Functional Pauper

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Joshua 5:12: The manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.

The point of this verse is that God provided food each and every day, even AND MOST ESPECIALLY during the transition from a wandering tribe to a settling-down people.

If God so sustained the complaining, idolatrous, disbelieving Hebrews, will He not all the more provide for me, for whom He has already died?

You would think that I would understand the logic of this example.  I do, but I still don’t trust God.  Not really.

I’m a FIVE on the Enneagram.  I’ve written before how helpful I find this way of understanding oneself.  As a FIVE, I see life and live from out of the lens of scarcity; I hoard time above all.  I also hold tight to money.

God has recently convicted me of what this hoarding represents – the sin of UNBELIEF!  Operating out of insufficient resources is my day-to-day norm.  Whether at school (I don’t think I have enough time to get all this planning done) or in the evenings with the dinner prep (preparing whole foods takes time, and YES, I realize it’s a choice I make) or even on Sunday afternoons, the time I catch up with church committee work and a phone call to a friend or family member. Bottom line, I never feel/believe/trust God that He will provide enough time to get done all that I think is necessary.

Before you think I might simply need some lessons in time management, I want you to know that I have LEARNED to be content with the tasks that don’t get completed. I somehow am able to trust God’s plan for my day regarding what gets done.  The problem is this:  I can’t cast off that feeling of pressure.  I catch myself rushing, attempting to speed up my pace in order to shorten the overall time it takes for each task.  And I don’t LIKE that.

I know rushing is wrong.  I can FEEL it. I hate it. Yet, like Paul, I do the things I don’t want to do.  Even though I know the truth.  And just why can’t I LIVE what I believe? Why do I find it so hard to trust Jesus’ assurance that ‘If one knows the truth, it will set one free’? (John 8:32)

This unbelief spreads tangled roots that smooth the path for deceitful lying. Saturday, I found myself in dialogue with God, planning and carrying out something that would require deception on my part.  I returned a product to a grocery store that I had not purchased there, but one they carried. To make it even more shameful, it was a product I had ordered from Amazon. They had shipped the wrong product and refunded me the $5.76 and said I didn’t need to return the incorrect items.  Somehow I believed that gaining an EXTRA $5.76 would make a difference in my life.  I knew it was wrong.  And I did it anyway.  The self-justifying litany continued OUT of the store, money in hand, all the way to the car.  But then came the Lord’s Supper, yesterday, in church.  As I was contemplating Jesus dying for my sins, He kindly shone the spotlight on yesterday’s ‘LITTLE’ episode so I could confess it and come clean.

Not to drop the matter before He was sure I had internalized the lesson, this morning, Jesus returned to the subject by whispering in my mind’s ear: “You could have donated those two bags of dried black-eyed peas that you didn’t want.”  One of my ‘justifying’ excuses for my deceit had been, “What am I going to do with these legumes I don’t like and that I didn’t order?”

Mike left me an encouraging word this morning on our frig whiteboard.   He had remembered my discouragement last night about my lingering scarcity mindset.  He reminded me to pick a promise from God and then count on Him to fulfill it.

Sure enough, God brought just the appropriate Word during my quiet time: Psalm 23:1

  • The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall lack NOTHING.

What comfort!  What power!  The truth is this; I’m sure you can follow the logic:

  •       If God created all time and matter
  •       and If He has adopted me into His forever family
  •      Then, He will provide for me

He will provide THE precise quantity of time and money that HE knows is best, not what I think.

I’ll let Ken Boa have the last word.  I read in his latest Reflections something that is apparent but which I had never considered.  Quoting 1 Cor 6:19b-20a You were bought with a price; you are not your own, Boa wrote, “God has invested a lot in you already!

What a reassuring fact!  It follows from God’s investment of Jesus, the most valuable person in Eternity, that He is going to take GOOD care of me.

God help me to relax and just be a little lamb moving about and lying down at your direction.

I don’t know enough to be discouraged!

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I read a devotion this morning exhorting Christians to LOVE Jesus for what He has done for us (Galatians 2:20)

  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The author described the impact of one sermon preached by John Flavel (1627-1691) in England.

This English pastor did not hesitate to preach ALL of God’s Word.  In that same sermon, Flavel drew out the consequences for those who, having heard of God’s love, then go on to reject this good news and call for repentance:

  • If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!  1 Cor 16:22

Here’s the amazing fact that gave me pause.  A young boy within the hearing of that particular sermon immigrated to America, lived a prosperous and long life.  Then at the age of 102 or so, suddenly recalled Flavel’s sermon, repented and finished out his earthly journey AT PEACE with God.  You can read the account here.

John Flavel never knew the impact his preached word had on an anonymous boy.  Let’s imagine that Flavel lamented, with a bit of discouragement, the lack of seeming repentance among his hearers that particular Lord’s Day.

Would he have been justified in his conclusion?  Not if judged by the long-term results on one emigrant by the name of Luke Short!  Insufficient information would have led him to draw a false conclusion.

So, too, with you and me.  Most of my discouragement is truly a short-term conclusion.  I apply for a job and hear nothing.  My husband auditions to record an audiobook and receives a sympathetic rejection.  My adult children continue to correct, with love and firmness, a particular child’s unpleasant attitude.  Results ‘appear’ NOT to be forthcoming.  A resulting response can often be that we give up prematurely.

At the very least, may we adopt a humbler pose and simply rest on the FACT that our good Father has ALL knowledge and sees ALL events. That He is, in FACT,  in the process of bringing about HIS good plan.  Is it not a bit premature, if not arrogant, on our part to conclude, ‘THIS IS NOT WORKING?’

If nothing else, allowing God to be God will take unnecessary burdens off of us.  When Jesus invites us to swap yokes – our problems for His guiding ways and works, He first tells us that knowing Him is the key to trusting Him with all our goals and plans:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest Matth 11:27-28

The next time we are tempted to entertain discouragement, may we instead remember that the proper antidote to discouragement is to read, ponder and soak in accounts of God’s past deliveries.  He does know what He is doing.  And we don’t have enough information to justify any discouragement.

 

 

 

What are you hungering after?

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CS Lewis writes something to the effect that if you have a desire that nothing on this earth can satisfy, then that unfulfilled longing points to a future fulfillment in another dimension, that is later when we have new bodies on a new earth.

He bases that argument on the simple truth of:

  • hunger pointing to food for satisfaction and
  • fatigue being remedied by sleep and
  • work as the antidote to the desire to make a meaningful difference in life.

I recently was re-comforted with Lewis’ explanation when I gazed out at the beauty of our Smokey Mountains here in Western North Carolina.  Sometimes my heart is stunned and unable to drink in God’s splendor.  I want to absorb it, holding on to it forever,but can’t. And then I feel sorrow and regret at having fallen short.

138 - Misty view of Smokeys toward TN

Per Lewis’ logic, however, one day you and I will have the capacity to take in beauty, to digest it.  But in these limited bodies, we can only gaze and marvel and leave what God has created outside of us, underused.

Moving from external beauty to the beauty of God’s word, I recently came across a glimpse into how pastor John Piper views Scripture.  His words gripped my heart because they were echoes pointing to my longings, too!

Early one Sunday morning my discipline was taking me through Luke 18. It was one of those times when God came near with unusual force. Christ stood out from the pages as irresistibly compelling. Every paragraph made my soul yearn to be radically obedient to Jesus. I felt that no one ever spoke like this man. No one ever lived free like this man. No one ever demanded what he demanded and gave what he gave. So I wanted to take this chapter with me all day and feed on it and fight unbelief with it. I didn’t have time to memorize it. What could I do? I decided to tag each paragraph and remember a key statement from each paragraph under that tag. I noticed that I could think of tags that began with the same letter…..

This man wanted to ingest God’s words just like we do when our hearts are pierced by nature.  When we know we can’t quite take it all in.  We lack the dimensions, the faculties, the capacities to do justice to God’s creation to His Word.  But if we apply CS Lewis thinking, we can reassure ourselves with THE FACT that:

  • If we have a longing that can’t be satisfied on earth in these bodies, then we can be confident that somewhere and at a point in the future, God WILL satisfy, fulfill and meet those good desires with what He created them for.

Our hungers are ultimately longings for God.

Can you wait?

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”  1 Cor 2:9

 

Rotting manna

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“Mother, you’ve gathered too much!  You know what Father instructed us to do, ” seven-year old Adina exclaimed with astonishment.

The determined woman was quickly stashing extra manna in her robe’s folds.  “Hush, Daughter.  You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Carmela commanded, moving the sack already filled with the day’s flakey white substance.

The two had left the tent since daybreak and numbered among the many, quickly collecting what would be their only foodstuff until the evening quail God promised.  Moses had commanded the men, her husband Zibeon included, on how much and when to harvest the strange-looking and utterly unappealing white scraps.  They were then to mix and shape the flakes together with some water, baking it on a flat, iron pan-like board over the family’s fire.  Surprisingly, the result yesterday had been tasty and satisfying.

manna

More important than HOW to bake this new food, was the injunction JUST to take from the ground what would be sufficient for the number of people in each family.  Yesterday Zibeon had been with his wife and daughter and Carmela had been afraid to pick up more than necessary.

But today Zibeon, confident that his wife knew what to do, had sought out some of his tribe’s men with whom to confer about other matters.   Consequently only little Adina accompanied her mother.

The child did not pursue the topic of conversation.  Hebrew children knew better than to argue with their parents.  But she pondered what Father would say or do if he knew.  Her mother did not leave that possibility to chance. Upon entering the tent, she strictly warned Adina not to report anything to Zibeon.  “Your father has enough on his mind, Adina. Besides, Mother knows what she is doing.”

The day sped quickly as Adina helped her mother with household desert chores and played with her cousins.  Forgetting the morning’s incident, Adina with her tummy comfortably filled with this new wilderness food that God had provided, fell asleep shortly after sundown.

But the next morning, the conversation rushed back as she awoke to her father exasperatedly demanding, “Where did all these maggots come from?”  He and Carmela were examining a clay container where Mother had stashed the extra, forbidden manna.  Carmela sheepishly confessed her role in inviting creatures drawn to the rotting flakes. Having learned her lesson, she decided instead to trust the living God, Yahweh, who had promised the Hebrew people that He would provide food each day.

**

This fictionalized figment of my imagination is based on the account in Exodus, chapter 16, starting with verse 13b:

“….in the morning the desert all around the camp was wet with dew; 14 and when the dew disappeared later in the morning it left thin white flakes that covered the ground like frost. 15 When the people of Israel saw it they asked each other, “What is it?”

And Moses told them, “It is the food Jehovah has given you. 16 Jehovah has said for everyone to gather as much as is needed for his household—about two quarts[a] for each person.”

17 So the people of Israel went out and gathered it—some getting more and some less before it melted on the ground, 18 and there was just enough for everyone. Those who gathered more had nothing left over and those who gathered little had no lack! Each home had just enough.

19 And Moses told them, “Don’t leave it overnight.”

20 But of course some of them wouldn’t listen, and left it until morning; and when they looked, it was full of maggots and had a terrible odor; and Moses was very angry with them. 21 So they gathered the food morning by morning, each home according to its need; and when the sun became hot upon the ground, the food melted and disappeared. 22 On the sixth day there was twice as much as usual on the ground—four quarts instead of two; the leaders of the people came and asked Moses why this had happened.”

And the application to us, in the 21st century is two-fold.  First, no matter which economic stratum describes us today, what we need comes from God.  We are to depend on Him for all our needs during this present 24-hour period. The ‘Daily Bread’ Jesus teaches us to ask Him for is broad enough to include all our necessities.

But for those who are not dirt-poor, the rotting manna lesson is just as crucial and freeing.  When we gather and stash away more than we need for this day, the extra spoils and is good for no one.

God cares more about developing in us the UNNATURAL and learned reflex of trusting Him to provide for tomorrow.  If we allocate extra resources that we keep just for ourselves, why WOULD we or SHOULD we put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of dependence?  Oh, just for a mere reason or several:

  • God commands it. – “And he (John the Baptist) answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’ “ Luke 3:11
  • Giving away our surplus, ‘our bread for tomorrow’ brings joy“Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.” 2 Cor 8: 1-4
  • Relying on God humbles us and brings glory to God in the eyes of the world AS He meets our needs –“I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” Isaiah 43:20-21 
  • Realizing that all we have belongs to God who is our provider frees us from being tied down to stuff.  John Wesley, reacting to news that his house had burned down, nonchalantly responded with something like, ‘It belonged to God anyway; one less responsibility for me!’ 
  • Finally, HAVING to depend on God is apparently what God, our good father thinks is best for us.  When Paul describes the trials that he and his fellow missionaries underwent he adds: For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 2 Cor 1:8b-9

So what is going on in my life that has caused this reflection?  Just the trials from the past 2 months and my return to desperate praying of both the Lord’s prayer and Psalm 23.  I’ve sought renewed assurance that He will provide. And along with banking all on those rich promises and practices I’ve been confronted with my need not only to TRUST GOD and abandon anxiety and fear but actively to practice DEPENDING ON HIM through voluntary generosity of time, talent and money.   What helps is remembering that the EXCESS, what I hoard and hold back, will rot just like the manna. And then what good will it be?

 

 

‘The Big Fall’ into sin – again!

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I noticed the contradiction for a couple of days and named it. Preached it, even.
Then I fell for it.  And sinned big.  (Like in those days before I had heard about God’s biblical plan for wives.)
But back to truth.  Here’s the insight:
“It makes NO sense to believe in the sovereignty of God over every molecule AND worry about how I want my day to go.”  That is irrational and stupid.
But it’s been that kind of week.  I’m going out of town on Monday and the days were filling up.  I WANTED to do X, Y and Z and I saw only limited windows of time open for me to take care of those ‘important’ things on my list.  And I panicked.  Even though I know better.  Even though God patiently sets up this lesson time and time again so I can trust Him.
This past Wednesday, the day of THE BIG FALL, I even comforted myself remembering that God has ALWAYS provided in the past.  Without fail.
Not enough time
And yet…the banner over me was NOT ENOUGH TIME, so I grimmed up and grew hard.  Our conversation through dinner prep and on into the meal took on a combative edge.
That was when I found myself dishing back to him in like manner, feeling fully justified.  Just like during all those selfish years, when I would rationalize – “If he’s allowed to play the dramatic, then I should as well!”  But you know how THAT always ends.
Sin is a shortcut to what SEEMS like a good idea in the moment.  But it never satisfies.  Emotion short-circuits clear thinking. Praying to God didn’t occur to me in the midst of feeling sorry for myself.
So, how did it all end?  My husband chose the ‘mature’ card of love and softness toward me.  Having put as many chores as I could between my eventually wanting to absorb the cool mountain air of an evening in the Smokies I sat down next to him in silence.  He let no more than a minute go by before turning to me. His question drew me out, back to the truth of how much we love each other.  The humble features and pleading eyes showed me how much his heart has grown Christ-like since our last ‘raise your own barricades’ skirmish.
That glimpse and the remedial lesson in trusting God’s provision were worth the pain!
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love ….. )  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God’s choice of affliction for me – blessings through the pain

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So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Wisdom fixed

Getting older is a gift because with the passing of years may come a perspective different from the one held in youth (i.e. 20s and 30s!)

The principle suffering that God sovereignly chose for me (for His purposes and my sanctification) has been that of food addiction and body obsession.  All along, had you asked me “What do you want God to do in your life?” I would have unhesitatingly responded: “Free me from thinking about food and my body!”  This ONE THING has (and still does to a lesser degree) so filled my conscious daily thoughts since I was 16.

God has not answered THAT prayer, but has lovingly left this pain in my life, all the while teaching me about Himself.

Food, exercise, elimination, fitness, weight, bulimia have all been vehicles of sin, forgiveness, and redemption.  And I know that God has/ is not finished with me yet. Here’s an example of a recent blessing:

The other morning I was…exercising and talking to God.  My weight was up and I was repenting of my sin of making THAT more important than having awakened another day, belonging to God as His forgiven, redeemed child.  I was also feeling constipated. (sorry if this is TMI, but God works through these body conditions!) In sum, I was doing a bit of early morning complaining.  When all of a sudden, an unpredictable thought popped into my mind, a truth I now attribute to the Holy Spirit.

  • “It doesn’t matter what your body weighs or if you’re constipated, you can still use your body to glorify ME!!”

I found myself spontaneously and joyfully asking Him to forgive me.  Suddenly a 3-dimensional spaciousness opened up. Maybe it’s what James calls the “Law of Liberty” (James 1:25, 2:12).  From that agreement with Truth, a new realization dawned:

When highlighting, changing or obscuring one’s body is the goal…...

…….then weight gain, body shape, wrinkles, disease, aging, disabilities, homeliness….(you name it)…become the enemies.

But if glorifying God is the goal……

….then it doesn’t matter what kind of body God gives me, or whether I even LIKE the body He has given me, because the body is only a tool (for the Christian) to magnify God and to please Him.

I concluded that morning that I can glorify God even when I weigh X or even when I feel bloated or constipated.  And that felt freeing.

My next thought was this:  without all the emotional pain and sinning these past 42 years with this particular version of self-obsession, I would NOT be learning how to love God and neighbor as His beloved child.

Do for God's glory

My conclusion?  The most acute source of pain can also be the richest fountain of blessing.

When you look, what do you see?

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Fish on a plate

I heard of a freshman bio professor whose first lesson to his eager students was to study a fish on a plate and write down everything observed.  That’s it – no other instructions.  The professor even left the classroom leaving the students on their own.  Not very happy with the paucity of direction, some jotted down a few items and departed with a shrug.  Others added more, as they waited in vain for their biology instructor to return. Eventually, they pushed back their chairs and made their way to the door in puzzlement.

Two days later, students streamed into the class, sure that they were at last going to hear a lecture from this renown expert.

Same fish – again!

Same assignment – again!

Different reactions this time.  Pockets of grumbling, some annoyance, sighs of resignation…..  The professor didn’t stay around to respond.  A few entitled students packed up in a huff, muttering about not getting their money’s worth: others, remembering that they actually cared about the semester grade, settled down to add to their fish list.

The next week, to their initial but short-lived relief, the professor did not abandon them to THE FISH!  Instead, they felt some well-deserved humiliation when he gently chastised their impatience.  Explaining why observation was a skill worth developing, he opened up to them the primary task of a scientist.

Whether this event actually took place or it’s a ‘fish tale’ is not so important.  And in fact, I did hear a pastor recount seminary experience when his professor staged the same kind of exercise, using a single Bible verse.  They were to write down 50 points or thoughts generated from careful meditation of that one verse.  Again – a similar reaction of disbelief and initial frustration.

But the point is this: we often look without seeing.  To our detriment.

Isaiah 6:9 – And he (the Lord) said (to Isaiah), “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’”

Not wanting to miss any more spiritual nourishment than I have already, I’m learning to ask myself key questions when I study a verse, forcing myself to linger IN a text, studying a sentence, questioning word choice.  Years of listening to John Piper preach have helped me pick up some of his habits of the mind.  That man treats God’s Word like a tenacious dog with a bone, gnawing and enjoying it for all it’s worth, determined to get every last molecule of taste and pleasure.

dog and bone

Two places I’ve recently parked are the following:

God, via Paul, commands us to pray by/with the Spirit.

  • 1 Cor 14:15 Then what am I to do? I will pray with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will also pray [intelligently] with my mind and understanding; I will sing with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will sing [intelligently] with my mind and understanding also.

I’ve often tried to sort out what is meant by praying by/with the Spirit.  But the other day, the phrase ‘by myself’ surfaced in my conscious mind. Startled, I realized I had not yet pondered the question that seeks distinctions.  By what other means/power/source could one do something if not by/with the SPIRIT?  And specific to this verse, what OTHER ways of praying might there be?

  • by superstition
  • by myself
  • by rote repetition
  • by duty
  • by force of habit
  • by guilt
  • by fear

But God does not leave us to choose our means of prayer – if we are adopted children of God the Father, then we have His Holy Spirit in us permanently. Most assuredly, God means us to pray effectively by MEANS of and in DEPENDENCE on His supernatural power.  Knowing His intention, who would want to rely on himself?

Here’s one more example, a pair of verses with a word worth lingering over:

  • As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you KEEP my commandments, you will abide in my love. (John 15:9-10)

What does KEEP mean?  you keep what is valuable, you hold on to it, you guard and protect it.  Yes, one of the meanings the Greek word offers is ‘do or perform’ (tareo – Strong’s # 5083) but I can DO a duty without treasuring or wanting to please the one who issues the order.  I DON’T want to be a DUTIFUL daughter of my heavenly Father.  I want to WANT to please Him.  I think the key, at least for me, is to meditate and try to grasp the stunning news that Jesus loves me in the same way the Father loves Him!  Only by starting there, the magnitude of His surprising love for us, can I be drawn to wanting to please God.  Only by repeatedly returning to His love, do I WANT to walk in union with Him where He leads.

May it be said of me, “For the joy set before her, she walked with Jesus, enduring whatever she, in union with Jesus, suffered.” Joy

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