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!

Not my plan, not my life, not my worry

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It started like this.  We were reading about King Jehosophat and his God-ward response to the imminent attack by hordes of Moabites and Ammonites.  At the time, I was praying for someone enduring a long-term trial.

Each time I ‘revisit’ the reign of King J, I draw encouragement to turn over ‘impossible’ situations to our Father.  While in 2 Chronicles this time around, I shared with Cousin Terry my ongoing prayer.  She immediately pointed out what happened AFTER the Judean king humbled himself in his public prayer about the approaching enemy.  Opening up to chapter 20 of 2 Chronicles I found this in verses 4-6a:

And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly.  And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go……..”

Seeing in print God’s encouraging direction NOT to fear, but to trust God and to fight in the Lord’s battle shifted something in my mind.

Subsequently, when I found myself wondering how God would come through to answer this top-of-my-list petition, I stopped and confessed to day-dreaming. I redirected my thoughts and recited out loud:

  • not my battle
  • not my plan
  • not my rescue

Next, I would turn my thoughts toward HIM, the one true God who is imminently qualified and powerful, and motivated to make his name known as Rescuer.

You might push back and say: ‘What’s wrong with indulging in a little speculation about how God is going to act?”

For me, it’s sin.  Because I derive more pleasure from fantasizing through possible outcomes God might choose than from thinking about what awaits me in heaven or about all the privileges I have now as a follower of Jesus.

Three weeks later, the ‘not my plan’ response has grown roots as my # 1 weapon (when I catch myself) against WORRYING, FEARING, FANTASIZING, ENVYING OR…. today, DREADING.  I added ‘dreading’ this morning when I realized that only one week of summer break remains.  Past years have found me dreading the rev-up of the school year that lessens leisure time at home.  Today God enabled me quickly to direct my thoughts this way.

First here is my assumption as a rock-solid foundation:

I believe that God sovereignly directs all things in this universe “……according to the purpose of the One working all things according to the counsel of His will.” Ephesians 1:11.

And then this premise:

It must follow logically that my good Father has a plan for me today along with the provisioning grace needed for each happening event.  Since God only plans what will be ETERNALLY ‘good’ for me as his child, I can relax.  I trust him.

Freed from all that mess of anxiety and fear, what do I do?  At my Father’s disposal, I do the next thing that seems good to me, keeping my eyes on him for a change in direction.

How comforting, these 3 words.

How do you combat the sin of worry and fear?

 

 

 

 

‘Doing’ the armor of God

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Satan is out to kill you!“, announced our pastor as he undertook to exhort us to armor up and ready our Spirit-enlivened sword.

Two previous sermons had focused on the various defensive pieces of protection issued to each child of God as the proper daily clothing for our protection.  Patrick did not assume that we, his helpless, naïve flock of sheep, had been taken seriously the dangerous and evil nature of our enemy.

His complacency-shattering proclamation got my attention, as I opened my notebook to jot down this truth.

Patrick amplified his opening, explaining with direct language that Satan is out not to bother us, but to destroy us.  Like a vicious lion who will tear his prey to shreds, our enemy bars no holds.  Whether we consciously signed up for it or not, we live in the midst of a war.

Patrick reviewed our protective armor, before teaching on the one offensive weapon. I bet many of you can recite all the pieces:

Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV) Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Who among Christians has NOT heard and read a lot about the armor of God?  But until our pastor highlighted the DOING role in putting on our daily uniform, I was blind. So, what was new?

I’ll boil it down like this – there is an ‘action component‘ to the defensive pieces that goes far beyond simply donning this God-commanded protection.  It is THROUGH the regular practice of DOING, carrying out these functions, that the Holy Spirit of God protects us from Satan.  Without a doubt, we must KNOW for sure certain biblical doctrinal FACTS. But simple knowledge alone falls short of offering the complete safety and security planned and designed to keep us alive.  Let’s look at each piece of battle clothing:

  • Belt of truth:  Yes, we must KNOW the truth about God, per His Word. But we substantively gain protection as we practice truth-telling ourselves.  God’s children copy Jesus.  We don’t varnish or meddle with the truth.  We exercise integrity of speech and action, in line with what we believe. Be honest, brothers and sisters.
  • Breastplate of righteousness:  Yes, our vital organs are covered by Christ’s righteousness.  But as His younger brothers and sisters, we follow His command, articulated by His prophet Micah. We do just actions among our neighbors, we value mercy, both the kind we receive and the kind we give and we walk with grateful humility in His path of holiness, relying on His accompanying Spirit. Again, God’s armor protects us as we put it into action.
  • Good news, peace footwear:  I used to think that simply knowing the Gospel was what this item of spiritual gear symbolized.  I now see that as we intentionally adopt a posture of ‘I’m on a mission to share amazing news about God’s rescue plan, intended to release POWs trapped by Satan in fear and darkness,‘ our armor actually grows in its ability to guard our soul against the evil designs of dark powers.
  • Shield of faith:  I never was really sure just how this piece was different from the others.  After Patrick’s explanation, I now see that when I PRO-actively rely on God and trust His Word, I am wielding my buckler.  Deciding to count on God’s sure but invisible promises, what pastor John Piper calls exercising faith in future grace (as described in the Bible), puts me on a ready alert, looking to smother incoming lies from Satan.  These fears and doubts FEEL like they are MY OWN thoughts.  But I’m learning that they are not.  NOT AT ALL!!!
  • Helmet of salvation: Again, I always took this to be knowing that I am saved, once and for all through Jesus’ work on my behalf.  I’m beginning to internalize that there are two kinds of knowing – one passive and one active, even what I might call aggressive!                                                                                                                          Here’s what I mean by active:  two components constitute this warfare hat – a wholehearted clinging to the FACT and TRUTH of God’s Word, in general, and the comforting and heart-steadying certainty of Jesus’ final rescue plan, scheduled for a TIME and DATE in the ‘near future’.  This is a future historical reality.  So what does DOING this helmet look like?  For Maria, it’s a rehearsing certain truths about God.  Out loud in my prayers and some written down in my journal.  My current ‘biblical mantra’ about a pressing care is this: “Not my battle, not my plan, not my rescue.”  That’s enough to get me to back off in my fantasizing and sinful worry.

I’ll leave sword skills to you and your study.  That seems pretty straightforward.  There is divine power in speaking God’s Word out loud.  Evidence?  He spoke our universe into creation.  His prophets spoke about events to come:  some prophesies have already been fulfilled. You can count on the rest coming to pass, as well.

My advice to me and to you, after digesting our pastor’s sermon:  it’s a good idea to set out our wartime clothes the night before.  There might be an early morning ‘call’ to run to battle.

 

 

My empty pot

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I had a pot, a pretty little pot.

I filled it with good soil, rich in minerals, fertilizer, and lots of organic nutrients.

I planted a seedling of my dream in that pot.

It took rooted and grew, a little.  Then withered.

‘Something must have been wrong with that plant.’ I thought.  ‘Can’t be the soil!’

I pulled out the plant and tried a different kind.  Same story.  It grew a while, this time larger.  But didn’t bear fruit before it, too, dried up and died.

Not to be discouraged, I researched on-line ‘Best plants to grow in a pot’.  There were all sorts of suggestions and stories of how so-in-so, who shared the same dream I held close to my heart, had found success with this kind of plant or that.  I selected the one with the most likes and tried that.  This time, it bore fruit!  It grew and grew and started to flower.  I was excited.

But then, something got to it.  And it too withered.  I was beginning to feel a bit discouraged.

Not one to give up easily, I prayed to God.  And tried again.  Following yet another suggestion.  I was not willing to abandon my dream. After all, if I try hard enough and use the best materials and practices, surely I can make it happen!

Each time I tried something new, the results were the same – a variation of my one-flower plant.  And then it died.

Successive plantings produced pitiful little plants.

And these shoots that seemed to take root ended up looking worse and worse.  I began to feel embarrassed that I had told anyone about my dream.  They would ask me from time to time about it.  And I would explain my latest attempt.  And they would listen with sympathy and interest and pat my back and encourage me to keep trying.  “You’re doing all the right things!  And your soil is so good,” they would exclaim.

Then one day, before I even got to plant the new seedling I had purchased, it died.  Yes! This different variety, this potential little wisp of a potential little flowering plant, actually withered and died in the car, on the way home. Even before I could transplant it into my good soil.

‘Father, what are you telling me?’  No, answer.

It seemed that the Father was closing this door.  If I’m honest, I can look back and see how He had begun to push the door to my dream shut, moving it on its hinges.  I had ignored that, persevering to the day, not wanting to abandon my dream.

But now I could see, that my pretty little pot with its good soil was not going to accept any plant I placed in it.  For reasons unknown to me, but totally in the sovereign and good will of my Father.

Once home, I threw the plant in the garbage.  And shifted my focus away from my pretty little pot. I turned to God’s Word and comforted myself.  It happened that the appointed reading for that day was in 2 Chronicles about King Jehosophat and his desperate situation.  His humble and transparent honesty encouraged me as he knelt and prayed. Here was a king in front of his people admitting his strong need for wisdom, direction, and help in the face of an approaching enemy:

2 Chron 20:12 “……We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

So, I took my pot and emptied out that fine, rich, organic soil.  And set it empty, on a shelf in the sunroom.  And I prayed:

“Father, here’s my pot.  Please fill it with what YOU want.  And if it be Your will to keep my pretty little pot empty, then blessed be Your name.  After all, You are the One who owns this pot. And I, as well, I belong to You.  In fact, right now, I yield both me and my pretty little pot to You.  Have your way, dear God. Amen!”

Amen.

The pain of childbirth – a picture of holiness

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Consider Mary.  Pregnant with God’s glory.  (see Luke passage at the end)

Like some of you, I have given birth to two children.  As each pregnancy advanced, my growing state became more and more of a hindrance to my ‘normal’ pattern of life prior to conception.

And THEN, that final couple of days of growing and UNBELIEVABLY intense, painful contractions – it was far from pleasant.  But effective.  And new life, when fully formed and ready for THIS world, was born.

Both pregnancies acquainted me with the thickness of a normal cervix and the size of an ordinary womb of which I was only vaguely aware each month.

But pregnancy and delivery taught me new things, through suffering.  Were those experiences worth the experiences?  Without a doubt.

How does this relate to holiness?

Picture the Spirit of God who comes to take up residence inside a new believer.  As C.S. Lewis has written, this new inhabitant starts to do major renovations that a baby Christian hasn’t even asked for, let alone heard about.

Adding to Lewis’ illustration, another picture, other than ‘flipper of homes’, came to my mind this morning.  I’ve been reading John Owen and John Calvin about God’s purpose in curating suffering for our growth in sanctification.

(Recall God’s will for our lives IS sanctification – 1 Thess 4:3 and how important He considers holiness, ‘without which no one will see the Lord’ – Hebr 12:14)

These classic Christian authors prompted me to think of expanding holiness WITHIN me, akin to a baby expanding in the womb.  The more I submit to God’s will with humility, patience, and gratitude, the more the Holy Spirit, aka my doula or birthing coach, grows this new spiritual life within me.  I’m reminded of John the Baptist’s statement about Jesus as recorded in John 3:30 –  He must increase but I must decrease.

This new spiritual life IS Christ in us, the promise of future glory. (Col 1:27)  Just as a pregnant mom undergoes a growing baby stretching out her womb, making room for new life, so, too, the Holy Spirit pushes against some of the old self-centered us, crowding it out to create space for His growing presence.  Pain and suffering are part and parcel of pregnancy and childbirth.  And so are they also in our progress toward holiness.

That Holy Spirit-induced ‘new you’ is expanding and pushing against the boundaries and walls of the ‘old you’.  That thick ‘flesh’ is being thinned out, which HURTS like Hades (as my mom used to say).

That image of being ‘pregnant with God’s glory’* resonated with me this morning.  Our Father is not content to let that presence of holiness engrafted in us through the Holy Spirit remain the same size.  You and I must be glad, therefore, of His expansion plans to complete the work, He has pledged to do.  We must learn to accept suffering as from the Hand of God, lovingly intended for our good:  our holiness and thus our happiness.  After all, ‘A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.’ John 16:21

Luke 1:27b-38 (NIV): 

The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

*pregnant with God’s glory, like Mary – a phrase I read somewhere but don’t know to whom I can attribute it.

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