Christianity 201

July 8, 2018

A Tower to Run To

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The Beautiful Spirit is designed to encourage women to apply the truths of living a Spirit-filled life. It was founded in 2006 as a print magazine, reaching women around the globe. In the fall of 2017, it moved from the print magazine to a blog. Click the title below to read at source and see images, and then visit the rest of their site.

Refuge in the Names of God

Written by Sarah Hudson. Sarah and her husband, Todd, live in Vienna, Austria.

When we moved into the little house at the edge of the Vienna Woods, I had no idea what lay beyond our doorstep. As the kids and I ventured up a path through the trees, I saw the tower. It was tall and rather narrow with concrete walls, edged with stone work, curving upward in strength. There was no visible door from the path, and I figured it had been used for water or even a lookout tower a hundred years ago. Now it stood like a surprise in a modern setting, surrounded by trees with a nearby water pump and a picnic table.

Not long after we had moved to that house on “Pötzleinsdorfer Höhe,” one of my dear friends encouraged me to study the names of God. My friend and I developed a sweet bond as we prayed the names of God for each other and claimed them for our various burdens. Soon the “hidden tower in the woods” became my special place to run to when my spirit was overwhelmed. Although I couldn’t enter it, it was my symbol of Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous man runs into it and is safe.” There in the woods, I could cry to my God El Roi*, who sees all my struggles and all my exhausted efforts. There I could beg for Jehovah Rapha to bring His healing to the brokenness and hurting. There I could meet with my El Shaddai when I wanted to quit, and He would give His grace and fruitfulness. As I saw my kids and church folks wrestling in life’s battles, I would beg for Jehovah Nissi to proclaim His victory and work His miracle. As I grew weary in my own battles with besetting sins, I would reach for Jehovah Tsidkenu to cover me with His robes of righteousness.

“Finding Him is not just a flat surface that has ‘God’ written on it. Rather it is like opening the cover to an ocean of immeasurable depth and comfort. As our Redeemer, He brings beauty from the ugliness of this fallen world.”

We moved to an apartment about 3½ years ago. I no longer visit that strong tower in the Vienna Woods, yet I continue to run headlong to the strong tower of His name. Discovering the many facets of His names has enriched my Christian journey beyond description. My prayer life has been strengthened as I plead to Him using the specific names He has revealed in His Word.

Have you ever noticed how the apostles pray in Acts 4? After being arrested and threatened, they prayed to their sovereign God for increased boldness—not less persecution. They recognized that He is El Elyon, our sovereign God. How far I have drifted from that example! Have you ever found yourself treating this sovereign God like a giant heavenly vending machine at a church prayer meeting or even in your own private prayer time? While reading about hardships in 1 Thessalonians 3 (ESV translation) I was struck again by the phrase “you are destined for this.”  We will have hardships—that’s what happens to the followers of Jesus. And of course, our Father wants us to cry to Him in our hardships. However, I find myself at such rest as I cry to Him with a deeper understanding of Who He is. This hardship is not an end but a means. It is but for a moment; but it is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison. Suffering is never wasted. I cannot escape the wonder of finding God—in all His names, as my strong tower—because of the afflictions that have sent me running to Him as my refuge. My prayers have begun to shift from merely asking that He deliver and heal, to asking that I find Him in the hurting. And finding Him is not just a flat surface that has “God” written on it. Rather it is like opening the cover to an ocean of immeasurable depth and comfort. As our Redeemer, He brings beauty from the ugliness of this fallen world.

For many, many years, my friend had asked that I would make a calligraphy for her that reflected the refuge we had found in the names of our God. I am not a professional artist, nor do I have a huge overflow of time for such a project, so I put her off year after year. Finally, after a very challenging 2017, I tackled the project. I needed that meditation time, and the art was a wonderful “brain therapy” for me in the middle of the whirl of life and ministry. Of course, the result is more of a “heart work” than an art work—but a deep reminder of all we have in our God. I no longer have a tower just beyond my front door; yet the door to the tower of His name is always accessible. What safety and rest I find there, as I seek refuge in His names.

[click the article title above to see the calligraphy]


*El Roi: The God who sees
Jehovah Rapha: The God who heals
El Shaddai: Lord God Almighty
Jehovah Nissi: The Lord, my Banner
Jehovah Tsidkenu: The Lord our Righteousness
El Elyon: The Most High God

 

February 9, 2015

When Your World Collapses

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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You may have noticed that we tend not to use devotional material here that begins in personal anecdotes and stories. We tend to go straight to the hardcover exposition of the day’s passage or theme. But in this devotion, writer Katherine Harms interweaves her journey with Psalm 62 in a way that helps us relate to what the Psalmist is writing. Click the title below to read at her blog, Living on Tilt.

Stop and Think About the Bible

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

One day at 4:30PM my supervisor asked me to join her in her office. I sat down expecting an extra work assignment, because two days before she had told me my productivity statistics were the highest on the team. On this day, however, she laid me off. She held me in the office till all the other employees had left. Then she told me to clean out my desk and take my belongings home. Budget cuts. I was a great employee. Blah Blah. There are rules. Blah Blah. Last in, first out. I could not verbalize my need with the eloquence of the psalmist, but I knew what he meant.

Have you ever felt as if your heart were pouring out through deep wounds inflicted by unexpected disaster? Have you ever felt that you were melting away in fear of the future? What did you do? How does the psalmist face his debacle?

Before the psalmist reached this depth, he knew that anything was possible. Life threw him curve balls, just like my experience. He got ready ahead of time:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
Psalm 62:5

How can the psalmist be so sure he can expect God in his hour of need?

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Psalm 62:6-7

I would have felt pretty sure of things before my supervisor spoke with me. I would have said that God is my rock, but when the bottom fell out of my world, I felt shaken, not like being on a rock at all. How does the psalmist remind me that I can still trust the Lord?

I have returned to the starting point. When trouble shakes our foundations, we may feel as if we are in a swirling storm. We need to go back to the sure rock, the refuge, the place where we can hide and heal.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

What will you do when you feel that your very roots are being pulled up by disaster? What will you do when the air you breathe is being sucked out of you by the vacuum you feel in your future?

My network was failing me. I even failed myself. I had believed that it was enough to give quality and quantity to my work. I could assure my own future. It was all in my own hands.

I turned to friends, but there was no help for me. I had built a career and earned every penny of my wages. Last in. First out.

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
Psalm 62:9-10

When my world turned upside down and dumped me on the street, I had nothing. Unemployment in my county was 18%. All the sure things in my life were falling apart. I had only one assurance.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

Have you experienced complete collapse? Have you watched all the supports fall apart? What did you do? What will you do?

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

November 5, 2012

Peace… Be Still

If I’m really honest — and I’m going to be today —  I would have to admit that I approached last Monday night’s storm with a great deal of apprehension. Part of it was due to the media buildup and part of it was due to general anxieties being brought on by a variety of circumstances.

As it turned out, the media’s anticipation of the storm was not hype, and people in New York City who failed to heed the warnings to evacuate ended up needing rescue.  If September 11th, 2001 represented the day that war came to America, then October 29th, 2012 was the day catastrophe came to New York City.

Stephen and Brooksyne Weber have had storm-themed devotions at Daily Encouragement all last week, though it’s interesting that the Friday before (26th) they chose this verse:

 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The day after (30th) they chose this passage,

“And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:37,38).

The passage continues,

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

We sleep at night with a fan on in the room (for the white noise background), but even with that the winds were howling. I’m sure that we’ve had worse winds in several Canadian winters, but this time around I entertained the possibility of the top half of the house blowing away.

So I laid there and in my heart prayed “Peace, be still.” My lips didn’t move and my vocal cords didn’t engage, but inside, the prayer was a scream. I wasn’t expecting the storm to stop so much as I was praying for a stillness of the winds of anxiety and the rains of adversity.

I was praying for a stillness, a calm to inhabit my heart and mind.

And while that was going on, I thought of a song that’s based on the same passage in Mark, Master the Tempest is Raging. There are a few versions of it online, but nothing that matches the passion and intensity that I remember when, in my teen years, I heard it performed by the 120-voice choir at my home church in Toronto.

These are the lyrics, though I had no memory of the 2nd or 3rd verses until I looked them up today:

Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’ershadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh;
Carest Thou not that we perish?
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat’ning
A grave in the angry deep?

The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will,
Peace, be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
Or demons or men, or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, peace, be still!

Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today;
The depths of my sad heart are troubled—
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul;
And I perish! I perish! dear Master—
Oh, hasten, and take control.

Master, the terror is over,
The elements sweetly rest;
Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven’s within my breast;
Linger, O blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more;
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor,
And rest on the blissful shore.

I think it is significant that in 1874, the writer, Mary A. Baker, chose to take the direction in the second verse that most likely applies to us today, and most certainly applies to me. The winds of fear and the rains of troubles and trials really never stop, but “no water can swallow the ship.”

As I did Monday night, and several times in the days since, reach out your hand toward your circumstances and whisper, ‘Peace … be still.’

~Paul Wilkinson


A more contemporary song that came to me this week was posted here previously, check out Psalm 91 by SonicFlood.

Hurricane Sandy devastated Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic; but all we tend to hear about is New York City. Here’s an examination of the inequities of media reporting.

March 5, 2011

Heart Broken? Try Duct Tape

If this blog serves no other purpose today, I hope it introduces new readers to DailyEncouragment.net; a source from which I’ve probably quoted material here than any other.  This one appeared under the title Duct Tape for the Soul.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Many local businesses in our area are owned by Christians and we are accustomed to seeing signs and Scripture verses on businesses proclaiming an aspect of faith. Each Christmas and Easter our local community Merchandiser papers often have the entire front pages devoted to the seasonal spiritually related theme.

I enjoy reading ad fliers from hardware stores and earlier this month I received a sales flyer from the Paul B. Zimmerman Hardware store near Ephrata Pennsylvania. Among the ads displaying drain cleaner, hinges, cable ties and other items for sale is a display box that includes a Scripture verse under the heading “Duct Tape For The Soul.”

As a home workshop enthusiast I find two items indispensable to a complete workshop:  Duct tape and WD-40.  (I suppose I should add bungee cords, as well.)  Many years ago we were eating in a diner near Sand Springs, Oklahoma and I saw a big burly construction worker type man with this slogan emblazoned on his sweatshirt, “WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH THE TOUGH USE DUCT TAPE.”

I learned early on in life the many virtues of duct tape from my dad.  It’s amazing how much can be fixed with it. I’ve even seen well-worn Bibles covers that Christians refuse to part with bound together with duct tape!

I think of duct tape when I consider our daily verse.  The Hebrew word for “bind” (chabash) has the sense “to bind firmly.”  I’m glad God’s binding is not a flimsy variety.  This same word is used by Isaiah in describing the mission of the coming Messiah when he states, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1).

What a joy to personally experience this healthful binding in my own life and as a minister of the Gospel to help others experience it as well. Yesterday I spoke to a group at a nursing home service and used this verse as my main text. I consider the accumulative aspect of brokenheartedness experienced in that senior group throughout their lifetime. Of course many had lost a spouse in addition to their parents, siblings, and in some cases their own children.

There are inevitable times of brokenheartedness experienced through life, and more so as the aging progresses.

Today are you brokenhearted?  Do you have some spiritual wounds?  I’ve got good news for you!  God has not changed.  He still cares.  And He still acts. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

~Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

January 18, 2011

You Are My God, You Are My Fortress

Brian Doerksen wanted to write a song that described another aspect of God’s character and would, at the same time, be a song that men could identify with and sing.  On the Today DVD (and CD) it’s preceded by a men’s chorus singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  This song, in turn, is called “Fortress 144.”

Usually, I insert the video first and the lyrics underneath, but consider the lyrics first on this one:

You are my God You are my fortress
My loving God my refuge and shield
You are my God You are my stronghold
Delivering me from the father of lies

Part Your heavens and come down
Touch the mountains so they burn with fire
Send forth lightning from on high
Scatter all who would oppose Your light

All praise to You my rock
Who trains my hands for war
All praise to You my rock
Who trains my hands for war

January 8, 2011

God, You Are So Many Things: Psalm 91

Heard this for the first time just minutes ago at 96.5FM in Australia.  Thanks to the video people who post these songs.   Because the lyrics are already in the video, what follows is Psalm 91 from The MessageThis particular blog post had a lot of different tags as suggested by the lyrics.  If one of them brought you here, kick back and enjoy the music for a few minutes.

You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
not disaster that erupts at high noon.
Even though others succumb all around,
drop like flies right and left,
no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,
watch the wicked turn into corpses.
Yes, because God’s your refuge,
the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

14-16 “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
give you a long drink of salvation!”