All those ‘shoulds’!!!

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July 6, 2021

Maria CondemnationConvictionHoly SpiritRomans 8 Church familyIntroversionOne-anotheringshoulds and oughts Leave a comment [Edit]

The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6 (Berean Study Bible)

I’ve been wrestling with how to distinguish between condemnation from Satan and conviction by the Holy Spirit.  I find myself often thinking, ‘I SHOULD be doing more with people, especially those at church’.  Why am I bothered?  Because when I think about all those people I ‘should’ connect with, I feel depressed.  I just don’t know how to THINK about all these ‘shoulds’. And they continue to hammer me.

I’m an introvert and I’m aging, and I no longer want to gather with people as frequently as I did as when our boys were little. 

Our life is so different from when I was a busy mom, teaching French, serving with Bible Study Fellowship, and teaching adult Sunday School. On top of those commitments, we still enjoyed getting together with church family for mid-week potlucks, weekend retreats, picnics, and even a weekly small group.

Other engagements also dotted our calendars. Mike sang with a professional choral group whose performances I would attend. We occasionally took in other concerts as a family.  Finally, during many years of my dad’s later years, we would spend Sunday evenings enjoying dinner at his place.

But these days, I prefer quiet evenings at home, just with Mike. When he asks “Do we have anything going on this weekend?” and I answer with a cheery NO, I share his delight.

So, why am I telling you all this?  Because I feel ‘wrong’, condemned. Thoughts like: ‘you’re supposed to be ‘one-anothering’ those in your church family’. Multiple ‘shoulds’ assail me. Almost daily.

In my defense, I do connect throughout the week with lots of people, mostly through emails and zoom calls. I also volunteer in two different places.  This fixed amount of extroverting does stimulate me. But my calling, what I DELIGHT in doing, is writing and speaking other languages. They, I absolutely look forward to.

So, how have I handled these voices that steadily announce what I ‘should’ be doing, and how selfish I am?

I’ve been praying, reading scripture, journaling, talking with Mike and my friend Joyce and then writing some more, as I wade toward clarity.

Joyce offered this thought, ‘We should distinguish between what we want to do in our day that pleases us and the activities that have eternal value.’

Do dinner prep and sharing with Mike have eternal value?  Do keeping the house clean and kitchen stocked have eternal value? Do reading and thinking have eternal value?  Do they justify pulling in a bit more?

God has been letting me churn, prayerfully ‘stew’.  But not alone. That other helper, the Spirit of Truth, has been guiding me, too. Mostly through scripture.  For example, this statement of fact penned by Paul brought me relief a few days ago:

There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 (NLT)

Satan condemns and the Spirit convicts.

Despite feeling reassured for that particular day, Yet, once again, I fell back into uncertainty when the calendar turned over. 

Then Tuesday morning, I saw something else in Romans 8.  That verse about having the mindset of the Spirit. 

I looked up the Greek in my phone app Blue Letter Bible.  Seeing the grammatical form of ‘of’ excited me.  It’s genitive and it expresses possession!

I scribbled a re-write: …the mind belonging (of) to the Spirit!

I continued, connecting it with the rest of the verse:

Romans 8:6b….the mind belonging to the Spirit is life-giving and peace-filled.

I jotted down two synonyms for life offered by the Blue Letter Bible: vigor, energy, both with a sense of abundance. 

My interpretative conclusion THIS day is:

Since I belong to the Spirit (and soak in God’s word daily), He guides me, he leads me toward what gives life, bringing energy and what keeps me filled with Jesus’ peace.  When I notice an idea that is anti-life, i.e., draining or something that steals my peace and starts me angsting, that is the tip-off to ‘taking THAT thought captive to Christ’ and rejecting it.

Of course, I intend to keep praying and seeking direction in God’s word, as well as asking for wisdom from select mature Christian friends. As I keep Mike in the loop in this process, I am trusting the Lord to corral me if I tend to go off track.

Oh, Father, keep me teachable and don’t withhold your wisdom from me!

Our faith and His ‘pop-quizzes’

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If the three most important words in real estate are ‘location, location, location’, then the key three words for the Christian are ‘entrust, entrust, entrust’ all to Jesus.

Remember…(those)… who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7 NIV

If we are to ‘copy the faith’ of someone, that means we must be able to notice it. The text above actually makes that point.  The Greek word ‘consider’ means to behold.  What are we to observe? The conduct of believing Christians all the way to their dying end, through their journey toward the final portal into Life.

One’s ‘way of life’ indicates conversation and actions, how these mature believers interacted, how they handled affliction and upsets.

This morning, I read a different translation of 1 Peter 4:12 that compliments these thoughts: ‘When trials come to test you, don’t freak out.’ How clear!

Observing mature Christians who have taught us God’s word, mimicking their faith responses, watching how they think through and make decisions has a corollary. Just as we copy their pattern, that means others are watching us, too.  We aren’t always aware, but they are. 

But that responsibility won’t tax us if we recall our Lord’s assurance of supernatural, divine help promised to sustain us all the way to the end. God’s chesed, that is His steadfast love and mercy, is constant, never changing. Here’s to ‘not freaking out!’

**

As is my Father’s pattern with me, I can count on a ‘pop quiz’ to follow up what I observe in His Word.  Sure enough, He provided the ‘practicum’ just a day later while on our trip out to Seattle to visit Mike’s mom.

When I dread something, I will hand it over to You. Psalm 56:3 (my wording)

I had to repent this morning at ‘pee o’clock’.  Washing my hands, my head flew to the coming day and what I was dreading.  We have planned to treat Mom to a dinner out 3 blocks from her retirement complex.  My fears over the past few days have been: ‘What Uber driver will want to transport us that short of a distance and back?’ and ‘Will the ambiance and food please Mom or will it be too loud and unsatisfying for a 92-year-old?’  

So, as soon as I thought in the dark, “I’ll be glad when today is over”, He convicted me, clearing away the fog of fear.  “Oh, I have a heavenly Father!  I can hand this entire situation over to Him.”  And so, I did and fell back asleep.

Now, further into the day, I keep reminding myself that He has ‘got this’.  The grace we will need is already stockpiled. This event is meant for future praise.

PS: Well, it’s ‘the day after’.  And of course, God’s score card continues to be perfect. Not a single driver balked at the four-block trip.  We arrived on time.  There were ramps for Mom and her walker to use.  We were seated by ourselves in a spacious alcove with a view over Seattle.  Visibility was perfect. Our menu selection pleased Mom and we made it home with no hitch.  Our driver was in his early 80s, seeking always to be productive.  He understood Mom’s needs. 

Father, forgive me yet again for doubting your ability to come through. Thank you for your kindness to us and to Mike’s mom who delighted in being able to view her beloved city from the 14th floor.

The sovereign Father and the persistent momma bird!

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Momma Bird's Nest Yes, it’s a dying petunia we have hanging up over our back patio.

A dried up, intentionally left plant that reminds me of God’s sovereign timing and the trust of a little ordinary sparrow.

Mike and I love birds and as soon as we moved into this house in March, we hung up our bird feeders. Our new house backs up onto a disc golf park and greenway.  Big shady trees housing many birds hang over our postage-sized back yard, satisfying us with a feeling of the spacious outdoors.

But not one bird came to the ‘table’.  Maybe that’s how Jesus felt when his banquet invitees provided excuses for why were choosing not to attend the readied feast!

Mike and I asked God daily to direct his birds to our feeders.  I even enjoined my friend Jill in the UK to pray !  FINALLY…..they flocked.  We rejoiced, thanking God for the gift of observing and savoring these happy feathered members of creation.

So….. you would think, that when a momma bird chose my hanging petunia to construct her nest, I would have felt proud to aid the cause of providing for the next generation of birds.

Sadly for momma bird, my miserly side dominated.

By July in Alabama, the plants we had first put out in late April had withered with the heat.  So I replaced some of my flowering hanging baskets mid July. Now here was this bird choosing one of the new pots to feather her nest.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to water the petunia any more, I removed her construction work, throwing it away.

Two days later when I set the hanging basket down to water, I saw the new nest.  I tossed it in the trash as well, reasoning that this bird would soon get the message and build her nest somewhere else.

I was not counting on her determination to stay put.

She built a 3rd nest. It, too, went the way of the others.

And then God! Immediately I thought: ‘I bet this bird SENSES her body about to lay those eggs! She must feel desperate to have a safe place for them, one where she and they can be out of sight and protected. AND I HAVE INTERVENED 3 TIMES, to the potential possible murder of baby birds!

I repented and prayed that she would persevere yet again.

And praise Jesus, who loves his creation, she did build yet another nest, a FOURTH time.  I was so relieved.

She was just in time, for the very next day, she lay her eggs.  Whew!

All I could think about was how much stress I must have caused that little bird just because I wanted to save $12.99!

But God rewarded my repentance with some valuable, illustrated lessons, such as:

  • His control of all events including when the Holy Spirit pinged me, bringing forth my repentance IN TIME for that momma bird to lay her eggs
  • The example of perseverance in the cause of life, the next generation of baby birds
  • The reality that being in God’s will does not block hardship.  That bird was doing what He created her to do – prepare for and care for family.  Despite huge obstacles and persecution – ME!!!

Momma Bird is still there; the babies haven’t hatched yet.  Even when they grow strong enough to fly off, I might keep that dead petunia on my back patio as a reminder.  Our LORD and Savior doesn’t waste a thing.  Definitely worth the $12.99

Luke 12:24 Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds!

Matthew 10:31 Fear not therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.

Shutting doors on lesser things

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Journeying through Genesis again, I’ve seen how God closes and opens wombs.  Wombs are a sort of door, a door to fruitfulness. When Abraham passed off his wife Sarah as his sister (for the second time!), Abimelech took her into his harem.  Immediately, we learn in Genesis 20:17-18, that God afflicted Abimelech, his wife, and his slave girls so they could not have any children.  God took away their fruitfulness.

Catching my attention after this account were the words: Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised.  Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Gen 21: 1-2

God opened a door; he made Sarah fruitful.  Yes, Sarah and Abraham came together as husband and wife so a baby could be conceived.  But the conception and subsequent birth were entirely OF the Lord!

God has been shutting doors in our lives, specifically in Mike’s life.  We finally have seen and come to the decision to go in the direction God is leading. We don’t yet know the where or the when.  That is up to God.  However, we are doing what he gives us to do: apply for jobs, list our house.

The Holy Spirit has yet to close any doors at this point in my life.  Instead, He has recently shown me a door I am to close.  As an act of worship.

Those who know me well, put up kindly with my seeming insatiable quest for information.  Over the past 7 months, I have binged on podcasts and books about Keto.  Keto is a health-promoting low-carb, high-fat way of eating.  Mike and I switched to this protocol for brain health and disease prevention.

Keto is what I talk about.  Constantly.  My computer password has included a reference to Keto.  I have listened to at least one Keto podcast a day on my long commute to and from school.

Two days ago, God opened my eyes to this idolatry.  Painfully, and in a way that fit me.

  • My weight climbed, something that always ‘sends’ me into self-preoccupation and temporary depression.

How did He connect that with my idol worship?  That very first morning of weight gain something came up in one of my prayers. Scotty Smith, a PCA pastor who writes daily prayers, had used the example of  Betsy Ten Boom urging her sister Corrie to thank God for the fleas in their Nazi concentration camp barracks.

Convicted, I thanked God for the weight gain, not an easy thing for a weight-obsessed Maria to do.  During this same morning time with the Lord, I read another prayer and wrote this down: “Whatever we treasure in our hearts will be reflected in the stream of our words.”

Ouch!  What a closeup snapshot of me!  Almost daily I have flooded poor Mike with what I have newly absorbed in a Keto podcast.  A clear illustration of the principle:  what you dwell on and talk about reflect what is important to you.

The final gentle but firm push from the Holy Spirit was something Charles Spurgeon had written this week, based on a text from Psalm 109:4 ……but I give myself to prayer.  At the time I read it, I had said to myself:  I am a woman who gives herself to prayer.

Two days later, I saw that my conclusion was NOT true.  I had become a woman who gave herself to Keto (the latest in a long string of a ‘passion of the month/year’).

I knew what I had to do. Unsubscribe from the podcasts and the email newsletters.  Go back to podcasts about God. Change my password.

During our nightly prayer check-in, where Mike and I open our hearts to one another and write down what we need God to do for us, I confessed my sin and how the Holy Spirit had revealed it to me.  He prayed for me.

This morning, God has kept up the training.  I wrote in my journal:

  • Maria, repent when you are more interested in a created thing than in the Creator!

God then directed my mind to this exhortation from Isaiah 55:2:

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

To eat what is good, I have to stop putting garbage into my mouth.

I almost fell into temptation this morning. There remained ONE Keto podcast I had not unsubscribed from.  I started to justify, “Surely ONE podcast a week won’t hurt me…..”

(the Serpent’s lies feel so palate-pleasing and harmless!)

I unsubscribed.

My conclusion?  In this case, God did not shut the door for me, He instead urged me to shut the door myself.

I now understand that giving up this lesser thing IS a sacrifice He calls me to make.  Worship is about sacrificing the best-created thing to show yourself, God, maybe some of the watching world, and all of the invisible world, that our triune God is worth MOST OF ALL!  Sacrifice and worship are not about earning God’s favor.  His children already HAVE received His grace and can’t lose that.  But we need a constant reminder of Who is supreme.  The world, the flesh and the devil all can look mighty satisfying.  All a lie.

Eating what is good trains our palate for the Holy.

I wonder what other doors He will reveal.  More doors to close?  Or maybe new doors to fruitfulness.  Eat up, Maria!  But only what is good.

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.

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