Author Archives: jansuwilkinson

About jansuwilkinson

God created us so unbelievably complex. As an addiction counselor, I am privileged to hear and hold in trust the unique stories of immortal beings whom God loves. When reflecting on my own journey, I am curious about the narrative, the timing, the burst of meaning, the unanswered enigmas of every day. Yet there is one simple truth: love is why we are here. Reading and spilling ink with fellow writers of 66 Books this Year 2022 promises to be no exception to discovering this divine love found on page after page of God's Word. Lead us in, Lord Jesus!

Psalms 35:22-37:26

You have seen, O Lord.

A favorite song of mine from King & Country is “God Only Knows.” The song illustrates how hurt, and pain, shame, and self-blame can be so hard to bear alone. In Psalm 35:22, the writer (King David) says, “This You have seen, O Lord.” David speaks of wrongful enemies whose contempt toward him has been known to God. What I experience in these ancient and modern-day songs is healing, and comfort knowing that God, Himself, cares enough to watch over each of us no matter what we are going through. These songwriters are leading us in worshiping, fully confident about God’s love.

Another favorite Christian band that I listen to is Third Day. They sang Psalm 36:5-6, quoting Scripture in their lyrics – “Your love, Oh Lord, reaches to the heavens; Your faithfulness stretches to the skies; Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your justice flows like the ocean tides.”

These and many other Psalms prompt me to remember God’s lovingkindness! I need this. So often I am embroiled in the negative thoughts that accompany this age, our world, and my life’s work. I focus on what cannot be controlled and allow anxiety and hopelessness to take up space in my head as if by ruminating on these problems, I will find relief or solutions. Where is my faith? Not that I believe I must always move mountains, but can I speak with the God who sees not only me but every event, persons involved, and outcomes for better or worse?

How does meditating on God’s word, praying to and talking with God help? My head may not think rightly but spending time with God reduces my dependence on the limited resources outside. Praising God changes what is inside me and releases power that I live in wonder to see that “all things work out together for good…” Romans 8:28. Thank You, God, for Your words of comfort and strength that rise up within me and lead me to lift my hands and my eyes to You. Guide us all, always, in Your lovingkindness and remembrance that You are in control and are in love with us! Praise to You, Lord Jesus!

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Job 32:11-35:16 

Pride exposed.

After the failed attempts from Job’s three, so-called friends, to cause Job to repent, another rises to the task. Elihu, younger than the others, but filled with wrath toward Job and his companions goes straight to the heart of Job’s complaints. About himself, Elihu says, “My words come from my upright heart; My lips utter pure knowledge. The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Next, Elihu prepares Job to meet his God.

Elihu’s arguments: 1) God speaks to man in dreams, visions, in deep sleep, to turn him away from sin and pride; 2) God chastens with pain when ma n is sickly and bedridden; 3) Job is scornful and befriends the wicked who believe that delighting in God does not profit a man; 4) Job should confess that he has sinned and perverted what was right if he wants God to redeem his soul from the Pit; 5) God sees man’s iniquity, even if others do not or even if the sinner disavows wrong doing; 6) God repays man according to his work; 7) Job’s complaint is tantamount to calling the king worthless and nobles wicked; 8) Job does not have a legal right to question God’s righteousness and to imply that his ethical standards are highter than God’s.

Does God have to reward a person who is obedient? (That is, what we consider to be our good works?) Does God owe Job something for being righteous? (Salvation is by grace apart from our good works.) And how are these assumptions related to pride? C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, devoted a chapter about pride, titled “The Great Sin.” Lewis stated that Pride is essentially competitive – one is not content to have something, only satisfied from having more of it than the next man. Also, that a proud man is always looking down on things and other people, and therefore cannot be looking up to his God. Job’s religious life made him feel good, even better than others (his friends?); yet he could not see this. The real test of humility, as Lewis put it, is that in the presence of God, “… you forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.” Job thought he was good and so could not see the vanity in his estimation of himself. He could not recognize pride motivated him in performing religious duties. Job’s complaint to God was even to throw up his own dignity and good works, as if God would delight in these. Job had yet to meet his God and to, as Lewis said, “get rid of the false self, with all its ‘Look at me’ and ‘Aren’t I a good boy?’ and all its posing and posturing.”

I find that Job’s distress is too close to my own striving to do well and to receive praise for my good works. Honestly, I cannot count the number of times that God has used humbling situations to get my attention. There is relief in letting go of what I assume is important to hold onto; that is, when walking toward humility. Lewis writes, “To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.”

Dear Lord Jesus Christ, even in our worst moments of arrogance and pride, you are nearer than is comfortable – ready to give correction, guidance, forgiveness. Once we drop the pretense, stop holding onto what we have accomplished or gained in this life, and reach for You with empty hands; then we will rest in Your peace and rejoice in Your presence. Nothing else can compare with knowing and being known by You!

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Nehemiah 2-5

How do I resolve difficulties in my life? The American spirit I grew to believe in is one of rugged independence, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, charge over the ground where angels fear to tread and so on. I read way too many “Superman” comic books! So, it has taken me 30 years working for various supervisors whose leadership style ranged from uninvolved, permissive to micromanaging everyone into helplessness, before godly fear taught me to trust in submission. Nehemiah’s approach to his dilemmas is foundational to my understanding of godly submission and leadership, as illustrated with these words, “After fasting, confessing, and praying for mercy, Nehemiah was prepared to speak to the king who had authority to grant him an enormous favor.”

Likewise, whether I am approaching bosses, family, or friends for help, preparation begins on my knees. Next choosing when and how to approach is crucial. Nehemiah took advantage of his customary meeting with his king who then noticed Nehemiah’s sad face. Have you felt that society has become overly sensitive to emotional appeals for change? Frustration and even angry words may be tolerated, but sadness? Tears are viewed as manipulative, and you are likely to be told to take a leave of absence and seek therapy. (I am a counselor, so my working environment is especially sensitive to mood!) Nehemiah, too, was “dreadfully afraid’ that his king noticed his sadness but was undaunted by the enormity of his request to bring aid to his fellow Jews. Fortunately, Nehemiah’s trust in God and trustworthy reputation brought him favor. The king granted him all that he asked concerning supplies, safe passage, and authority, “according to the good hand of my God upon me,” said Nehemiah. (Nehemiah 2:8) Lesson to be learned: Show yourself as trustworthy.

Yet, am I as good a steward of what others have entrusted to me? How often have I set out to accomplish a goal without determining the time, energy, resources, and support I would expend? Benjamin Franklin is credited for saying, “The person who fails to plan, plans to fail.” I see that Nehemiah, the wise planner, also knew the value of preparation. Without telling anyone, he went out at night and surveyed the burnt walls and gates, planning and calculating the cost of rebuilding Jerusalem. After gathering his facts, Nehemiah was then ready to present his plan to the Jewish people, the stakeholders who had the most to gain from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

But one of the hardest lessons I am still learning is that any plan will be put through a “crucible” before completion. Why is it so hard to accept that my idea might not be the best [tongue in cheek!] or even desired by the very ones I want on board? Plans often experience opposition within and without. Nehemiah also had to address opposition from his enemies and uncertainty from his people. To them he declared this defense: “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore, we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

And the enemy just melted away…NOT! When the opposition saw that mocking and devaluing the workers did not stop the Jews from building, these same enemies conspired with others to physically attack. I have witnessed similar responses from family and friends of my clients. Unfortunately, the very ones who could be supportive sometimes become jealous or fearful of losing control when their loved one shows progress in recovery from addiction. The client’s motivation wanes and the fight against giving up becomes the focus. So, how can we get victory over physical, mental, and moral testing? How can we stay motivated to be on guard and prepared for defense? A good leader keeps reaching up in prayer, reaching out for support, and digging in to stay the course. Nehemiah’s people learned to remain vigil. “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. (Nehemiah 4:17,18)

So many times, we let our guard down and allow the enemy to come in and steal our dreams and challenge our goals, or disrupt progress, thereby shutting down our resolve. Having a righteous leader like Nehemiah who never gives up and never gives in is a blessing. Yet, God who dwells within us through His Holy Spirit has made available to all His people a storehouse of encouragement, wisdom, supplies, and support for rebuilding our lives. I love God’s answer to my wobbly resolve: ‘put on the whole armor of God, child.’

“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance…” (Ephesians 6:14-18).

I do not need to stand alone like some DC Comics superhero; I am beloved and have the awesome Holy Spirit of my God each day, a host of saints, and a multitude of angels surrounding me. Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” And Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Jesus our Lord, let us plan and work together, and rejoice in Your victory over the challenges and dilemmas that we and those You love face. For if You are with us, who can stand against us?! There is no one like our God!

Janet

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I Chronicles 23:12-26:19

Have you or someone you know complained about the music at your church? Or are you aware of the person standing rigid next to you in the morning worship service, silently lip-synching or tapping the pew out of rhythm with the music? Many of us who only sing in the acoustics of a bathroom shower can appreciate those skilled musicians who lead us in worship. How important is music in worshiping the Lord? Scripture indicates that even before the creation of man, angels praised God with music. Lucifer, the mighty angel now called Satan who fell from heaven, was gifted with instruments and skilled in music. Ezekiel 28:13 says of him, “The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created.” And in the final days of man on this earth, according to Revelation 5:8-9, heavenly music will continue ring out: “Now when He [Jesus Christ] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood…'”

Prophetic messages also emanate from vocal and instrumental worship. God spoke to the heart of the king and to the king’s armies through the harps, horns, stringed instruments, and cymbals played by skilled musicians (remember how the musicians led the Israelites in marching around and pulling down the walls of Jericho). Much of what we know about the heart of King David, himself a musician, is found in the words to the songs he composed, extolling worship and praise, expressing hardship and mourning, and celebrating victories with abandon joy. David even calmed the turbulent spirit of King Saul by playing music on a harp.

Musicians also had their own division of service in the Levitical priesthood. Levites ranging from 20 years old and up were designated for the important service of seeking the Lord. Even before the first brick of the temple was laid by Solomon, musicians were identified by their father’s household. The leaders were even mentioned by name in the Scriptures. King David, even in his old age, made musical instruments for the Levite musicians to use in leading praise and worship. He also gave instructions for when to praise which included: “to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord, and likewise at evening; and at every presentation of burnt offering to the Lord on the Sabbaths and on the New Moons and on the set feasts,” (I Chron.23:30,31).

And then there are all the commandments to praise with song! Too many to quote, but here are just a few.

Ephesians 5:19 “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…”

Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Psalm 95:1 “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!”

Psalm 150:1-6 “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”

I have a friend who is the music director at a major local denominational church. Her calling for this role is obvious in the excellence with which she serves. And I am astounded at her qualifications for this position. When I looked up the job description, I can understand even more why we should applaud anyone who is appointed to the role of church music director.

Church music directors, also called choir directors, are professional bandleaders and administrators hired by churches to lead the choir and develop the church’s music-oriented activities. Their job varies based on the structure of the church’s music department and the goals of the minister, but almost always involves scheduling and leading choir rehearsals; conducting and leading the choir in performance; recruiting and auditioning new singers and volunteers; fostering each singer’s musical growth; and appointing senior choir members to become section leaders, soloists, and assistant conductors. Music directors also choose the choir’s performance pieces, prepare special programs for holidays or special occasions, and work alongside the church organist (if they don’t play organ themselves).  A church music director should be enthusiastic and dedicated, with a positive attitude and a commitment to serving the local community. Excellent interpersonal skills are a must, as are the patience, clarity, and ease of communication necessary to teach well. Although teaching is a large part of the job, so is performance, and church music directors must possess the musicianship to consistently craft strong performances. Years of experience as a church musician or member of the church choir—as well as deep knowledge of choral repertoire and Christian scripture—are essential.

https://www.berklee.edu/careers/roles/

Because of these dedicated people, I can sing along with my Christian brothers and sisters, the heartstrings of my soul vibrating in tune to heavenly music. More importantly, I can experience God’s holy presence through the songs and presentations thoughtfully chosen and performed by these gifted and talented leaders. I love that music can lift my mood, speak calm to my frazzled nerves, and prepare my thoughts to focus on God’s Word. I pray, Lord, for all those who dedicate their voice, leadership, and musical abilities in leading us in thanksgiving and praise to You. Bless their efforts, honor them in their congregations, and reward their sacrifices of time and energy to serving You in Your house of worship. Thank You, Lord, for my friend and all those who use their artistic talents for You. They are a beautiful example of harmony in the body of Christ.

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2 Kings 4:29-8:15

One of my challenges to understanding the Old Testament is reading about war, yet there are many stories of interest in God’s narrative other than just who wins or loses the battles. The first several short stories in this Scripture focus describe God confirming His prophet, Elisha through signs and miracles. I especially was struck by an incident when Elisha prayed that God would feed a hundred men where there were only 20 loaves of barley bread in one man’s knapsack. His servant broke bread until all were fed and some food was left over (reminds me of the miracles through the Lord Jesus yet to come). Elisha also instructed an enemy captain, Naaman, what to do to receive healing from leprosy (doing good to his enemy, again is messianic). We also learn that Elisha, who spoke not of his own will, but what he heard from God, was completely confident in what he was to say. Even when he knew the outcome would not be favorable, he did not hold back speaking the word of God. It is one such story that drew me in for a closer look.

When Elisha met with the king of Aram’s messenger regarding Aram’s failing health, Elisha said this to the man, “Go and say to him, ‘You will certainly recover.’ Nevertheless, the Lord has revealed to me that he will in fact die.” But Elisha could not stop staring at the messenger, Hazael, who became embarrassed under Elisha’s gaze. In this eerie moment, Elisha was given a horrifying vision of what was to come at the hand of Hazael. He wept as he prophesied to Hazael what he would do to the Israelites, saying, “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.” Elisha knew he was helpless to do anything about this but weep; yet he was tasked with knowing and prophesying the tragedy.

I do not seek that kind of relationship with God, our Father. Still, there have been times when I feared for a person’s future without really knowing why. And when some disaster shortly befell that person, I went to my knees in fear and in prayer for mercy. On another occasion, when this foreboding overtook me concerning what a person said, I prayed for God to forgive her. I still pray that His mercy was shown to her in her last moments of life. I am no prophet, and frankly I do not want to be the harbinger of destruction. It weighs down my soul.

Yet, there are many even today who are called prophets, and who are sounding the alarm about the times we are living in. How can I discern when God is speaking through them? When I hear of destruction, is my fear of what is to come causing me to tremble? Or am I fearful for the words of those who pray for this destruction, not just to destroy the enemy armies but to cut off their descendants? Are we to pray for our enemies and ask God to destroy them at the same time? This, too, weighs down my soul.

My writer friends and I have been discussing the ‘divided heart.’ Loving two things at the same time. I thought about Jesus’ commandment, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” (Matthew 5:43-48). If we are to obey Christ, therefore, we must love our enemies even knowing their intent to do us or others harm. How do we do that?

Look up to heaven. Look into the face of Jesus Christ. Let His words, His Spirit, and His will be alive in our prayers. For the only way a soul is lifted up is to give God glory. He alone knows the end of all life; I am not the one who has understanding. And that is okay. My prayer is that God be with us all, protecting our hearts from becoming embittered, unforgiving, or vindictive. What we may see in a vision or otherwise, we must submit to a good God who is Lord over all the earth. Let us start by dropping to our knees in prayer for mercy. Then pray that God will increase our faith in the sovereignty of His will.

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