Why?! Why?! Why?!

Ever get so worked up into a lather of rage, of doubt, of tumult deep in your soul that such pent-up accusations like these coming roiling forth?

God, “What’s wrong with that person?!”

God, “What’s wrong with me?!”

“What’s wrong with You, God?!”

Maybe, like for me, it helps if you catch a Psalmist (David, no less) in the act of going nuclear, spouting off with a series of “why’s” that would put a blush on a salty sailor. Welcome to Psalms 42 and 43.

At the core, David’s lost something. He lost God. He didn’t lose his belief in God, but his experience of meeting with the living God. David’s not satisfied with a god who is a remote, nebulous force. He’s longing for a living, personal God who is writing a story and David (plus you and me) are in that story.

He asks, “Why have You forgotten me, God of my strength?” Do you hear this as an echo of our Christ declaring, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This should rattle us bone-deep.

He asks, “Why am I oppressed? Why am I depressed?” “Why do I feel such tumult complete with tears, such clamor, such uproar, such rage?”

If I’m honest, I hear this same panicky chatter down in my own soul. It comes on me relentlessly, like billowing waves in my stormy circumstances, in my frequent periods of shame and confusion. What’s a poor, shaken soul like me, like you, to do about it? Well, my fellow believer, lets read between the lines of David’s gut-level accusations and inquiries to hear his solution.

“I will remember!” Remember what? Remember previous favor, previous mercy. Remember to praise God in the midst of the onslaught. Remember previous deliverance’s. Remember God’s covenant. Give Him thanks and keep trusting. Maybe it sounds like this: “And that I may go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness: and upon the harp will I give thanks to thee, O God, my God.”

“Put thy trust in God: for I will give him thanks for the help of his countenance.”

That phrase, “the help of his countenance” settles it! Finally, I have what I thought was denied, Your face, O my God. Your face.” Your face that turns toward me graciously, knows me deeply and thoroughly, hears me fully has become my salvation.

Yesterday, today, forever, You are my living God.

“I Will Call to Remembrance My Song in the Night”

The psalmist, Asaph, finds himself in a night-time crucible. God has withdrawn. But Asaph, while treading deep waters, shows us a pattern, an ancient rhythm:

I will call to remembrance my song: and in the night I commune with mine own heart, and search out my spirits. Psalm 77:6

The rhythm begins with complaint and ascends in song. David’s psalms illustrate this pattern frequently, but here Asaph, too, unapologetically pours out his complaint. It sounds something like this:

What’s wrong with me, God?!

And then, with even more gut-level honesty:

What’s wrong with You, God?!

But Asaph doesn’t stop there. Like the pattern showed often by David, he transitions to take a Deep Breath of Remember. A breath so deep, it takes the rest of Psalm 76 and the entirety of Psalm 77 to fully rehearse the ancient works and wonders God has accomplished for His people. It’s a powerful and beautiful song bursting from a heart intent on glorifying God.

Asaph’s song punches through the thick, foggy layer of his current circumstances filled with a multitude of voices demanding his attention and allegiance. His choice, in essence, means he must forget the moment in order to remember the moment rightly. Remembering realigns his loves!

Do you have a song in the night? A song that abandons the grip of disordered, misplaced loves and dreams of a selfish “good life?” A song in which you discover you can glorify God and enjoy Him forever?[1]

Consider these few snippets of Asaph’s song of remembrance:

Who is so great a God as our God?

The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; they were afraid: the depths were also troubled.

Thy way is in the sea, and thy paths in the great waters: and thy footsteps are not known.

As you begin to craft your own personal song in the night, consider Who it is you’re singing to. Listen to Asaph’s contemporary singer, David, as he turns his complaint to a song of remembrance:

The Lord,

  • My strength
  • Stony rock
  • Defense
  • Savior
  • My God
  • Might
  • Trust
  • Buckler
  • Horn of salvation
  • Refuge
  • Worthy to be praised
  • Show’s lovingkindness and mercy.

[1] Taken from Westminster Catechism Question #1: What is the chief end of man?

“You’re Mine! You’re mine! You’re Mine!”

I’m regaining my wits 7 days post-life-saving surgery. I recall lying in a hospital bed gazing at the clock on the wall, my brain stunned with pain, confusion, helplessness. Oh, and anesthesia plus opioids. Yet, somehow, I heard these words cut through the fog, enter my depths and change everything:

“You’re Mine! You’re mine! You’re Mine!”

It’s not the first time I’d heard those words spoken, nor was I the first one they’d been spoken to. God declared them to His people after their Egyptian deliverance when He’d plunked them down in a wilderness place for trust and dependency training.

I’d heard them spoken often when stepping into the morning trek to the milking parlor, gazing toward Montana skies filled with a few billion (God-named) stars. He wasn’t speaking to the stars, He was speaking to me. It grounded me. Gave me an identity anchor.

More recently, I’ve heard them spoken daily on my commute to the factory I now work in. It’s an ancient rhythm so ingrained that, no matter where my thoughts have drifted, when my tires bump across Cow Creek bridge on the border of Idaho’s Latah and Nez Perce counties, I remember to listen for them. It lifts me toward something eternal. It changes everything.

Today I read Psalm 68:28:

“Thy God hath sent forth strength for thee; stablish the thing, O God, that thou hast wrought in us.”

What’s wrought mean? It means to make systematically and habitually. (Reminds me of why I love the word “liturgy” so much.)

Here’s why these words change everything for me. My circumstances aren’t altered. I did nothing to deserve them. They simply come to me. Repeatedly. They declare who I am and to Whom I belong. They form my core identity.

The Clinger

Psalm 63:8 I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.

My heart rate slows; my blood pressure plummets when I read the last part of this verse. Can you feel the gears shift? Desperation melts into trust. Self-effort dissolves when the Almighty God of the universe gets His grasp on you.

My mind’s eye catches a snapshot of glances between me and my Father. Legitimate fear got me to this place, the place of clinging. I clutch with all the strength of a toddler and stare up to His eyes for reassurance, safety, relief, deliverance. His return glance comes with a strong right-handed clasp and a twinkle, revealing full awareness of the disparity between my inadequacy and His competency.

There’s no shame in being a clinger! Unless, of course you believe that your clinging outshines His upholding.

Through Isaac Watts’ Eyes

Word’s from a stolen Hymnal:

“With songs and honors sounding loud address the Lord on high;

Over the heaven’s he spreads his cloud, and waters veil the sky.”

Isaac’s borrowing from Psalm 147: 7-8 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving…He covers the sky with clouds; He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.

With Songs and Honors Sounding Loud. Isaac Watts. Trinity Hymnal, 1990, pg. 127.

Call me Tent Peg.

I wander this wilderness with a guy named Ron. Ron’s job is to carry me, hammer me, bury me. Repeat.

Decades ago, a fella named Moz snatched me out of a box of freshly crafted brass buddies, and said, “Ron, I’ve got an important job for you. I want you to carry this tent peg. Can you handle that?”

“Well, sure, I guess,” said Ron.

“Don’t lose it,” Moz emphasized sternly.

“Yeah, of course, I got this,” replied Ron as Moz turned to hand a stunning, glorious lampstand to his cousin, Hiram. A lampstand hammered from a single piece of solid gold and meticulously crafted with six branches, three each extending on each side. Each branch bore a flower-like shape with buds and blossoms.

My journey started off okay. Ron would hammer me into the sand at just the right angle to attach a rope that kept one of many curtains suspended taut. The next day, he’d pry me up and we’d traverse a day’s journey, always led by a strange cloudy pillar, until Ron hammered me in again, up to my neck, maybe in soil, more often in sand.

I can’t understand why he places me in the same spot, third peg up from the Southeast corner.

“Hey Ron, a little variety around here maybe?”

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months, and months slid into years. Constantly, third peg up from the Southeast corner.

The shine I once bore began to fade. Reality struck me like a strike from Ron’s hammer. I realized the cloudy pillar was leading us in circles!

I’d heard rumors we were going somewhere. Somewhere better. A sort of destiny. The stark reality was taking its toll not only on me, but I could feel its impact on Ron.

Our routine, once buoyant with hope and adventure, decayed into a million mundane moments.

Kindred questions, more like accusations or gripes, took shape in both Ron and me. Why can’t I be a stunning, valuable, honored golden lampstand attended daily with beautiful rhythms of care and attention involving oil, wicks and fire?  Why not an ark holding cherished treasure? Or, why not a Seraphim guarding access to something special in those deep, secret places?

I heard Ron grumble, “Why can’t I be Hiram, carrying the precious lampstand, covered in handspun cloth from camp to camp? Or, why can’t I be a priest? A soldier?”

Ron’s hammerings, day after day, became more severe, more careless. I was slowly, methodically, changing in form; bent shaft, head misshapen.

Then one day, one glorious day, a day of epiphany!

Ron found our spot. Third peg up from the Southeast corner. As he plucked me from his leather satchel and gripped his hammer for the strike, a mysterious shadow enveloped us until we were blinded. All sense of time melted. We beheld things we couldn’t understand or put words to.

A small portion of the cloudy pillar had wafted over us, surrounded us, held us.

I don’t know if we were enveloped by this cloud for seconds or eons, but it was long enough for both Ron and me to remember something.

The piercing heat of the desert sun returned. The outstretched arm of the cloudy pillar retreated.

The routine resumed. The stooping, the hammering, the hooking of the curtain rope all transpired as usual.

But, for a brief moment, before the daily task was complete, Ron gazed at me, and I reflected a tiny glisten back to him.

Take a Deep Breath of Remember:

“Well Mr. Tent Peg,” Ron whispered, “We’ve got a calling. A glorious calling. Today we will hammer down a little piece of heaven on earth.”

Fruitless, Yet Flourishing

I’ve been staring at the tree outside my frosted window; stark, desolate, fruitless. Barren, except for one shriveled, orange-brown leaf that clings stubbornly to the tip of a fractured twig lifted heavenward. No, wait. Today, even that final remnant has loosened its grip during last night’s temperature plunge.

Why do I sense I’m gazing at a self-portrait?

Why can’t I shake this palpable feeling of vulnerability, nakedness, insecurity, loneliness?

Memories of past seasons of verdant, leafy, fruit-laden limbs offering food and shade to passersby give me no succor.

I closed my eyes. And then, with those other eyes we all have, I saw.

I saw Winter’s tree-sap flowing in the deep, hidden places; nutrient-laden waters streaming into and inhabiting every cell of root, trunk, limb and leafless branch. Every fiber brimming with a mysterious source of sustaining life. Every branch-tip lifted upward, pointing skyward, revealing to me a pattern of humble dependency. Unpretentious confidence and hope and knowing that this isn’t the final story.

I looked again and I saw an elderly, frail, bent, white-haired man tipping back his head to draw in a thimble-full of wine. The richest of fare. Surely this gentleman has a story of past accomplishments, but today he silently parsed for me the difference between season-dependent fruitfulness and never-ceasing flourishing.

God and man, at table, are sat down.[1]

Take a Deep Breath of Remember:

Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
Take words with you
and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
“Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips.
 “I will heal their waywardness
and love them freely,
for my anger has turned away from them.

I will be like the dew to Israel;
he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
he will send down his roots;

his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.

 People will dwell again in his shade;
they will flourish like the grain,
they will blossom like the vine—
Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.

 Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper;
your fruitfulness comes from me.”

Hosea 14: 1-2, 4-8 (NIV)

[1] From the Hymn, God and Man at Table are Sat Down, Dr. Robert J. Stamps, 1972.

Photo Credit: Ron Silflow

Silent Witness

I’m guessing he was about four years old. He held treasure in a clutched fist held out over the collection plate. He didn’t let go. His father, holding the youngster on his lap, was in no hurry. I, however, held my breath to see if his fingers would unfurl.

Inside those few moments of drama these thoughts raced through my heart. What was clasped in that dimple-knuckled hand? Where did he get whatever riches he possessed? Was it a gift from his dad? Did he earn it by doing chores? Was he reluctant to give it away? Was he simply basking in the sacred, timeless space of something we call worship?

Then came another flash of questions that pierced my heart and reddened my cheeks. What treasure had I brought? What gifts had I received? Did I earn it? Did I deserve it? Would I give it away, give it back? Well, I’m pondering these questions because, actually, I’d brought nothing. I casually took the empty plate and passed it along, still empty.

In slow motion the boy’s fingers opened. Out tumbled a single copper metal coin catching the reflection of the altar’s candlelight as it fell.

Clink!

With one hand his father passed along the plate, while, with the other, he rustled his son’s sandy-blonde hair. The child’s smile mirrored that of his dad. The child’s smile mirrored that of his Father.

Take a Deep Breath of Remember.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4 (NIV).

Photo Credit: Ron Silflow

In a Mood to be Woo’d?

“We should be woo’d and were not made to woo.” 

That’s a line by Helena in William Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (II, i, 242).

Helena has been cast into the role of pursuer, with Demetrius as the object of her desire, a reversal of roles which she finds scandalous.

Reading this confronted me with the reality of how I, in my impatience, fail to wait as a bride for my bridegroom. I run headlong into the woods pursuing lesser-loves bent on my demise. Scandalous!

Christ is a love-struck bridegroom. Out to pursue us. Out to woo us, to make us his own.

Why then do we cast ourselves into the unnatural role of pursuer of our own loves? Those “other gods,” those “idols” that promise fulfillment, but leave us ravished.

Deep idols like power, approval, comfort, control that we seek to fulfill through surface idols like money, spouse, children, or sex.

Ever felt ravished by chasing other lovers, torn to pieces like wild beasts? Can you tell the difference between being “lured” and being “wooed?”

I find waiting for Christ’s promised return gut-wrenching and faith-bending. The preparation holds refining and suffering. Long, long-suffering.

So, am I in a mood to be woo’d? Will I wait for what I expect? Will I keep looking for signs that my supreme lover is indeed wooing and pursuing?

Today, I stumbled on a poem I penned 8 years ago. I hope it stirs up courage and patience and alertness in you, like it did afresh for me:

Bridegroom!  Call My Name.

I watch the veil of your glory

Lift and fall over mountain ranges.

Such beauty reveals, yet hides your strength.

Your winds whisper your astonishment at my beauty.

Beauty formed by your handiwork in my deepest places.

Places where you’ve fashioned trust with your words:

“I will never leave you or forsake you.”

To which I respond:

“I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.”

O when will you return?

Don’t hold back any longer.

Fountain of purity and longing

Spring up in me.

In your trust, I will wait.

Your trust and my hope wrap around each other.

They twist and entwine with each other.

Flocks of geese gather today’s grain

From Autumns’ stubble.

Sentinels posted on corners keep watch.

So I keep watch.

Immersed in daily business I watch.

Watch to guard my heart.

Watch to catch first glimpse of your garments.

How long O Lord, must I wait to see

Your arms stretched toward me?

In darkness, I hear rain softly drip

Downward from leaf to leaf.

Could that be your footsteps?

My longings stretch forth to grasp

The words you’ve left me with.

And I wait.

But I don’t want your words.

I want you.

Bridegroom!  Call my name.

I will appear before you.

Let tears of anticipation and joy

Well up and burst from your eyes

As you behold the bride you’ve made.

Made to take your breath away with a gaze.

My longings for you come between me

And all the feasts of the earth.

How much longer until I hear:

“Arise, come with me my darling,

My beautiful one, come with me.”

~Ron Silflow~

 

Good Shepherd, MAKE me Lie Down. “I’m an Atta-Boy Addict.”

Only the presence of the Good Shepherd can meet the Four Requirements to MAKE a Sheep Lie Down. Here’s number two:

Because of their social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind.

Listen to Timothy Keller:

“When idolatry is mapped onto the future – when our idols are threatened – it leads to paralyzing fear and anxiety. When it is mapped onto the past – when we fail our idols – it leads to irremediable guilt. When idolatry is mapped onto the present life – when our idols are blocked or removed by circumstances – it roils us with anger and despair.”[1]

I’m an atta-boy addict. I demand it from those close to me, early and often. Withhold it and a button gets pushed. “Do you like the faithful service and support I provide around here? Haven’t heard a thank-you lately. Did you not notice?” Now, add in the slightest hint of suggestion or correction, and you just pressed the red nuke button. I escalate into full blown entitled demands. “Why are you so good at catching me do it wrong? A little thanks would go a long way. How about some encouragement? Am I on the inside of this team? I sure feel like the bumbling idiot. Oh, I am so inadequate.”

A cow swats me with a well-aimed tail, knocking my glasses off. I can’t find them. I can’t see. I want to punch something. An unexpected, skillful hind leg kick somehow crushes my forearm between bone and steel. I do punch something. Out fly previously suppressed profanities. Dross arising!

Sometimes, by God’s grace, I hear myself articulating my idea of the good life that’s been denied; partly directed toward those close to me, partly at God. It’s an awareness, a subtle inward shift in my soul. Hot anger shifts to piercing conviction. I feel my need for remedy more than my demand for approval. I own the dross and confess my sin.

Prayer: Father, I want applause, approval, and praise from others. But that enslaves me. At night I toss in bed at snubs, at being ignored. Criticism feels like death. Help me live out of the joy and stability of knowing that I am your child and heir and that in Christ you delight in me. Amen.[2]

Photo Credit: Bighorn Sheep, Cunningham Outdoors, LLC

[1] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, pg. 149.

[2] Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, pg. 227.