The gift of a small church family

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And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

Dear Hazelwood Church,

Almost 6 years ago (16 June 2013) Mike and I walked into Hazelwood PCA in Waynesville, North Carolina and sat down for Sunday School.  You all greeted us with warm smiles and interest.  Starting that Sunday morning, God thrust us into your midst and you drew us into your lives.

Now as we head on to the next God-adventure, we are filled with gratitude toward God and to you, this tiny but vibrant outpost of saints in the beautiful Smoky Mountains.

Looking back, I clearly see how a small church family is uniquely structured both to love and to sanctify its members, provided each allows himself to be stitched into the fabric of the family. Hovering on the periphery is NOT conducive to receiving the Father’s purifying love.

Here are several ways you loved ME well, working symbiotically with the Father to sanctify me.  (Mike, too, received your love, trust, and support in many ways!)

  • You trusted me by welcoming my experiences and passions. I like to teach, to read and to pray.  Patrick, our pastor, allowed me to offer two workshops (one on contentment and one on prayer) to the women of the church.  My monthly submissions from different on-line ministries were always included in the monthly church newsletters.  You, the body, supported initiatives to publicize weekly prayers for church-funded missionaries, for Muslims during Ramadan and for God to open the hearts of the French during several spring campaigns.
  • You challenged me to move a bit more OUT of my selfish inclinations (I’m an Enneagram 5!). Sometimes I felt ‘guilted’ to attend a function, like the monthly potlucks. In keeping with transparency, I don’t like to go out at night once I’m home from work.  I went to my first women’s circle one night about 15-16 months after our arrival.  It went on TOO long, in my opinion.J The next meeting was the annual December supper meeting.  Thanks to God’s sense of humor, I found myself volunteering to take on the ministry of facilitating those monthly evening circle meetings.
  • You then allowed me to move the focus of our small group of gals to a book study and prayer time. Yes, some of you ‘grumbled’ a bit about having to READ something else, but all in love.
  • You corrected, challenged, and (when you felt led by God) rebuked me for my good. You also cried with me and prayed with and for me.
  • You allowed me to get to know the ‘real you’ by sharing your pain and your needs. Inviting me to pray for you gave me a sense of participating in your lives. Then when God DID come through by answering our prayers, my faith thickened and deepened.  I saw MORE of God and how good He is.
  • Just as these past 6 years of teaching in a school with colleagues of diverse beliefs broadened me and grew my compassion, so did living in your midst. Getting to know ‘small town’ folk with roots and older believers grew my appreciation and understanding of God’s love of variety. God exposed me to courageous men and women who suffer ill health and aging issues with dignity, faith in God and cheery smiles.
  • Finally, but not less significant, those of you whom I found a bit annoying at times were intentional GOOD gifts from God for my sanctification. I’ve known for a while that just as in the friction of marriage, the differences between friends, close neighbors and colleagues (ministry or job) are meant for our growth toward being like Jesus.  They are part of our Father’s individualized, curated, and planned course in His ‘School of Sanctification’.  Here’s a humbling supposition:  maybe ‘Aggravating Andy’ will remain a nuisance until I, Maria, have learned from my unholy reactions and thoughts how displeasing I have acted and how sinful/displeasing my responses have been.  If the Father’s will for my life is growth in holiness to be like His Son, then He will repeat the necessary lesson until I pass that section.  And it might be at the expense of ‘Aggravating Andy’. (disclaimer – I have no one in mind when I use that sobriquet!)

So, dear church family, thank you for embracing me and drawing me into the local body.  Thank you for earnestly wanting to know me, even the annoying parts!  Thank you for your love.

Mike and I have never before been prayed for and ‘commissioned’, sent off to be ‘missionaries’ to any people group.  But that is what you did this morning by means of Patrick’s prayer and the reception you gave us after the service.  You are sending us out from little but power-filled Hazelwood PCA, nestled right up against the Smoky Mountains in Waynesville, North Carolina to go and serve the people of northern Alabama in Huntsville.  God has equipped us well in these past six years to take the Good News of His Grace and make it known far and wide, yet up close and personal with our presence.  We will pray to discern His leading in selecting a new church family.  We don’t want to disappoint you or our good God.  So, continue to pray primarily for our ‘obedience in faith’, by grace.  We will pray for you as well.

With much love and affection,

Maria & Mike Cochrane

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

1 John 3:2

Lessons from the Shadowy Valley

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Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.  Psalm 107:4-9 (NIV)

Mike and I are beginning to come out of a LONG trek through the wilderness, a journey without much light or clear vision. For the past 4-5 years, Mike has felt stymied in finding enough satisfying, suitable and value-adding work.  His original business plan when we moved to western North Carolina in the summer of 2013 aborted.  Another enterprise got off to a good start and then stalled one year later.  The door that God DID keep open these years of desert wandering has been as the tech reporter for World News Group.  But the work, as God-glorifying and useful as it was, left him with unexercised analytical skills and isolated from incarnational, face-face-face community. He grew depressed and increasingly beset by some irrational fears.

But thanks be to God, who provided a good biblical counselor and subsequent understanding and clarity to both of us.  The result? We are leaving western North Carolina shortly, something neither of us envisioned when we moved to these beautiful mountains.  But our good Shepherd, our constant guide and driver along the meandering ‘straight’ path He calls ‘good’ (see underlined verse above), has brought us within sight of a new city where we can settle.  The next God adventure awaits.

What have we learned in this God-appointed long trial and trek in the Valley?

  1. God gets our attention in adversity.  Neediness forced us to plow beneath the surface of His Word, unearthing treasure.  We grew hungrier for our daily reading through the Bible, year after year. We each started writing down in a notebook what we noticed in our readings and then sharing them at ‘Happy Hour’, while I was fixing dinner.  Discussing each other’s observations, unanswered questions and insights drove Scripture further into our hearts.  We now know experientially that man does not live by temporary food and comfort-providing stuff, (those good gifts God provides that come with the potential to become what we most value), but by God’s living Word.
  2. We each individually battled daily temptations to WORRY and FEAR.  We still do, but we have grown quicker to repent and remind ourselves of the Truth about who God is and what He says in the Bible.
  3. We practiced enunciating specific, measurable God-requests.  So many people prayed for us on and off these past 5+ years.  When you ask others to lift up your needs before God, you have to articulate well just what you do need.  Why? So you can recognize God’s provision when it comes and so you and the ‘pray-ers’ can properly THANK God for hearing and acting.
  4. Since early December 2018, we began keeping a prayer notebook.  We set it up like this: one page per day with a vertical line to make two columns:  Mike’s needs and Maria’s needs.  We each articulate and explain what is on our heart and our mind, for instance, a dreaded task to do, a burden or a fear.  I write each of them down in measurable detail.  Then we take turns praying out loud for one another.  My favorite part of this process is to look back to yesterday’s needs and see which ones God has already answered!  Then we praise our good God.
  5. A final lesson that we want to retain is this:  wilderness paths along which the Spirit leads us are prescribed by God as His good plan to conform us to His Son.  The trials are part of God’s curriculum designed to make us like more holy.  For what purpose?  to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the Beloved One. Eph 1:6 Berean Study Bible.  Why do we want to hold fast to and not forget this fact about struggles, this truth, this component of God’s School of Discipleship?  So the next God lessons don’t catch us by surprise or alarm us.
  6. We also want to continue this habit of daily praying together.  Not only do we see tangible documented evidence of God at work, but that sacred space with Him has provided a safe place for Mike and me to invite the other into some of the dark corners of our hearts. Our marriage benefits from that practice.

Providentially as I meditated on how to record my thoughts for you, this timely meditation by 19th-century the famous English pastor cycled through again:

Charles Spurgeon’s morning devotion for 8 March

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Acts 14:22

God’s people have their trials. It was never designed by God, when he chose his people, that they should be an untried people. They were chosen in the furnace of affliction; they were never chosen to worldly peace and earthly joy. Freedom from sickness and the pains of mortality was never promised them; but when their Lord drew up the charter of privileges, he included chastisements amongst the things to which they should inevitably be heirs. Trials are a part of our lot; they were predestinated for us in Christ’s last legacy. So surely as the stars are fashioned by his hands and their orbits fixed by him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: he has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us. Good men must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them. Mark the patience of Job; remember Abraham, for he had his trials, and by his faith under them, he became the “Father of the faithful.” Note well the biographies of all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and you shall discover none of those whom God made vessels of mercy, who were not made to pass through the fire of affliction. It is ordained of old that the cross of trouble should be engraved on every vessel of mercy, as the royal mark whereby the King’s vessels of honour are distinguished. But although tribulation is thus the path of God’s children, they have the comfort of knowing that their Master has traversed it before them; they have his presence and sympathy to cheer them, his grace to support them, and his example to teach them how to endure; and when they reach “the kingdom,” it will more than make amends for the “much tribulation” through which they passed to enter it.

Why we hate to wait

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1 Cor 13:4  Love is patient

As Mike and I wait to hear about a job, we find ourselves very aware of all the other waiting situations that friends, family, fellow believers, and colleagues are enduring.  Such as those awaiting:

  • to undergo medical tests or scheduled procedures
  • results of tests
  • a diagnosis, finally
  • the conception of a child that will lead to a healthy newborn
  • the sale of a house
  • acceptances from college
  • a marriage proposal
  • an adoption to be final
  • renovations or construction to be completed
  • the merciful death of a suffering loved one
  • the release of someone unjustly imprisoned or captured
  • a corrupt political regime to topple
  • an indication of maturing spiritual fruit in someone we love
  • the salvation of a loved one
  • someone to hit rock bottom and come to their senses
  • God to finally DO SOMETHING

Everyone is waiting. And no one likes to wait.  So why is that?  What is it about waiting that frustrates and angers us?

If impatience is contrary to God’s way, what exactly is behind or underneath this sin?

As I was getting dressed at the gym this morning I turned off a podcast just to think about waiting.   Since God has deemed it GOOD that Mike and I wait for something about which we petition God every day, we have grown VERY aware of all the people we know who join us in looking for God to act.

Alone (it was EARLY) in the women’s locker room, I reflected on what I’ve been telling God in my prayers.  How we NEEDED more information so we can make plans.  But is that really so?  What do plans (especially when we don’t have enough info) do for us?  Isn’t it that ‘making plans’ give us a sense of control so we won’t HAVE to worry?

My thoughts then turned to this question as I was putting on my shoes: will there ever be a time when we DON’T worry?  Right away, I pictured myself in Heaven with the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit. THERE, for sure,  I wouldn’t feel this impatient anxiety.  Why is that, I asked myself?  Because I’d see God face to face.  It’d be easier to trust Him, seeing Him, I reasoned. I would KNOW that all is taken care of.

Why would being present with God in the restored world be different than now? Don’t I have His presence, His Spirit IN me? and His promises to me?  For sure, I do!  Yet I pushed myself to answer this question. Then I saw the unpleasant truth:   I would KNOW beyond any doubt that He would provide for me.  I would trust Him more than I trust Him here and now.

Shame flooded me.  I don’t really trust God. 

After all He has done for me in my flesh-and-blood, day-to-day life.

After all the ways His Word reassures me.

After all the stories of how He has come through for others.

After the fact that Jesus did everything necessary for me to be united with Him, forever, in the Father’s presence of Love, in the forever restored world.

So maybe, just maybe, this long wait to hear about a job is exactly what God has prescribed to PROVE to Mike and to me that He really is trustworthy.

As a French teacher, I understand about individualized, differentiated instruction.  Could it be that all of us are students in God’s Classroom of Patience, each of us with tailored-made homework assignments and the occasional pop-quiz?

May we learn our lessons well and NOT have to repeat this class!

 

 

 

 

Glad to be dependent on God

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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  2 Cor 12:9

I recognize that I am needy.  I experience my inadequacy most often as a teacher.  There never FEELS like enough time to get my plans done.  And to think on my feet and change gears to meet the interest and energy level of my middle-schoolers stresses me.

So DAILY I ask God for His help.  And He comes through.  Always.  As He has done for the past 27 years of teaching.

So what’s the problem? Plain and simple, I just don’t like having to depend on God day after day.  That’s the truth of the matter.  This past Monday, God enabled me to be sharp, to sparkle, and to adjust rapidly to my students.  It was a packed day, but because of the grace He supplied, I made it successfully to the end.  My heart response after thanking Him was pathetic and belied my spoken gratitude:  “Oh no, now I have to depend on Him all over again. Tomorrow!”

Then by God’s kind providence, on my drive home I listened to a John Piper sermon.  Piper was preaching on the duty and joy of delighting in God, his favorite topic.  IN PASSING, he spoke of Paul’s personal reaction to being needy.  Linking to some recent teaching by Nancy Guthrie, I recalled how she pointed out the POWER Paul describes as a benefit to neediness. (See above verse clause highlighted in red).

I also remember previously looking up the Greek word for ‘boast’ because that English translation didn’t seem to fit the context Paul was describing.  Why use a word that means to vaunt or strut?

The Greek word is kauchaomai and it means to glory in, to take joy in, to be glad about.

There you go! Paul is glad about being needy because God’s power episkēnoō or ABIDES WITH him. 

Do you see it? Not only is it NOT a bad thing to be needy and dependent on God, but it is a gift, a BLESSING. After our salvation, awareness of our state of neediness is another advantage or aspect of our divine endowment. How so?  Our weakness or ‘poverty’ keeps us calling on Him, keeps us close by, in His shelter.  This is how we have ‘communion with God’.  Do you recall how David says, It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. (Psalm 119:71 KJV)

When we rely on God for everything, instead of depending on our ‘gifting’ or strengths,  we receive Christ’s supernatural power.  He ‘tents’ over us, descending and RESTING on us.

Just picturing God’s power hovering over me prompts connections to other facts.  For instance, James (1:2-4) exhorts us to…. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

This morning I affirmed how good my Father is to create me to be needy, for then I cling to him.  And that is the conduit for communion with Him and power from Jesus, via the Holy Spirit.

Father, please remove that deep groove of wrong thinking that values ‘IN-dependence’ over neediness.  Carve a new and permanent default pathway in my thinking, through constant gratitude for such a mighty God like you!

 

 

Do you dread anything?

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If you’re somewhat like me, there are certain things you dread.  They could be activities like doing laundry, sitting through meetings, resolving a hurt between you and someone else, packing for a trip, exercising or doing taxes!

What I’ve begun to see in my case is that when I ‘dread’ something, it’s because I have a pre-determined picture or scenario already fleshed out in my mind.  The imagined mini-drama is never fun, somewhat or majorly painful and an ordeal to ‘get through’ in order to arrive at an anticipated more pleasant activity that I enjoy.

At age 61, however, I have to admit that my actual experience of what I dread compared to what transpires is rarely in sync.  The dread is far worse than the event.

What helps me, these days, is to say to myself:  “Maria, who made you clairvoyant? You only THINK you can predict how something will be.  You don’t know at all.  And past experiences do not determine future experiences.”

This FACT should be obvious for Christians, when they actually reflect, for God teaches that He is sovereign over every molecule in the universe.  Remember, if He is NOT in control, then He is not God.

So now,

  • when I dread the army combat movie my husband has picked out for us to watch, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe you WILL enjoy it tonight!”
  • when I dread doing my exercise routine in the morning upon rising, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe you’ll feel really strong and finish encouraged!”
  • when I dread going back to school on a Monday morning, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe a student’s eureka moment will leave you feeling grateful to be teaching French!”
  • when I dread a meeting, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe I’ll acquire some new information that makes my work easier!”
  • when I dread being with someone who ‘always’ complains or adopts a negative or critical demeanor, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe God has transformed his/her heart and I’ll be surprised!”

I find I can catch and correct my inner monologue more easily these days.  I also draw heart from God’s Word in Isaiah 43:19:

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. (NIV)

 

Shutting doors on lesser things

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Journeying through Genesis again, I’ve seen how God closes and opens wombs.  Wombs are a sort of door, a door to fruitfulness. When Abraham passed off his wife Sarah as his sister (for the second time!), Abimelech took her into his harem.  Immediately, we learn in Genesis 20:17-18, that God afflicted Abimelech, his wife, and his slave girls so they could not have any children.  God took away their fruitfulness.

Catching my attention after this account were the words: Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised.  Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Gen 21: 1-2

God opened a door; he made Sarah fruitful.  Yes, Sarah and Abraham came together as husband and wife so a baby could be conceived.  But the conception and subsequent birth were entirely OF the Lord!

God has been shutting doors in our lives, specifically in Mike’s life.  We finally have seen and come to the decision to go in the direction God is leading. We don’t yet know the where or the when.  That is up to God.  However, we are doing what he gives us to do: apply for jobs, list our house.

The Holy Spirit has yet to close any doors at this point in my life.  Instead, He has recently shown me a door I am to close.  As an act of worship.

Those who know me well, put up kindly with my seeming insatiable quest for information.  Over the past 7 months, I have binged on podcasts and books about Keto.  Keto is a health-promoting low-carb, high-fat way of eating.  Mike and I switched to this protocol for brain health and disease prevention.

Keto is what I talk about.  Constantly.  My computer password has included a reference to Keto.  I have listened to at least one Keto podcast a day on my long commute to and from school.

Two days ago, God opened my eyes to this idolatry.  Painfully, and in a way that fit me.

  • My weight climbed, something that always ‘sends’ me into self-preoccupation and temporary depression.

How did He connect that with my idol worship?  That very first morning of weight gain something came up in one of my prayers. Scotty Smith, a PCA pastor who writes daily prayers, had used the example of  Betsy Ten Boom urging her sister Corrie to thank God for the fleas in their Nazi concentration camp barracks.

Convicted, I thanked God for the weight gain, not an easy thing for a weight-obsessed Maria to do.  During this same morning time with the Lord, I read another prayer and wrote this down: “Whatever we treasure in our hearts will be reflected in the stream of our words.”

Ouch!  What a closeup snapshot of me!  Almost daily I have flooded poor Mike with what I have newly absorbed in a Keto podcast.  A clear illustration of the principle:  what you dwell on and talk about reflect what is important to you.

The final gentle but firm push from the Holy Spirit was something Charles Spurgeon had written this week, based on a text from Psalm 109:4 ……but I give myself to prayer.  At the time I read it, I had said to myself:  I am a woman who gives herself to prayer.

Two days later, I saw that my conclusion was NOT true.  I had become a woman who gave herself to Keto (the latest in a long string of a ‘passion of the month/year’).

I knew what I had to do. Unsubscribe from the podcasts and the email newsletters.  Go back to podcasts about God. Change my password.

During our nightly prayer check-in, where Mike and I open our hearts to one another and write down what we need God to do for us, I confessed my sin and how the Holy Spirit had revealed it to me.  He prayed for me.

This morning, God has kept up the training.  I wrote in my journal:

  • Maria, repent when you are more interested in a created thing than in the Creator!

God then directed my mind to this exhortation from Isaiah 55:2:

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

To eat what is good, I have to stop putting garbage into my mouth.

I almost fell into temptation this morning. There remained ONE Keto podcast I had not unsubscribed from.  I started to justify, “Surely ONE podcast a week won’t hurt me…..”

(the Serpent’s lies feel so palate-pleasing and harmless!)

I unsubscribed.

My conclusion?  In this case, God did not shut the door for me, He instead urged me to shut the door myself.

I now understand that giving up this lesser thing IS a sacrifice He calls me to make.  Worship is about sacrificing the best-created thing to show yourself, God, maybe some of the watching world, and all of the invisible world, that our triune God is worth MOST OF ALL!  Sacrifice and worship are not about earning God’s favor.  His children already HAVE received His grace and can’t lose that.  But we need a constant reminder of Who is supreme.  The world, the flesh and the devil all can look mighty satisfying.  All a lie.

Eating what is good trains our palate for the Holy.

I wonder what other doors He will reveal.  More doors to close?  Or maybe new doors to fruitfulness.  Eat up, Maria!  But only what is good.

Those big mountains!

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He moves mountains without their knowing it.  Job 9:5

 

mountain for faith blog - 6 jan 2019

Reading through the book of Job, I stopped on Job’s assertion about God and lingered.  But of course, our God moves mountains!  He created them, in the first place.  Out of nothing.  What’s the big deal about moving mountains?

Well, having a few figurative mountains in our own lives, my mind instantly recalled some of Jesus’ teachings about mountains.  I googled ‘Jesus and mountains’.

Mark 11:22-24 topped the entries. I reread the verses about Jesus and his guys walking back into Jerusalem for the Passover, having spent the night outside of the city in Bethany. That morning making his way toward the temple courts, Jesus had been hungry. En route he spotted a fig tree but upon finding no hint of emerging figs, he cursed it.

Now at the end of a long day, on the way back out of the city, the disciples noticed this very same fig tree. Totally withered, due to Jesus’ words 12 or so hours earlier. In response to their surprise, he announced:

“Have faith in God…..I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Mark 11: 22-24

Reading Job’s reminder to his three friends that God moves mountains, then juxtaposing these words of Jesus that tie prayerful faith and trust in God to moving mountains, I saw something NEW and empowering.

Mike and I are working and praying about some challenges that LOOM gigantic.  You know those kinds.  They look, feel, and frankly seem….. IMPOSSIBLE! To us.

The only reason I can come up with for why these obstacles appear immovable is that I don’t SEE mountain-moving bulldozers on the scene. All I see are the problems.

But if God is in the business of creating and moving mountains, then I should be able to trust him to move MY mountains.

Jesus says it is SOLELY a matter of asking God and then trusting that he can and will move the mountain.

Can it be that simple?  That straightforward?

You might as well ask me, “Maria, do you believe what the Bible teaches about God is true?”

That’s a yes/no question. I either do believe God’s truthfulness or I don’t.  If I don’t, then I need to repent. And ask for Holy Spirit help to believe, trust and rely on Jesus and his promises.

After all, if I trust God for the safe-keeping of my eternal soul, what’s a mere earthly mountain?

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