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.’

 

How do I rest in the midst of enemies?

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Psalm 110: 1-2 The LORD says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!

In reading and RE-reading the above verses, I noticed 4 verbs.  Two are actions the Father does – He says and He sends.  Two are commands He gives to Jesus – SIT and RULE.

What struck me is the unlikely setting – ‘in the midst of your enemies.

How can one sit, which communicates rest, and rule, which implies being in charge, while enemies are all around? Personal enemies (Jesus’) to boot!

Pondering new thoughts about the Son reminded me of His call to the weary crowds:

Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Here the ‘enemies’ are one’s own plan and autonomous path.  Jesus offers the gift of REST, but the circumstances He extends include a different yoke and a different burden.

What both passages have in common is that ENEMIES, BURDENS, HARD WORK don’t exclude REST and Jesus’ RULING.

These whiffs of Promised EASE in the fight, in the burden-bearing feel soothing.

Like each of you, Mike and I are suffering with customized circumstances that God calls ‘good’.  No surprise there.  We suffer because ever since the Garden fiasco the world has been disordered. We suffer because we are sinful. We suffer because we have an enemy who commands 1/3 of the spiritual forces in the universe.

For years, I have succumbed to the temptation of believing, of striving, of hoping and praying for THIS condition or THAT circumstance or THESE problems to pass from me, be resolved or be removed.  So that ‘life could get back to normal’, that is, so that I could be comfortable and at peace.

Age brings perspective.  I now see that suffering is the norm.  Problems are to be expected in this body and on this yet-to-be-restored earth. Yet, there IS a Red-Letter Day in history when Satan’s evil terrors will come to an end. His time bomb has been ticking, ever since the Cross.

Still, I find it hard to hold on to this SURE bright future in such a way as to FEEL sustained and content day to day.

That’s why the reminder that Jesus is ruling from a position of rest while enemies attack, deceive and kill refreshes and reassures me.

Jesus says and shows through His Word that REAL Rest IS possible IN chaos.

How so?

Look at His earthly vocation as a tool maker.

The idea from Psalm 110:1 of ‘the footstool being made out of Jesus’ enemies’ suggests to me that there is a good purpose for the time it takes until this ‘piece of furniture’ has been fashioned.

Furthermore, Master Carpenter Jesus has crafted and HIMSELF dons a yoke, the yoke-shaped Scepter of Divine Ruler, according to His Father’s command.  As He rules and labors, from Heaven, while seated, He calls out to us: Come, put down your painful, NON-productive yoke, and join me.  I’ll tailor it to your shoulders.  I promise you….

……..REST!

Daily work continues and is often painful and problem-filled as the Holy Spirit of Jesus leads us in HIS paths of righteous for HIS name’s sake. But Jesus has given us a couple of promises to make our days more bearable:

  • He has something to teach us that will help ease the suffering.
  • He is gentle and understanding.
  • His yoke is USEFUL and GOOD (what the term ‘easy’ means)
  • Our individual LOAD (what the term ‘burden’ means) is light because He shoulders the bulk.

In other words:

  • swapping our self-directed purposes and goals for His guaranteed successful meaningful work
  • knowing that what we do as we walk with Him at His pace in HIS direction makes a difference
  • His bearing the greater responsibility and load in this Yoke
  • knowing that He understands our temptations and struggles

All these give rest for our souls.

So, let’s take a deep breath and thank God in His wisdom that baffles human understanding. He absolutely does know what He is doing. Marvel that He chooses to walk WITH us, supernaturally fastened to us.  We in Him and He in us.

 

 

 

What precedes worship?

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2 Samuel 22:4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies.

Psalm 50:15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me

Isaiah 43:7 .…..everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made

Prayer is our life blood, in this body.  But we will not pray forever. When we find ourselves face-to-face with Jesus, we won’t need to ask for anything. We won’t need faith. We will SEE.

ONE activity we WILL continue in heaven is worship. Praising God, enjoying His worth, and making much of Him will be a pleasure.  If joy in worshipping God seems fleeting here and now, it won’t be when we are in His presence.  After all, scripture gives us glimpses of the angels thriving on worship.  Their experience seems so qualitatively different from mine.  But when we join the angelic host, worshipping God will be a natural and beautiful way of life.   And if that is so, then doesn’t it makes sense to take it seriously now? To practice it?

With that idea as a backdrop, something I read triggered the following thought.  When I rely on myself, I deprive the LORD of worship.  And I, myself, LOSE an opportunity to grow in my enjoyment of making much of God.

What do I mean?  Just this – when I rely on myself and things go well, whom do I thank? I probably don’t even think to ask. Why should I thank anyone since I was the one who came through?  My own initiative, experience, skill and wisdom led to the good outcome, right?

What’s wrong with this thinking? For one, if the situation turned out well, it wasn’t because of me, but God’s mercy.  I’m just blind to that FACT.  And second, who granted me the necessary tools to do ‘good’ work?

But worse than my faulty analysis is that I have just stolen worship that belongs to God.  Yes!  Number me among the glory thieves.

For how does God get any glory when I rely on Maria? And if I do acknowledge the Lord, my hat-tip to Him is more like the smug pharisee who thanks God he is not like the tax-collector. He’s really praising himself, not God.

But when I throw myself totally on Him to come through in the ‘hards and impossibles’, when I count on Him to provide energy and wisdom in the ‘ordinaries’, THEN after every provision, I have AMPLE reason to thank and praise the Lord!

It’s plain and simple.  Isn’t this why God in His Word commands us:

  • to hand over our situations that drive us nuts and count on Him?
  • NOT to trust ourselves or our insight in situations but to look to Him to show us what to do?

The Lord has even built into this broken, fallen universe a practical design feature to help us REMEMBER to depend on Him.  What is that?  He has created us as needy, finite, people desperate for help. Why pretend otherwise!! The psalmist knew this fact and was not ashamed to announce it.  See how his very dependence on the Lord produces praise:

Psalm 71:6  I depended on you since birth, when you brought me from my mother’s womb; I praise you continuously. (ISV)

How has this realization changed my attitude?  Each morning when I am getting dressed, I bring to mind how my neediness is God’s good gift to me, not a deficit.  Not only can I relax and count on Him coming through in all my situations for the day, I am also practicing my eternal career – worshipping and enjoying the One who is the most worthy person in the universe.

 

What do you see?

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Matthew 6:33:  But SEEk first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

What are you looking at right now? Whatever it is, IT is feeding your mind RAW DATA.

And because we are human, our minds don’t leave raw data alone.  We try to make sense of it, to draw conclusions.

Another word for SEE is BEHOLD.  Both testaments use the Hebrew, Greek or Aramean term that translators have rendered as BEHOLD.  When I searched on line for the number of times the term BEHOLD is used, I found this website.

The author tells us BEHOLD appears 1298 times in the Bible.

Here’s why this is important. We choose.  We choose WHAT we see, what data we take in, what we focus on.

So which data stream do you want to allow into your mind?  What do you want to be the raw material of your conclusions which will

  • influence your feelings
  • guide your decisions
  • impact your body
  • color all your interactions with others?

This is no trivial matter.  You CAN choose what you focus on, what you SEE with your mind’s eye.

This day, I am exhorting myself:

  • Maria. SEE God!
  • Behold, that is recall, focus on all the details you know, Maria, about our triune, eternal, power-filled, good and living God.  If the details are from the Bible, then they are true. They are facts.
  • If you’re SEEing, looking at your earthly circumstances, you can’t be certain that they are what they seem.  You can’t be sure of the data, so be skeptical about your conclusions.

Why be skeptical?  Because, for one, we are finite. Moreover, we don’t know what God will bring about tomorrow.  But we can be sure of Him, the One who doesn’t change. He is the most important Fact in the universe.

So what are you looking at most of the time?

 

 

Are you pessimistic like my mother-in-law?

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Isaiah 55:2b – Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

Are you around pessimistic people, folks who think our country is ‘going to hell in a handbasket,’ as my dad used to say?

Each week I call up and chat with Mike’s mom. Her end of the conversation often focuses on the state of our country and American society. My mother-in-law, who is 90, lives far from us in Seattle. Her two-bedroom apartment is in an upscale retirement complex.  As a very outgoing widow she does enjoy all the social activities offered to residents. However, she does find it awfully quiet when she closes the door to her 6th-floor apartment overlooking Lake Union.  That fact combined with a life-long TV-watching habit means that she likes to keep the TV going for about 5-6 hours a day.

What does she watch?  For 4 of those hours, she’s tuned in to ‘newsy’ programs.  If you know anything about human nature, then you’ll agree that people are more drawn to bad news than to good.  Content creators of these news shows take advantage of this fact and create what people will watch.  I get that. But absorbing negative news for 4 hours a day, together with digesting all the articles in a typical big city newspaper can’t help but color one’s outlook.

What my mother-in-law watches, reads and discusses with others who form part of her retirement community feeds her soul, her thought life. It follows, then, that what comes out of her mouth is negative.  What we dwell on we talk about.

This morning, I came across the familiar exhortation from the Father to his people via the prophet Isaiah about good food.  I immediately saw the connection between what we eat and the ideas we allow to enter and dwell in our mind.

Just as food is tasted, savored and chewed up in our mouths, so too is news (both cheery and depressing) tasted and experienced.  By nature, we image-bearers like to share with others both what delights us and appalls us. Hence, every weekly conversation with Mike’s mom invariably touches a horrible national event, a further rip in societies institutions like the family or school or an international crisis.

Yesterday, I innocently asked, “Have the public schools started back up since it’s the end of August?”  That led her directly to complain about the scandal of teacher unions and how teachers and families and children and society…..are not like they used to be.  When she was growing up.  I tried to say that human nature doesn’t change; that there are still plenty of caring people in the world showing kindness, working for justice; that most news shows report just the bad; that God is sovereign and we can trust Him and pray……

She brushed my responses aside. Mom is a kind-hearted elderly gal, BUT she is very pessimistic.  Although a Christian, she hardly takes in any good news from God.  Her church focuses on social justice. She reads a devotional written by clergy in her denomination and she prays.  Bible ‘food’ comes in a few Sunday tidbits of scripture read before the homily and the words of hymns and repeated liturgical prayers.

In short, Mom is starving. What she eats of the ‘food that is good……the richest of foods’ is but a bite here and there.  NOT enough to change her soul health.

Dear, dear fellow Christian and laboring sojourner – you and I need to eat up, fill up, take in REAL food, LIFE-GIVING food that God gives us through His Word.

What is your daily fare like?  What do you allow into your mind? Are you living on a concentration-camp ration of good food?  Then that might explain some of your outlook.  We’re called to ‘DELIGHT ourselves in good food.’

May you and I eat to satiety, fill up, take in, savor, roll around in our mind’s mouth, letting God’s Word flow through each and every molecule in our spirit.

 

Was it a good day? How do you know?

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Isaiah 43:6-7  I will say to the north, ‘Give up’,
    and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
 everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.’

How do you evaluate your day?  How do you determine if it was a GOOD day?  Is it based on your To-Do list, how much you cross off?  Or do you call it ‘good’ if no problems surface, if the kids go to bed and stay asleep, if you have enough energy to meet everyone’s needs?  Maybe it’s a good day if you don’t binge or fall back into a harmful habit you’re trying to shake.

I’ve fallen prey to many false and harmful frameworks for looking at the hours the LORD gives me.  From the get-go, if I go down the path of viewing the day as MY day, MY time, I’ve walked away from how my Father views the time He allots.  For years I was wrong. I wore ‘glasses’ that saw standards such as:

  • productivity,
  • not overeating or
  • having my students respond favorably to my teaching
  • problem-free relationships

Those turned out to be self-shackling measurements.  I felt great on the days I ‘succeeded’ and somewhere between SAD and DEPRESSED on the days when I felt short of my expectations.

By God’s grace, in the past 2-3 years I’ve been allowing His Word, His truths to shape how I think about each day.  Change comes slowly, but I FEEL less stuck in unhealthy patterns of thinking. This past week I caught a powerful glimpse of what I believe is more in line and more FREEING to me of how God measures the daily hours given me.  The relief came from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Question # 1 goes like this:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

If I understand what this question and answer teach about my life’s purpose, then I will set my focus and invest my energy to that end.   What exactly does glorifying God mean?  Since God is the most important person in the universe and the most praiseworthy, then He deserves my ongoing happy attention, my grateful praise, and relieved reliance on His promised provision.  My thoughts, my words, my posture, my choices and my hourly interactions with Him and others should highlight His kindness toward those who belong to Him.  With these two Meta Purposes for my life which focus more on the MANNER of living each day, I am free to do what is at hand without giving the way I complete it such POWER to make or break my day.

If it were you who was explaining all the above, I’d likely ask: But what does that LOOK like across your various actions/activities? It sounds lofty, but can you bring it down to the man in the street level?

That’s what the 2nd part of the answer provides.  People can recognize our high esteem and praise of God primarily in our visible, sincere satisfaction, relief and gladness in being a covenant member of His family – that is, ‘a son or a daughter,’ as the text from Isaiah describes family members.

If I trust God and rely on His promises, then I should have a relaxed, peace-filled, gentle demeanor.  Paul explains in his letter to the Philippians (4:4-8) that he learned to hand over his problems (aka:  how to be content) to the Lord:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

So, I take it that my body language and tone of voice should visibly show this peace and contentment with all that the Lord is for me. I think that is what ‘enjoying the Lord’ looks like in Christians.

I am now trying out this simple way of looking at my spent day. It goes like this.  “Maria, how did you do today in:

  • showcasing God’s goodness in your life?
  • heaving and leaving all your cares with Him because you believe Him when He promises to take care of them?
  • thinking about and savoring your adoption as His beloved daughter?

Realistically, I know that this will be a practice that grows more natural over time.  There’s no A or F for the day.  The Father loves me SO much, that He is pleased at my toddler-like stumbling to be more like His daughter.  Repentance with His promised forgiveness takes away my fear of being honest.

The other freeing aspect of this evaluative framework is that it suits ALL of our conscious days we live in our current body. It’s appropriate for our ‘prime times’ and it works for the periods of life when our health is poor and we are physically in decline.

What do you think?  What’s your journey been like in how you deem a day ‘good’ or ‘eh’ or ‘bad’?

I could still be completely wrong in my thinking – maybe He doesn’t want me to evaluate the day at all!  I’m open to having Him align my seeing with His.

Feelings and facts – right ordering

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A new friend from our new church gave me a journal for my birthday.  She didn’t know, but gifts are my love language:) Really!

This morning, I inaugurated this beautifully-bound book with its inviting lined pages of such a quality that they will absorb the black ink of my favorite pen. Since it was Sunday, I had plenty of time early this morning.  I’m reading a book about Martyn Lloyd-Jones about how and why he taught doctrine as essential fuel for living the Christian life.  In a paragraph that grabbed my attention, he explained that if we want to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, we don’t focus on this third member of the Trinity.  Instead we look to Jesus and what He has done.  The more we study and meditate on our Savior, the more power we will experience.  Here is the money sentence:

  • The joy of the Spirit is the joy we FEEL from the promises of Christ.

That thought resonated deeply with me, so I decided to use my new journal to write down one promise at a time and then analyze it, suck on it, pull it apart, think about it to get as much as I can out of it.

The one I chose had nothing to do with today’s reading in the plan we follow (Nahum 1-3) but I think from now on, I’ll keep an eye out for promises in each day’s reading.  I didn’t go back to scan Nahum because a promise popped into my mind. It was Jesus’ last words to his disciples (and hence to us)

  • ….and surely I am with you always to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20

I looked at each word in this verse and thought, pulling out a few implications, such as:

  • He IS with me now, not he will be with me
  • No need to doubt to his intention to keep his promise: “most assuredly/for sure”
  • Never is there a time when he is not with me in this life/age
  • Jesus announced this FACT after giving his disciples and me an ‘impossible mission’
  • True – he is not physically present with me so I can touch him or hear his voice through sound waves, but scripture affirms that he is with me via his Spirit. (John 16:7 ……it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.)
  • From the previous fact, his presence through the Helper implies that he knows what I am going through and he won’t stand by idly. Why else would he be called the helper?

The last take-away or derivative benefit from Jesus’ presence that I jotted down is:

  • the more I talk with him and think about him the more I’ll be like him.  For we become like whom we hang around, for better or for worse.

After this leisurely time in my new journal, I pondered the relationship between feelings and facts, gospel facts.

With those thoughts swirling in my mind we headed off to church where our senior pastor, Joe, taught, explained and exhorted from Colossians 2:13-15.  Communion followed the sermon and somewhere in his instructions and encouragement Joe mentioned that we can’t use our feelings to determine facts.  We need to put Gospel facts at the top, first and foremost and THEN draw out conclusions and inferences from Truth.  He mentioned that we often (or for some of us all the time) DON’T feel saved, DON’T feel forgiven, or at peace with the Father, and probably not at all cherished by him.  Joe explained that this was an easy pit to fall into. Furthermore, since it was Communion Sunday, he also cautioned us NOT to expect to feel different when partaking in the elements. That was REALLY helpful to hear from a pastor!

But where do feelings fit in?  After all, the Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote at the top of this post said that we will FEEL joy as we think about Jesus’ promises.

There’s the key, the way to order feelings and facts/promises.  Feelings ARE important.  (Think about all the times we are told: Be glad!  Rejoice! Exult in! Have compassion for! Be tender-hearted!)

Here is the key:  If we are saved and are one of God’s children, then ALL the promises of God belong to us in Jesus.  Feelings flow from what we believe to be true.  The Word of God IS true!  So if we reason from Gospel fact, we can trust our feelings.

  • 2 Cor 1:20 For all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him, our “Amen” is spoken to the glory of God. (Berean Study Bible)

The big ‘IF’ is, are we saved?  Just what is the grounds for being one of God’s kids?  Simply this: IF we have believed that Jesus lived and died in our place, with all our sins transferred to him and his righteous deeds accounted to us, and that we bring NOTHING, NADA, RIEN, ZIP to the judicial trial before God, then we are forgiven, loved, restored to a right relationship with the Father forever. We need to ACCEPT these truths as fact, as accomplished.

Meditating on those truths – who God is and what he and the other members of the Trinity have done on our behalf WILL produce correct feelings we can trust. They in turn will rightly, naturally motivate and fuel our deeds, the good works God has planned for us.

Yet, you and I know that we have an enemy.  We need to arm ourselves with truth to block his lies. Although thoroughly defeated and ‘pulverized’ as Joe said today in his sermon, Satan will STILL speak and breathe noxious, vile lies to us to discourage and destroy us.  His words, if we believe them, can cause us to FEEL guilty, FEEL burdened, heavy hearted, troubled, fearful, ashamed, etc.

So, how do we order feelings and facts?  They are both important. God created us in his image with a mind, a heart and a will.  Living whole-heartedly in union with Christ is our mandate and our privilege.  Our hearts are entitled to peace and joy and relief and rest.  But this kind of glad happiness has to be based on gospel facts.

What’s going to be YOUR promise to feed on this day?  Start with one.  Chew on it, share it with others, write it to a friend, look it up in another language you know or a different English translation.  Work it deep into your tissues. And let THAT be the medicine you take this and every day.

 

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