Are you always working? What does that say about your God?

Leave a comment

Ezekiel 20:12 And I gave them my Sabbath days of rest as a sign between them and me. It was to remind them that I am the LORD, who had set them apart to be holy.

Last week, as August turned into September, we read God’s words to the Hebrew captives in Babylonia. For the first time, I saw the irony: teaching about Sabbath rest right before the Labor Day weekend.

Here’s a question for you: How would you describe Americans? What 3 adjectives would you use?

If you mention – workaholics, then we’re on the same wave-length. Americans BRAG about working long hours. It’s a virtue to be trumpeted, a boy scout merit badge to be admired by others. In culture at large and IN the church! How did this backward way of viewing life and organizing our seasons come about?

It certainly wasn’t the goal of government, which over decades enacted saner labor laws. NOR did technological innovators foresee work slavery as an unintended consequence. The 40-hour work week and inventions for both home and shop were meant to give us leisure. This slower pace would provide more time to connect and enjoy family, friends and neighbors. Evenings and weekends were margin we needed to rest and re-create. A time to STOP, look upward to God and outward to people. Yet culture did little to change our views of work and rest.Yet culture did little to change our views of work and rest. With the ‘freed up time’ we just did more stuff, more busy-ness.

What about Christians, those in the church? We’re no different than pagan culture. American seminaries even in the early part of the 20th century began straying from taking God’s Word as true, good and authoritative. Evangelical Christians today look, by and large, indistinguishable from their unbelieving colleagues.

Results? Pure insanity. ‘I’m so busy‘ has become a badge of honor.

Let’s look at the time of our agricultural and biblical ancestors, the Hebrews. When God gave His Law to Moses and the redeemed former ‘slaves’, everyone worked 7 days a week. Being commanded to keep the Sabbath would have been a crazy idea. Especially during the different harvest seasons. Unfavorable weather and natural enemies such as blight or pests were feared.

Trusting God enough to ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it holy’ proved impossible to obey. Generations as well as current cultural norms taught that your crops and your livestock were your financial security.

Like us today, it was easier to live by sight than by faith in the unseen God.

God’s 4th commandment and call to rest (He knows what our bodies need!) one day out of seven along with the holy days set aside to worship God cost the Hebrews a lot. Obeying them meant living by faith in the God who had covenanted with them and who promised to provide. They had to walk by faith and NOT by sight. They had to rely on God and NOT on what they and others had done for hundreds of years (i.e. use common sense) as Proverbs 3:5 commands:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

In our assigned reading this week, we read the LORD’s explanation to His people through the prophet Ezekiel. God patiently pointed out two purposes for His good gift of the Sabbath:

  • to remind them that the One they were called to trust at all times, especially on those Sabbaths that fell on sunny, dry days right in the middle of a harvest was the One who created the universe. He had covenanted to take care of them. In other words, He was ABLE and GOOD.
  • to remind them that they had been INTENTIONALLY separated and made different from their pagan neighbors…..they belonged to the LORD for HIS purposes, which were larger than their immediate need to get the harvest in before the weather changed.

So, back to the stereotypical workaholic American. What new thought did the Holy Spirit give me when I arrived at Ezekiel 20:12? Just this:

When we continue to work longer than we HAVE to, to get our work done, then we are acting like pagans, like those who have NO living God to depend on .

The workaholic Christian, whether a mom at home with kids or dad at work in an office or two breadwinners managing both work and kids – they broadcast to their watching neighbors/co-workers that ALL depends on THEIR efforts.

I know. Because I used to be that kind of teacher, one who believed IT was all up to me. Over the years, as the Lord pried my fingers off of ‘my free time’ on weekends to do lesson plans, He surprised me by showing me ways to be more effective with the time DURING the school week. Sundays DID evolve into days with more rest.

And by grace He has continued to deepen my trust in Him, to accomplish each day only what is ordained. I’m able to stop work and leave the undone things to His holy keeping for the morrow.

As I have pondered this reminder about the seriousness of Sabbath keeping, I’ve been asking myself: What does Sabbath look like for New Testament Christians? Here are my thoughts:

  • Are we called to live the entire Sabbath day (24 hours) differently from the other 6 days?
  • Alternatively, is it possible to have Sabbath rest 1/7th of each day, during the waking hours? What would that look like? Given that I fence off 8 hours a night for sleep, what is 1/7 of the remaining 16 hours? (2.3 hours a day.) So, what would qualify as Sabbath rest for those 2.3 hours or 2 hours and 17 minutes? (thus, is birthed a legalist Sabbath worshipper……)
  • OR…..is Sabbath rest for Christians more a posture, a heart leaning? Recall Paul’s guidance in 2 Cor 9:6-7 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Let’s look back at the text in Ezekiel. God gave the people the Sabbath to REMIND them of two facts: Who He is and Who THEY are.

Thinking through work and rest and discussing it with Mike yesterday on our Saturday hike, (thank you, Sweetheart, for pointing out the danger of falling into legalism!), leads me to place this question in the category of issues best left up to the individual conscience, as informed by God’s Word.

But working more than is necessary for an honest day’s labor does not build our case for the Good News of a kind Father who provides what we need, including rest.

As you enjoy your Monday holy-day, leave a few minutes to sit outside, soaking in beauty and maybe meditate on tangible ways you could implement to show the world something True, Beautiful and Good about our God.

Can’t you see the water?

5 Comments

A certain young man whom I dearly love is struggling with fear, anxiety and worry. He has recently been moved into a position with more responsibility and fewer resources that he can see. Knowing himself well, he has rightly concluded: I don’t have what it takes to succeed in this job!

Night and day, he has fallen into obsessing about failure. He feels stuck in the position because it appears to be one that will last until June 2021. He confessed to me last week that he sometimes daydreams of working an 8 to 5 at Walmart!

Haven’t we all been there!

Yes, he is a believer and knows Scripture well enough to realize that all this pressure is from God. He should also know that as a born-again child of God, he has been given solid promises that are his to use and to cling to.

So, when I read Jeremiah’s description of the ever-green leafy tree, I immediately applied it to his pressure-cooker of a job.

God’s sovereign governing of all that concerns his children includes where He ‘plants’ us. The Holy Spirit, through Jeremiah, is reminding us of the following:

  • wherever the Lord ‘plants’ those who TRUST HIM, that place is always VERY near a nourishing, life-giving stream. What does the stream represent? Something that is invisible at first to our eyes. Do you remember when the Exodus crowd were parched and out of strength in the desert? God instructed Moses to strike the Rock (Jesus per 1 Cor 10:4). Water gushed out in abundance. That MASS of people were enLIVEned, refreshed, encouraged and energized. Never would they have imagined water coming from a boulder.
  • the one who is confident in God’s WILL and ABILITY to provide draws near to the LORD, the only constant and dependable supply. Jeremiah is given a vision of the tree moving her roots TOWARD the water. Why would a tree bother to spread out her roots? Because there is no rainwater. But having sensed water and its life-giving relief, she moves toward it.
  • when troubles come, like NO RAIN, the tree keeps her roots IN the water. She does not say once she is satisfied: “Thank you, stream, that will do me just fine. Have a nice day!” No! That would be stupid. Since she has received, she stays connected to the Source.
  • what is the happy result? She doesn’t suffer the natural consequences of rain-deprived trees. She has a secret supply of what she needs. The effect of being so nourished is evident to all – GREEN leaves amidst dying, dried-up trees.
  • furthermore, do you notice the impact of HER leaves staying green all through the drought? She produces fruit. Do trees need their own fruit? No! Fruit is for others, whether the next generation of little trees, for squirrels, birds or humans!

So, sweet friend of mine. This is for you. I believe the Lord has planted you in a desert where you are withering. But take heart. There is a river nearer than you think. God’s never-ending Supplier, His divine Spirit, the Helper, is not just NEAR you, He is in you.

But yes, He is invisible as are His supplies. Yes, depending on your abilities alone scares you. It should! God means you to be overwhelmed if you’re looking at just you and all that is on your plate. But God, rich in mercy, has not planted you NEAR a stream. He has planted the stream IN you!

John 7:37-38 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Are you as close to God as your underwear is to you?

2 Comments

I almost missed it!  Mike and I were sharing our ‘take-aways’ from the day’s Bible reading when I realized I had stopped short and not read Jeremiah 13.  So, after dinner I sat down outside with Mike while he worked on his nightly NY Times crossword puzzle. Bible and notebook in hand I caught up.  Boy, did I get an ‘eye-fill’. Chapter 13 portrays a startling view of intimacy our Father desires with us.

Like my dear friend Regina, I visualize much of what I read in God’s Word. Just ‘look’ at what God proclaims to His prophet:

Jeremiah 13:11 For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen. (ESV)

Okay, let’s think about underwear, about loincloths.  Various translators have used other English words such as “belt” or “waistband” to render this Hebrew word less earthy.  But the sense of the Hebrew is ‘that which covers one’s intimate private parts‘.

With THAT in your mind’s eye, reread the verse.  What is God saying to us?

WE are to CLING to the LORD as closely as underpants cling to our private parts. That’s pretty darn intimate, wouldn’t you say?  (as Mike just chuckled to me: “No boxer shorts here! Nothing unmanly about wearing ‘whitey-tighties’ “)

Since the LORD is the One saying this, we have to go by His words and the plain meaning of the text. But why would He use this word picture?

In some way I don’t quite understand but I accept as true, the Bible affirms over and over that when we move closer to our God, our clinging to Him showcases His perfection, love, goodness, power, and holiness.  Those parts of our body that we cover and whose odors we try to mask are not shameful to our Creator.

I mean, husbands and wives can be intimate and feel secure about their bodies when they enjoy a safe relationship. But even though Mike and I are blessed with that kind of  GOOD marriage, I still don’t want him smelling my underpants!

But our God is different. This means that NOTHING about us, in our personality or experiences or in our frail humanity, nothing makes us repugnant to our Father.  Maybe we can think of it more easily when we recall how it’s no big deal to change our own babies’ diapers, however stinky and explosive they are! After all they are our kids.  We love them completely. So it is with our Holy and earthy Father.

Something else in Jeremiah’s account of loincloths spoke to me of how God and I are different – how we react to clinginess.

I don’t like clingy love.  My instinct is to draw back a bit.  I felt great guilt about this as a teenager because my mom and grandmother were affectionate in that clingy sort of way.  I don’t know why their spontaneous display of love bothered me, but I could not bring myself to respond in kind.

But our God is not like that!  He doesn’t say:

  • You gotta stand on your own two feet
  • Okay, that’s enough.  I have work to do
  • Stop hanging around! Give me some space

Au contraire – our Father DESIRES that we:

  • get and stay as close to Him as we can
  • not be ashamed at all of that which makes us smelly and soiled
  • depend on Him 100 %
  • obey Him because we love Him and need Him
  • KNOW that He will never grow tired of us

And if this gentle, wooing, loving posture of God toward us is not enough to make us want to be close to Him, then we need to consider God’s evaluation of us if we DON’T cling intimately to Him. For in that case, we will be as the loincloth Jeremiah removed from his body and buried near the Euphrates:

Jer 13:7 Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; IT WAS GOOD FOR NOTHING.

The only conclusion that makes sense to me is that we were meant to stay that close to God all the time, as close as our underwear is to our body. If not, then we are ‘as good as nothing.’

 

When we gave up our rights, we gained privileges

Leave a comment

I’m down in Tampa caring for Chloe and Vera while my son and our daughter-in-law enjoy an anniversary trip to Tucson.  The girls attend a Christian school about 40 minutes away. This morning, I tuned into their radio station of choice, Joy FM, for the commute.

Songs filled the air, as melodic lyrics wove truth, planting seeds of life, hope and beauty about Christ.  During the chat segment one of the radio hosts recounted a profound reminder from her pastor that obviously resonated with her: “We gave up our rights at the Cross!”

Too bad we Christians haven’t fully absorbed that reality!  We have no more rights, but we do have PRIVILEGES that came with our adoption into God’s forever family.

One gift accompanying our new birth is spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faith/ fidelity, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

Yes, this harvest is ours for the taking as sons and daughters of King Jesus.  But there is a catch. We have to submit to the discipline and practice inherent in mastering any skill before we taste and savor the sweetness of the fruit.

Here’s what I mean:  Let’s say you have always wanted to ride a horse. In your Father’s stable you are free to choose and enjoy any horse you want.  But first you’ll need a horse-riding instructor to teach you the basics.  But that’s not all.  You’ll have to practice and do the kinds of exercises this master horseman recommends.

Acquiring any skill is hard work and demands hour upon hour of practice. Well, how many hours?

Have you ever heard of the ‘10,000-hour rule’?  Malcolm Gladwell popularized it in his book Outliers.  It goes like this: to become an expert or master at anything, you need to rack up that number of hours.  The Beatles did just that, prior to hopping over the Pond from Europe.  Violin virtuosos, ice hockey players, chess maestros, chefs de cuisine and even second language learners like me. (I’m only up to 1659 hours working with Spanish, the reason why my spoken Spanish still feels halting!)

But what is so great about reaching the goal of expert?  MUCH!  You get to enjoy, finally, the fruit of all those dedicated hours of hard work and practice. Scales for a violin player are probably no fun, nor are sweat-producing drills for athletes.  Do you remember ‘wax on, wax off’ from the 1984 movie The Karate Kid?  (look it up if you are too young to know this movie!). Those hours that Daniel spends painting Mr. Miyagi’s fence and waxing his car build muscle memory that translates eventually into winning karate skills.

So, what is the spiritual application?  Just this:  The 9 ‘flavors’ of the fruit of the Spirit are ours, too!  But just like the novice horse-rider, it takes hours of practice and discipline to become skilled enough to enjoy the freedom that comes with having paid one’s dues to become a master.

What is the equivalent of our practice and the fruit of the Spirit?  I think it’s our obedience and submission to God. Each time we obey God’s commands, we are chalking up one more hour of discipline toward eventual delight.  Think flavorful peaches, sweet but tart apples, refreshing grapes, juicy strawberries.

Submissive obedience with cheerfulness to God’s commands like:

  • Don’t fear, grumble, envy, covet, worry, hoard, criticize a person behind their back, place any created thing above God, think more highly of yourself than is true……

The list goes on.  You get the point.

To sum up the payoff – obedience and submission to King Jesus (with His supernatural help!) grow our holiness which creates our genuine happiness.  And true happiness looks like love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

Boasting in the wrong thing

1 Comment

John 5:44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?

John 5:41 (Jesus said) I do not accept glory from men,

John 12:43 For they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

Pricked by the Holy Spirit and convicted!

I don’t name drop.  I book-title drop. I’m here to fess up to a recent display of my pride. It happened at a mid-week prayer gathering at church.

Arriving a few minutes early, I strutted over to where our pastor was setting up chairs and struck up a conversation. Purposefully but casually, I mentioned having finished a book he had recommended from the pulpit.  Then, wanting to impress Joe with the quantity and rigor of my deep reading, I preened, just like a peacock. I unfolded for him a few of my favorite authors.

I remained blind to how blatantly I craved his praise until a certain church member arrived, one who likes to show off HER knowledge of learning. Suddenly God reminded me how I don’t like this gal for this very reason. I know, another sin! You can guess what followed next.

“You are the woman!” came a Holy-Spirit insight, recalling Nathan’s confrontation with King David. Shame filled my heart.

It’s been a few weeks and I have already confessed my lack of hunger for God’s praise and received His forgiveness.  But just this past Sunday, my co-teacher for middle school girls’ Sunday School praised me out loud to the gals present.  I piped up, “Suzanne, you don’t know me well enough, yet!” When she objected, I simply mentioned my pride which shows itself in boasting.

Now, to this morning. The first truth above in John 5:44 popped up in an old prayer that came up in my Prayermate app. This verse punched me in the gut, for Jesus calls craving the approval and praise from man – UNBELIEF!!

Does that seem harsh? Not to me. I simply felt sadness seeing my appetite for human recognition from God’s point of view – a subtle but ever-present hunger for public recognition.

I know that we believers mingle trust and unbelief in polluted and stained hearts. And that God is working all things, including one’s sin and contrition, for our good, for the purifying of these corrupt, world-focused desires.

Seeing my sin – my boasting, embarrassed me and I felt shame. I had displayed this ugly to my under-shepherd and pastor.

But I thank the Father that He is SO gentle with me. Yes, He rebukes me, but only to cause me to repent and desire to grow more holy, more like Jesus.  I recognize that in my own strength I can’t kill this lust for applause. I even lack the desire to put it to death. So, I join Paul in rejoicing:

But thanks be to God, for….. “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Rom 8:37

Do you ask questions of a verse?

Leave a comment

Isaiah 43:20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland

And just how do animals honor God?

I must have ‘run through’ this verse numerous times without ever stopping to consider, to ponder, to PICTURE just what animals do with the water. Just how DO they drink, so that the Lord calls it honoring to Him?

The wilderness is not a place known for abundance of water. That animals and people alike all need water to live is a given. We can’t create water OR food for that matter out of nothing. Only God can.

So, what is the big deal about this particular verse that the Holy Spirit directed Isaiah to pen? It’s that I paused long enough to ask a second question. What kind of animal would balk at drinking water if he were thirsty? None.

When the Lord provides what the animals need, He is pleased when they USE His gifts. That’s what He wants. This is how they glorify Him, how they give Him honor (giving ‘kabod’ in the Hebrew) for His provision.

What about us, what about ME? Do I always honor God for His provision? Well, when I don’t use His gifts for their purpose, I can see that I DIS-honor Him. Not submitting to His wise gifts, ignoring them is a way of denying God’s provision. It’s a withholding ‘the glory due His name’ Psalm 29:2 Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

Last Sunday was one of those days when I flatly ignored God’s provision. And He, my good Father, let me ‘thirst’. I was working on a blog post, something I have tended to do on Sundays. But I was craving rest. All I really wanted to do was SIT DOWN and read. But I kept pushing, pushing to edit well and ‘cross the Ts and jot the Is’. You know, those final details that go with uploading a post.

Standing at my computer elevated on a high table in the kitchen area, I realized I had to stop. The time had come for our beloved evening ritual of talking over the day, discussing what we had read while I prepare dinner for us. I tried to gather 5 more minutes for the post, by asking Mike to empty the dishwasher. When he moved on to fixing me a drink, I knew I had to close my laptop. I finished after dinner.

But I was all out of sorts. My mood plummeted. ALL was wrong. That night I lay in bed creating imaginary scenarios, all because I had not allowed myself to rest. My mood poisoned Monday, made worse by the restless night.

Finally it hit me…..as much as I ENJOY writing, it is still work. And I ‘work’ the other 6 days of the week, whether it’s my language tutoring, volunteer gig, household chores, cooking, keeping up with friends who need a word of encouragement or even going to the gym. NONE of it is restorative. I enjoy those activities. But they aren’t rest.

Lightbulb moment! That’s it, I needed a day of rest! Not just one day, but weekly, as something to look forward to.

And He has already given it to me. That is what I saw this morning, reading about the very smart wild animals who make use of the provision that God supplies. Our Creator KNOWS just what we lack. We honor Him by taking up His gifts and enjoying them. By drinking deep. By resting.

So, today is Saturday. If I finish this post, great. If not, it can wait until Monday. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, to my Sabbath rest. Just thinking about sitting out back and reading makes me happy!

Slowing down and lingering over a verse

Leave a comment

Isaiah 43:20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland

And just how do animals honor God?

I must have ‘run through’ this verse numerous times without ever stopping to consider, to ponder, to PICTURE just what animals do with the water. Just how DO they drink, so that the Lord calls it honoring to Him?

The wilderness is not a place known for abundance of water. That animals and people alike all need water to live is a given. We can’t create water OR food for that matter out of nothing. Only God can.

So, what is the big deal about this particular verse that the Holy Spirit directed Isaiah to pen? It’s that I paused long enough to ask a second question. What kind of animal would balk at drinking water if he were thirsty? None.

When the Lord provides what the animals need, He is pleased when they USE His gifts. That’s what He wants. This is how they glorify Him, how they give Him honor (giving ‘kabod’ in the Hebrew) for His provision.

What about us, what about ME? Do I always honor God for His provision? Well, when I don’t use His gifts for their purpose, I can see that I DIS-honor Him. Not submitting to His wise gifts, ignoring them is a way of denying God’s provision. It’s a withholding ‘the glory due His name’ Psalm 29:2 Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

Last Sunday was one of those days when I flatly ignored God’s provision. And He, my good Father, let me ‘thirst’. I was working on a blog post, something I have tended to do on Sundays. But I was craving rest. All I really wanted to do was SIT DOWN and read. But I kept pushing, pushing to edit well and ‘cross the Ts and jot the Is’. You know, those final details that go with uploading a post.

Standing at my computer elevated on a high table in the kitchen area, I realized I had to stop. The time had come for our beloved evening ritual of talking over the day, discussing what we had read while I prepare dinner for us. I tried to gather 5 more minutes for the post, by asking Mike to empty the dishwasher. When he moved on to fixing me a drink, I knew I had to close my laptop. I finished after dinner.

But I was all out of sorts. My mood plummeted. ALL was wrong. That night I lay in bed creating imaginary scenarios, all because I had not allowed myself to rest. My mood poisoned Monday, made worse by the restless night.

Finally it hit me…..as much as I ENJOY writing, it is still work. And I ‘work’ the other 6 days of the week, whether it’s my language tutoring, volunteer gig, household chores, cooking, keeping up with friends who need a word of encouragement or even going to the gym. NONE of it is restorative. I enjoy those activities. But they aren’t rest.

Lightbulb moment! That’s it, I needed a day of rest! Not just one day, but weekly, as something to look forward to.

And He has already given it to me. That is what I saw this morning, reading about the very smart wild animals who make use of the provision that God supplies. Our Creator KNOWS just what we lack. We honor Him by taking up His gifts and enjoying them. By drinking deep. By resting.

So, today is Saturday. If I finish this post, great. If not, it can wait until Monday. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, to my Sabbath rest. Just thinking about sitting out back and reading makes me happy!

Face the facts…pray…work and trust God!

Leave a comment

Haggai 2:3 Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Is not this in your sight as nothing in comparison to that? Yet now be strong, alert, and courageous, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; be strong, alert, and courageous, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, alert, and courageous, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts. (Amp)

Facts are never a problem for God. Rather, He, the Creator of these ‘facts’ calls us to face circumstances and name them.

But He doesn’t leave us alone in the midst of our overwhelming situation to stew in our ‘not-enoughness’. Not up to the assigned task? That is how He has planned this moment, for the Lord of the Angel Armies is WITH us. He assures us that He will provide what we lack, making up for our God-designed deficits. Ever our Father, He pushes us forward, gently but firmly, TOWARD the situation that scares us.

Last Tuesday at the local pregnancy resource center here in Huntsville, I faced the facts. Nothing as scary as what the returning Hebrew exiles were up against, (the book of Ezra details this ‘adventure’) but unsettling enough for me to ask Mike and my friend Joyce to pray!

Every Tuesday morning, I meet with women who believe they are pregnant and turn to us for verification and assistance. They also want to find out how we can help them during their pregnancy. My role as an intake counselor is to meet with them, listen and learn what they are facing, administer the ‘pee test’, discuss our cost-free services, share something of the Gospel and to pray with them.

My husband Mike always asks God urgently to provide for me throughout my morning shift because of the gravity of these one-on-ones. All of us who volunteer and work at the center recognize that the life of the baby is sometimes in jeopardy because of the possibility of abortion. Even more important, these appointments can be occasions where questions of the eternal destination of the gal (and her partner) arise. With so much at stake, these 45 minutes or so ALWAYS feel weighty and I depend on God entirely for His direction – what to say and how.

Nine months before I left teaching Middle School French full time, I started working on my Spanish. My motivation? – a planned student trip to France and Spain the following summer. That never happened because we moved to Huntsville, changing my life dramatically. But already hooked on Spanish, I continued my language-learning journey in order to be more useful to God in a volunteer capacity here.

A data geek, I track everything about my personal Second Language Acquisition process. It’s been 27.5 months since June 2018 when I began from scratch. I employ the same method I used to teach French, that is acquiring the language through input, not via grammar or explicit learning. Starting first with simple videos and podcasts, I now read in Spanish and have some weekly conversations (language exchanges). I am at the intermediate level. The ‘problem’ is: I know what it FEELS like to be fluent in French. I can’t help but compare my skill levels. I call my level: Broken Spanish. A Mexican colleague has assessed my speaking as ‘adequate’.

Obviously just where God wants me, forcing me to depend on Him!

Back to ‘facing the facts’ this past week. Arriving at the center, I knew that all 3 of my appointments for the morning were going to be with Hispanic gals. A first for me!

No point informing God: ‘I wish my proficiency level were more advanced!’ He knows because I remind Him often. Daily, I plug on, continuing my Spanish journey, through comprehensible input (my goal is 3 hours with Spanish a day).

So, this past Tuesday, I JUST KNEW that His will for me that morning was to move ahead with my meager ability, trusting Him to make it enough.

Of course, He came through. No, I didn’t suddenly experience a jump in proficiency. My Spanish STILL felt broken and IN-adequate. But it was enough. The Holy Spirit made up what I lacked. The gals helped me as well. (They spoke NO English and two of them from Guatemala were illiterate as well – how scared THEY must feel, far from home!) And I served ‘my clients’ well enough, I think.

I didn’t get to ‘share the Gospel’ in the full sense that I am able to with English-speaking clients. With my limited Spanish it was enough for me to get through the content of their pregnancy status and services and set them up for a follow-up ultrasound appointment. BUT……I wasn’t at all afraid to pray in Spanish. For a year now, I’ve been enjoying my morning time in God’s Word using a Spanish study Bible. (Thank you, Michael!) I have acquired much of the Spanish specialized vocabulary that goes with talking about God.

But get this! I would have been thankful enough, just making it through the appointments without serious misunderstandings. But God gave me MORE.

For the first time, walking to my car at the end of my shift, for the VERY first time, I FELT upbeat about my Spanish. Serving here at the pregnancy center, using my limited Spanish is a GOOD challenge, a ‘meaty’ dig-your- teeth-into kind of worthy goal. Maybe this will turn out to be a ‘turning the corner’ marker in my quest for Spanish proficiency.

More importantly, I learned, yet again: daunting circumstances are no obstacle for the LORD.

With this ‘language high’ so vivid in my mind, this morning’s reading in Haggai struck me as a needed pep talk from God to these 5th-century BC folks (as well as an encouragement to me!) Under the Holy Spirit’s power, the prophet Haggai speaks pointedly FIRST to the elderly returned exiles from Babylon. They are the ones who likely remembered the much larger dimensions of Solomon’s Temple as youngsters in Jerusalem before it was destroyed and they were taken captive. God, through the prophet speaks to:

(Haggai 2:2) ‘….. Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to……’ the returnees who chose to journey and undertake the rebuilding of the Temple:

  • saying in effect…..Yes….this is going to be a smaller temple…and these rebuilding conditions are very, very difficult and dangerous BUT…
  • and the LORD cites those wonder-filled reasons above NOT to be discouraged.

So, it is with me, and with you, with Christians everywhere. God has created us on purpose NOT to be up to the tasks He assigns. That’s the whole point, don’t you think? Each time He comes through, our faith and awe deepen and He gets the glory. My habitual fear of failure and occasional balking alert me to my mis-guided assumption that completing this assignment, this Mission Impossible, is up to me. Yes, I need to face the facts, but I also need to focus more on the Truth. That God is my ever-present Helper. Hebrews 13:6

Life without Christ

Leave a comment

Phil 3:8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (NLT)

My mother-in-law resides in a retirement community in downtown Seattle. Her lifestyle is limited by her modest means, but she lives among some very wealthy couples who, in non-Covid times, travel a lot. It appears that few of the residents are followers of Christ, as measured by attendance at on-site Bible studies or the demand for transportation to local churches on Sundays.

Is there a connection between wealth, travel and the status of one’s soul? Maybe. I’ll echo what a myriad of Christian authors down through the ages have maintained: this fallen world is NOT meant to satisfy the soul.

As a child, teenager or young adult we don’t know this. Life DOES seem exciting – going off to college, diving into a career, finding a mate, starting a family. But as we age and change patterns of work and life, all the possible life experiences, no matter how diverse, lose their lustre, their thrill. Ravi Zacharias has captured this fact by stating:

“The older you get, the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder, and only God is big enough to do that.”

I’m guessing that the wealthy octogenarians who cruise in luxury or fly to lush second homes can’t escape the sense that ‘all this doesn’t satisfy the way it used to!’ (are they even courageous enough to articulate that feeling so explicitly?)

At 63, were it not for the gift of being a Christian, I would be depressed thinking about decreasing pleasures as one ages. In fact, this week I’ve been pondering just what my life would be like if I did NOT know Jesus Christ. Why this topic? Something I read caused me to take a few minutes to write down what I would miss most were I not a follower and disciple of Christ.

If I didn’t know Christ, if I weren’t in union with Him by grace through faith, then I would…….:

  • Lack knowing the meaning and purpose of life. This is SO important to me. It stabilizes and undergirds me. Many people search and search for the meaning of life, intent on knowing why they are here. Understanding the big picture reassures me. I don’t have answers to a lot of my questions, but one thing I am confident in is: WHO God is and WHAT He has done and WHY He created the world and everything in it.
  • Be bereft of constant fellowship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. As a little sister of Christ, I’m constantly chattering to Him as I go through my day. Out loud, I remind myself why I can rely on Him. I know the Lord is WITH me, always.
  • Have no access or right to all the promises that are in the Bible. These promises of supernatural power, provision, wisdom, protection, correction, comfort are mine because of Christ. They are my treasure.
  • Be deprived of hope for the healings and rescues that God CAN give, even though He doesn’t always give them. This kind of relaxed, confident hope allows me to leave the outcome in His hands.
  • Live with Mike in a marriage that was deprived of the freedom to love and be loved in spite of sin and selfishness. Priceless is a husband who is both brother in Christ and true friend.
  • Know that I would never again see loved ones. Now I am certain that I will SEE and be with fellow Christians, like my Mom, who have gone on before.
  • Lack the power-filled intercessory prayers of many brothers and sisters in Christ. Furthermore, I would not have the blessing of my own growing faith as I pray for others and watch God come through for them.
  • Be rocked by my suffering and that of family, friends and world. I don’t know all the reasons for an individual’s suffering. But what I do know is that God is good, that He uses the suffering He ordains/permits to make us, His adopted children, more like Jesus.
  • Have NO confidence that all the injustices in the world will be paid for, justly and perfectly.
  • Have no amazing, joy-filled future awaiting me, but only judgment and a forever future set in ‘outer darkness’, one filled with anguish and despair.
  • Not be able to let go with peace some dreams that probably won’t be fulfilled in this life, on Earth 1.0.
  • Have NO friends with whom I can be really real. Now I have many genuine friends, most whom I have yet to meet! The bond of Christ creates instant connection.
  • Not enjoy reading my Bible and Christian authors every day. I am richly fed.
  • Be deprived of recognizing when I commit sin, so I can repent, ask for forgiveness and be cleansed!

This gift of Christ’s forgiveness and union with Him satisfies me like nothing else. Knowing Him makes all the difference in my life. Without a doubt, I am much happier than when I was younger.

And with Paul, I can say that any created thing, as beautiful as it is, cannot compete with the gift of knowing God personally and intimately.

Finally, I appreciate the fact that I will NEVER run out of things to marvel over. I like it that God is BIG enough to satisfy me forever.

Looking forward to when Jesus comes back and I get a new body to go with forever life on Earth 2.0!

Sticking to my word is costly

3 Comments

But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes ‘ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. Matthew 5:37 (NASB)

I bet you’d agree with me, that it’s easy to fall into trouble through what comes out of our own mouths.

Just a couple days ago I had one of those pop quizzes from God. It wasn’t new material; in fact it was a review of a character trait that he is working to form in me – that of being true to my word. Apparently, I still need the reinforcement!

I have a cousin in another state. Let’s call her ‘Sue’. Sue and her husband ‘Pete’ and I usually check in with each other by phone once every couple of months. She works during the day, so our catch-up calls are in the evening. The least convenient time for me.

When Mike gets home from work, I focus on him during our ‘sacred’ happy hour/dinner prep/sharing prayers and dining part of the evening. Then when the dishes are done, I enjoy sipping my tea, nibbling on my 100 % cacao dark chocolate and reading – ‘Maria Time’.

I knew that Pete’s oldest grandson was to start college this fall, so while I was cooking blackened salmon on Monday night, I texted Pete and asked for an update. He immediately called back, but I didn’t answer because it was time to flip the blackened salmon in my cast iron pan. Once safely searing on the other side I texted back: ‘Can’t talk now, I’m cooking salmon!’

He texted back: Call us when you finish dinner and I’ll tell you about the grandkids.

I inwardly grimaced and said, ‘How about tomorrow night!’ And so, it was settled.

The next day, my selfishness started kicking in. The urge to postpone grew stronger and stronger. Finally, I decided to ‘just be honest’ and propose a different time, maybe during the day (when it isn’t so costly to me to spend time with someone on the phone). But if it were during the day, I knew it would have to be a chat just with Pete who is retired, because Sue works full time still.

After dinner I texted Pete with that proposal. We ate dinner. I was relieved that I had been forthcoming with Pete, sharing that the reason I wanted to reschedule the chat to a day time was because I focused on my husband during the evenings, (leaving out the ‘Maria Time’ part of the truth).

But God began to chide me! I was not at peace.

Ignoring the lack of peace while we cleaned up the kitchen, I made some tea, sat down to check my texts and emails before settling in to read. I saw a response from Pete.

He simply had texted back: “Call Sue’s cell, mine is dying.”

There it was…foiled by God! Cornered into keeping my original word to Pete.

So, I called Sue’s cell. The three of us chatted, catching up. Toward the end of our call Sue asked me to pray about an important meeting happening the next day. I realize that had I allowed my selfishness to rule, I would have missed knowing about Sue and her need. I even took the opportunity DURING our chat to pray out loud for her.

When she wrote me after her meeting, she thanked me and reported that knowing that I was praying for her had kept her calm and at peace. Pinged!!!

Had it NOT been for the persistent nagging of the Holy Spirit I would not have kept my word. Thank you, Father!! I think I understand why keeping one’s word is important.

But I don’t think the Father believed I had REALLY learned my lesson. Two days later, He gave me another opportunity to practice faithfulness to what I had assured a friend I would do. She had asked me to listen to one of her pastor’s sermons. I replied that I would the next time I was on the treadmill.

I did set my iPhone to the podcast and started to listen to the 40-minute sermon once I hopped on the treadmill. But halfway through Satan ganged up against me WITH my natural selfish bent and whispered: ‘You can stop now, halfway through and shift to what you rather listen to. As long as you are honest and tell your friend that you listened to a good chunk of the sermon…..’

My response THIS time was immediate. I spoke back: ‘But I TOLD her, my words were explicit, that I would listen to the sermon during my treadmill time!’

This time it felt good to stick to my word, the FULL intent of my word. And you know what? I finished the sermon and STILL had time to listen to the podcast I wanted to hear.

God is SO good and gentle. And I am SO selfish, but…..I take comfort in his promise in Phil 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in ME will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

I hate tech issues!

3 Comments

Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully. 1 Peter 5:7 Amplified Bible

Okay, I teach languages on line. I tutor students individually and in groups as well as create content YouTube videos where I tell stories in simple, slow English with lots of images. Each time I upload a video to my channel I create a WordPress post at www.englishwithoutfear.com

Well, yesterday something went wrong, I couldn’t insert the video into the post in the usual way. I spent about an extra 20 minutes trying this or that, to no avail. Then I had to leave it because something was more pressing.

This morning, in my little old school ‘To Do’ flip notebook, I wrote down as # 2 priority: Try again to insert video into post.

It didn’t work. Again, I had to put it aside for my 1 pm tutoring session with Veronika. It’s 8 pm in Moscow when this 10-year-old girl and her mom meet with me on Zoom for a weekly English lesson.

Lesson over, the tech issue with WordPress still loomed. Do I tackle it now or wait until tomorrow?

If I can’t get it to work, then I’ll have to find some contact or help number and hope to get a live person whom I can understand! As I was pondering the situation, ALL OF A SUDDEN (but not out of the blue!) came this thought……………..Problems are the prelude to praise.

I don’t think I’ve read that recently, it just popped into my mind. ‘How perfectly true!’ I responded. Then smiled. Okay…I WON’T put it off until tomorrow. Let me sit down and see if I can find a contact number and talk to someone.

Searching the WordPress site, I noticed the indicator of 10 new plugin updates. I usually ignore those. But this time I said to myself: ‘What the heck, I might as well…….’ There were some other feature updates that I took care of, too.

‘Huh’, I wondered, ‘what if by doing all these updates the site would work as it was supposed to, allowing me to insert my video into the post? Wouldn’t that just be like the Lord!’

I prayed. I went to the bathroom. Got some water. Then tried again. It worked!!!!

And I praised Him. Problems ARE the prelude to praise. What else but problems force us to depend on God? But it’s not like I DON’T ask His help each time I’m about to tutor a student or plan a lesson or conduct a difficult conversation. “Father, I need you!” frequently comes out of my mouth as I acknowledge my inability to do X without God’s help.

But it’s those dreaded inopportune problems, the painful situations, and the decisions with no apparent good options that cause me to cling all the more to Jesus. The tech issue of today was just another pop quiz GIFT sent my way, reminding me of my helplessness and lack of control over any outcome.

Thank you, Father, that this was a gentle reminder. Your mercies never cease, they are fresh every dawn, ready and waiting. (Lam 3:23)

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: