I took a step outside my front door this morning with my trusty gal-pal Sophie, and these words sounded loud and clear inside my head: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I’m facing a particular trial at this time to which these words apply. Let’s see, it’s Thursday, and I’ve got Thursday’s trial. It seems to go that way, doesn’t it.
Anyway, I began to say those words of Scripture from Psalm 23 aloud as Sophie and I walked along, so she could do her business. I must’ve repeated them aloud 35 or so times. You see, I believe the Word of the Lord is powerful and does not return void. These were the “words” He gave me this morning and I wanted to verbally release them into the atmosphere of my life.
When Sophie and I returned to the house, I felt like maybe the Holy Spirit was suggesting I read Psalm 23. Then I did that funny thing Christians do. “What if it wasn’t the Spirit? What if it was just me?” And I had to laugh at how we are. In this case, even if I “missed it,” reading the psalm was a good thing. So, I opened my Bible.
And the next line hit me as something fresh. It was the Spirit prompting me to read it. He makes me lie down in green pastures. I’ve always seen that line as wonderful poetry emanating from the mind of God through David, lyrical in its beauty, bucolic.
This time I saw the strong arm of God. I’d never seen that before in this line. I had to take another look, and another. It actually says, he makes me lie down, makes me do it. I checked several translations and they all say, makes me. Has a parent or a highly respected dear friend ever said in a tone that brokered no argument, “Go lay down and rest!”? That’s the kind of makes me I saw in this line for the first time today. The Lord can spiritually hit believers right between the eyes and say, “Rest!”.
The Lord’s mind is so all encompassing it’s amazing (in the true sense of the word ‘amazing’), and he can be a bit sneaky too in His intimate relationship with his children, marvelously sneaky. Want to know what I’ve been studying this week? Well, I’ll tell you.
Resting in the finished work of Jesus. ~ The battle is the Lord’s, so let Him fight it.
Of course that implies I’ve been doing all the things God’s been leading me to do in the natural world. Having done all that, I’m to give the battle over to Him. He’s got a much longer arm than I’ve got.
Yet, this morning I woke up dreaming about my dad’s memorial service, eighteen years ago, when I couldn’t stop crying. I don’t usually do either of those things: dream in my sleep that I can recall, or often cry.
That morning, the tears seemed to come up from my toes. I dremt an exact recall of how my BFF childhood girlfriend Christine Sloat White comforted me on the way out of the sanctuary. Christine died way too early of ovarian cancer, and as was her own personal style, carried herself with extreme dignity, right tot he end thinking of others.
Christine Sloat White, Titusville, Fl
I only have one digital photo of my dad. So, I dragged out the two boxes of photos I have in my house in NYC, thinking I’d try to take a digital shot of an old snapshot. However, I couldn’t find any. Most of my photos (copious amounts of them) were shipped to Florida, as I’m in transition for a retirement move south. Likewise I only have one digital shot of Christine stored in my computer.
As I got out of bed this morning, I flashed to my father’s hospital bedside after the stroke that left him speechless in 1997. My dad had spent a lifetime angry at God over the very early death of his own father, which thrust his mother, sister, and himself into years of hardship. Using the GI Bill, he turned to education and philosophy for answers and obtained a college degree. Much later in life he added two masters degrees. He spoke three languages. None of this made him less angry with God. He spent the overwhelming portion of his adult life as a highly vocal agnostic. Honesty was his strong suit, and he freely admitted thinking about death made him very uneasy.
I visited my dad in the Catholic hospital in upstate New York, following his stroke. He couldn’t speak, but he had full use of his hands. A retired English high school teacher, speech teacher, debate coach, and high school senior play director, he had no trouble using words. He described on paper how he had been drawn to a particular statue of a baby, actually what appeared to be a Middle Eastern mother, father, and infant. He’d ask the nurses or aides to push his wheelchair into the waiting room where the wooden statue was displayed. He’d sit there gazing at it, he said, in a total peace he had never felt before. He wrote on his notepad, “Why do you think that is?”
I asked my dad, “Do you know who is depicted in that statue?” He didn’t know. So, I told him it was the Holy Family. The baby he was so drawn to, the one where gazing upon the infant carved in wood gave him such peace, was in fact, the baby Jesus. He was nonplussed. A shy smile crossed his face.
He also told me in writing how a particular nun who worked in the hospital would come to see him every day and something happened. She lit up the room. He couldn’t wait to see her. I later sought this nun out in her office to thank her for such kindness to my father. I was overwhelmed. I explained to her he’d been an agnostic most of his life and somehow he’d seen light in her. I told her how he had been drawn to the statue of the baby Jesus, and how I believed he’d had a profound experience of the Savior. For the first time in his life, he had experienced the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.
That little visit didn’t go well. She was shocked and horrified. I came to believe, she saw a man who was going to hell if he didn’t get baptized, make his First Communion and get confirmed. Born again Christians might say she had a religious spirit. That’s a spirit of man-made religious stuff that’s not in the Bible. I’m not being antiCatholic. Christians have in the past, and some still do, make up all kinds of stuff that’s not in the Bible, such as you can’t dance or drink alcohol.
My Bible says Jesus turned water into wine for his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. I’ll bet there was plenty of dancing at that wedding. Jews always dance at weddings. I lived next to a religious Jewish family in Brooklyn for over 13 years. It would be quite usual on Friday evenings and on Saturday for friends to come over to celebrate the Sabbath. I’d often hear them laughing, singing, and feet-stompin’ dancing. And let’s not forget Jesus changed water into wine. That was after the guests at the wedding at Cana had consumed all the wine the host provided. The Bible says wine enough to fill six, large, stone purification water jars. These jars usually held 20 – 30 gallons. That’s a lot of wine. Some Christians insist the ‘wine’ they drank was really grape juice. I take my Bible literally. If it says wine, it means wine. It also says, the headwaiter told the bridegroom this last wine was the best. I’ve never been at any kind of social occasion where anyone has said, “This last grape juice was the best.” However, there have been endless hours spent talking about the merits of one particular wine vs. another.
But I digress. I believe, this precious nun was dismayed because she saw in my dad, a man going to hell. I was so grateful to her for being a representative of Jesus, walking into his room. I was grateful to the nurses and aides who pushed my dad’s wheelchair into the waiting room where he could spend time with the Holy Spirit who obviously did a work in him. I saw a man who had had an encounter with the living God who loved him, offered him peace, and extended an invitation to one day go to heaven.
Joy isn’t a mere feeling or a fleeting emotion. It’s a spiritual force. I didn’t always know that and that’s why my joy was constantly being robbed. Crabby, angry people robbed my joy. Difficult situations robbed it, hurtful or shameful memories from the past of failure and painful trials robbed it. I’ll be honest. these past 18 months have been some of the most difficult I’ve ever encountered. And at times I’ve been a whiney, blithering nincompoop. But, by clinging to the Lord moment-by-moment (quite literally) I have come through the worst of it, and I still have my joy.
Galatians 5:22 [King James Version] ~ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.The Living Bible translates it ~ But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.
While some of these might have an emotional component, they are so much more. Love is not an ooey-gooey romantic feeling. God is love. Faith can move mountains. Peace isn’t a slogan to be used in political protests. We have watered these words down over the years. Peace translates from the Hebrew as shalom and means “whole, nothing missing, nothing broken.” These are fruit of the Holy Spirit. I had always looked at these words as something I should strive for…and there’s nothing wrong with the desire to have these traits. Actually, in the fullness of their meaning they emanate from the most powerful Being operating in the earth, the Holy Spirit. I’m beginning to see them as spiritual gifts offered to me, but I have to receive them. I have to chose them.
The Amplified Bible, in Galatians 5:22, further defines joy as “gladness”. And Psalm 118:24 [KJV] ~ This is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. It says “we will rejoice”. Not maybe, or if everything goes right. So, because it’s put that way, this is something believers can do. Something I can do. We can laugh more and cry less if we put our minds to it. The battlefield where we engage the enemy is between the ears. I’ve learned I should never let the enemy see me down in the tooth. I’m getting better at chosing to be in a state of joy. I’ve discovered the good feelings, the laughter comes after making the choice.It might interest you to know the lyrics to that favorite Christmas carol, “Joy To The World,” was written by Isaac Watts in 1719. The music was written by George Frederick Handel. Handel also wrote the “Messiah,” the marvelous English language oratorio.
Wishing you a blessed and merry pre-Christmas holiday season filled with joy, from a recovering whiney, blithering nincompoop who is on the road to greater joy, gladness, laughter