In the Bleak Mid-Winter

 

It is midwinter.  The days are short.  It is wet and cold.  Many are rushed about by preparations for the holidays.  Others in what is meant to be a festive season of tidings of good news and joy find being away from friends and family a cause of gloom.  Others are apprehensive of the reunions with ones that they have grown apart from.  It is in short, a “bleak mid-winter” for many.

A very dear sister in Christ wrote to me today and confided in me her depression at this season.  Before continuing, I would like to say that I am not medically trained, nor do I understand all the ins and outs of biochemical responses to situations.  Even my psychological training was limited to family counselling and low level talking therapies.  I can add to that that I am a classic type B personality, and elation and depression are low key in my own life.

That all said, even with this Christmas-tide upon us, and it being the first since Dianne’s passing, I still have no depression.  Yes, the weather and season are dark and drizzly.  Yes, I spend a lot of time physically alone.  But I still have faith in not ever being totally alone.  Jesus said, “I will be with you always,” and I find comfort in that, and my ad hoc conversations with Him are frequent.  I also trust in His promise that Dianne and I are not permanently separated, but we will be reunited in the place Jesus has gone ahead to prepare.

Christina Rossetti’s poem In the Bleak Midwinter reminds us though of the promise of the season.  Despite all of the gloom and social stresses, it is the arrival of Emmanuel which we should cling to.  He came that all concerns could be lifted from us.  He has come to bring us peace.

Some might take exception to such views.  Marx is credited with saying religion, and by implication faith, is the opiate of the masses.  If that is the case, the all I have to say is bring on the spiritual pharmaceuticals!  I want “the peace that exceeds all understanding,” and I wish you find it as well.

 

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“New and Improved”

Tent, Sport, Leisure, Camping, Outdoor Lyndhurst, Tarrytown, New York, Mansion

Back on the 7th of July in the midst of a very severe health crisis, Dianne reflected on 2 Corinthians 5:1-2.  For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.  Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling.”  

She noted that “the comparison between the the earthly body, described as a tent, and the heavenly body which is referred to as a building or house.”  She concluded that, “the spiritual body is more substantial and permanent than what we have now and that it will have facets which will amaze us, beyond what we can even imagine or presently believe.”

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Faith!

Image result for mustard seeds

mustard seeds

It was a year ago that Dianne posted that her fatigue was beginning to really wear on her.  She wrote: “Fatigue is now so intense i can no longer do the one household job i had stubbornly maintained. I spend most of my time in bed now. I do get dressed every day and still play the piano every day, but that is now it. Makes my days very boring and repetitive.”  Yet through it all – she had faith, and trusted that God, and in His promise that this is not all that there is.   She trusted implicitly in that promise, and her faith grew as her body weakened.  The passage she reflected on and posted alongside the above was Romans 10:9-10:

“Declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

She believed in her heart, and professed with her mouth, keyboard, and pen.  Jesus is Lord.  Dianne trusted in the fact, and she was saved, not only from fatigue and pain, but from sin.  She now has peace beyond all understanding.

Let us hold to the promise as well!

Image may contain: people smiling, one or more people, glasses, close-up and indoor

 

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The Seating Plan

Reserved, Table, Wedding, Tablescape, Place Setting

Image by Gretta Blankenship from Pixabay

Pastor Vince gave us encouragement today about the trials and stresses of life.  He noted that no matter how rough day to day existence may seem, there is a bigger plan.  That plan is an encouragement from God.

Paul wrote in Philippians 2: 1-4:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Christ’s love and compassion for us is such an encouragement.  It is also a model of how we in turn are to be encouragements in our valuing of others.

Yes, but how does looking beyond myself to serve others make me any better equipped to deal with life?  Philippians continues with both Jesus’ example and the answer:

 “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (vs 5-8).”

Jesus who was in the beginning with God, and who was God (John 1), gave it up to lift us from our sins, and our existence in the mire.  There is our first encouragement – someone cared about us in our debased state.  He loved us enough to die to lift us from it.

But in Jesus’ humbling came an exultation.  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,  in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (vs 9-11).”

Jesus has gone to sit at the right hand of the Father.  There He is above every other name, and every knee will bow to Him.  Yes, He became a mere man.  Yes, He was despised and rejected.  Yes, He was crucified, died, and was buried.  But He rose again to a life at the right hand of God.  That is our second encouragement.  The troubles of life are not the end!  There is more however.

Ephesians 2: 1-10 tells us we too are to be raised and glorified:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,  in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

No matter what our trials here.  No matter how far we have fallen.  We will be lifted up.  Jesus has returned to His seat at the right hand of the Father,  But we too have reserved seats being “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”  

When we suffer setbacks (none which even come close to the trials of Holy Week), we should praise God regardless, for we are lifted.  As Pastor Vince put it, “There is a man in heaven.”  Jesus is already there seated on His throne.  Other men will join Him.  The seating plan is made and our seats are reserved.

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Turbulence

 

Clouds, The Plane, The Sun, Sky, Flight, Floating

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Turbulent – life can be

Like the gathering clouds of a storm

Swirls of chaos oft is all we see

As worries around us swarm

The cyclones which beset us though

As great as they may seem

Pale in comparison to the power of God

Who offers us peace supreme

 

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Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

This is a passage Dianne reflected on in the face of cancer, fatigue, and pain.   It was not an empty exercise.  She found peace in the trials, and trusted in His promises.  It allowed her to not only “find rest” but to joyfully continue on.

 

 

Sanctuary

Audience, Concert, Music, Entertainment

Pixabay

Psalm 32:7-8 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Have you ever felt the need to hide away?  This isn’t the same thing as running away, it is rather a taking of shelter while we recuperate, regroup, and refresh.   The psalmist said God is one (The One) of those refuges.   Whether it is as I have recently discussed, David using “hiding place” as a metaphor for God’s physical protection (like David found at En Gedi); or as a more general acknowledgement of God’s all loving concern for us when we are in more emotional or spiritual distress – the fact remains clear that we can shelter in him.

No matter what our trouble – the Psalm continues – God will protect us.  “If God is for us, who can stand against us?”  But this isn’t a shadowy cave, or being in bed with the sheets puller over our heads.  It is a refuge in which we are emboldened in!

I really like this image of being surrounded with “songs” of deliverance.  Music is powerful.  It stirs our emotions.  It empowers and uplifts.  Have you ever noticed that a tune can restore you when you are down?  I have had the experience of worship songs that are so mighty in both their lyrics and beat that I felt that same power radiating through me.  This passage says that in our times of need, God will envelope us with music that assures us of our deliverance.  Wow – just wow!

Dianne kept our home filled with music, whether she was making it herself, or whether it was just being played from a device.  This flow of melody gave our house a constant feel of safety and contentment.  This too comes to my mind when I read this passage.

This sanctuary of God’s presence and the idea of being surrounded by the musical promises of deliverance were dear to Dianne.  This passage appears in her blog and her notes as an important point of focus.  And I am happy I had the opportunity to focus on it today.

God has truly been a hiding place for me in the grief I have suffered.  He has provided me with friends and family that have lifted me up.  Yesterday, I had a visit from two dear sisters in Christ, who were very personifications of “songs of deliverance,” as they were tangible reminders that I am not alone, and that I am loved.  Later today, a brother from church is planning to visit as well, to be a support and help in the planning of Dianne’s memorial service (a task too close to home for me to do efficiently despite the fact that I have experience in planning the funerals and memorials of others).  It makes me smile as I write this that this brother is the worship leader at our assembly.  Now what better metaphorical image can I have for the coming of “songs of deliverance?”

See the Psalmist captured this all so well!

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A Treasure Rediscovered

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My Golden Treasure – Dianne

You are my golden treasure

This you’ve always been

Some say that death did “take” you

But death’s doors will never win

For we both trust in our Saviour

His promises plain and true

It is but for a moment

Then I will once again be with you

 

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The Shelter of the Most High & The Shadow of the Almighty

oasis-en-gedi

Oasis at En Gedi – image: Padre’s Ramblings

I was looking, once again, at some of Dianne’s notations on putting her trust in God.  One of her “notes to self” included Psalm 91:1,

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

David is usually credited with be the author of the majority of the Psalms.  If he is indeed the writer of the 91st Psalm, I wonder if his experience at En Gedi was on his mind as he penned it.

In I Samuel 23, we find that David had fled into the Judean Desert as he was pursued by King Saul.  He took refuge at En Gedi.   This natural fortification of high walled canyon, punctuated with caves was truly a shelter provided by the Most High.

Later in chapter 24, Saul catches up with David, and in a reversal of position, David in the refuge of En Gedi has the opportunity to finish off Saul.  He does not do so however, as he honours the Lord’s anointed.

David is at that moment acknowledged by Saul as King.  David dwelt in the shelter of God, both spiritually/figuratively and literally is the safety of the Oasis.   But the second part of the verse also has a resonance for those who have seen En Gedi.  The surrounding area is bleached rock, with dazzling light, and oppressive heat.  Yet, in the oasis there is shade and flowing water.  A shadow of God’s love both literally and figuratively.  The wonderful palms provide wonderful relief from the unrelenting sun.

While this is purely conjecture on my part, as I have no idea what images David had in his mind’s eye as he was inspired by the Spirit to compose the Psalm, it does at least to me make a wonderful image.

En Gedi can therefore be a metaphor for the truths of David’s words.  But metaphor aside Psalm 91 is powerful on its own.  It is a promise of protection, and care no matter what life throws at us.

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Weapons of Faith

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What are the strongholds that we must face each day?  Are they hatred, jealousy, dependence, or disease?   Maybe there is a particular foe which rears its head – just for you!

The Apostle Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth and reminded them that as we face opposition in life – whether to our faith, or to us personally we are not to battle them as the world does.  He wrote:

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (II Corinthians 10:4-5).”*

There are loads of applications to this.   On the face of it, he notes in reverse order, that our own thoughts may be an issue.  This may be doubt, worry, or despair.  But these can be altered – “taken captive” – by making our minds obedient to Christ, and in subjection to His will.  In so doing all we will focus on is His promises – and therein lies the root of the battle.

He also notes that there are “arguments and pretensions.”  These are often direct or implied attacks on our faith.  Gainsaying a belief in anything other that “science” and other empirical based systems is common place.  Yet these at best are no more comfort than believing nothing.  But as people of faith we can hold firm to promises which were made and manifested when Jesus physically walked upon this Earth.   As the hymn puts it “all else is sinking sand.”

Then there are those strongholds.  Whether they be principalities or powers they cannot not stand in the face of the Almighty.  We are armed and equipped by Him (Ephesians 6:10-18).  

My wife Dianne saw this (yes I bet some of you were wondering when I would bring her into this).  He battle was with cancer and fatigue.  She fought both in the worldly way – with medicine, doctors, and a strict diet.  But she did not put her trust in hose alone.  She realised that it was in God’s plan when to call her home.  If she had invested all in the way the world did, despair might well have set in as she began to decline, and the doctors said there was no more they could do.  But she did not despair, she was faithful and above all else positive to the very last.  Why?  Because she took captive every thought to made it obedient to Christ.  She used not the weapons of the world, but the stronghold busters of the Lord.

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*From Dianne’s notes 23 November 2018.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Many people are aware of, at least in passing, what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  It acknowledges the holiness of God, it gives comment on our willingness to accept His will, and then it makes petitions to Him.  Among these is the request that we be not led into temptation.

There are many types of temptation.  Most, if not all, are based in self-indulgence.  it may be material gain, personal glory, or for any easy path in life (Jesus’ own temptations in the desert were of these types).  Some variations of these may be based on gluttony, alcohol, drugs, sex, or a host of other indulgences.  Yet others are then temptations to feel sorry for ourselves, and to bewail the “unfairnesses”of life.  Whatever the variety, most of us fall into them from time to time.

I was flipping through Dianne’s notes and found her reflection on her illness, and how to have a positive attitude in the face of it.  The passage she focused on was 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  

This is a powerful reminder of God’s willingness to support us.   As noted above, Jesus was tempted.  But He overcame each, and in fact did so by referencing scripture.  He did not give in, but trusted in God’s word (and promises).  He is our help in time of trouble, and our example in the face of temptation.  Better still, He will not allow more than we can deal with to be arrayed against us, if we only trust in Him.

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