Unlikely ‘teachers’

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I read some good advice last night.  The author advised being on the lookout for each day’s teachers.  Her experience of being guided and taught by God includes His use of diverse events and people she encounters each day.  It could be the annoying or ‘boring person who teaches me courtesy.’ (Marilyn McEntyre, Word by Word)

My first offering to you, fellow pilgrims, comes from an unlikely teacher, the singer Carole King.  My other schoolmaster this week has been the Spanish language.  Reading the Bible in a different translation always brings new and delightful insights.

May we gratefully receive whatever the Lord gives us, trusting His creative way to bring us encouragement and training.

You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running, running, yeah, yeah, to see you again. Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call. And I’ll be there, yes, I will. You’ve got a friend. (The ‘gospel’ according to Carole King)

Driving into the pregnancy resource center today, I was listening to a podcast when this familiar song from the ‘70s came on.  Listening to the lyrics, one would have thought it were Jesus talking.

Jesus is the optimal, perfect friend.  He never uses, abandons or shames us. He knows just when and what we need, tailoring His provision to our personality and situation.

Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you. Psalm 50:15 ESV

A friend of mine texted me this morning. “I wish I had a nearby friend or that you lived down the street!”  I knew what she meant. Sometimes we need a real flesh-and-bone person who will cry with us and hug us.  But Jesus is always available, 24/7.

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Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest. Exodus 28:3 NIV

I read my Bible in Spanish.  This morning, I saw the repetition of the word ‘para’ in the three places underlined above.  Para can mean: in order to, so that, for the purpose of.

Friends, we have a Father and Lord of Purpose! Everything our God does is according to His good plan. In verse 2, right before this one, God tells Moses:

And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. ESV

God is not just a utilitarian, one-size-fits-all Creator.  No, He purposefully acts on behalf of individuals, providing what is pleasing to the eye and honoring to the person.

Moreover, our Maker includes us, ‘em-purposing’ us to craft beautiful and functional art.

Finally, God dignifies us through stirring our hearts and gifting us with talents.

What a Master!

Tools to fight Covid weariness

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Covid IS wearying.  Now more than ever I come thirsty to my Bible.  Each morning I pray before I read, acknowledging my hunger and the fact that both God and His Word are alive and full of power.  I want to SEE Jesus.  I want to BE corrected.  I want to BE filled.  I want to BE awed.

This week I chose two of my daily mediations that have to do with gratitude and life that energizes. Both helped me combat the fatigue of this ongoing pandemic.

Once again Leah became pregnant and gave birth to another son. She named him Judah, for she said, “Now I will praise the LORD!” Genesis 29:35 NLT

The summer I turned 20, while employed in a little hotel-restaurant in Switzerland, I envisioned my future. Joyfully speaking French all day long, I dreamed of marrying a Swiss, working locally and raising our children to be tri-lingual.

God in His goodness directed me differently, all the while nurturing the desires He originated. I married Mike, lived only 4 more years overseas, but started teaching French and German in Virginia after son # 2 arrived.

Because God kept me on His path, I became a Christian. But like Leah, I revisit my dream from time to time. Not the Swiss husband, but the living overseas.

But in His mercy, the Father has shown me how He has been satisfying my desires.  I DO live immersed in languages, although stateside.

May I keep on seeing and praising the One who knows how best to satisfy His children!

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The righteous will live by faith. Romans 1:17 NIV

This morning, I lingered and indulged one of my passions.  The phone app Blue Letter Bible provides many Greek and Hebrew meanings and nuances for our English translations.  Boy, was I enriched and strengthened! Here’s what I found.

The ‘righteous’ are those who “are approved or accepted by God”. If you are a believer, you know that Jesus’ life-work and sin payment on the cross imputed to us is the only way a holy God can welcome us.

‘Live’ encompasses much more than biological forces.  “Enjoys real life and vigor, feels fresh and is active.”

Finally, let’s look at the key word – faith. ‘Pistis’ includes depending on the “faithful character of God”.

Do you recall John Bunyan locked up in Doubting Castle? Only when he found the Key of Promise and believed the promises in the Bible, could he insert the key and walk out.  That is a beautiful example of exercising the privilege of being accepted by the Father and relying on all His promises.

Protection against Prosperity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t want that to happen to us! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Gratitude and
  • Humility

Gratitude looks like this for me:

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

Humility looks like this for me:

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

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

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

 

Are you pessimistic like my mother-in-law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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