm we’ve ever known. You will be completely renewed—body, soul and spirit.” We will live at our best in the earth at her best, in the Eden God intended before the fall.

The joy of that Wedding Feast will be ours forever.  That’s our precious promise.

You are invited. Me, too.

All we have to say is, “Yes.”

DEAR JESUS: How can I thank You for Your glorious gift? I bow in awe. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” June 27, 2021.