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

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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.’

 

Why do they hate that I love Jesus’ words?

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I live my days partially immersed in the Spanish-speaking world. Desiring to become proficient in the language, I spend 3 hours most days listening to podcasts, reading my Bible and novels, watching news in Spanish on YouTube and speaking with local Spanish-speaking natives. During the past two years I have come to understand more about the lives of many immigrants in our country.  Our pastor’s sermon yesterday morning caused me to see a similarity between ‘outsiders’ seeking a new home in America and those of us who are Christian, who are also ‘others’ and temporary residents in this world.

Joe’s text was Ezra 4. Returning Jews from 70 years of Babylonian exile had laid the foundation to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But the pluralistic, syncretistic locals did not like these new developments.

What did they do? First, they offered to help out with the reconstruction, hoping to redirect it to their ends. Rebuffed and rejected, they then turned their energies into “discouraging the people of Judah and making them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans (during) the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia down to the reign of Darius king of Persia(Ezra 4: 4-5). That’s a LONG time.  Years of persecution, harassment and hatred.  In a word – afflictions meant to derail the Lord’s work.

With a change in leadership in Persia, these persistent enemies of the Jews then wrote flagrant lies about the returnees convincing the King Artaxerxes to mandate a halt to all building in Jerusalem.

Joe used this section of God’s word to emphasize that Christians, those who love Jesus and follow him, will ALWAYS be hated and persecuted.

Why? Because we actually believe what Jesus says, what the Bible teaches, like:

  • There is only one way to be saved from hell and eternal separation from God – through Jesus.
  • There is only one true and living God, the God of the Bible.
  • Sexual unions other than what the Bible teaches are sinful. (Marriage between one man and one woman for life)
  • Complementarian roles for men and women are God’s plan for mankind.
  • Humans are created male and female.

Just to name a few biggies.

Since March 2020, when Covid19 brought an end to ‘normal’, I and most everyone have longed to return to the way things were.  In a similar way, I think American Christians have been looking back over their shoulders wishing that life would do a reboot to 30-40 years ago when being a Christian was ‘acceptable’ and even commendable.

Joe’s sermon confirmed in my heart that ‘normal’ is NOT what I think it is.  Normal IS persecution.  I’ve just been living in a bubble.

Back to my Hispanic friends and my growing empathy for ‘aliens’ and recent arrivals to the States. Many don’t feel as though they belong, whether they are documented or not. What does ‘not belonging’ look like?  Degrees of persecution are routine experiences just because they are Hispanic. Like what?

  • The mildest poor treatment is indifference. Ignoring those who are not like the majority happens even in moms’ morning-out groups at a church.
  • The sting of jokes and epithets
  • Language barriers that hinder immigrants from finding community resources.

Exclusion hurts!

Then there are those in detention camps, waiting and hoping, living in difficult conditions, in a kind of limbo between appointments with lawyers and court dates, at the mercy of any kindness.

Thoughts during the sermon made me realize:

  • How I and other believing Christians need to accept that WE, Jesus’ followers, are the aliens, the unwanted and unwelcome in many parts of our country. Often scorned, mocked and intimidated into being quiet.

Somehow knowing this and embracing this REALITY cheered me as a tonic to my soul. Coming to terms with the ‘logic’ of persecution allowed me to shed that, “I just want things to go back to normal, when being a Christian was accepted.”

What a pipe dream. Let’s get real: the ruling majority KILLED Jesus. Furthermore, this Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity taught: Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)

Don’t you think it’s easier to live with the truth? Do we really want a return to ‘normal’?

At this point in my life, I now know that I want to complete my work and my training here as an exile. ‘Graduating’ to REAL LIFE in the presence of Jesus seems more appealing. AND I trust God’s timetable for me.

As our Sunday school teacher mentioned after the sermon: ‘The Good News is not that things are going to get better but that Jesus died once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.” (1 Peter 3:18). That was good news for the persecuted church in Peter’s day and it is just as true and meaningful today.

 

 

 

 

I’m still scared of God

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It was that silent part in today’s service, the private confession, where we are encouraged to share unconfessed sins with our Father, counting on the safety of His promise to forgive us because of Jesus. Something from this morning sprang to mind, surprising me.

Earlier, sitting outside with my coffee and the birds, I enjoyed a time of study and prayer. At some point, I started reflecting and then savoring right now, this particularly SWEET time in my life, in OUR lives. God has answered MAJOR prayers, some going back decades.  What kind? Here are the biggies:

  • Repeated cries for healing from work-induced anxiety for Mike that has affected his body 28 of our 40 years together.
  • Prayers for healing and freedom for me regarding eating, fitness and body weight.
  • Pleas for job contentment for Mike.
  • Repeated requests for release from my difficult job situation.

I can’t recall a time in my life that has been this restful, this satisfying. Ever.

So, what is the problem? What did I confess this morning?

That I am afraid.

That I am afraid that the Lord will remove these gifts that mean so much, that are so wonderful and refreshing. That they won’t last.

Why would He take them away?

  • He has every right to for two reasons: He created us and He redeemed us. We are His possession.
  • I know from Scripture that our Father has committed Himself to sanctifying me, to making me holy like Jesus.  In His wisdom, He might take these gifts away. To deepen and strengthen my faith, testing (for my benefit) just exactly where my happiness is rooted.  In the gifts, or in Him.

So, during the service, those 45 seconds or so, I confessed that irrational fear to my Father.  I called it what it is. Sin. A slap in the face of the One whom I should trust most. (Am I listening to Satan’s lies, I wondered? With malicious reason that enemy of God doesn’t want me to trust the Father’s love for me.) And I asked for supernatural, divine help.  Wordlessly, I off-loaded this weight in those silent few moments:

  • Father, I am so ashamed to tell You that I don’t trust You. That I’m clinging to these gifts that You have given us, not You.  I see now that I fear losing THEM more than I fear displeasing and dishonoring You. Forgive me. You’ve got to help me, though. Help me to trust You. To trust that You are good. That all that You have planned for Mike and for me IS for our ultimate happiness. It’s just hard. And this time You’ve granted us is SO restful. Soothing balm after many years of pain.

After that confession, I didn’t sense any response from Him. But now, as I write, I see how His Spirit is working. Prompting me to use this ‘shalom’ as a springboard to proclaim to others what my Father, the One and Only Living God, the Lord and Giver of Life has done.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

I don’t have to fear what He will do.

‘Satan – depart from me. I reject your suggestions. I know that Christ’s Spirit is in me and He is truth and light and He is more powerful than you.  I will not listen to you anymore!’

Here is what I commit to, with help! Instead of meditating on the ‘what ifs’ of circumstances, may I keep declaring my Father’s works to everyone I meet. May I honor His holy name in my prayers, my words and my actions. By faith, I will rely on the strength that He provides to bless Him.

Father, thank You for your promised grace: strength to direct my thoughts and words.

Psalm 126:3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

What are you most afraid of?

I am Jacob’s evil sons

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In recent years better biblical teaching has reframed how I see accounts in the Bible. Sunday school teachers in the past (and probably some now) present stories like David and Goliath in a way that children long to take on the giants in their lives. Or teachers inspire their students to ‘dare to be a Daniel’. The truth is all Bible men and women were sinful failures who, if they did do something valiant and praiseworthy, performed it only through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit’s enabling power.

These days I see how the Boazes, the Esthers, the Jonahs and the Jospehs foreshadow the perfect hero who will one day defeat ALL enemies of God – Jesus.

I can now spot when the Scriptures point forward from the weaker, sinful man or woman to the original ‘archtype’ or prototype who is Jesus.

Here’s a current example.

Last week while reading Charles Spurgeon’s reflections on Titus 3:4 ‘The goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior”  my thoughts turned to Pharaoh’s righthand man during the famine, Joseph. Spurgeon references Joseph’s abundant granaries, bursting to overflowing, as an example of God’s grace to sinners.

Joseph displays this grace to his evil brothers who thought they had gotten rid of him 20 years earlier. We read about their speechless shock and horror upon discovering that not only is Jospeh alive and well, but that he is the one in charge of famine food sales. After the big reveal, this assistant to Pharaoh showers the 10 evil brothers with kindness, seeing to the transportation and permanent settling of the entire family in the choice Goshen perfect for flocks and herds.

Picturing that initial encounter through the eyes of the brothers birthed the sudden realization that I am like the brothers. I had to acknowledge this Holy Spirit ‘reveal’. How similar I am to those men, the ones who:

  • hated their brother
  • who enjoyed mocking him out of jealousy
  • allowed evil to drive them to thoughts of murder
  • then settled for making some money off of him

Not to mention the lying cover-up they maintained for 20 years, causing on-going grief for their dad and youngest brother, Ben.

From my early years in the Episcopal church I recall the Good Friday ritual of reading chorally parts of the mock trial drama of Jesus where we, the congregants, shout out loud: ‘Crucify Him!’

King David’s adultery and murder episode is another scene I think we could all play with a good degree of authenticity. With us reading role of David during the time of his infidelity and deception. If we haven’t betrayed a spouse or murdered a friend, we certainly have been disloyal and lied toward and about someone close to us.

But in THIS instance, by grace, the Holy Spirit revealed to me how much my heart is like those brothers arriving in Egypt. I felt their shame AND their fear about getting what they deserved from Joseph – from the super powerful and authoritative hand of the # 2 regent of the Egyptian empire!

But then, with kindness, the Holy Spirit carried me on to the best part of the story: ……….seeing and beginning to understand the marvel of UNREASONABLE, BOUNTIFUL, unmerited ASSURANCE of forever provision and loving care.  Grace suddenly took on texture and dimensions. Euphoria is what I sensed, theirs and then mine.

That response should be mine ALL the time when I think of Jesus’ gift to us. The fact that I don’t stagger with overflowing joy highlights my pathetic and uncaring imagination. Not that I have to pretend or make up this generous Jesus. We have his very character and actions on full display in God’s Word, in black and white and digitally for all time.

I believe! Help my unbelief, dear Father.

 

Is God behind all this global suffering?

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News agencies world wide report droughts, floods, murders, homelessness, job loss, disease and more.

Christian organizations such as Open Doors post pleas for prayer:

  • Unprotected, Christians murdered in Nigeria
  • West Africans suffering from Fulani, sickness and little food
  • Locusts in East Africa destroy crops
  • Daily assaults on Christians in Asian country

Is all this suffering from God’s hand?

I am a Christian who believes that the Bible is the true word of God. I thus accept as fact what God teaches, that nothing happens outside His sovereign will. (some thoughts about ‘two wills’ of God)

Isaiah 46:9-10  I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.

I am thinking, thinking a lot these days and reasoning from what I know, from what God says in His Word. He doesn’t answer all my questions, but there is enough truth for me to ponder and think clearly.  He expects me, as one of His, to apply my mind. ‘Think on these things’, Paul exhorts in Phil 4:8.

I know that all that has befallen me in my 6 decades: the bad, the painful, the shameful, the sicknesses, the sin, the blessings, the rescues, the deliverances, the joys, the ‘pleasants’….all have been planned for my good, to bring me to Jesus (rescuing me from the right judgement of my guilt and fair eternal penalty) and to make me holy like Him.  If God is God and if He is good, wise, all-powerful, faithful and loving, then He has good reason, good purposes for what He does.  Whether I see His reasons. Whether I agree with them or not.

I don’t struggle with that anymore IN MY OWN LIFE. 

But recently I’ve been thinking those who are REALLY suffering in the world, in what we call the 3rd-world areas. (Is there a ‘second-world’ label??)

My pain and struggles have been those of an advantaged American born in the second half of the 20th century.  Past and present – far more people have been and are overcome by poverty, hopelessness, violence, hunger, sickness, disastrous weather and terrorism.  Does God work all those imagination-defying ‘awfuls’ to bring SOME to Christ and make THEM more like Jesus? Are these conditions His tailored will for their lives, just as my circumstances are for me?

That is what I have been wondering.  And it’s a new idea for me.

Not for a moment do I think this is merely an intellectual exercise, that God intends for me just to ponder logically when I read of 3rd-world suffering.   Why not? Because all through the Bible, God’s people are commanded to take care of and provide for the down-and-out in our reach.

  • Deut 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land; that is why I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.

In just the week that this topic has been on my mind, my conclusion is that somehow, in God’s wisdom, those who are His, those whom He is calling from each people group, He has placed in the designed location, time and circumstances best suited for their hearing and responding to the Gospel.  No, He doesn’t condone violence and oppression of the poor. But He does ordain what is at the ‘moment’ an evil for a greater good since He KNOWS has PLANNED and will bring about the eventual outcome. All through the Bible we read that His hand is behind droughts (think Naomi and Ruth), slavery (Joseph to Egypt) leprosy (Naaman), murder plots (Esther and the Jews), imprisonment (Paul and the Philippian jailor).

I choose to hold fast to what I know is true about our God.  I have learned that He is trustworthy.  I don’t have to understand or see His reasons to accept that what breaks my heart will one day be the cause of my praise for the resulting beauty of his Grace revealed.

In the meantime, may He keep my heart soft both to call on Him for justice and relief and to be part of His provision.

Protection against Prosperity

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The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad! Psalm 126:3

God has come through with an extraordinary mercy to us in answer to much fervent prayer – our own cries for help along with sustained prayers offered up by family and faithful friends. I’ll tell you more in a bit.

I’ve been reading in Scripture examples about the dangers that ‘good’ times can present. King David gives us many examples. His most notorious is his complacency (leading to the Bathsheba incident) after God’s divine help in driving away Israel’s enemies. Were it not for Biblical narratives of his downfall and his own writings in the psalms we would not be warned. Yet despite his astonished and grateful joy in God’s forgiveness, over time, David’s gladness waned. He grew distracted by comfort, helped along by an increasing lack of attentiveness to his Master, the LORD.

Merriam-Webster explains complacency this way: “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Com means ‘with’ and if you recall the verb ‘to placate’ (to please) the idea of being pleased with oneself is obvious.  But self-pleasure can be dangerous, especially if we grow über-SELF-confident.

But what does prosperity in the title of this post have to do with complacency?  We can see that it was God who had made King David prosperous. And in the beginning, David’s gratitude over his ‘prosperity’ or successes was real. But he didn’t nurture that spirit of thankfulness. As life grew easier after years of hardship, his attentiveness to God slackened. He let himself get preoccupied with the gifts.  Not only was David wealthy he enjoyed multiple blessings of regional peace, family, friends. For sure during those painful, difficult years he had followed Moses’ advice to Joshua about how to be ‘prosperous’:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Josh 1:8

But once God was gracious to him, David FORGOT the part about ‘meditate on God’s law day and night.’ A change came over the prosperous David. Enjoying God’s bounty, he let down his guard. 

I don’t want that to happen to us! 

As Mike and I have come to know our Bibles, we understand how to please our Father.  Ultimately it’s because He has changed our hearts that we WANT to obey Him. We also have grown to realize that afflictions are gifts from God that keep us clinging to Him.  They keep us needy and very close. Desperation keeps us ‘meditating on God’s Word night and day’.

Since June 2013, when we left Virginia and moved to the Asheville, NC area, we have been especially needy.   How so? through hardships right and left, one after the other. Like what, Maria?

  • a blatant closed-door, dead-end to Mike’s plan to work from home in NC as an operations research analyst
  • no open doors to other significant work for him during our time in NC
  • perplexing difficulties for me in a new school teaching French – each year in that school was laden with painful experiences. Nor could I couldn’t find another teaching position
  • Mike’s frightening heart crisis that lasted some weeks
  • his slide into depression during our 6 years in North Carolina, alienating some people
  • a surprising decision to leave mountains we loved for Mike to go back into full-time engineering work
  • then after God’s good gift of a job and sale of our house in NC, a recurrence of a physical stress symptom that had dogged Mike for 25+ years but had been absent during the previous 7-8 years. ‘Complacently’ we had assumed it would never come back.

The return of this latter affliction seemed to be the most painful of all the above. It colored Mike’s world and spilled over to me.  He could hardly avoid noticing it, because it affected his body, every day and all the time. I prayed fervently.  We both did. As did friends and family.

What else did we do?  We journaled, we tried functional medicine, Mike met with a Christian counselor.  Friends and family continued to pray and stay connected. Most of all we went deep into God’s Word. As we did, He began to change our thinking to align more with His Word. Whether you believe that He ‘allows’ or ‘sends’ suffering, in God’s hands He wills all things for our good.  We began to ask God to change our desires – that we would desire HIM more than an affliction-free life.

Then, about 4 months ago God seemed to be directing us to have Mike go back on a medication that had ‘stopped working’, one he had gone off of.  He visited his doctor, asking for a higher dose. We prayed on, willing to live with this suffering if it were God’s best for our holiness and ultimate joy.

It took a full 10 weeks for any relief to be evident.  His body started slowly to respond, in fits and starts.  Mike kept meeting with his Christian counselor.  We continued to pray, to journal, to study God’s Word. 

It is now almost the end of May 2020 and we rejoice. Mike DOES have relief. The symptoms have subsided. His body feels normal. He is visibly relaxed and cheery.  I can tell he is enjoying life in a new way. 

I check in with him each evening as we write down our God-directed thank-you’s in our prayer journal.  Then we pray for one another mentioning the next day’s needs. We don’t hesitate to ask Him for another day of relief for Mike.  Just as we ask Him to grant me a good night sleep. We take NEITHER gift for granted. We also know that God has the right to withhold both. They are not our due.

Hence my meditating on the ‘danger’ that comes with answered prayer, when the pressure lets up.  Not that God is dangerous, but that a cavalier attitude on my part can easily endanger my heart. I want to lay in place good habits of thinking. Yes, our Father IS good and He delights to give us rest and periods of joy-filled relaxation.  Mike and I are grateful for these broad or open spaces where ‘enemies have been driven back, bodies have healed, children have been born, and the harvest is plentiful.’ 

Psalm 18:9 He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.

So how DO I guard against complacency?  I have landed on two ways: 

  • Gratitude and
  • Humility

Gratitude looks like this for me:

  • recognizing and chattering my thanks to my Father throughout the day for all the gifts I can see 
  • mentioning His kind provision of what I might not even think to ask for, like safety or how loving my friends are

Humility looks like this for me:

  • Recognizing that I am a contingent being, that I cannot do ANY thing on my own.
  • Acknowledging daily that God, the Creator and Sustainer, gives me life moment by moment. Unless He wills that I KEEP LIVING, I am but dust molecules
  • Talking out loud to Him about what I need Him to provide NEXT in order to do the task at hand

This, then, is how I am trying to ‘walk humbly with my Lord’.

Friends and family, we want YOU to know how glad we are for the great things He has done.  Thank you for your prayers and years of encouragement throughout these past years. This new broad and fertile time is refreshing us.  We are savoring it.  It feels sweet.  We don’t deserve it, and we are grateful.  May we continue to keep our eyes on Him!

 

When did God wake you up?

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How do I know if I TRULY believe?  What if I am fooling myself in thinking I have saving faith?

Have you ever feared or wondered if you really were saved?  In other words, is the faith you have, I have, is it enough and is it the ‘right’ kind of faith?

I occasionally flirt with these thoughts.  But when I think about how I now enjoy reading and studying my Bible, I find reassurance.  Not that one is not a Christian if one doesn’t read his Bible.  There have been and will always be illiterate Christians, young and old.

But since for years I never READ my Bible and now it’s what I look forward to most each morning, I fall back on that change in desires as a substantial piece of evidence for having genuine faith.  That’s evidence for me.  I DO know that there are Bible experts who are not believers, even some pastors who are not authentic Christians.  So, when I say I love reading God’s Word, it’s because I NEED it.  I come hungry to the Scriptures. And those few times when I feel stone cold and NOT hungry, then at least I know that I need this kind of spiritual feeding.  The French sometimes cajole their children with this advice: “Eat so you’ll be hungry!”

I say all this because I found reassurance of the genuineness of my faith this morning from reading William Perkins.  Perkins, a preeminent reformed protestant theologian (1558-1602) shaped many fellow English scholars and pastors in Tudor times.

Perkins Here’s what I copied in my journal from chapter 17 of his writings:

(Caveat: this is not a step-by-step process I’m writing, just some conclusions.)

When Jesus endured the curse of the Law in my place, I, too, as one in union with Christ by faith, was set free from the law.  Romans 8:2 goes like thisFor the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

This good news means that I don’t have to heed the hard but righteous taskmaster of the Law who has one standard: “Do this and live!”

Perkins writes on page 73: The law requires perfect obedience at our hands, yet God of His mercy looks more at the will to obey than the perfection of obedience. (bolding is mine)

When I was 16 and 17, sitting in the Episcopal church, nonchalantly assuming I was a believer, I NEVER wondered or worried or even pondered about my faith?  Sadly, I was not one of Christ’s, though I had been baptized and confirmed and participated in youth group each Sunday night.

What comfort I draw now, knowing that the Father accepts as enough the DESIRE to believe, the WILL to please Him through obedience, the LONGING to have a Savior. That I know that I don’t have to keep proving myself is one evidence of my belonging to Jesus, of being IN the family of God. Savoring and resting in that freedom pleases Him!  For it means I take Him at His word.

In many ways, I am thankful for having that pre-believing time of indifference and nonchalance. I know what it felt like to be on the other side of the dividing line.  I DO rejoice most days with amazed thankfulness and praise for the God who woke me up to my sin and to the Savior.

Why does everything feel like a burden?

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This is embarrassing to admit, but some days, the idea of fixing dinner FEELS like a burden.  I’ve told Mike that I think I’m addicted to ‘pleasant’ or pleasure. I can’t come up with any other explanation.

So what does ‘pleasant’ mean to me?

Not having anything to do that I don’t want to do.  The funny thing about dinner prep is, is that I CHOOSE to cook. It’s not like someone else MAKES me.

I also choose to exercise each day.  Three of the days each week I push myself hard, working on cardio endurance and muscle strength. Those are the mornings I dread. Yet I know that discomfort is a small price to pay for fitness and health.

Then there are the once in a while tasks that feel like burdens. The other night the reality of a new month hit me – a month with Mother’s Day and 4 birthdays in our family.  My desire to give thoughtful gifts that please clashed with a lack of confidence in being able to find them. 

After a couple of days of churn over the gifts ‘burden’ plus some other unresolved matters I had to get myself in hand, via God’s Word.

Feeling sorry for myself and with a bit of drama I wrote in my journal: Things I need to do ALWAYS feel like a burden. But I’m supposed to cast ALL my burdens on God (Psalm 55:22).

ALL of a sudden, one of God’s truths came to mind. It’s those two verses from Psalm 18:

28 For it is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
29 For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.

Here’s how verse 28 helped me: If God lightens my darkness, that means He will show me what I’m to do about each purchase for my family. 

Reading further in Psalm 18 I mused: Well, what are walls, but obstacles?  With the gift example my lack of creativity is no hindrance to God who is CREATOR of all that exists.

And what is a troop but an enemy army whose diabolical objective is to RAID my peace of mind!

As a redeemed little sister of Jesus, family PEACE is my due. The Father doesn’t intend for me to worry.  He wants me to hand over EVERY burdensome, anxiety-producing decision or problem to Him, however minuscule they seem. He even calls my relying on Him ‘obedience.’

Seeing these truths, together with writing down my thoughts in my journal dispelled the self-pity and lightened the tasks.  Even my workout didn’t feel so painful afterwards!

Here’s my prayer for today: “Okay, Father, I’m handing over ‘all I gotta do’ about gifts during May. Today, I will just do what is at hand, what I CAN do.  Thank you for reminding me of my privilege to off-load all that feels burdensome.  Thank you for your promise of energy for today.”

And about the ‘burden’ of preparing dinner for Mike and me? Another truth from God’s word came to mind as I was getting dressed.  God has sovereignly ordained for all of us the GOOD gift of work, (a pre-fall blessing). Yes, there is time to relax and restore. But work is the natural guiding principle of human activity.  We are meant to TEND our gardens, whether in the home or in the office.

Father, help me to remain content with the work you have given me this day. May I do each task depending on you, for the welfare of those around me, for my joy and to please you. Amen

PS:  My mother used to say that the THINKING about something was always worse than the actual DOING.

 

 

 

 

When God doesn’t answer

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Are you waiting for God to show you what to do? Who among us is not living with uncertainty or facing an impending decision?

One of my daughters-in-law is considering ‘officially’ homeschooling her 3 kids in the fall when the new school year begins.  Currently supervising and experiencing poor on-line assignments planned by classroom teachers has prompted her to provide alternative educational activities that enrich and suit each of the three children. The kids have settled in nicely to the new content and its rhythm.  All should be tranquil, right?

Unfortunately, at times, like we all do, she falls into churning about the future, details swirling unsettled in her mind. No peace and no answers, yet!

I’m experiencing similar quandaries:  what should I do about the English without Fear videos I create? Continue, produce fewer, abandon?  And what’s with my Spanish experience?  Daily I work on my own language acquisition. Beginning Spanish lessons for my grandkids via Zoom continue. But, but….what does God have in mind for me, ultimately?

Even though I KNOW that there is a time for everything, even though I KNOW that no one is forcing me to decide the future of my English and Spanish activities, I find myself indulging in analyzing pros and cons of how I spend the time God allots me.

Aren’t we two gals a microcosm of the world, both now during Covid19 times and in the past.

Reading Psalm 77 (NLT) this morning showed me a better way to face all our unknowns and handle decisions.  The psalmist Asaph is in a bad way.  He needs God for some dire situation:

  • I cry out to God; yes, I shout – v 1
  • I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help – v 3
  • I’m too distressed even to pray – v 4b
  • Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? – v 7
  • Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? – v 8

No answer.  God is silent.

But Asaph doesn’t give up. Nor does he continue to stress himself out with: What about this, what about that? What shall I do, especially since God doesn’t answer me?!!!!!

Through the Holy Spirit, God mercifully prompts Asaph to start thinking about all the ways God has come through for him in the past:

  • But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. – v 11
  • They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. – v 12

And off he goes.  Asaph never returns to his issues, his problems and the decisions he needs to make.

You know what this sounds like?  It’s just what Paul tells us WE should do in Philippians 4: 4-8.

In encouraging the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul assumes they all have problems and decisions to make that could weigh them down with anxiety. After reminding them to name what they are glad about in Jesus who is near them, he says:  openly present all your needs to God, thanking him for his care.

Notice that Paul does NOT explicitly say: ‘God will immediately give you the answers and resources you need.’

I think Paul would say if you asked him: “But what about…..?”:

  • ‘But of course, God will provide. But until he does, his immediate answer and gift to you is supernatural, unworldly peace. Not a peace based on answers for your particular situation.’

Yet, Paul does not leave them to fight deep groove of worry.  He offers a practical way to PROTECT these anxious, weak and struggling Christians.  Paul commands them to shift their thoughts to all that is TRUE, NOBLE, RIGHT, PURE, LOVELY, ADMIRABLE, EXCELLENT and PRAISE-WORTHY.

Isn’t that what the psalmist Asaph shows us by switching his wakeful thoughts to God’s past actions?

Psalm 77 is great because we don’t know the dire circumstances burdening his life.  Therefore, we’re free to adapt it to our own peculiar churn and inner distress.

I admit though, that this is hard for me to do!  I seem to prefer the familiarity of worry even though I know it harms me.  Shifting my thoughts takes an act of the will.  I have to turn my back on temptation, pray for help and set my mind to reflect on all the ways God has come through for me and my family in the past.

Yes, I still don’t know about my ‘future when it comes to teaching English and Spanish.  My daughter-in-law doesn’t have answers TODAY about homeschooling in the fall.  But we don’t have to be slaves to our as-of-yet unmet needs.  We have a good Father who doesn’t change. He’ll provide wisdom when it’s time. We can’t imagine or picture WHAT new information he’ll send our way, at the RIGHT time, that time when we SHOULD choose a course of action.

For now, for today, I want to remember that my Father’s will for me is a peace that goes beyond having answers and information.

Are you up to the task?

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Due to this pandemic-shift in my weekly routine I have more time.  One activity I have taken on is teaching 3 of my grandchildren beginning Spanish, via Zoom.  Two live in Florida and one in North Carolina.  Now, you have to know that I am only an intermediate-level Spanish speaker.  I’ve been working on acquiring Spanish, not yet two years. Being fluent in French has helped. God also has given me years of assisting kids acquire a language.

I do not FEEL up to this new task. But it’s not my limited Spanish that unsettles me, it’s my fear of not ‘being ENOUGH’ as a language teacher. I have doubts about creating and engaging my 3 students competently enough to hold their attention so that they both learn and enjoy Spanish.

This feeling of ‘not enoughness’, of not being UP TO the task is not new.  I struggled with that same sense of inadequacy during the 27 years I taught French.  I cannot remember one day when I ever approached my classes feeling confident in myself OR competent.  In fact, I had a love-hate relationship with this career.  On the days when a lesson would go well, I rejoiced and felt energized.  But a previous day’s success never translated into the expectation that tomorrow would deliver the same outcome.

I know I am not alone.  A pastor friend of ours ALWAYS asks Mike and me to pray fervently for the preparation and delivery of his occasional sermons.  Like me, he evidently struggles with doubts and fears about being ‘up to the task’, as do many others I can think of.

What about parents raising kids?  Do they ever have confidence in their ability to nurture, discipline and teach their children?  I don’t know a single mom who does! I never did, that’s for sure.

Mike, my husband, rarely feels self-confident.  During our 6 years in Western North Carolina, he would ask me to pray for EVERY radio script he researched, wrote and recorded, for EVERY article he composed for World magazine, for EVERY Sunday school class he taught, as well as for EVERY session meeting in which he took part.  Here in Huntsville, he continues to ask for and I know he depends on my prayers to our good God on his behalf.

One of our sons who is an Army lawyer texts us to pray for each court appearance and airborne jump he makes. We also pray for the weekly work, travel and parenting needs of our other son and his wife. They regularly share the tasks that face them that keep them ‘needy’.

So, I ask you, is self-confidence wrong or is it the norm?  Could it be there is something weirdly weak about me and the people I’ve mentioned?

Tabletalk, the devotional monthly magazine published by Ligonier ministries, reassured me this week that not feeling UP to it, to the assigned task, is normal.  Pastor David Strain wrote in his March 21-22 weekend devotional (page 57 of the March 2020 issue):

…..the infinite God…only (is) enough. (This doctrine of God’s infinity) reminds the anxiety-riddled introvert: “You are right to feel your limits so keenly. But you are wrong to think you should be up to the tasks before you.  You were never meant to be enough.  You were meant to live depending on Me. Only I am enough! My grace is sufficient for you, and My grace is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).”

What a relief!  No wonder I don’t feel up to teaching the kids Spanish.  I’m not supposed to.  That uncertainty, that fear is a gift from our good Father. He created us to be needy, right from our conception.

I love 2 of the looser translations of Matthew 5:3 where Jesus proclaims the poor in spirit to be blessed.

Contemporary English Version: God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!

God’s Word© Translation: Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Is there no room for confidence in the Christian life?  You know the answer to that!  We put our confidence not in ourselves but in the One who is infinite, powerful, good, wise and sovereign over every one of us whom He created: whether rock, butterfly or human being.  What a relief NOT to depend on Maria!

The promise of beauty deceived me

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Decrepit tulips

The tulips never even opened.  Instead, they started to decay from the moment I placed them in water. The promise of their beauty on display at Target deceived me

I keep flowers all around the house.  This vase is sitting on my bathroom sink. Nearby on Mike’s sink, in contrast, sit some lovely Alstroemeria boasting in their fairness. But somehow the ugliness of the tulips speaks a louder message of truth and I am loathe to toss them.

I sense that I need to embrace the reality that these flowers represent.  This world, this Earth 1.0, IS decrepit, a crumbling place.  No amount of make-up or human enhancements can change this reality.  There IS a curse.

It’s always winter in Narnia – the power of the White Witch reigns. A fact, akin to my decaying tulips.

But just as C.S. Lewis penned, there IS a stronger Truth, an ultimate Power that is at work.  Aslan is coming and a warming, colorful spring heralds this Hope.

Resurrection Sunday, Easter, signals the same for us. A forever summer is drawing nearer. It’s different from summers we have known. Given our few senses, is it even a wonder that we CAN’T imagine a SUPERIOR-summer?

John, guided by the Spirit of God wrote in Revelation 21: 1-4: 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

This renovated, remodeled, new and best of all possible Earths will be Beauty par excellence because the King of Beauty, the LORD Himself will be present with us forever to enjoy.

Since mid-February I have begun to daydream more about this promised future.  I’m beginning to look forward to it.

In the meantime, I thank God for glimpses of beauty, for tastes of goodness here on Earth 1.0. They DO cheer me and lift my spirits. No denying that.  Still, I am sobered by dying reality. A reality that hints at an everlasting Beauty but a reality that cannot hide decay.  Like make-up on a cadaver being prepared for a funeral home viewing.  I’m not fooled. No one is, if they are honest with themselves.

So, this past week, I have learned much from my aborted tulips.  By grace, because of the gift of God’s Word, I know Truth. Jesus.  Though appearing ‘ugly as sin’ because He was MADE to be sin, He was and is and will always Beautiful.

And we believers who, along with my tulips, are decaying, will one day change out our outer layer for new bodies, a final and permanent version 2.0, supernaturally perfect and perpetual.

Aren’t you glad that the best is yet to be?

 

 

 

 

 

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