I won’t even do it for my pastor!

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Sunday morning.  The communion table’s shrouded plates drew my attention. My thoughts centered on Jesus and His saving work for me. “Father, give me a genuine sense of Your Son’s sacrifice for me!”

A bit of a grimace flickered across our pastor’s face as he prayed for our church and the world.  I decided to pray for him right then and there. An unbidden idea arrived -“What if I asked God to give ME Patrick’s headache or stomach discomfort for the duration of the service?”

As quickly as suggestion formed in my mind, I dispatched it with this humbling admittance:

  • I’m not willing to suffer Patrick’s stead, even for one hour!

My eyes settled once again on the surface bearing the elements.

Holy Spirit-inspired Truth landed on me.

Jesus PLANNED for and undertook to undergo my eternal punishment, cut off from the love of His Dad, a fellowship He had enjoyed since before time.

Not just MY eternal punishment but the weight of every other believer’s well-earned punishment too.  I sat there, half listening to Patrick and using my imagination to re-create the enormity of this formula:

  • Infinite punishment due one believer X number of men for whom Christ suffered X 3 days

My finite brain cells couldn’t expand sufficiently.  But I glimpsed a splinter of Jesus’ love for us.

The sacrament of the shared Supper drew forth a new kind of gratitude.  Thank you, good Father for answering my morning’s prayer.

 

What do our needs tell us?

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‘You’re so needy!’

“Yep, and your point is?”

Why is it that we think something is wrong with us if we can’t do it all?  I can only speak for Americans.  It seems as though being needy is un-American.  Since our pre-founding, we’ve grown up imbibing the ambient atmosphere of:

  • pull yourself up by your own bootstraps
  • you can be/do anything you want in life
  • if it’s going to be, it’s up to me
  • plan your work, then work your plan
  • follow your passion

Actually all that rah-rah positive motivation denies the FACT that God has designed and created us AS creatures with needs.  Before the fall when He created man, He called His male and female creation VERY GOOD!  And they were needy, ON PURPOSE!  They required human companionship, food and productive work.  And they had to sleep.

As I learn to depend more on God each day, I am embracing and even liking my neediness. The Father is teaching me to request His protection, strength and wisdom in the ordinary and not just to call on Him for the ‘big things’ I can’t handle on my own. Somewhere I read that if we don’t invite God’s covering and help with the ordinary routine activities (such as cooking, driving, taking a shower without slipping, hiking/walking), then in effect we’re announcing to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe:

  • I’ve got this, God!

Besides, when we DO ask Him for help in writing a blog piece, or shopping for groceries, we re-awaken ourselves to His presence and gain an occasion to thank Him, to praise Him for His grace.

A couple of weeks ago, I read this quote from a sister blogger:

“If you’re meeting your own needs, it’s quite possible you’re not meeting the right one.”  (Quoted by Pippa in her blog, linked here)

That wake-up call to humility connected with an experience I read in Joyce Huggett’s book, Listening to God.  Seeking spiritual counseling to deal with fearful thoughts of suicide, she staggered into a new reality. Her guide led her through a confession of the sin of wanting to kill herself and prayed for her to believe and receive God’s sure forgiveness. Then he added this:  (I’ve paraphrased)

  • Now that you’ve confessed to trying to meet a very real need in a sinful way..
  • Let’s look at this underlying emotional need and see how we can address it in a way that is healthy and God-reliant.

That extra step turned out to be a turning point for the author and eye opening to me! It fit right in with the FACT that God has designed us as dependent, needy creatures. Dependency is woven into the fabric of life.   God created us incomplete and unwise without Him, cracked jars of clay requiring His support.

As Paul boasts in 2 Cor 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Notice also that God intends to MEET our needs, Himself!  The inadequacy, or lack of confidence I feel is SUPPOSED to be the norm.  Insufficient on my own, I have been created precisely to live moment by moment, dependent on God.  And grateful.

So what does that look like in everyday life?  I’m finding a new quality of contentment in my days.  I tend to reply to myself more and more, “Well, what do you expect, Maria, from a clod of earth?  Trust the Master Gardener and rejoice that HE has written the divine Plan. He has just what you need for THIS, so fret not!”

How is embracing your neediness going for you?

 

What’s at the bottom of your cup?

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Has someone bumped into you recently?

spilled-coffee

What was your reaction?

What came out of your mouth the last time your flight was cancelled and the airlines lost your luggage, upsetting your plans?

John Piper repeats often that what we are REALLY like is made evident in how we respond unconsciously to life’s ‘bumps’.  In fact he goes so far as to teach that only about 10 % of our thoughts/actions and words are pre-meditated. The vast majority turn out to be unconscious.

But, we can influence our subconscious mind.  It turns out that our life and its impact on others depend on what we pour into our ‘cup’.  Just what is this ‘cup’?

If we consider that we carry around a perpetual reservoir of feelings, thoughts, and desires out of which spring our reactions, we might take care to pre-pack the tank with some truths that will soak up any acid that life’s bumps might activate!

Recently I heard Tim Keller refer to the sweetness at the bottom of his heart.  The context was the very fact or existence of a Christian’s inheritance, something about which we meditate little.

John Newton, puritan pastor from 200 + years ago also nurtured himself in Gospel facts. Quoting from Newton’s preface to The Olney Hymns (a Newton- William Cowper collaboration) Pastor John Piper shared this encouragement: “The views I have received of the doctrines of grace are essential to my peace; I could not live comfortably a day, or an hour, without them.

I’ve taken to heart this wisdom from the past.  Given the political and social chaos of our times, I am choosing to limit my intake of what is fleeting in favor of focusing proportionally far more on what I know to be True, Beautiful, Good and forever. Those are the truths of my inheritance, purchased for me by Jesus, imparted to me by the Holy Spirit and lovingly planned for me by Father God.

But unless I meditate on them, they won’t seep down into my ‘reservoir’.  They won’t line my cup.

Listen to Thomas Manton, another puritan pastor from a previous century: “The promise of eternal life is left with us in the gospel, but who puts in for a share? Who longs for it? Who takes hold of it? Who gives all diligence to make it sure? Who desires to go and see it? Oh, that I might be dissolved, and be with Christ! If these hopes have so little an influence on us, it is a sign we do not cherish them more in our hearts.”  (published originally in a book, By faith, sermons on Hebrews – volume two, pages 16 and 17)

I don’t SET MY MIND enough on things above, where Christ is seated. (Colossians 3:2)

But what about those mornings when you don’t wake up with a ‘full tank’ of Gospel truth? What about those times when you can’t find it in yourself to rejoice?

Dig into this rich food for your breakfast.  (before any screen time!) Your cold heart can’t help but warm up if you soak awhile in this series of facts from the Heidelberg Catechism:

What is your only comfort in life and death? 

That I am not my own, 1
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death, 2
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 3
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood, 4
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil. 5
He also preserves me in such a way 6
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head; 7
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation. 8
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life 9
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

 

 

The ball and chain of craving results

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How do you measure your day, your work, your life?  If you’re American, chances are you think only about measurable results.

What’s wrong with that?  Why would you do something if you didn’t desire a specific outcome?

This is the month when New Year’s resolutions are grasped with intensity and then discarded with quiet disappointment. Yet hope seems to re-sprout with each new beginning, whether that of a school year, a budget cycle, calendar year or sports season.

Recently I have discarded my lifelong focus on outcomes.  I had become a slave to working for a specific result.

As a professional French teacher, I long to see students achieve skill AND enjoyment in the language.  Nothing inherently wrong with that.  Except my approach has been to hand over far too much power to my students to grant me the ‘success’ or even the ‘peace’ that I crave.

Yes, ‘crave’.  In fact, I now see a pattern that has emerged in my life. As I approach the end of my 6th decade, I find it easier to see themes and responses to life that I, by my actions, have crafted, either consciously or subconsciously.  Finally, I’m gaining the courage to give myself permission to STOP.

Is anyone else like me, in measuring their day by how well people react?  You might be a kindred sister or brother if you are a doer/performer like a musician, stand-up comedian, speech-giver, writer, film maker or even a skill coach.  Or maybe you’re one of the moms at home who teach their own children and are anxious to see growth.  Or among evangelists sharing the Gospel and discipling new Christian believers.

Despair and insecurity probably haunt more people than I realize.  Will it ever end, this never feeling like we measure up?  And I’m not talking about meeting OTHER people’s standards or expectations;I’m talking about the SELF-imposed high bars?  Let’s be real and call them what they are – prison sentences!

Recently, a ray of real hope broke through this burden I pick up every day illuminating a path of escape to a more fragrant and lighter world.

My daughter-in-law, who battles the home-school version of  ‘you’re not enough’, shared a verbal picture of what another mom explained as her daily task with her children. It was SO simple and SO doable.  Boiled down, the advice is this:

  • Each day, your job is to spread an age-appropriate feast before your children of that, which is true, beautiful and good.  In such a way that they can TASTE and SEE that the Lord is GOOD. (from Psalm 34:8)

Period.  That’s it.  She is not responsible for the OUTPUT, just for the INPUT.

Light-bulb explosion.  Isn’t that also my job as a language teacher?  to provide compelling and interesting and appropriate comprehensible input to my French students?

I am NOT responsible for their output.  That is an impossible assignment.  I can’t control them.  But I CAN control what I feed them.

And is this not also applicable to missionaries, both foreign and domestic, wherever God has assigned them (and us)?  We’ve all heard stories of years of labor before even one convert results.  The heart-warming account below is just one of many such examples. Missionary who thought he had failed.

What really convinced me of the sin of prideful expectations for Maria was a quote from CRU’s last print magazine, dated Sep/Oct 2016.  To wit: “We focus excessively on our output, because we want to be judged according to our effort, not our ability to remain dependent on someone else’s finished work.”

I am seeing this new insight transform my responsibilities.  I neither DO nor CAN control results. But I AM accountable in all my relationships for what I do and say and perform per the strength that God gives.

This lessened burden seems almost too good to be true, but I am proceeding as though it is and trusting our God to keep guiding me in all truth.  To Him be the glory for to Him belongs the power.

Communion – an engagement promise reminder

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engagement-ring  I’ve struggled for years to grasp the spiritual richness of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist.

Many Catholics and Episcopalians regard this sacrament as the highlight of their weekly worship experience.  I know.  I’ve talked with them, trying to glimpse and sense what it is that nourishes them so richly.

It’s NOT like I don’t make an effort to meditate on what Jesus suffered for me personally by going to the cross. It’s just that I feel enriched more through the sermon and corporate prayer.  And because some of my friends and family wax on about the centrality of the Eucharist to their worship experience, I keep feeling like I must be missing something.

Reading  Ann Voskamp’s  recent book  the-broken-way The Broken Way, I grasped a fresh understanding of what this sacramental liturgy might represent.

Voskamp reminds her readers that what Jesus performed during that last meal with his friends was a covenant, similar to a wedding vow.  Think about Hebrew culture two millennia ago and and how couples were first betrothed and then married. You’ll recall that the engagement itself bestowed legal status and rights. The initial commitment was the BIG DEAL.

When God births us the first time, we receive the spirit of life. When He births us the second time, He gives us His very own Holy Spirit.  Paul teaches in his letter to the Ephesians at 1:14 – The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.

So you could call the indwelling Spirit of God Jesus’ engagement ring – a very real promissory note whose presence we are meant to sense intimately and enjoy.

But knowing that we humans NEED tangible concrete reminders, Jesus instructed His Bride (us, the Church) to reenact often the engagement ceremony.   Re-reading the account of His vows would be a start, but incomplete.  Jesus put into place a practice of sharing a scaled-down version of the original covenant meal, meant to be enjoyed with re-awakened awe among fellow members of Jesus’ Bride.

Each time we eat and drink tokens from that historic and singular Covenant, we recall what Jesus performed FOR US in order to ‘win’ our hand. A few of those ‘challenges’ He embraced ‘for the joy set before Him’ (Hebrews 12:2)included these deeds:

  • He temporarily emptied Himself of His divine status and privileges and happy community
  • He accepted the weaknesses and degradations of Hebrew poverty under cruel Roman rule
  • He endured hateful and murderous scorn from family, neighbors, church leaders
  • He suffered abuse and murder due to false charges
  • He showed the entire Creation a righteous life, down to the last jot and tittle of the Law’s requirements.  He even exercised complete patience and strength to withstand every temptation Satan could throw at Him.
  • He took on to His perfect body and life all the sins of His Bride and paid off the debt she had accrued.

The New Covenant ceremony Jesus enacted was His announcement of His coming marriage to US!!!! And until the wedding date, He promised a Helper who would be the deposit guaranteeing this promised union and subsequent inheritance.  During the Covenant Supper He described the home He was going off to make ready for His Bride. And He told His Bride not only to ponder the reality of her new status as legally betrothed bride, but also to cash in the promises and call on her bridegroom’s Father who would now be her Father, too!

Can you catch a glimpse of the rich layers of this Covenant Reenactment and how much we need it?  

I frequently forget that you and I are legally engaged to Jesus.  With rights and privileges that make a difference in this life.  And although our Bridegroom has gone ahead to make our home ready, He has not left us alone.  He has given the Church His best friend who is His stand-in until He comes for us.  This supernatural Helper is the same as Jesus; only He is inside of each born-from-above believer, whereas Jesus in His resurrected flesh is with the Father. For the time being!

Ann Voskamp’s lavish unpacking of ‘Communion’ has made me very glad that our church holds to a regular reenactment of the engagement covenant.  I easily forget.  

Thank you, Jesus, that You have commanded that we DO this to remember You.

What are you looking forward to?

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“Well what d’ya expect from him!” my cynical friend spit out after waiting yet again for a habitually late friend to show up.

Humans let others down.  Partly due to our sinful and selfish nature and partly due to how God designed us.  Creatures have limits.  Only God is limitless, perfect and consistent.

Expectations about others tend always to leave us disappointed.  As David Zahl, pastor of an Episcopal Church in Charlottesville says, “expectations are planned resentments.”

What if we were to change the WHAT or WHOM we place our expectations?  What if we were to place our hope in what is 100% guaranteed?  That’s a no brainer; if we did so, we would avoid disappointment.

I read just this morning about Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus’ rich disciples who according to Mark 15:43 was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God”;

What does that tidbit about his focus communicate?  Nothing short of the direction of his life!

After Jesus announced, “It is finished!” and died on that Friday outside of Jerusalem, this courageous man Joseph, along with the well-known Pharisee Nicodemus, took the bold step of requesting THAT AFTERNOON an audience before Pontius Pilate.  What they did was risky.

Their lives and their reputations at stake, the two sought permission to take Jesus down off the cross and bury Him.

That account is the last written about them, but not the end of their story.  I have no doubt that they are present with the Jesus they hoped in and staked all on.  No disappointments there.

So as this first month of the new year approaches the end, you might feel disappointed already:

  • with yourself and your lack of ability to keep up a resolution
  • with a friend or family member who has let you down, again!
  • with a job or activity you hoped would satisfy
  • with the way an organization acts

I’m learning that every created being or thing in this world on this side of the Cross will let me down, most especially me!  The path to peace and joy is to place our expectations in the only Person who doesn’t disappoint – Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

I ask again: What are YOU expecting and looking for?

 

The danger of NOT being needy

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A friend unburdened herself to me last month that she was scared to find herself in the midst of a dry spell with God.  She doesn’t sense His presence any more.  He seems distant.   When she reads her Bible, she feels nothing.  She once felt alive to God, close to Him.

Now she finds herself going through the motions.  When I gently probed about what brought on this change, she didn’t know.  She couldn’t pinpoint exactly when her intimacy with God, her excitement of belonging to Him had waned.  She had woken up one day, all of a sudden aware that He ‘was gone’, as she explained it.

She asked me what she could do to get the old feelings back.  We talked about the external behaviors of Christian discipleship such as prayer, worshipping with other believers, thanking God, regular Bible reading, journeying.  She admitted that although she still attended church most Sundays, she had stopped both reading her Bible on a daily basis and pursuing regular time with God in prayer.  She felt hypocritical and mechanical in doing them.  Doubt about the efficacy of our prayers had crept into her mind.

As we were brainstorming and thinking about the practices of believers, God suddenly brought to mind what I think is the key to a close relationship with God.  Neediness.

I feel needy EVERY DAY and many times throughout the day.  I could chalk it up to my age and growing awareness of the fragility and incertitude of life’s circumstances. Or maybe I simply have no more qualms in admitting that in my own strength and resources I can’t do much of anything well, I’m just plain NEEDY!

Stop a moment!  Isn’t ‘neediness’ the very essence of being a created being?  But God as Creator, what does He need?  Not one thing!   To be God is to be self-sufficient.  To be creature is to be needy.

O, the happiness of being in want! That neediness keeps me begging God, scouring my Bible for His sure promises of provision, guidance and wisdom.  Daily, I journal about what I find in Scripture.  Likewise, I talk about the truth of God with my husband, other family and many friends.  I pepper emails with encouragement from God because when I point to God and His greatness, I FEEL renewed and strengthened.  All through the day, I thank Him as I see His provision.  When I start to dread tomorrow, I’m learning to rehearse why I don’t need to be afraid.  When I catch myself worrying, I repent of my unbelief and ask my husband to pray for me to trust God. I’m in constant dialogue with God because I live out of the insufficiency of Maria.

Yes, His mercies are new every morning, because my needs are new every morning!

Financial and health needs, relationship challenges, work problems, decision conundrums and other suffering have turned out to be God’s greatest gifts to me. I knew that at one level. But listening to all my friend is suffering and trying to DO to regain her once close relationship with the happy Triune, all-powerful God of the universe scares me.  I don’t EVER want to lose that.

Nothing compares to knowing God.

Where I used to begrudge any circumstance of neediness, I now THANK Him specifically.

Here’s how I have reworded Paul’s description in 2 Cor 12:10

Original: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

My version:  For the sake of a close relationship with Christ, then, I am content and thankful to be given weaknesses, neediness, hardships and problems.  For when I am needy, I am strong in the Lord.

For…..The fear of (losing) God is the beginning of wisdom” Proverbs 9:10

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