A Friday Reflection: Deliverance

Deliverance has been on my mind for several months now. I suppose my reflection started from a pastoral posture while thinking of the people I know and the people I support who are experiencing or have been through severe violence, turmoil, challenges, grief, illness, pain and suffering. I groan for their rescue, removal and escape from these things. My reflection also has focused on my own life and circumstances. I too need deliverance from troubles, disappointments, fears, dangers and sins. Moreover, I look out into society and see the unfathomable chaos, the rampant evil, the seething anger and the extreme division, and I am wobbled saying: “We need deliverance!”  “How will we escape this?” “Who will rescue us from our condition?” 

There are many voices trying to address, protest, change and solve personal and societal challenges. Deliverance is offered through various means. There is the overprescribing of and the overdependence on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications in place of real deliverance and profound transformation. There is the overindulgence in distractions and the shirking of the issues. There is the notion that a political party or a social justice group will lead us out of bondage and into the utopian plains. There is the riotous protesting that demands justice and reparations. There is the increase in gun sales for self-protection against violence. There is the prideful self-reliance by humans that they can lift themselves out of the slimy pit. 

These responses cannot deliver true deliverance because only God is the deliverer of true deliverance. Only through God and through the means of God does true deliverance happen. This was the experience of the Israelites when God delivered them out of Egypt and when God delivered them throughout history from danger, illness, trouble, fear, sin and death. God directly delivered and used people as deliverers (i.e. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Samuel, Saul, Jonathan and David). 

God’s deliverance was the song of David when he sang,

Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people (Ps 3:7-8)

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Ps 18:2)

God’s deliverance was the prophetic promise by Jeremiah and by Daniel when they declared,

The Lord said, “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress (Jer 15:11).

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book (Dan 12:1).

God’s ultimate deliverance is through the salvation deliverer, Jesus, the anointed one who came and preached good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). God-the Son became incarnate in order to suffer and die so that those who are in bondage to sin, evil and death would be set free and rescued from ‘the Devil,’ ‘the present evil age,’ ‘the domain of darkness’ (Heb 2:14-15, Gal 1:4, Col 1:13). After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his deliverance ministry continues by God-the Holy Spirit and through the ministry of the Church being guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Triune God is still delivering people from all kinds of circumstances, conditions and perils. As 2 Peter 2:9 states, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” God has been delivering people for a long time.

God will deliver people spiritually, emotionally and physically in this life and in the life to come. Thus, we should pray for deliverance as Jesus taught us to pray (…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Matt 6:13). We should cry for help and trust in him and wait patiently for him to lift us up out of the mud and the mire (Ps 40:1-3). We should rely upon him to heal our suffering, to calm our fears, to transform our lives. We should be careful not to look to other gods (means) for deliverance. Rather, we should delight in God’s deliverance and give thanks and praise to him (1 Sam 2:1, Ps 30:11-12, Acts 3:8). 

May we look to God for deliverance. Open our hearts to him. Receive him and receive from him. Come to Jesus. Be delivered. No matter how much suffering. No matter how much guilt. No matter how much anger. No matter how much rioting.  

A Friday Reflection: Playing with Words

In her book, entitled Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McIntyre writes about stewardship strategies for using words in various forms of communication. Her #10 strategy involves the concept of play in the communication process. She encourages a ‘free play of the mind’ as a precursor to the ‘process of playing around with words’ in communication. According to McIntyre, creative wordplay is often overlooked by communicators, which is unfortunate “[b]ecause to play with words is to love them, delight in them, honor their possibilities, and take them seriously.” McIntyre gives examples of playing with words and how wordplay may be used to inspire, encourage and entertain, which initiated my own ideas on examples and experiences with wordplay.

I thought of a few wonderful examples of wordplay in Holy Scripture. The first chapter of Jeremiah describes God’s call of Jeremiah to prophetic ministry, and v.11 states, “[a]nd the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

Lost in the English translation of this text is a Hebrew play on words. God gives Jeremiah a vision of an almond branch which in the Hebrew text is rendered שָׁקֵ֖ד, shāqēd, almond branch. Then, God responds using the Hebrew word שֹׁקֵ֥ד, shōqēd, I am watching over. In Hebrew these words look and sound alike and have similar meanings. The vision of an almond tree is significant because it was the first tree to bloom in the spring. It was used in the watching for the spring. Thus, as people watch the almond tree for the realization of spring, God watches over his word for the fulfillment of his promises.

I like to imagine that in this interaction Jeremiah may have smiled and said something like, “God, I see what you did there with the wordplay.”  Or maybe Jeremiah collapsed to the floor with amazement at the profoundness of the wordplay. Whatever Jeremiah’s response, I think God was playful with words to address the challenging reality of Jeremiah’s call to preach the message of judgement and of hope and renewal, “to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). The people needed to know that past prophetic declarations of judgement and renewal would come true. God would watch for the spring-like moment, the first opportunity to carry out his word. The people needed to be reminded that like their watching the almond tree, God was watching them, and they needed to watch for God as he fulfilled his word.

A New Testament example of wordplay is in Matthew 16:18 which reads, “[a]nd I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In the English text, the name Peter is derived from the Greek name Πέτρος, Petros which also carries the meaning of a stone or a rock. Moreover, in the Greek text the word πέτρᾳ, petra, stone or rock is used. Here we see similar looking and sounding words with similar meanings. With this knowledge, the reader may smile and say, “Aha, I see what you did there Matthew!” Or if one believes in the divine inspiration of Matthew, “Aha, I see what you did there God through Matthew!”

I acknowledge this is a notoriously debated passage between Roman Catholics and Protestants, specifically regarding the topic of the Pope. Sorry, I won’t be commenting on or resolving this debate, and I wish I could come up with some playful words to transition, but I got nothing. This is a strategy that I am just starting to learn, but I digress.

Regardless of how readers interpret this passage, I think we should recognize and appreciate the personal and powerful play on words within the broader textual context that also has a personal and powerful message for those confessing that Jesus is the Christ. Amid this profound and mysterious passage, God deemed it fitting to be playful with words to encourage and inspire and maybe even bring a smile to our faces. There are many other examples of wordplay in the Bible, and I think we should explore them, learn from them, enjoy them and share them with others. By doing this, I believe that we will develop God-like wordplay fruitfulness in our communications with others.

Personally, I have little experience or examples of being playful with words, so I will close with the example of a past colleague and friend named Bridget. I worked with Bridget in a homeless youth program where she is the founder and executive director. She has decades of experience serving youth experiencing challenging circumstances, but she always finds a way to make them smile. One way is by using wordplay. When I worked alongside her, she often used catchy limericks or a playful use of words that would stop youth (and me) in their tracks and jolt them into a positive and happy mood. I thought this was just something she did. Just a funny characteristic. Now, I think there is more to it. I think it is a gift that she has and a skillful strategy that she has developed. I think she knew something that I did not know at the time, that is, the power of the playful use of words. She has impacted hundreds of young people through wordplay, and so I think she stands among the great users of logopoeia (word creation). Bridget is an inspiration and an example of McIntyre’s strategy on the playful use of words which instigated this blog post.

Thus, with the examples in McIntyre’s chapter, the examples in the Bible and the example of Bridget, I am confident that I too (and others) can develop the strategy of wordplay in my communications with others.  This will no doubt take practice. As McIntyre states regarding wordplay, “Try it out. Spin it out. Play it out. See how it feels.” Now that’s grandandioadvice!  

Sunday Prayers

Help my fear, Lord, and my unbelief. Help me to learn your goodness by heart. Help me, Lord, in the midst of my doubts and worries, to begin to see what you see when you look at my world. Imprint that vision somewhere deep within where it can stay, and speak and live. Amen (Help, me Lord from Celtic Daily Prayer: Book Two, 1041)

Lord Jesus, you taught us to pray. Now help us pray for our daily bread while laboring with love for those who hunger. Show us how to hallow your name while striving for justice in our relationships and in society. May our whole lives become a prayer, ever to your glory. Amen (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, 441)

God, I walk with you, yielding my life to your will. Deliver us from the things that distract us from you. Free us from the chaos that so easily enters this world. Heal our pain, sadness and disappointment. Help us set our gaze upon you and to receive your grace, mercy and peace. May we reflect your goodness in the world and live as people of light, life and love. Amen (My Prayer)

Caring for Words

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.- James 1:19

It was said about Abba Agathon that for three years he carried a pebble around in his mouth until he learned to be silent. – From Desert Wisdom: Sayings From the Desert Fathers

A word with power is a word that comes out of silence. A word that bears fruit is a word that emerges from the silence and returns to it. -Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

In the age of social media there are a lot of words being used, sometimes for good and sometimes to the detriment of a whole nation. Words are important, and we should learn to care for words. However, we should first reflect on silence and listening before strategizing about loving and using words. I think active and attentive listening is a primary language of loving others well and of effective communication. We listen by first being silent, and we learn to be silent in the silence and solitude with God. How do we care for words? By entering the silence. By learning to be silent. By speaking and writing out of the silence on what we have heard, experienced and learned in the silence.