Worry – futile and evil

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Luke 12: 22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “And so I tell you not to worry about the food you need to stay alive or about the clothes you need for your body.” (GNT)

Christians know they are commanded NOT to worry.  And some of us do worry from time to time.  This is an account of when I recently succumbed to worry. We had been in Seattle for our mom’s 90th birthday.  And I was NOT at peace about some of the return trip details.

We were due to land in Charlotte, a 3-hour drive from our house in the Smokey Mountains.  On this late November Friday it would be dark when we landed at 7:30 pm.  I brooded about 2 significant details:

  • What about dinner?  First off, we wouldn’t want to spend time at a restaurant, which would only delay our arrival home.  But where would we buy low-carb food that time of night, once we left the airport?  Should we stop at a food place in the airport before claiming our bags?  The problem was that our bodies were operating on Seattle time (4:30 pm) and wouldn’t be hungry.
  • More troublesome than that was my imagined ‘what-if’:  What if there is a tree down across the gravel road leading up to our isolated house?  I didn’t want to imagine Mike, stopping and getting out his chainsaw and in the dark cutting, and removing a tree.  We would be exhausted from the plane ride and the drive and the general stress of air travel at Thanksgiving.

I had been churning over these 2 situations during our trip to Seattle.  And hadn’t come to any resolution.

Here is how God reminded me, yet again, of the futility of worry:

  • Our take-off was delayed by 2 hours (we sat on the plane, having taxied back for a mechanical problem.)
  • Realizing we probably wouldn’t arrive in Charlotte until 9:30 pm, Mike and I chatted and decided it would be wise to get a hotel near the airport.  Because we were on the plane and back at the gate, I could use my phone. I booked us a room.
  • Now, what about food?  Maybe we’d just skip dinner and eat almonds which I always carry in my purse…..fasting wouldn’t hurt us.
  • Here’s how God answered that need.  We arrived at the Charlotte airport hotel at 10:10 pm.  There was a bar in the lobby.  They stopped serving food at 10:30. We checked in, left our luggage in the car, sat down and ordered bunless burgers, a salad and something to drink.

God came through, providing our low-carb dinner AND arranging our drive home for the next day.  We slept soundly, felt rested and made our way home under sunny skies.  And there were no trees down in the cove.

Once again, I saw how pointless it is to worry and ponder imaginary ‘what-ifs’.

Yes, worry is futile.  But how is it evil?

Hebrews 5:13-14 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

These verses above pinged me last week when I read them in a prayer.  Here are my conclusions:

  • Milk and solid food refer to 2 levels of Biblical teaching – the first is basic familiarization for new believers. The latter – a deeper study for mature believers.
  • The Bible teaches God’s standard of righteousness or holiness.
  • We grow more holy as we learn to distinguish good from evil.
  • God is the One and only who has authority to define evil and good.

Here are two examples of God explicitly describing evil.

  •  Jer 2:13 ….my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
  • Another example of how God defines evil is idolatry or serving something created, rather than the Creator.  Gal 2:20 And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

My conclusion from these and other verses? That doing anything not from faith in or grateful reliance on God is sin, aka evil – Romans 14:23 For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Father, PLEASE help me, by your Holy and supernatural Spirit, not only to recognize when I’m straying into worry but to choose NOT to indulge in this futile, evil pattern. Amen.

 

Putting God’s peace on the shelf

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Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (NIV)

What strikes me from the three promises above is that God’s providential peace and God’s providential trouble form the ‘normal’ for the Child of God. (Those outside of God’s family face the suffering without the grace of His peace)

The supernatural spiritual peace we have received is a GIFT.  Yet when I think of all the gifts I have been given by friends and family, I shudder at how I have disposed of them.

Some intrigued me for a while and I used them, a lot.  But then I either put them aside and forgot about them or threw them away. Some I didn’t know what to do with, like the rubber tube about an inch or so in diameter open on both ends.  When I finally took it to my daughter-in-law to ask her ‘What in the heck is this for?’, I laughed to find out it was a garlic skin remover.  Others I regifted, immediately.  A few I even returned for the cash!

Similarly, I have treated God’s gift of peace, without the awe and gratitude it deserves.  Thankfully, a prayer I read this morning reminded me NOT to fear present or future suffering but to cling to the peace that is part of my inheritance from God.

So…. YES, trials ARE ordained for us, for our sanctification.  But God has given us His peace, which surrounds us on all sides.  This beyond-words peace (“….God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand – Phil 4:7 NLT) IS larger than our troubles and suffering.  The gift has been given.  Let us not put this beautiful provision out of sight, on the shelf.

But instead may we fix our gaze, that is, the eyes of our heart, on our costly birthright purchased for us by Jesus at the Cross.

 

Discouragement comes from the Devil

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John 8:44 – You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

It happened again! And only 3 weeks since I wrote a post about this SAME struggle.

Monday morning.  Almost the end of October.  Questioning what I’m doing, still teaching French.  To middle-schoolers.  Driving almost an hour.  Dark when I leave. Away from home nearly 12 hours a day.

Feeling trapped.  And ineffective.  Maybe I’m too old to connect with squirmy middles-schoolers!?  But what else can I do for work?

That was my day.  And evening.

But God!  It took me 24 hours to spot the lies.  These were not MY dismal thoughts.  They were from Satan.  Again!

What opened my eyes?  God’s good and providential assigned scripture in our Chronological Bible reading plan. For He had appointed Chapters 7 and 8 of the Gospel of John for me for Tuesday!!!  I arrived at the verse cited above about the devil.  The darkness lifted.

These musings? NOT from me!  Satan had fired discouraging thoughts MEANT to drive me away. From where God has me assigned for ‘such a time as this‘.  (however LONG ‘this’ turns out to be).  I don’t have to believe them.  Or take them to heart.

Two other factors helped set me up to feel ‘hope-less’.  I was tired, having not slept well for several days. And I was having a few gastro problems.

Note to self:  when I am tired or not feeling well, expect discouragement.  Malaise can feel SO self-sourced.

This week’s skirmish did not involve any ally of Satan’s.  This experienced Liar used silent killer thoughts to drain both my energy and desire to continue teaching French.  In my secular school.  Where many of my colleagues need a listening ear.  Where I can drop Good News seeds of truth about the Living Hope who is available to all. All of a sudden God opened the eyes of my heart to SEE reality.

Sometimes Satan involves other humans to silence and stop us.  Like Sanballat who labored to stymie Nehemiah in order to halt the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. Neh 4:1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews. But Nehemiah and his men did not cease their mission.  They did not succumb to discouraging and fear-inducing lies.

Father, awaken me immediately to future deception before it saps my peace, my contentment and confidence in You!

 

Those infernal lies that seem like my thoughts

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Mike and I have been talking about the number of lies we entertain in our thoughts. We usually assume they are true. In fact, they innocuously blend in with our other ruminations in a way that makes us actually believe they ARE our thoughts (and therefore true!).

I’m an expert at detecting these lies in Mike. They are easy to spot should he happen to speak one out loud –  these inner verdicts on reality. (analyze THAT Latin word! verus =true, dictum = statement).

I now understand this satanic tactic, a favorite of the ‘father of lies’.  He tends to whisper or suggest ideas and conclusions that feel SO much like our own. We think we are the source of the thoughts. There’s no warning sign or danger alert that they might be from someone other than us.

Here’s my most current example. I was experiencing a difficult time with some 7th-grade boys last week. They were distracting French class.  I started fantasizing about how pleasant it would be to teach adults who CHOOSE to learn French (or English) with me. (first mistake – discontent followed by coveting. How?  by imagining something other than what God has given me).  Within a few hours I was thinking:

  • Maybe I’m too old to be teaching middle schoolers.
  • Maybe this should be my last year.

I actually articulated those thoughts and conclusions 3 different times over the weekend.

Result?  I slid into a sulky, grumpy mood by Monday morning.

But God!

I actually WROTE down in my journal, “Father – HELP me!  Give me fresh ways and ideas to deal with these kids. Help my un-desire.”

And to my surprise, within 5 minutes of recording that need, a memory from several years ago arrived ‘front and center’.  At that particular time, I had written a pastor friend, asking him to pray during a VERY painful early year at my current school.  He immediately wrote back to encourage me.

He had exhorted me to keep in mind that one or more of these kids I was teaching might one day become a missionary in a French-speaking part of the world.  All because I had persisted in teaching students French.

Through this very memory, God infused my being with strength!  The hope-giving reminder of why I must continue teaching French vacuumed away the discouragement in a flash.  “I MUST persist,” I concluded.

What followed next was even more powerful.  Suddenly I saw that my feelings and thoughts of no longer belonging in the classroom were not MY notions, but planted FALSE ideas by my enemy, the devil.

That realization grew as I saw more clearly just why this ‘liar from old’ would not want me equipping someone to speak French.  Someone who might one day explain to a French speaker just who Christ was and what He has done.

So, I am reminded, how blind we are when it comes to spotting lies – in ourselves.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we must help each other by engaging with others. We should:

  • CONFIDE our discouragement with brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them to pray!
  • ASK MORE THAN surface questions when we see others; press a bit deeper when we detect anxiety or heaviness in someone’s face and voice. We can offer to listen and pray.

We don’t know how close someone might be to throwing in the towel.  Discouragement is a real life-drainer.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Jesus’ 4 invitations

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A French devotional I read each morning gave me the gift of noticing 4 invitations in the Gospel of Matthew.  Each offer Jesus extended to His hearers began with the verb, “Come!”

I looked up the four verses, spotted a progression and jotted down what I noticed.

So ‘come’ ponder and reflect with me.  Then evaluate which invitations you have already accepted and which ones remain unanswered.

# 1 Come, follow me, ”Jesus said, – Matt 4:19a

This seems to be the starting point of the Christian life.  Jesus invites us to move toward Him, stay close and watch what He does.  But notice:  He is not stationary but on the move. We have to keep up with Him if we are to see what He is doing.

When did this invitation penetrate my consciousness?  One Sunday evening when I was about 24.  It was…..

  • after I HEARD for the first time that I was a rebel, devoid of any self-directed means to make things right between me and God, the Father….
  • after I gratefully accepted the Father’s pardon, based on Jesus willingly being punished for me

it was THEN that I took hold of the invitation to follow Him, gratefully acknowledging my new clothes of His righteousness to cover my sinful nature.

What changed for me outwardly? I would say it was …….opening the Bible and understanding for the first time the truth of who God is.

That phase lasted a LONG time.  Numerous distractions interfered.  My obsession with overeating and body image…..family worries…..work stuff.  We all have our version of worldly idols.

Eventually, my ears noticed a new message on God’s frequency:

# 2 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt 11:28-29

I like to dial down, translate or re-word verses for me.  So I saw Jesus’ invitation like this:  Come and off-load your burdensome agenda and priorities. Notice that you are harnessed WITH me.  With freed-up shoulders, take up and share MY much lighter burden and My plan for your and My life together. (I’ll handle your issues and preoccupations.)  Move along WITH me, at MY pace…as you still complete your tasks and fulfilling your obligations.

Every day I have to pause and ask myself, “Maria, can you even take in this amazing offer?  to actually work with Jesus, to share His heart?  to offer encouragement and comfort and a pair of hands to hurting neighbors and enemies?”  What I find is this –  that often when I’m not even thinking of Jesus, I discover, AFTER the fact, that He has guided my words, my hands, my presence for His purposes.

As for the next call of Jesus, I’m JUST beginning to hear and respond, intrigued, captivated by His words:

# 3 “Come to the wedding feast.” Matt 22:4  Right now?  in this body, on this earth?  I thought the wedding feast was in the world to come!  Yes and no.  It appears that the festal preparatory celebrations have already started.  Now. For those who are IN Christ.

My re-worded, dialed-down-for-Maria version is this:  The wedding party for My Son has already begun. And you, Maria, one of my elect, have been invited.  You already have your wedding clothes on.  I recognize My Son’s style of dress.  Life here on this earth is NOT all suffering and work. There is joy to be had NOW! 

I am slowly noticing the connection between LEARNING to experience the many moments of joy and pleasure He gives and the final invitation that is assured me.

# 4 Then the king will say to those on His right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. Matt 25:34

Jesus tells His followers that one day soon, on the other side of this life on this earth, we WILL hear this last invitation.  If we have accepted the first invitation, then even if we miss numbers 2 and 3, we are still guaranteed this culminating honor and gift.

The way I think of it is this:  Psalm 16:11 gives us a hint of the future by mentioning total joy and limitless pleasures. ‘In Your presence is fullness of JOY and pleasures evermore’  

The joy and pleasures I experience now are minuscule tastes and weak sips of what is to come. But they are REAL.

Your most intense joy is probably different from mine.  Without a doubt, my top earthly joy are those moments of reconciliation with Mike after a painful misunderstanding.  When I experience peace, oneness and total love for and from him.  I KNOW this savoring of intense joy is a glimpse and guarantee of the joy to come.  And in the future world with God, it won’t be an occasional moment, here and then.  But FULLNESS of joy. Really!  God promises.

Pleasures?  There are too many and I can’t rank order them.  Some are: that intense sexual moment with my long-time dear husband, a satisfying shared meal, drinking in outdoor beauty, whether the Smoky mountains or a rose or the salty smell of the sea, reading something well written when I’m fully alert, emptied healthy bowels, 8 hours of solid sleep, speaking FRENCH with someone, seeing something new in God’s Word, connecting with a friend in a CS Lewis sort of way, ‘You, too?’ and that happy tired feeling after a hike.

Again, these are tokens of the pleasures that await.  The future pleasures will not be fleeting and they will last forever.  A happy challenge to my imagination.

So, dear reader, which invitations have you accepted?  And how are you using your creative mind to build up your anticipation for what awaits?  Why else do you think the good Father gave us the skill of picturing something not yet?  To worry and angst about circumstances in the here and now?  Not!!

 

 

Copying Moses

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Exodus 33:15 And he (Moses) said to him (God), “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.

I was battling some fears a few mornings ago.  Recalling and declaring some of God’s promises out loud. So my ears and mind could have fuel to fight for faith. But they didn’t FEEL enough.

I’ve often reminded myself that God’s presence is my greatest good.  While true, that Thursday morning I needed a stronger visual to cling to.

And God gave me something to consider:  the octogenarian Moses and all he faced during 4 decades of unending labor.

Poor Moses! How overwhelmed he must have felt!  Here he was 80 years old, probably feeling more than a bit fragile.  Maybe even exhausted emotionally and physically. The initial assignment of leading God’s people, the Hebrews, away from Pharaoh and Egypt had not been as easy as God had made it seem. There had been:

  • all those duels with the Pharaoh
  • the final green light to depart
  • a miraculous trek across a seabed and days of camping in the wilderness
  • and then that unbelievable golden-calf rebellion

Now God had instructed Moses to continue the circuitous and long expedition toward the Promised Land.  But without him.

And Moses balked.  Basically, he challenged God:  “I won’t go unless you go with us!  Unless your presence accompanies us each day and night!” And God conceded. What an exchange.  And what a lesson for me.

Here’s how God’s Spirit is using the biography of Moses to encourage me:

Moses was 80 to 120 years old during the entirety of his assignment.  I’m only 61.

Moses had a wife, 2 sons and a father-in-law to deal with. Plus a LARGE tribe of Hebrews, ‘cum’ stragglers – Men, women, children AND their animals.  I have a few issues, a small extended family, 2 cats and some friends.

My conclusion:  If God’s presence was enough for Moses, then surely, He is enough for me!

Since Thursday, I’ve grown fond of Moses.  He’s my human model, for now.  A flawed leader for sure (just like every man and woman in the Bible). Yes, Jesus is the perfect one to emulate.  But somehow despite all of Moses’ sin and failings, his steady reliance on God’s presence encourages me to copy him in this example.  I want to trust God’s provision all the more, just like Moses did.  Til the end.

I realize that I don’t have to SEE the future provision.  Just knowing God is with me – that’s enough to fight those imagined fears and what-ifs.

Vitamins and minerals against anxiety

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You will keep him in shalowm shalowm* whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3 (*Hebrew for perfect peace)

Years ago, in our 20s, Mike and I sold Amway products.  One item that we whole-heartedly promoted was their top-of-the-line vitamin and mineral supplement named Double X.  I’m not sure what the X stood for, but whatever it was, twice as much good stuff was packed into those green little shapes.  Double X was pricey, even back then. We grew accustomed to budgeting for vitamins.  Daily exogenous micronutrients still form part of the healthy way we cook and eat.

With school starting this month, I’ve engaged in the ‘good fight of faith’, pondering how to resist the temptation to worry.  For me, it’s always about ‘having enough time’ to give to those extra-curricular activities important to me like writing this blog, reading and creating my ‘English without Fear’ videos.

One of my go-to-verses to battle fear and worry is the one above from Isaiah.  Original Hebrew or Greek words always draw me in.  So, when I read that ‘perfect peace’ is really shalowm shalowm, I rejoiced!  You all know that shalowm is far more than peace and tranquility; it includes welfare, contentment, soundness, health, quiet and safety.

Who doesn’t desire all that?

So, what’s the catch?

Oh….just the habit of keeping our thoughts FIXED on God.  That’s all.

Right!

But just as the Spirit of God brought my Isaiah fighter verse to mind, so, too, he brought a devotional that same night. The author penned almost as an afterthought that for every thought we invest in regrets or excitement or discouragement concerning earthly, transitory details, we ought to commit 100 times as much of our thought life to ALL WE HAVE IN CHRIST!

I have to confess that I don’t even apportion 2 to 1 of my thoughts and emotions to what Jesus has given me!  The writer’s exhortation not only pulled me up short but has stayed with me all week long.

So how do we DO what he recommends?

One technique I’ve used in the past, occasionally, is to go through the alphabet, letter by letter, and just praise God out loud for all the words I can think of about Him.  I do this on hikes with Mike when we can go for long stretches of time without talking.

For example:

A:  Father, I’m so glad that you are always available, that you have adopted me into your forever family, that you are always the same, that you have altered my reality by giving me new life, that you adore me, that you arrange all the details of my life, that Jesus argues with the accuser that He has taken care of my sin problem.

I just point out as many things to God as I can think of beginning with that letter.  And then I move on to the next letter.  Sometimes halfway through the alphabet, I’ll add another deed or characteristic that I’ve already prayed about. No matter.

What other ways can you think of that we can think about God’s good eternal gifts to us?

Of course, I haven’t mentioned ‘the trust you’ part, but I see my praises for his deeds and attributes as ASSUMING a trust in him.

Father, may you give us your grace to rejoice and be glad in who you are and who we are because of you.  Thanks to Christ, Amen!

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