Can you be passively active?


So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ John 3:7 NLT

Don’t we sometimes long for a ‘do-over’?  For years, I’ve celebrated new beginnings. But coming upon Jesus’ words this morning I spotted a new way of thinking about the new birth as he startled the learned Nicodemus.

What do people assume when they speak of a ‘do-over’?  I know my mind goes directly to inaugurating a fresh start. A chance to try again and to better THIS time.

But is that what the Bible teaches? That we all receive a clean page, unblemished by sin in order to ‘make it good this time’?

Knowing me, that’s not good news.

I don’t have confidence that I can do better.

Praise God that Jesus’ conversations point to a passive plan of action.  He does this by using the passive form of a verb, BE born again.

Okay, let’s pause for a brief grammar review.  Just what is the passive ‘voice’ in language?  Wikipedia simplifies it this way:

“…..In a clause with passive voice, the grammatical subject expresses the theme or patient of the main verb – that is, the person or thing that undergoes the action or has its state changed. This contrasts with active voice, in which the subject has the agent role….”

Jesus holds out to the current and most influential religious man in Jerusalem a different way of doing life.  It’s a receiving of an action done to him that is going to change his life forever. That is, if he submits.

Is this good news?  To me it is. For ‘try harder….do more….change your ways….start fresh’ no longer hold out hope. They simply remind me of how I CAN’T!

I remember the years that I loved January 1.  The calendar proclaimed the tempting possibility of maybe getting it RIGHT this time.  I’d pull out and unwrap a brand-new planner and write down goals and steps and the intermediate milestones, tagged to specific dates. I dared to imagine that THIS year would be better.

I don’t do that anymore.  Oh, I still have hope.  But a new kind, one that causes my entire body to relax.  I can’t change myself, but God can. Not only does he want to, it is his express plan of how we are to live.

Let’s start with what happens after what Jesus describes as the second birth. Consider this biblical fact:

Now, we are new and different living beings. And that condition is right from the start. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

Okay, now what?  Is there something we are to do?  Paul tells us what to expect as new boys and girls, men and women:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind….Romans 12:2 ESV

If you and I were meant to do the change, the Holy Spirit would have exhorted: Don’t conform yourself to the world, but transform yourself by……

Can you SEE or maybe FEEL the difference?

Countless verses and passages in the Bible lay out for us just how much we have received (a passive action) from grace, to strength, to riches, to comfort, to guidance, even to the gift of wanting to repent.  

But here’s one of my favorite examples and this is VIVID.  Do you remember Ezekiel’s encounter with God in a vision in the Valley of Dry Bones? Read all of chapter 37 for the details, but let’s look at verses 5 and 6s showing that God is the agent.

Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

It’s ALL of the Lord’s doing.

Maybe you are you questioning:  So, we don’t do anything?  We just let ourselves be DONE to?

To the contrary! Yes, primarily we are to receive, but Paul DOES strongly exhort us to practice various ACTIVE behaviors.

For example, given ALL that God has done for us and IS doing every second, we are to:

Per Romans 12:12

  1. Thoroughly enjoy the hope, the expectation we have of permanently belonging to God as his ‘do-over’ children.
  2. Bravely and calmly bear whatever affliction or suffering he ordains.
  3. Chatter to God all the time through thanksgiving and praise and handing over all our requests.

Per Philippians 4: 8 ESV

Here is where we are to direct our thoughts:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Of course, we are to read, study and meditate on God in his word daily to receive his counsel. And he DOES lay out actions we are to take like helping others and offering hospitality. 

However, I think Christians can fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about their DOING.

Let’s add thanksgiving back into our daily lives,  the ‘being done to us’ side of the Christian life.  Remember, WE don’t cause fruit to grow on our branch.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s job, too.

My words to Maria and to you are: “Relax, little branchlet, little twig, little offshoot of the trunk who is Jesus. You have a gardener who knows what he is doing.  Just be glad and receive his care and let him grow you into a strong branch.”

Do you dread getting old?

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We hear of death and disease all around us, whether the circumstances concern people we know firsthand like family, friends and colleagues or those we only know of, like Tim Keller.

These accounts can scare us and even depress us once we reach a certain age.

Given that context and being in my mid-60s, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Hebrews whom God miraculously and almost inconceivably delivered out of Egyptian enslavement.

But you know their story of appalling unbelief after having lived through and witnessed God’s protection of Goshen, the housing area assigned them, as plagues struck their captors and not them. But God’s visible and tangible working on their behalf continued. Miracles included:

  • The astounding night flight with all their belongings, not to mention gifted riches from their neighbors.
  • Safe and dry passage along the seabed when it looked like they were trapped, only to be slaughtered.
  • God’s judgment on their cocky pursuers by drowning when the sea walls were released and the water found its previous equilibrium.

With all that ‘seeing-MUST-be-believing’ evidence, we scratch our heads with incredulity as we read about their complaints and selective memory regarding water and the lack of food choices.

I know you are familiar with all these accounts, but have you considered the less showy, but the other astounding ways God provided for them?  Take the manna, for instance.

Reading in Psalm 78:24-25:

…..and he (God) rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance. (ESV)

And in Nehemiah 9:20-21:

…….You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. (ESV)

Think for a moment.  The food God provided turned out to be supernatural power food.  It must have been perfectly balanced with enough energy to enable them to do the hard labor of unpacking household gear, tabernacle construction, herd tending, packing up family belongings and worship materials and then walking mile after mile (in circles).

The women did not have to do much meal prep, for God consistently provided what they needed and they ate their full.  And about their clothes, young girls didn’t learn to card wool, weave yarn, sew or repair clothing. For nothing they put on wore out, even their sandals. That doesn’t describe the life I know. For I buy replacement clothes and shoes on a regular basis!

Furthermore, the detail I REALLY love, the one that makes smile, is that among all twelve tribes of aging men and women no one’s feet swelled. That’s such a real fact of life about our bodies as we age.  Just praise God as you consider how he thought of everything.

God’s ability to sustain the generation that WAS to receive the promised inheritance makes me recall Caleb.

Do you remember this valiant man?  Shortly into the wilderness wanderings, he and Joshua took part in a recon assignment to investigate the new lands promised them.  Sadly, these two men were the only ones among the twelve who reported that the new territory lived up to God’s description and waited to be received.  The other tribe representatives skewered the group’s analysis out of fear and the people believed the majority report.

Therefore, God caused that generation of Hebrews to die before seeing or crossing into the promised land.

But Joshua and Caleb made it through the wilderness and entered the inheritance God had readied for them. Just as he promised.

Look at Caleb’s evaluation of the previous years in Joshua 14:10-11:

Now, as you can see, the LORD has kept me alive and well as he promised for all these forty-five years since Moses made this promise—even while Israel wandered in the wilderness. Today I am eighty-five years old. I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me on that (scouting) journey, and I can still travel and fight as well as I could then. (NLT)

If we take the Exodus wilderness journey of 40 years with all its trials, deprivations and suffering as a metaphor for life on earth 1.0 and if making it safely to the promised land presents a picture of our arrival in heaven, then Caleb’s words and example should give us pause.

The ageing process doesn’t HAVE to be ‘downhill all the way and then we die’.

Caleb shows us (and Joshua as well) that it is possible some of us will still be physically and mentally vigorous and vibrant on the day God has predetermined for us to cross over.  

Why am I drawing out this point?  Because I listen to many friends my age and older who think and expect that decline and pain are inevitable as we approach our last days. I don’t doubt that those days have been scripted by God. What I’m pushing back on is how I hear my friends talk about what they think is bound to happen at the slight indicator of decline.  It’s so negative.

But why not aspire to be a Caleb, as much as we can.  We have the power to choose our thoughts and our words.  And the words WE say to ourselves, our heart and mind receive as ‘truth’. 

God is always doing more than we choose to ask for or dare to imagine!

Has how you pray changed over the years?


“Lord, teach us to pray….” Luke 11:1 ESV

Today, 4 May 2023, is our country’s National Day of Prayer, a time to renew our practice of prayer and perhaps adjust it.

I can sense changes in how I now talk to God, especially in how I intercede for others.

Have you ever noticed how children pray?  They blurt out exactly what they want. “Jesus, give us a good day.” And rightly so. We must enter the kingdom with that same simple but cheery, trusting and care-free approach. Our Lord wants us to hand over every material and immaterial situation to him. But our Father also expects us to grow in our understanding and practice of praying.

For a while my care for God’s honor, for his name has increased. His expansive goals and perspective are slowly replacing my limited ones, or maybe amplifying them.

Remember how God planned to liberate Israel from Pharaoh as well as cause Egypt to know experientially that HE is Yahweh, the LORD? He had dual purposes.  And so can we.

This morning, I asked Jesus that the four men in my immediate family would honor God in how they pray for their wives. That he would give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in their work. As well as draw them deeper into intimacy with our Father. Then reading Oswald Chamber’s meditation for today, I felt resolve to pray more like this expand.

With razor-sharpness, Chambers diagnoses the limited ways we intercede for others. (May 4 meditation from My Utmost for His Highest)  “We do not identify ourselves with God’s interests and concerns for others…..we are always ready with our own ideas, and our intercession becomes only the glorification of our own natural sympathies…..Vicarious intercession means that we deliberately substitute God’s interests in others for our natural sympathy with them.”

So, where do you start if you want to mature in how you pray for others? You can’t go wrong by allowing ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ to shape and change your approach.  Think of it as a framework, a springboard for a personal and God-honoring way to intercede.

Focus first on God’s goals and purposes. If we are believers, then our primary goals, our ‘first concerns’ should be the Lord’s, such as the honoring of his name, kingdom expansion, and all his purposes to become reality.  Then we are invited to hand over what we need this day, personally as well as for others.  This is where we can mention the immediate situations and needs, such as Jim’s surgery or travel safety for Sally, or a peace-filled resolution to the war in Ukraine.

But, don’t you want to talk to practice talking with the Father like Jesus?  For inspiration and guidance, we can sink our teeth deep into John 17 and study how Jesus prayed and for what.  We can select one of his petitions for the day and model our prayers for others on that.

For sure all and any sincere conversation with the Lord is a GOOD and RIGHT thing. This is not a suggestion to leave one way behind and replace it with something new. It’s a both/and.

Who knows, maybe Jesus is calling you into a grand adventure.  Maybe this shift will cause you to look forward to praying for others with a greater sense of expectancy.

Beware, though, Satan will not be pleased. So, armor up each morning with all the spiritual defenses and the one offensive arm we are to use, God’s Word.  

Do you bear the brand?


Over the past few months, we’ve watched three seasons of a series portraying a dysfunctional family and its ranch in Montana. John Dutton represents the third generation to own and operate this beautiful and extensive property.

Running and managing the ranch with its land and herds requires many workers. Some ranch hands they simply hire. They tend to work for a while and then move on. But others are especially selected and ‘invited’ to live and work permanently for John Dutton and the family.

None of these long-term workers are forced to belong. They are presented a choice and willingly accede. Upon making the decision to join, they undergo a ceremony in the presence of the rest of this select group. They bare their chests and receive a brand, marking them as John Dutton’s own.

The branded ones live and work together with the temporary hires. The outside world discerns no difference between them. But they are very distinct.

Having willingly pledged whole-heartedly to serve John Dutton, they no longer live for themselves.  If they doubt the need for or ‘rightness’ of an assignment, they might grumble among themselves, but they comply. They show their unswerving loyalty. John Dutton, for his part, takes good care of them, whatever the mishap or suffering they undergo. He treats them as part of the Dutton family, though not on par with his children who will inherit the ranch.

Christians, as well, belong to and serve an owner.  When we learned of the kingdom of God, when we were given eyes to see and a heart to know the one true and living God, we had a choice. We could accept the invitation into this new realm, or we could stay outside, living for ourselves and accepting whatever future consequences awaited us.

Crossing the threshold includes being ‘branded’ or sealed by the Holy Spirit.  Members of the ‘kingdom of light’ don’t bare a visible brand, but we do belong to someone else.

I’ve been comparing my outward behavior and attitude towards Jesus with that of those who belong to John Dutton.  The noticeable difference in their response and relationship to their boss contrasts with the hired men and women ‘just passing through’.

I wonder how someone would know that I belong to the Lord? Do my face, the rest of my body language, my words, my actions and reactions resemble Jesus at all? Or do I act like a hired servant who doesn’t love his master?

Just thinking.

In Him, you also, when you heard the word of truth, the good news of your salvation, and [as a result] believed in Him, were stamped with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit [the One promised by Christ] as owned and protected [by God]. Ephesians 1:13 Amplified Bible

Do you believe your thoughts?


We…….take every thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV

Do you ‘vet’ your thoughts? That is, (per,) do you appraise, verify, or check for accuracy, authenticity, suitability’ every idea or notion that flits across you mind?

I haven’t, up until now!  For decades I have simply lived with my thoughts or tried to distract myself from thinking.

Out of curiosity I checked to see if anyone had studied just how many thoughts the average person entertains in a day.  One report I found mentioned 6,000 as the mean.  Okay….so?  Well, up until recently, I would have concluded that this research is merely trivial.  For I’ve never viewed my thoughts as more than somewhat interesting perhaps, or mostly banal, but certainly harmless.  But is that true?  Paul would disagree.

In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul brings up the concept of war when he reminds them and us to avoid living according to worldly standards. With that startling introduction of something totally unexpected, the apostle then exhorts them (and again, us) to evaluate our thoughts in terms of life and death, hence the warfare context.

Picture a stranger hanging around a castle’s perimeter, or maybe even walking alone inside the wall. Wouldn’t soldiers grab and interrogate him? Wouldn’t they determine his intention?  For all they know, he could be a spy for the enemy, maybe even a sleeper agent masquerading as one of them. Taking this dude captive and interrogating him would be initial steps before deciding what to do with him. Depending on what they learn, they would decide their next course of action:  execute, imprison, enslave, release or absorb him into that kingdom’s army.

Likewise, I am slowly realizing that I can actually STOP and examine my thoughts.  I must pause long enough to capture them to evaluate whether they align with the cause of our King.

The enemy is expert in disinformation and deception. Let’s call it for what it is. Satan and all his army of foul spirits are skilled in lying. Think of his conversation with Eve.

The devil or serpent planted a piece of false intelligence, the ‘thought’ that God was holding back on them, that he was neither really good or loving. You know the results. Satan learned how effective a bit of dis- or misinformation could be.

He has not changed how he operates since that first garden victory. Our deadly enemy’s ‘modus operandi’ is to do anything to cause us assume two facts:  that the ideas we receive come from us and that they are true.  But a lot of what we think about is NOT true and some of our conclusions have their source in the supreme Liar.  That is why we must stop and examine our thoughts, especially the ones that might trigger strong emotional reactions, whether fear, shame, anger, lust, envy or jealousy.  

Back to our castle image: picture feeling a bit uneasy as you notice a stranger around the fortified city of the king. As an observant watchman or armed guard (and we all are God’s combatants per Paul), you might feel a certain suspicion of danger.

How do I know this stranger, this ‘thought’, is a friendly or in reality a foe planning hostile action?  By grace, we have the King’s battle plan, plus the written history of warfare up to this day and best of all, open-door access to the Lord of the Castle. We can check with him any time.  It might look like this: “Jesus, is what I’m thinking actually true?  What do you think? What do you want me to know?”

The shift I want to make, the new practice I’m trying to implement is Paul’s way of living, based on what God declares about himself in Isaiah 55:8  … thoughts are not your thoughts….. (ESV). That implies that Maria’s thoughts are not always God’s thoughts.  Of course, we will never have access to ALL of the LORD’s thoughts. But we do have enough of them to recognize the source.

It’s going to take me a while to make pausing and asking Jesus more automatic. That’s true of any habit we want to form. But I am highly motivated. Each day, I believe more and more that we are in a battle for life with an enemy whose goal is to neutralize us or kill us, whichever works best for him.

More powerful than nuclear fission

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Imagine being employed at a nuclear power plant.

Maybe you serve in administration or prepare food in the employee cafeteria, or manage safety checks.  Whatever your role, I imagine you are hyper aware of the magnitude of power being produced, contained and directed in your work place.

But do you actually FEEL all that power as you walk about during your shift?  Most likely not, but you certainly believe it exists and respect it.

We, as believers, actually house a greater force than the sum of all nuclear power available to our world.  His name is God and he is in us through his spirit.

Some of us feel bothered that we don’t always FEEL or sense God’s presence or power with or within us. Maybe we read of experiences of some Bible characters and envy them. For my friends and family members who long to encounter God in that more tangible way, I plead with the Lord, that until they do, they may walk by faith, trusting in God’s love and stockpiled power and provision for them. 

Not hearing personally from God can feel dark and heavy.  Job certainly was a man who despaired ever of hearing from the God he trusted.

Do you know a fellow believer who moves in and out of this kind of shadowy fear, because of oppressing thoughts? Someone who struggles to REST in the God-given power received when God transferred OUT of the gloomy Kingdom of Isolating Fear and Shame and into the Kingdom of Light, Hope and Family Belonging?

Pastor Scotty Smith calls these places where some dwell ‘waterless pits of gloom’.

There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, Prisoners in misery and chains….in misery…..Psalm 107:10 NASB 1995

But God be praised, Jesus came to set them and us FREE!

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, Luke 4:18 NLT

 Just as those in the nuclear power industry do not doubt but rather respect the energy at their disposal, so too WE should rest in the sure knowledge of God’s power available to us by faith through his spirit given to us.

Oh, dear friends, I pray that this Easter Sunday, all of us may feel the glory of a new kind of shade and light.  Not a heavy, gloomy oppressive shadow but a restful, refreshing shade and an energizing, restorative light.

Linger here in this place of acceptance and accept the invitation to fellowship with Jesus in his banquet house.

From Song of Solomon 2:3b-4, here are the lyrics for Bairstow’s choral peace that will feed your soul and heart.

 I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

YouTube link to one short rendition

What do you consider your greatest sin?


I carry a heavy heart because a dear friend, Roberto, is not (yet) a believer.  Last week I had read something illuminating written by John Eldredge in his book Walking with God. He described three epiphanies in the life of a Christian. 

The first occurs when you recognize, “Oh, there IS a God.  He really does exist!  And Jesus was a real person who walked on earth and claimed to be God’s son.”  At this stage, you’re not a Christian. In one sense, you are like Satan who totally believes God is real. My friend Roberto has camped out here as long as he can remember. As an Argentinian he grew up in a catholic family, school and culture.

The change that transforms a person, that second epiphany, occurs when a person wakes up to the fact that ‘if God is real, then I have to deal with him. I have to acknowledge his presence in my life.  I can’t ignore him any longer.’

We who live this reality hope that the Holy Spirit imparts to these our friends, family members and/or the stranger on the street the power to SEE and BELIEVE the offer from the Father. We pray they now naturally repent and with relief submit to Jesus’ authority.  Plus, we want them to be amazed by the news of the accompanying supernatural benefits for now on earth 1.0 and the amazing forever future awaiting him or her as a newly welcomed Kingdom son or daughter.

I won’t mention the third epiphany or stage in the life of a Christian. But, if you’re curious, read Eldredge’s book!

God used this explanation about the progression toward saving faith together with recent tornado deaths in Mississippi last weekend to motivate me to record an audio message to Roberto explaining my respect for him and fondness as a friend and how I wanted him to know Jesus via a relationship. He’s never read the Bible for himself, let alone the gospel accounts.  His view of God and Jesus are cobbled together ‘bits and bobs’ as my English friend says.

I did explain the two phases. I affirmed that I recognizes he freely acknowledges the existence of God and Jesus. But that I wanted more for him. That there IS more to Christianity than he has heard.

He kindly responded and I could tell that what I shared was done in love.  Our friendship has grown over three years through our weekly on-line chats, both in my ESL conversation group I run for some Hispanics and one on one with him. 

But his sticking point is: “I can’t understand how a god would allow little children in Africa to suffer drought and hunger and perish.  I guess I’ll find that out after I die.”

I did follow up with Roberto but since then, I’ve been musing about how the real problem of suffering is an obstacle to many people.

This morning the Holy Spirit gave me an insight. I wrote in my journal: My sin is a far more pressing concern (or it SHOULD be) than the suffering I see around me.

That response doesn’t negate the reality of the horrors that occur all over the globe every second of the day.  But it does focus one’s attention on ‘first things’, our sin.

I thought a while about what people, even mature Christians, consider ‘sin’.  Most of us probably think of behaviors, those actions that in their mildest form are unbecoming to a believer and at the opposite end of the spectrum the traditional ‘egregious’ ones.

How did Jesus address sin?  He aimed straight for the heart, repeating the message of Old Testament prophets.

Jeremiah in 17:9 ESV declared:  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Matthew recalled Jesus’ words to the crowds in 5: 27-28 Berean Study Bible:  You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

I think Jesus would explain sin to Roberto and to us like this: 

Your thoughts and your will drive your actions.  For sure, your actions harm and damage and destroy other people. But unless you understand the deeper problem, just how your thoughts and feelings affront Holy God, you don’t know God.

The good news is that Jesus willingly came, lived, taught, and died to take care of this sin problem and to enable us to please our Father.

God is leading me slowly but surely to go deeper into the mystery of MY sin and God’s holiness. It’s been taking me a long time to start to feel even some horror and shame over my interior and invisible to the world sins. 

Oh, Father, may my friend Roberto grasp all this now and far more rapidly than I have.  It’s up to you to open his heart, like you did with Lydia.  I ask for this, Amen.

Whose faith is needed to relieve burdens?

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Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. Psalm 55:22 NLT

the LORD has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 ESV

Yesterday God reminded me to fling onto Jesus all my worries and preoccupying fears.

In looking at the Hebrew term for these ‘burdens’, I see they refer to the ‘lot’ God has given us.  Can that be true? That my ‘burdens’, my issues, my difficult and painful situations, my problems with no visible solution are given to me by God? Well, yes, if I recall that God is the first cause of everything that happens in my life.

Yes, these are circumstances laid on us, and include responsibilities that ‘fall’ to us. Up until now, though, I’ve thought of them primarily as self-generated concerns.  But the Bible clearly teaches us that they are from the Lord himself.

I think this text means that God gives us a physical body, people and possessions to steward for him. They represent our allotment. But we are not to angst about them.  We are not meant to carry them around day and night. He is our good Father, apportioning everything that pertains to them. Provisions we need to manage, handle, live through them come from him. He intends us to depend on him in all our dealings. For those things we don’t have at hand to live with our ‘lot’, we ask him to provide.

Furthermore, he expects us to care for this entrusted ‘lot’ without worrying. He handles them and we obey his on-going promptings throughout each day.

This morning reading Isaiah I saw how the Father himself struck Jesus, causing all the world’s sins to land on him. We know that the Savior willingly bore that burden all the way to the cross until the job was done. I conclude therefore, that if Jesus’ shoulders handled all that, surely, he is capable of taking care of our issues.

In the light of Scripture and with some chagrin I see just how incomplete my faith is, how I don’t fully trust God to take care of me and all that concerns me.

But in these past two days, he’s been encouraging me with insight into a truth that is moving ‘front and center’ in my mind. My life, this world, in reality are all about Jesus. I find this actually to be quite logical or rational, now that I think of it. If God originates all that concerns me, all the individual circumstances of my life… iff he expects me to hand over all the details for him to manage…..then part of Jesus’ oversight includes providing me with daily provisions of faith and strength and wisdom.

About this counter-worldy way to live, for a while, I’ve usually found it easy to accept that the wisdom I need is HIS wisdom. But now I see that the faith I am to exercise is actually HIS faith. Not mine. Ephesians 2:8 explains that faith is a divine gift. We don’t fabricate it. So too is our love. Romans 5:5 describes how the Holy Spirit fills us with God’s love. And I can’t forget joy. Whose joy is my strength? Not mine, but God’s. (Nehemiah 8:10)

What about peace? I certainly want to have more peace of mind, don’t you? Well, the Holy Spirit pinged me last night. I was stretching before bed and thinking over the day. Have you ever run through your mind checking to see if there is anything ‘you need to be worried about’? Okay, you get the picture. I came up with nothing and sighed with peaceful relief. But God caused me to think, “Oh, so is your peace, Maria, contingent on circumstances? Something that I can change in a nano-second? If so, that’s no peace at all. What you really want is MY peace, that settled tranquility and contentment that come from our relationship. Because of Jesus, you are my beloved daughter and our relationship will never change because I don’t change.

So, the REAL peace I need and crave is also a gift. Friends, what a relief to know that we don’t bring anything to the table. All is from God’s hands: our lot and our sufficiency.

I’ll leave you with something I copied this morning in my journal from the Valley of Vision: “It is sweet to be nothing and have nothing, and to be fed with crumbs from thy hands.”

Are you growing more holy, more like Jesus? How can you tell?

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Let your gentleness be apparent to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 BSB

A friend of mine has a daughter who drives herself. She is a very hard worker, skilled and competent. But she is too busy. Her mom can see that, as can I. Maybe that’s why an image of an earlier Maria popped into my mind this morning: ‘Grim Maria’.

This is a well-rehearsed character from maybe 15 years ago. Pretty much on a regular basis, I would set myself up with a list of ‘stuff that has to get done’.  Where did all these tasks come from?  I don’t remember. What I do recall is the belief: ‘If it’s gonna be, it’s gotta be up to me!’  My MO (modus operandi) never changed: work past fatigue and then feel resentful.  Mike called that persona, “Grim Bean” (Bean being my pet name).

How refreshing this morning to realize I haven’t seen that Maria in some years.  But thinking about my friend’s daughter, a busy mom and medical professional, I CAN recall being in her shoes. She probably truly believes she has no other choice, that there is no alternative to all she drives herself to get done.  That’s how irrational my thinking was.

Did I set out to quit playing ‘Grim Bean’?  No, that’s the marvel of it all. Since Mike and I as well as our adult sons have moved toward a more reformed theology, we’ve all come to appreciate the fact of God’s sovereignty, his total control over everything that happens in the universe.

Does that sound frightening, that an all-powerful God actually directs every molecule that exists?  Not at all.   This God is not a cold, impersonal force, directing events, nature and people, but a personal, loving and good Father who kindly offers his supernatural help to all his children who depend on him.

As this truth of who God is has sunk into my heart, I have relaxed more and off-loaded much of my life to him. For example, I don’t rush anymore, trying to cram more stuff into my day. I accept with ease what doesn’t get done.  I actually feel at peace with Jesus’ leadership and his setting of the pace of what we do together. I’m learning that none of what I do is truly ‘up to me’.

Our pastor’s sermon yesterday reenforced this posture of yielding control to God. Jim focused on the practice of forgiveness as laid out in Ephesians 4:32. He emphasized that the actions preceding Paul’s exhortation to offer forgiveness along with kindness uses the verb form of ‘Let….. (this action) take place in.’ It’s passive. It follows then that this behavioral change is something the Holy Spirit affects in us. We don’t work at it. We allow God to change us as we meditate on how gracious his initial forgiveness was and the fact that daily he welcomes us to confess and receive his cleansing. His compassions and mercies are as regular and welcome as the dawn’s early light.

I think often about the wonder and gift of having a heavenly Father and God who is in charge of both the universe and me. This is how I can relax throughout my day.  I believe that my inward state is transforming how I present to the world around me.  A gentle Maria is more the norm.

Can you see why I felt so encouraged this morning when the the Holy Spirit prompted the memory of a grim version of me? “Maria, this is evidence of spiritual growth!” 

Nevertheless, God is still about the business of growing my humility, letting me know that plenty of change is built into his holiness curriculum. One of my sins that occasionally reoccurs reminds me of the former Maria.  It’s the desire for someone to feel sorry for me and to offer me praise mixed with pity.  Namely, Mike.  Here’s how that looks. 

Yesterday after having some friends over for an early Sunday lunch, I set out to do some food prep. Two tasks morphed into several so that by the time I finished cleaning up in the kitchen it was almost 3 in the afternoon. Mike was coming down the stairs and I felt the urge to say with a staged self-deprecating sound, “I just finished doing food prep!” But by grace, the Holy Spirit poked me gently and I resisted that temptation. 

Yes, that indicates more growth. But it still shows me that I need to be mindful of how I self-assign tasks. No one is expecting me to spend that kind of time in the kitchen, not even Jesus. In fact, I didn’t even check with him first.  Now that I’m writing this, I see I should have asked, “Jesus, how do you want me to spend this Sabbath afternoon?”

Definitely God is transforming me. But with each step forward, the Holy Spirit gently shows me what the next assignment is. Glad it’s not all up to me!

Am I just burying my head in the sand?

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And now I entrust you to God and to the word of His grace, Acts 20:32 NASB

I spent some time awake last night trying to come up with ways to manage the thinking and feelings of a few people I care about.  Yes, what a stupid goal THAT is and as you could easily predict, I didn’t land on any solutions.  Eventually, I fell back asleep.  But the heaviness of this self-imposed task greeted me straight away when I got up.

As seems to be the pattern, those morning-afters tend to make me very receptive to God’s suggestions. I’ve been listening to a podcast conversation between John Bevere and Christopher Cook about the holiness of God and how we are to fear letting anything come between us and Him.

Obviously, nothing material can separate me from the immaterial God, but boy oh boy can my thoughts shift my mind away from the Holy One. Thinking (or rather angsting) about the ordinary, those created and passing concerns can use up my mental and emotional energy.

Sitting down with my coffee, before I even opened my Bible, I confessed with my pen: “I’m clinging to the idol of an obligation-free, a problem-free, a dilemma-free and a thornless life here and now.  Whereas you command me to cling to you and fear MORE losing sight of you, not hearing from you and being deprived of a sense of you.”

In my heart, I know that God is holy and worthy of the majority of my thoughts.  But I had chosen to put my meditative powers to use in imagining what how others might be judging me.

After time reading some scriptures in Isaiah, I picked up a little tear off daily devotional.  God pinged me again.  The verse was:

Mathew 13:22 (NLT) The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.

The Greek word for ‘crowded out’ is ‘suffocated’. I see that the worries of my little world and perhaps the occasional national or global issue have been absorbing my attention.  Of course, Satan is at work to cause all of them to seem ‘oh, so important’.

I then thought, “Why would I want to think about anything that weighs me down? Afterall, God offers (and commands) a different way to live. In Philippians 4, Paul exhorts me to stop and shift my gaze and thoughts upward to what and who is worthy of my attention. If I belong to Jesus, then I am connected to the supernatural power of God.  He alone can work out my fear-producing issues as well as the world’s problems.  His common grace given to all mankind together with those in his Kingdom who have access to ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16) are one way my good Father resolves our problems.” 

So, with a glad heart that prizes God more than anything, (help me, Lord!) the Holy Spirit of God reminded me to hand over all these issues, big and small, global and personal.

Gladly, I transferred this heavy and depressing mess to him, offloading all of it at his feet (the Greek term for ‘entrust’ in the Acts 20:32 verse is ‘to lay down alongside).

Then Satan flung the thought: ‘So you’re just going to bury your head in the sand?  Is that how you plan on feeling light-hearted?’

I countered out loud: “Nope.  I’m going to copy Uncle Paul who ‘entrusted’ the Ephesian believers to God’s care, counting on the power of God’s living word of grace to be enough for them.”

I received renewed energy from all this back and forth with Jesus, but I know the battle for my mind continues. I, and you as well, have an enemy set on destroying us.

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