Slow reading – best birthday gift ever!

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The birthday present arrived 3 months late, making it VERY special.  I could tell the wrappings contained a heavy book.  “Aah, what could be better than a book from a kindred sister!”  Regina had gifted me with what turned out to be a 37-month course in Puritan thought.  I had no idea how long it would take to read through all 1265 pages when, in October 2014, I opened up William Gurnall’s collection of sermons on spiritual warfare.

Never having heard of William Gurnall, I found out online that this 17th-century English pastor preached biblically-rich sermons that have fed many a pastor and layperson since.   When I ponder the time this dear man invested in writing out each sermon, dipping his quill every couple of words into his inkwell to continue, I marvel.

Through his preaching listeners then and readers today have taken to heart what God reveals in the Bible about the nature of fragile, sinful, and blood-bought Christians and the need to be fortified against the very real dangers of sin and spiritual attack.  These exhortations have stood the test of time, for nothing in human nature has changed since the 1650s and 60s.

Gurnall Book.png (see Wikipedia info at end of post)

How has my journey with Gurnall changed me?  Taking nothing away from the content, I would say that I have developed the very enjoyable habit of SLOW READING.

Living within an hour of Asheville, North Carolina where SLOW COOKING/EATING reigns, it’s not a long stretch to picture slow reading.  This book delighted me and soon I accepted the gift it presented: to savor and take notes from each column and page.

The very language of Gurnall’s writing enthralled me.  Only 6 or 7 decades past the time of Shakespeare, the sentences evoke very different word pictures through the use of what we would call ‘old English’ and Latin.  I found myself eagerly looking up English words I did not know, as well as Latin phrases.

And, my French teacher-self was gratified as I recognized the plethora of French words apparently accepted in everyday parlance in 17th-century England. (puissant or powerful comes to mind).

I took notes as I read.  And I only nibbled on Gurnall weekends and summer mornings when I was home.  Hence, my 37-month trip with this pastor!

I will give you one tidbit from Gurnall that I formulated into a prayer for myself:

  • As Gurnall teaches – not only must I keep killing the pride and the anxieties and the resentments that pop up daily in order to maintain and grow my holiness, which is a source of godly strength and way to see and savor God more and enjoy him. – but I must work to grow the counter qualities. That is – humility, trust/reliance on Him and rejoicing and being glad in each hourly circumstance that God brings since I KNOW that this very circumstance is what He thinks is good for me.
    Help me, Lord!

So what is next?  – a book written in the early 1980s by my favorite pastor to listen to and read.  John Piper spent an 8-month sabbatical thinking about, studying and then writing a book on Romans 9:1-23 entitled The Justification of God.   I settled in with Piper this past weekend, pen and paper in hand.

What about you?  Have you discovered the joy of slow reading?  If you start with William Gurnall, not only will you develop an effective antidote to the unfortunate decline of your attention span due to current technology, but you will be spiritually fortified as well.

**

Per Wikipedia – “Gurnall is known by his Christian in Complete Armour, published in three volumes, dated 1655, 1658 and 1662. It consists of sermons or lectures delivered by the author in the course of his regular ministry, in a consecutive course on Ephesians 6: 10–20. It is described as a magazine whence the Christian is furnished with spiritual arms for the battle, helped on with his armor, and taught the use of his weapon; together with the happy issue of the whole war. It is thus considered a classic on spiritual warfare. The work is more practical than theological; and its quaint fancy, graphic and pointed style, and its fervent religious tone render it still popular with some readers. Richard Baxter and John Flavel both thought highly of the book. Toplady used to make copious extracts from it in his common-place book. John Newton, the converted slave trader, said that if he were confined to one book beside the Bible, he’d choose Christian Armour. Richard Cecil spent many of the last days of his life in reading it, and repeatedly expressed his admiration of it. Charles Haddon Spurgeon commented that Gurnall’s work is “peerless and priceless; every line full of wisdom. The book has been preached over scores of times and is, in our judgment, the best thought-breeder in all our library.”

 

They don’t think like I do!

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‘Everyone’ has discovered the Enneagram!  So it seems these days.  This lens into how each of us classifies life at an early age, whether accurately or not, points to the self-defense strategies we have cobbled together.  These tools or personality coping strategies appear to be set by age 5 and then we unconsciously hone them as we grow up.  They are NOT the real us, for they are just protective layers or a persona that we craft and wear to cover up our vulnerable self.  Finding out which type each one of us is, requires that we look at our heart motives, not our behaviors.

And that requires inward work.  No one can typecast us by evaluating how we act. Knowing oneself requires courage.  It takes ruthless honesty to pull back the layers of past shame and fear, guided by the gentle Holy Spirit. For as God says through His prophet in Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Well, with God’s help, we can know some things about our heart.

My journey with the Enneagram began in April.  I met my friend Mandy for one of our infrequent coffees.  She and I share a love for books and thinking, but she lives in Nashville and I live in western North Carolina.  As we were catching up, Mandy told me about a book whose wisdom and insights had NAILED her good!  Instantly mesmerized, I asked her about it.  The title of the paradigm she began to unfold sounded a bit new-age-ish – the Enneagram.  So instead of buying the book she was studying, I asked our library to order The Road Back to You.

When it arrived and I opened to page one, I knew I had to get my OWN copy so I could write in it.  And then the ‘binge’ began – 3 more books and all the podcasts that the authors Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile had recorded etc.

What appeals to me about this system of 9 (‘ennea’ is Greek for 9) different ways of looking at life are several key benefits that accrue to the one who decides to glean and use the useful bits:

  •  it confronts me with the incontrovertible fact that MY way is not the only way to view life and react to others and circumstances
  • there’s a reason I am weird (or maybe I’m not weird, but normal!)
  • there are ways I can grow up and discard some of my coping mechanisms that might have worked in the past. I’m learning that they are not healthy NOR are they what God is calling me to be as His beloved child and servant. Awareness, however, precedes change.

The ways each of the 9 personality types differ have to do in part with wounds we interpreted as young children.  As I understand it, Mom might have been scowling at us and as a 2 or 3-year-old, we drew the conclusion that we were to blame.  That could have been the case, or more likely, she was preoccupied with something else.  Nonetheless, very early on, from our environment, we crafted a way to protect ourselves and get our needs met.

How have this knowledge and understanding concretely helped Mike and me?   When one of us is ‘having one of those moments!’ we are beginning to offer grace more quickly and NOT take the emotional reaction personally.  “Oh, that is Maria’s 5-ness or Mike’s 1-ness acting out.”

Being an ‘Observer’, the 5 who conserves her physical, emotional and rational energy out of fear of depletion, I live in my thoughts.  I honestly believed that everyone else did as well.  So for all the 37 years before April 2017, I trumpeted to Mike: “If you would JUST change your thinking, you could automatically change your emotions.”  He never seemed to ‘get it’, or so I concluded.  But then after April,  I learned that he and others don’t view life like I do.

Call me naïve!  Or a slow learner.

So what is Mike as a 1 on the Enneagram circle like?  He is a ‘Perfectionist’ who operates out of his ‘gut’ or body.  He’d call it instinct.  Visceral feelings lead and color his thoughts.  I’m less likely these days to SAY out loud: “You don’t have to think like that!”  (code for:  Your thinking is wrong!)  I’ve realized not only how unloving that response has been, but also how ineffective it is. So these days I practice stopping myself from correcting his thinking and focus my energy toward understanding just what he is feeling.

Do I have feelings?  Yes, but they trail an event by at least 24 hours.  Often when I have hurt Mike by an action or a tone or a look, I can apologize and I do so, but I don’t FEEL sorry.  I THINK sorry.  And later, the feelings hit me. It’s then that I taste shame and sorrow and it rocks me when I FEEL how I’ve hurt him.

But as a rule, I’d much rather talk to you about your thoughts and my thoughts and what we’ve been learning Questions fascinate me because they lead to more inquiry, which gives new understanding.

This past summer, however, I actually experienced an immediate feeling of anger at someone close to me.  (Can you actually count the feelings you have had in the past year? – that would be like asking me to count the thoughts I have had.) The other intense feeling that hit me happened in early April.  So that’s TWO immediate feelings this year…..but who’s keeping track?

On this rare occasion, there was an event, triggered by another person, followed by an instant intense feeling.  In tandem with that feeling, my thoughts raced.  I stood outside the scenario and evaluated this rare occurrence.  I actually felt GOOD that a strong feeling had barged in, even if uninvited, for to me it represented growth!  I CAN feel and identify an emotion!  In between marveling over the presence of this stranger, I also rationally thought through the consequences were I to choose to welcome him fully and allow him freedom of expression.  I knew I dared not, at the risk of ruining an evening among family members.  But the cost of NOT sharing the feeling was that I withdrew and projected ‘Ice Princess’.  My protective stance.  Yes, and a bit passive-aggressive.

Back to the present.  It’s been 8 months since Mandy introduced me to this personality index.  ‘Everyone’ else as well seems to be discovering this ancient ‘spiritual’ tool toward wholeness and integrity. Or I’m finding that since it’s been in the marketplace of ideas of America since the ’80s, some of my friends have known about it for a while.  But no one I have personally encountered, other than Mandy, actually uses it.

One thing DOES annoy me.  There’s a Facebook group of Enneagram devotées.  Some of them seem to have adopted the stance that their type is the correct way to look at things.  One practitioner invited group members to offer suggestions on how to ‘help’ a 5 in her small study circle to “go deeper and learn to share feelings”.   I suggested that ‘feelings’ might be the tool and term that everyone else feels skilled at employing, but the 5 turns to thoughts as his/her tool of choice for expressing what is meaningful. And that the leader should allow this person to communicate in that way.  The advice-seeker lightly chastised me for offering the suggestion that what some call feelings, 5s might call thoughts.  No such beast allowed, apparently.

Dear Friends, one of the beauties of the Enneagram is how it shows us that we are all different. The wisest way to help a 5 or any number let go of his/her preferred, but stunted coping strategy is to model healthier ways of living in a winsome, uncritical manner.   Being around non-judgmental broken fellow sojourners who are walking with God both gentles me and encourages me.  Chastisement does not.

How about you?  Are you an Enneagram practitioner?  If so, I’d be interested in learning how the Enneagram is helping you grow more integrated, more like Jesus.  Please leave a comment!  And if you are a Five like me, please let me know.

 

Which one of the 10 servants are you?

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My time!

My rights!

My agenda!

My priorities!

My money!

My day!

My needs!

If I’m honest, this is how I think more often than I’d like to admit.  I know, in my head, that this thinking is not only false but wicked.  After all, I am a Christian. That means I was bought with a price – Jesus’ blood.  The Godhead swapped His life for mine.  He died so that I could live, but not live ‘business as usual’.

I KNOW this, but functionally I still think of these days and years in this body as belonging to me.

But the Father is gentle and continues to press His Truth into me through daily Bible reading.  As He did yesterday with Luke’s account of the ten servants and the money entrusted to them.  Here’s the first part of Jesus’ parable:

Luke 19: 11-15 The Parable of the Ten Minas

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

**

As the parable continues, the newly crowned king returned and immediately called for an accounting of resources entrusted to each of the ten servants in his absence.  Three men’s interviews are described.  Servants 1 & 2 had put the king’s resource to good use and turned a profit for him.  They received commendation and were invited to take on new jobs under the recently crowned king, each one with proportionally greater responsibility.  Clearly, they had proven their dependency and faithfulness. The third guy rather foolishly expressed his unfavorable and distorted view of the king as mean, hard, and demanding.  Out of fear, this steward had held on to the king’s money and had not put it to good use as instructed.

The king announces severe consequences and this man is carted off.

What got me thinking was the absence of any mention of the other seven servants.  What about them?  Did they simply squander the king’s money?  Did they abscond with it, fleeing from the kingdom?  I know that parables usually have one main teaching point. We should not, therefore, read too much into them.  But the actions of these seven unmentioned stewards have stimulated my imagination.

But more helpful than finding out how the story might have ended is reflecting on how to apply Jesus’ principles to me.

I want to be one of the two trusted servants.

I want to receive Jesus’ commendation and to know that I did what He wanted and that I pleased Him.

If that is my heart’s desire, then the first step is the sobering fact that this is NOT my life.

The parable simply put is about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and departure to be crowned King.  The majority of the stewards, the Jewish people, did NOT want Jesus as their king.

If we take the numbers as an indication for today, then 20 % of those who know about Jesus believe Him and serve Him with gladness and faithfulness.  And they will be rewarded when He returns with newer, more challenging and fulfilling work in the new Kingdom.

Is it too far-fetched to consider THIS ENTIRE life on earth as a training ground in being a faithful servant in the Kingdom of God?  A life-long course in stewardship?  And if that is so, then nothing my hands touch is mine.  It all belongs to Him.  So what kind of questions should guide my daily, hourly thinking about the things He has entrusted to me?

For starters, something like: How best do I use this extra money?  How best shall I use the ‘free time’ I see in today’s schedule?  How best can I perform the job with which God has entrusted me this day?

May I be found faithful not only when the King returns but this very hour.

Trusting in what I can see – just plain stupid!

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Psalm 20:7  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (NIV)

Who wouldn’t want to have at one’s disposal a stable full of strong, thoroughbred horses and a complement of iron chariots?  Think how reassuring that stockade of muscle and might would feel!  Especially when the enemy rattled sabers and the rhetoric intensifies.

But that seeming crutch is not what God has in mind for His children.  No! As the psalmist asserts, the people of God purposefully reassure themselves NOT by gazing at their OWN provisions but by rehearsing and remembering the facts.  The Head of the supernatural angel armies is our King, our Protector, and Provider.  He’s that invisible kind of force.  Just as real and ready, but not the kind you can see or touch.

We, humans, tend to prefer what we can feel and finger and count. At least I do!

This divine and very different sort of defense force depends on our using the faith God has given us.  The difficulty is this:  faith is an invisible gift. It’s REAL and it’s THERE. But it only becomes operative in the very moment we choose to trust who God is and what He has promised to do and move out in reliance on Him. When we act as if we really know He will come through, He comes through!  Always.

You’d think that with each God-success under our belt, it would get easier for us to trust Him.  I admit, to my shame, that I find even WANTING to rely on God a constant battle.  I think it would be easier just to have the resources myself.

For instance, I don’t FEEL like a naturally creative teacher.  I plan lessons a few days in advance and then when I get to right before a particular French class bustles in, I find that I don’t feel confident about the activity I foresaw.  When I fling myself on God’s promise to provide what I need, I get real help.   Somehow He shifts my thinking and suddenly I can SEE what something that might work and be more effective.

And the class DOES hum and I’m grateful.  HE actually provides, each time I consciously cry out and depend on Him and do what He provides.

Last Monday I didn’t do that submitting my plan prayerfully and dependently to God for His help.  I relied on myself.  And the entire day’s classes proved to be flat.  I hated it.  In fact, I wanted to give up teaching altogether as I walked out of school to my car.  Then the Holy Spirit gently brought this question to mind, “Maria, did you even ask for My help? After that first class, why didn’t you think to hand over the next level’s plan?”  Stunned, I realized that I had not prayed at all that day about my teaching.  How could I overlook such a basic resource?

The truth is, in my natural flesh, I just rather have the resources at hand – ahead of time.  It’d be much easier to be a naturally gifted, creative French teacher who had her students eating out of her hand and speaking French.

But I know better.  The Bible teaches us that we are designed and created to be needy from our birth:

Psalm 22:  9-10Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb, you have been my God.

So my prayer daily, even though I sometimes forget, is for God to make me glad and content in my dependence on Him.  When I fling myself on Him, and He comes through, I get the help and relief and He gets the glory.

Our Creative Designer and Sustaining Father calls this system, this way ‘GOOD‘.

Psalm 84:11 – No good thing does He withhold from the one who LIVES moment-by-moment depending on Him to come through. (what He calls being ‘walking blamelessly or uprightly’)  And if you think about it, if we are upright, that means we have our hands raised to Heaven, imploring and crying out to Him, instead of looking horizontally either at the need or what we can do to meet it ourselves.

Father, please help my unbelief!

 

 

 

 

Who determines your outcome?

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Romans 9:16 So then, it depends NOT on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.

Do those words make you feel stymied or relieved?  Angry or grateful?

Fellow pilgrim, this fact about our God and those who receive the gift of a permanent place in God’s family achieves two ends.  First, we are humbled.  If ever we entertained the idea that our works were good enough to leverage God into owing us anything, this verse in Romans affirms otherwise.

But doesn’t our world trumpet the opposite with THIS success formula:

Dream big and work hard.  Results go to the man in the ring who perseveres!

Second, and for me, this is burden lifting, Paul teaches that God alone determines family membership.  If I rightly suspected that no amount of good works or sincere effort to avoid sinning could meet God’s standard of perfect holiness, my gut feeling correctly aligns with reality.

Illusions dispelled should leave in their place only stunned awe and awakened gratitude.  If meriting this privilege never was likely, but God in His mercy has freely given it, then I have more than hit the jackpot.

Moreover, energy spent trying to drum up desire and work hard enough to impress the Creator and Sustainer and Judge of all with my ‘worthiness’ can be properly channeled.  And you probably know the counter-intuitive truth that shifting one’s life’s energy and focus off of self and onto God and His Kingdom satisfies us far more. Celebrating God’s sheer goodness and inviting others to step out from the crushing weight of performance won’t sap us of energy but multiply our joy.

Too remarkable to be true?  Not for the God of Truth!

 

What do you do with shame?

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They say shame is the most painful of emotions.  I can attest to that.  My shame faux-pas have been due to utterances.  Words pronounced without thinking, mostly in haste. Not a few times in my life have I said something I soon regretted.  The words used up less than a minute of real life when they burst forth but fueled much replay time in my post-mortem.

Shame brings regret and grief over the possible irreparable change in a relationship.

I experienced a fresh episode of this kind of heavy sadness the other morning.  I had encouraged someone to share an anecdote with some visiting family members during dinner.  Not only was it untimely but unseemly.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  The effect was not good.  And I saw the consequence later on.  So for the next couple of days, I felt heavy and depressed.

But God!

His Word IS living and active – Hebrews 4:12.  He DOES restore my soul –  Psalm 23:3.

How did He lift the burden?  I’ve been slowly memorizing the book of 1 Peter.  I began toward the end of January of this year and it’s now mid-September and I’m about 1/3 of the way into Chapter 3.  The blessing of committing Scripture to heart is that the Spirit of Christ uses it in timely moments.  Like this week.

The promise was this:  1 Peter 2:6  The one who trusts in the Living Stone (Jesus) will NEVER be ashamed/shamed or disappointed or frightened away in haste (as Isaiah 28:16 renders this original fact.)

As soon as God reminded me of His truth, I FELT the shame leave.  My God-given reason kicked in like this:

  • I am one who trusts in Jesus.  And He promises to cause all circumstances/events to work for my good.  Even those that are painful.  And if He says I won’t be ashamed or shamed, then I don’t need to wallow or indulge in that feeling now.
  • Besides, if I believe God truly is sovereign, even over our sin and mistakes, then I can trust Him to bring good out of this.
  • Finally, doesn’t God say in Psalm 84:11 No good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is upright/blameless/without blemish?
  • I regret what I said, AND I am even more motivated to depend on and pray for future self-control over my thoughts and mouth.  And I know that in Christ I am without blemish.  So then God did not withhold this event because He deems it a good thing. I will trust His judgment.

The upshot?  No more shame.  Just a reliance on my Father to heal the damage I did to the relationship and confidence that He is working in me all the time, through falls and victories in Christ.  Christians are entitled and given access to this kind of relief and healing balm NOW through God’s Word.  And for that I am exceedingly glad!

 

 

The solution to life’s problems

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Mike and I are journeying through the Bible again.  I think this is year 6 following the Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Each year we discover either new information (“I never saw THAT before!) and fresh insights.

Currently, we are clipping along through the book of Ezekiel at a pace of 3 chapters a day. The theme appears to be constant. Namely: everything that God does and commands Ezekiel to prophesy has ONE purpose, “Then they will know that I am the LORD!”

Whether Yahweh is bringing justifiable painful punishment on Judah’s enemies or whether He’s disciplining Judah and Israel or whether He announces wonder-filled future plans to restore Egypt, Judah, and Israel, the intention is the same:  that the entire world will know that He is the LORD.

Applying this theme to current events has created meaningful nightly discussions between Mike and me. Whether we are reflecting upon recent natural disasters or the threats of North Korean madman Kim Jong Un, it seems appropriate in 2017 to acknowledge God’s very same desire for us as in Ezekiel’s day.  After all, He doesn’t change.  He still wills that all peoples know Him.

Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God! applies not just to nations but to us as individuals.  Here is life-giving advice to combat daily worries and nighttime anxious thoughts.

This morning, however, the Holy Spirit illumined a new context in a devotional I read. Matthew 11: 27b – 28.no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

What is the answer for all of us who feel burdened with worries and responsibilities? Jesus says it is to KNOW God.

“….and just how, exactly, does knowing God help me when I have one or more crises on my hands?  Whether it’s

  • an impending storm
  • a dissolving marriage
  • a child’s life gone off the tracks
  • a stressful job that brings no joy
  • a decision to make with no clear way forward

That’s just the point.  Shifting our thoughts off of the looming or present circumstances onto our Creator and Sustainer DOES bring relief.  What can HE do?  Everything and anything.  For He alone is all-powerful, all-good, all-wise, all-loving, always present.  And He is carrying out His plan for His creation, which includes us and our situations.

Up until now, however, I had never understood how Jesus proposed to give me rest if I came to Him.  Reading Matthew 11 this morning, our twelfth consecutive day in Ezekiel, caused me to see God’s ‘way-out’ differently.  If I don’t have a solution to the immediate situation, reminding myself of God’s attributes, that is reflecting on and knowing Him will shift my focus OFF of what seems impossible onto the One who is ALL-possible. That’s how Jesus gives us rest.  Looking at the problem(s) and at the lack of resources/solutions causes the stress and burdens.

We’re blockheads if we don’t take His Rx for rest.  He even tells us what we’ll get for swapping our yokes:

Matthew 11: 29-30 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

PS:  God even makes provision for those of us who act as doltish sheep.  If we can’t even muster up the willingness to swap yokes, we can call out to Him for help!!!

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