Christian Life Internship – Stage #25

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Interns The summer’s sabbatical has refreshed and delighted me. The school year is underway.  My quiet time is shorter now.

Typically I struggle with resenting the reduced margin in my days as I step back into commuting and teaching Monday through Friday after the summer.  I cherish that restful season.  I take advantage of the each morning’s leisure to ‘noodle’ around in my Bible, to linger in prayer, to investigate Hebrew and Greek word meanings via the Blue Letter Bible app on my phone or laptop.

And already toward the end of July as I anticipated the reality of HAVING to budget my time again, it occurred to me that I was looking at my upcoming transition all wrong.

God gives me the 9+ weeks of summer time out of school for intense study.  Then he sends me from my home-based classroom back to my workplace for another residency in servanthood.  The internship goes from mid-August through the first week of June.  But there are classroom periods scheduled each Saturday morning and for an occasional week or so throughout my annual residency. These are called ‘national holidays’ and ‘spring break’.

Through Holy Spirit empowered faith, I am trying to approach each residency day with this greeting to my heavenly schoolmaster:

  • Okay, dear teacher, what do you have planned for me this day?  What practical exercises have you, in your wisdom chosen and laid out? What summer study lessons do you intend for me actually to apply this fall among my students, colleagues and family?

I think I can trust him to be a perfect tutor.  After all, the Greek word that sometimes gets translated as ‘discipline’ -paideuó, means to educate or train. Discipline is just part of the formation process.

Acts 7:22  Moses was educated/trained/instructed in all the learning of the Egyptians

Acts 22:3  (Paul says of himself that he was)….educated under Gamaliel

PS:  If you’re curious to know why I wrote “Stage # 25” in my blog post title….It’s because this is my 25th year teaching French!

 

 

 

Why are we surprised at how American society treats Christians?

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When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”  “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”   Judges 6:12-13

As a marginalized Christian, do you ever feel like Gideon? The warp-speed of cultural change week to week has startled many, me included.  We feel less welcome to voice our values in the public sphere.  But it wasn’t that long ago that we FELT as though we fit in with the majority of Americans.   Not that we were ever in harmony with ‘mainstream’ America.  For we’ve accepted for years that we were as different as chalk and cheese when measured against the Hollywood or the academic and media names in the news.

However, these days a feeling of fear and despair is seeping under the doorways of our conscious mind and we find ourselves, if not anxious, at least bewildered.   Is this the way God treats His children?

Yes!!! and we should not be surprised. After all, God’s Word describes the very same situation throughout biblical history.

In my Bible-reading this morning I read two of the assigned psalms with much more interest and attention than previous years. The unnamed Psalmist minces no words as he describes how he and fellow believers suffered during what many commentators posit as the likely precipitating distress:  the siege of Sennacherib in 721 BC.

Psalm 66: 10-12

For you, O God, have tested us;
    you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
    you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
you let men ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and through water;
YET you have brought us out to a place of abundance

Yes, the Psalmist is on the OTHER side of hardship, but 3 facts remain:

  1. God was the source or ultimate originator of the suffering
  2. The horrific and painful trauma was real and distributed to all the Hebrews
  3. God brought them THROUGH the tribulation to a joy-filled destination

Yes, that was then.  But do we American or Western Christians HAVE to suffer…like THAT…now in 2016?????

Let me ask this: Why should God treat us any differently than His chosen people?  He specifically selected the Hebrews out of whom would come His Messiah.  In the same way, He has chosen us, for His purposes.  We belong to Him.  He has the power and the authority and the very RIGHT as our Creator to do with us as He sees best.  We forget THAT ‘inconvenient truth’.

2 Tim 3:12 –  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

But that is SCARY!!!!  We all shrink back from the idea of calamity, of hardship and real damage, whether to our reputation, our jobs and income, our families, our churches. or EVEN to the very liberties we once considered safeguarded by the US Constitution!

So why is God doing this?  Does His Word tell us anything?

Fortunately it does, but the reason might not be something we moderns like.

Psalm 69:7 – I am being mocked because of you. Dishonor overwhelms me

Psalm 44:22 – Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered

Acts 5:41- So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name

Psalm 44:11 – You give us as sheep to be eaten And have scattered us among the nations

What we know is limited, but many verses tell us that for the sake of God’s name or character, those who follow Him WILL be mocked, persecuted and even killed.  And even though we don’t know ALL the whys or wherefores, we can take comfort that God does have a plan and IN THE END, those who mocked God and us shall be punished.

Prov 11:21 Be assured that the evil person will certainly be punished, but the descendants of the righteous will not suffer unjust judgment.

So how can we prepare ourselves to handle this suffering?

Here’s encouraging advice from a man who faced suffering with courage- Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Link here.  In short, he says that gathering with the local church to HEAR the Gospel truth preached and exposited gives us strength and perspective to endure with grace.

So ‘do not be grieved for the joy of the Lord is your strength’. Neh 8:10

 

Sleepless nights – when are they a good thing?

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Restless and troubled by this persistent dream, she could not sleep.  Foreboding thoughts and feelings flitted along the edges of her semi-conscious mind. What did her dream mean? Why was THAT man even in her husband’s presence? Pontius had not mentioned last night at dinner that he was holding in the dungeons this Rabbi and Healer, the talk of all Jerusalem.

Pontius Pilate's wife

She fell back to sleep and the dark drama continued. She watched with horror as the man called ‘The Christ’ silently endured beatings and taunting.  The soldiers who jeered, smirked and spat on the suffering, compliant victim were HER husband’s men. Her heart felt like it was about to leap out of her chest, her mouth ready to shriek in protest.

In her dream, compelled forward to watch the horror of merciless mocking and abuse, she had pressed around her imposing husband’s back. But this stocky man, transfixed and silent, would not let her edge around him to see.  Blocked then, she nonetheless heard the snapping whips, thudding and biting torn flesh. She recoiled as each whistling lash found its mark.

She had woken with a start, shivering in a cold sweat. What was she to make of this dream?  Resolve forming, she called her maidservants to fetch water to wash and dress for the day.  Maybe she could stop from happening that which no earthly person in the palace had told her about.

*

It is vain for you to rise early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of anxious labors—
For He gives [blessings] to His beloved, even in his, sleep.  Psalm 127:2

What keeps you awake at night?  I remember reading about Andrée Seu Peterson years ago and how for about 18 months, God kept her from sleep-filled nights.  What I recall is that she eventually accepted this suffering as a gift from God and used it to pray and read her Bible. Then, all of a sudden, God restored her sleep.

Then there are those Bible characters whose sleep is interrupted by Divine dreams. Heroes of faith like the two Josephs: Jacob’s son from Genesis and the much later legal dad of Jesus – THAT Joseph.  There were also those traveling sages from the East who were warned in a dream NOT to report back to Herod.  And you remember Paul who recounted in Acts 16:9 about when he received specific guidance – “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Not only God’s people, but major players in history have puzzled over dreams like Egypt’s Pharaoh with the fat cows and lean cows (as well as the baker and the wine steward sharing a prison cell with Joseph, Bar Jacob). King Nebuchadnezzar also suffered nightmares that no one but Daniel could interpret, thanks to God’s wisdom.

Divine dreams that communicate a message are positive, GOOD reasons for sleeplessness. But I know you are probably as familiar as I am with the negative and sinful impediments to a rest-filled night.  Yes, I’m talking about not being able to sleep due to the anxieties of the previous 24 hours or of the morning soon to break.

Sometimes, my mind races with too many thoughts and I can’t settle it.  Not that I am worried……but I can’t shut it off.  Is that sinful?

The other night I didn’t get home until 13 +hours after I had descended our Smoky Mountain cove en route to Asheville.  Then, after school, I had headed to an evening meeting, eventually walking into our home a little before 8 pm.  I go to bed fairly early on school nights, so there was little decompress time – especially since I shared with Mike about the day (I had been professionally reviewed by my principal) as well as the meeting later on.

My mind was running at an RPM speed normal for my active day.  The thoughts continued as I settled into bed a little after 9 pm. I know we are commanded to count on (trust) Jesus and hand over ALL of our cares, for He promises to take them on.  I wasn’t ‘worried’, nonetheless the grey cells labored on.

Eventually I fell into a deep sleep, but awoke exhausted the next day.  Was it my fault? Could I have handled the night differently?   My first defense was: “I couldn’t help it!” Normally I DO slow down after dinner; the conversation is less intellectually engaging, I read the paper and then a book to prevent electronic stimulation.

But saying ‘it’s not my fault’ is irrelevant and doesn’t help.  Our good Father actually gives us tools to use.  Thinking about this kind of night since then I’ve come up with a plan.  I’m going to do what Christ exhorts us through Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ………And the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:8, 9b

I want that kind of peace at night, don’t you?  But what assurance do you and I have that we’ll be able to KEEP our thoughts fixed on the above worthy topics? Just the fact that what God commands us to do, He gives us His strength to do. (I’m encouraged by Paul’s teaching in the same letter: “…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  Phil 2:13)

And just which topics are true, noble, right,…..?  We can start with recalling truths about God – who He is, what He has done and what He promises those who call Him Father.

PS:  Back to the story at the beginning of this post – what do you think?  Will we encounter Mrs. Pontius in heaven?  What about her husband?

What’s the point of praying?

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ER  Two visits this week to the ER, one around 4:45 am and the other around 6 :00 am (earlier time gets you more attention) have made this week difficult to say the least.  What began with tooth issues and extreme pain for my husband in mid-November kicked off an occasional inability to sleep. Occasional turned into more the norm. Struggling to breathe due to heart palpitations sent Mike to Urgent Care during the day on Monday and then to ER at night the other times.

Several EKGs, X-rays, lab work and data from a 24-hour heart monitor have ruled out heart damage.  And we thank God for that.  But the inability to sleep remains and that affects his outlook.

So what about prayer?  I texted many praying friends Friday morning when we arrived for the 2nd time at the hospital.  And what I found was this.  As I affirmed God’s sovereign and loving control in this frightening situation I felt protected by God. Composing messages to these dear prayer warriors asking for their prayers of mercy for Mike, I wrote that God allows/sends trials for our ultimate good, to strengthen our faith. And God’s presence steadied me and calmed my fears.

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:25

Each time I spoke/wrote words of truth, echoing the Spirit-powered promises that God has given us, a settled peace steadied me.

One of my close friends, texted back those encouraging verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians where he describes the God of all comfort who comforts us in our troubles so we can later reach out and help others. These truths expand our view to see the long-term purpose in suffering. We are not alone.  We belong to a community.

Yet, what startled me was that as helpful a reminder as her words were, my faith was not strengthened nearly as much as when I prayed through writing.

Here’s my application:

If you’re on Facebook or you hear in an email or phone call about a need, don’t just write: “Praying!”  Pray!

Take the time yourself to compose a specific prayer that links a quality of God with a specific request to Him to DO something specific and measurable in this situation.

Here’s an example.  Let’s imagine your friend Susie who is nervous about surgery tomorrow and has asked you to pray. You decide to pray on the spot.

  • Open or start your prayer by addressing God and mentioning the attribute you are depending on:

Father, You who created our bodies and sustain us through your power each moment of our lives, 

  • Ask specifically what you want God to do for this person:

grant Susie Your supernatural peace.  Remind her that You are in control of the medical team’s competency, attention and wisdom as well as her body’s recovery.  Take away her anxiety and replace it with the truth that You have given her the Holy Spirit who is a spirit of LOVE and not one of FEAR.  That this very Holy Spirit who is in her is also one of POWER and SOUNDNESS OF MIND.

  • Now tell God WHY you are asking Him to do this:

I ask You this for Susie’s sake and also for the fame of your name, so many will come to know what a great God You are.

  • Close your prayer by reminding God why You are privileged to ask Him for anything:

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen 

What I find now is that by taking the time to write or pray out loud on the spot, my reliance on God grows.  And having prayed specifically and tied it to God’s character that doesn’t change and His reputation, my faith multiplies as I see Him come through time and time again.

Vague prayers, while better than nothing (we are told that the Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t), don’t allow us to see specific answers. When we pray, Dear God, please bless Susie!”, how do we know when He has answered that prayer?

My point is that WE benefit the most by praying. Paul paraphrases Jesus when he reminds us that we get MORE blessed/happy when we give than when we receive. (Acts 20:35)

And if you want some practice, please pray for us!  That we find a solution for Mike’s palpitation-induced sleeplessness AND that God would grow our faith so we have strength for future trials and give comfort to others.

 

Freedom from…….

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Acts 3:12 And when Peter saw it (the crowd’s amazement) he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?

Peter and John encountered a crippled man hanging outside the temple in Jerusalem as they were entering to pray with other Jews. Reduced to begging so he could buy his daily bread, this man probably did not expect a physical healing that day.

But Peter’s response to the uplifted face changed this man’s status:

  • But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!

More surprising than the healing miracle was what followed. The crowd turned to adulate Peter and John. Peter immediately deflected the praise in a way that I find LIBERATING!

Think about what Peter announced in verse 12 above. Neither human power nor man-practiced piety (habits of prayer, Bible study and charitable giving) was the source of the healing. He & John were simply conduits for God’s power. They were using derivative power. People are but like the moon whose light is a reflection of the sun’s radiance. The source of the apostles’ miracle was God alone.

Therefore, the credit goes to God alone. Were Peter to claim otherwise, it would be as silly as a gas grill taking credit for the ribs or steak that a man barbecues. The grill is the tool. So, too, are we tools and vessels in God’s hands. Any skill, strength, idea, or desire we display comes from God.

man grilling

 

 

As I pondered this account and applied it, I started to feel LESS special. But then I realized that if I don’t receive the credit, than I ALSO don’t bear the burden for the results.

God alone is responsible; so the outcome belongs to Him. I’m off the hook! I just have to be willing to be used by God, to offer back to Him for His use all that He has given me.

This shift in job description means in effect: No credit and no blame or condemnation from the One who counts. (That’s not to say that other people won’t feel free to criticize, but they’re just ‘fellow grills, or sauté pans’ or other tools in the hands of the King of Kings)

As soon as I started to breathe in this freedom and release some burdens, the Holy Spirit gently reminded me of all the attributes I claim as MINE. I knew immediately that He was directing my attention to those qualities I like to think make me unique, the ones I tend to boast in, to take credit for:

  • Time management skills
  • Fitness and eating routines
  • French and cooking talents
  • Desires to read and learn
  • ‘Natural’ abilities to initiate conversations with strangers and draw them out

But why do I think any of those desires and habits find their origin in me?

Hmm, definitely food for more thought. If I’m going to be free from the ultimate responsibility as a derivative created child of God, then I am also going to have to give up any thought of being exceptional BECAUSE of all that stuff.

Prayer: Father, help me! MAKE me glad to be Your ordinary utensil. Give me the desire and inclination to boast happily only in You.

 

What holds you together?

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‘For in him we live and move and have our being…’  Acts 17:28a

TMI?  Too much information – all alarming and overwhelming. With smart phones, laptops, talk radio and even traditional print media, I feel assaulted by sincere-sounding, but conflicting opinions.

Fortunately, my ‘Belt of Truth  awaits me each morning.  Buckling into God’s word not only clears my head so I can see clearly, but also makes me feel secure and safe. You know, I need to prioritize thinking about that belt as much as I think about my food for each school day!

Belt - cartoonThis morning, Sunday, while walking I began to stress about the coming school week.  Will I get all my plans done? What about Jack whose mom wrote yesterday to say how frustrated he felt with one of my homework assignments?

Then I remembered my belt. What do belts do?  They don’t allow for much else to come between our tummies and the snug encircling leather, do they! In that sense they protect us.  From what?

Jesus explained to Thomas, “….I am the way, the truth and the life….”   John 14:6

Tightening my Truth Belt, I’m actually putting Jesus around me.  He promises to block hammering false beliefs.  There’s no room for them if my belt is to stay both firm yet comfortable.

As I trudged up the gravel road, I thought about that quote from Acts about living ‘in him‘.  Paul was actually echoing a line from Epimenides, but applying the truth to God, when he mentioned the poet to the Athenian ‘philosophes‘.

So I will more gladly buckle my safety belt.  Not a car restraint, but a ‘living and moving and being belt’ – One that allows ONLY Jesus both to filter the TMI and to hold me together.

What is your ‘One Thing’?

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You’ve heard of Double A batteries?  How about Double C Idols?

That would be the twin gods of comfort and certainty.  I was stopped short in my thoughts the other day by a quote attributed to Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  Quoted in the excerpt at the bottom of this essay* she asks her listeners to, “Finish what King David wrote by filling in YOUR one thing: ‘One thing I have asked of the Lord, this one thing I seek_____________________’.”  (Psalm 27:4)

Pausing to reflect, I had to confess that I couldn’t even narrow down all my prayer requests and heart longings to ONE THING. But I remember saying to myself, ‘what a great idea!’

Pretty soon, in less than 24 hours, I realized that ALL my prayers pretty much center around wanting MY comfort and certainty in the details of my life and the lives of those I care about.

In other words it’s all about me. Yet…that is not wrong in and of itself.  God KNOWS that we operate in our own best interests. He wired us that way.  He just KNOWS that which is in our best interests – a life fed, fueled, and instructed by Him.

Even yesterday on our hike up the Art Loeb Trail to Ivestor Gap,

Art Loeb Trail plaque and Mike - 31 Aug

I saw how much we crave certainty. Mike was navigating by topographical map. He is a typical mission-oriented male, just the way God made men to be.  He had scoped out a hike and this was our 3rd attempt to complete it.  The first Saturday, because we weren’t used to how long it takes to hike this kind of hilly terrain, we had taken a wrong turn.  Then last Saturday, I casually mentioned that 4 hours of hiking was probably what I had in mind for a typical Saturday field trip.  That information, shared with my husband for the first time, caused him to change our day’s goals.  We successfully completed half of his planned hike. Yesterday our goal was to finish it.

As we ran into those inevitable decision points (how come THIS trail fork isn’t showing up on the map?), I realized how much we CRAVE certainty and how it eludes our grasp most of the time.  What a futile passion, then, to want to KNOW that things will turn out the way we imagine them in the beginning.  What a waste of emotional energy to angst, to stress, to push to ENSURE those pictured circumstances turn out ‘our way’!

God doesn’t promise us THAT KIND of assurance.  (He DOES assure us of our salvation, if we have trusted in His forgiveness applied to us based on Christ’s work.)

Back to David and Psalm 27: As we hiked in the lush hills of Western NC, I meditated on my ONE THING while…

·         passing locals gathering  blueberries

·         smiling at families tenting for the weekend

·         chatting with a young couple & their daughter the age of our grandson. They were hiking up and down the hills, acclimating her to their lifestyle.

Art Loeb Trail from FR 816

By the time we reached our parked car, I had formulated what I am NOW going to pray to God about and continue to order my life around;

·         that I may KNOW moment by moment  that I ‘live and move and have my being’  (Acts 17:28) IN Christ

·         that I RE-MEMBER that I have a new ontology, a new nature thanks to the Holy Spirit in me

Why that request?

·         I forget….daily..hourly

But if I can stay aware that ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me..’(Gal 2:20), then why stress over ANYthing?  Logic and common sense say that if I don’t have a crystal ball, if I don’t control the universe, than I cannot possibly know exactly what IS BEST for me or my loved ones.  But the One who created the universe and all that is in it DOES know.  And united to Him is the safest place to be.

What is your One Thing?

*

How would you finish [this] sentence?  “One thing have I desired of the Lord; that will I seek after _________.”  What is the greatest desire and longing of your heart? In the answer to that question lies the explanation for much of what we do – our choices, our priorities, our use of time, the way we spend money, the way we respond to pressure, whom or what we love. [King] David’s answer (see Psm. 27:4) reveals why God could say, “This man’s heart beats like mine.”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss  (30 Aug 2013 Quote of the Day, Grace Tabernacle Church

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