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?

Should a Christian have a bucket list?

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bucket list

2 Cor 2: 8-9 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”

Bucket lists – those impressive lists that both trumpet to the world what we deem important (Can’t die until I have done X, Y, Z) as well as showcase our time, money and wherewithal to make IT happen.

I mention this because a gal at church attributed her several-week absence to checking another item off her bucket list, a cruise to Alaska.

I didn’t think much about this until I read a comment that reminded me of the mind boggling, spectacular splendor that awaits believers in heaven.

What are we Christians doing, acting like the ‘pagans’ for whom this one life on earth is as good as it is going to get? If this is as close to heaven that non-believers will ever come, then maybe THEY have reason to pursue these recreational dreams. After all, the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is woven into the American fabric.

But as Christians, the very idea of a bucket list of

  • exotic places to visit or
  • exploits to accomplish or
  • adventures to taste

as a guide for what we do in retirement (or even earlier!) doesn’t line up theologically with God’s call on our lives.

Not that God is against His children taking joy in His good gifts, such as natural beauty, or trips with family and friends, or even His distribution of interest, talent and grit to hone skills. No, God is NOT a killjoy. It’s just that ALL THAT and MORE is promised believers for later.

For now, God has set us on Earth to reflect HIS glory (not ours) through our day-to-day lives. In our ordinary work and communities, we are to showcase the magnificence and worth of God primarily in two ways:

  • by treasuring and loving Him and
  • by serving and loving our neighbor

…..NOT in our own natural strength, but in humble dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit. As flawed men and women, we are bent inward. It takes SUPER-natural strength to focus outside ourselves, whether we look up at God or horizontally at our fellow human beings.

So a bucket list is inherently self-centering. Let’s be real – we’re talking about a list of what I want to do. This is so 21st century-ish, so indicative of a Western culture awash with money and leisure. If you’re wondering where the idea of a ‘before I die’ set, chosen from the catalog of possible dreams, slate.com attributes the initial usage to:

“the book Unfair & Unbalanced: The Lunatic Magniloquence of Henry E. Panky, by Patrick M. Carlisle. That work includes the sentences, “So, anyway, a Great Man, in his querulous twilight years, who doesn’t want to go gently into that blacky black night. He wants to cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge, pry the lid off his bucket list!”  Quote taken from this site

Don’t worry, dear brothers and sisters. We HAVE an eternal REAL ‘bucket’ filled with fascinating and splendid activities and pleasures to enjoy all guaranteed to each of us who is in union with Christ.

I’m reminded of that famous C.S. Lewis quote contrasting mud pies with a seaside holiday from his essay, The Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I’ll leave you with 2 further resources:

  1. the poem below
  2. a Christian pastor’s version of a bucket list.

A portion of John Piper’s poem, “Justified for Evermore,” found in his book, Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God, rev. ed. (Multnomah, 2012), 379-82. (Taken from this website – Blog post by Justin Taylor

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come. She leaped the stream –
Almost-and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye. I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy. And everywhere
I turned and saw a wonder there.
A big man running on the lawn:
That’s old John Younge with both legs on.
The blind can see a bird on wing,
The dumb can lift their voice to sing.
The diabetic eats at will,
The coronary runs uphill.

The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart, and understand,
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.

A Christian version of a bucket list

The perfect job – it exists!

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Perfect job

I don’t know what you fantasize about, but sometimes I imagine the feeling of just having landed THE ultimate job.  In my daydream, I can FEEL the excitement, the open-ended sense of possibility, the overwhelming gratitude and joy of actually being able both to be challenged in a healthy way AND to get to do every day what makes me happiest.  (Speaking French is the number one component)  Included in my daydream is the notion of having been PICKED or selected with all sorts of concomitant and guaranteed learning opportunities and training that will enrich my life.  I’ll be among happy fellow enthusiasts and what we do will make a difference.

Maybe pipe dreams of the ideal job aren’t the ingredients that fuel your fantasy.  Maybe it’s that longing for the ultimate family or skill experience/achievement (winning an Olympic gold in your event) or a different pinnacle of your own choosing.  But for me, it’s always been a longing for THAT job.

And as I approach 60, I’m beginning to realize, not with too many regrets, that there are milestones and goals that I probably won’t realize while I’m alive in this body.

Far be THAT, however, to lead to depression.  For as a Christian, the Bible teaches that the BEST is yet to come!

In fact, if you think about it, since we are immortal and will be given new bodies at Jesus’ 2nd coming, bodies with more and better capacities, the idea of longing for the perfect job while here on earth is both short-sided and bound to disappoint.

But if we view our time on earth as training for the future, (the internship I wrote about earlier – Last week’s blog on a Theology of Work), then we can wait patiently, knowing that God doesn’t waste ANY of our experiences.

So in my imagining the work we will do in Heaven, I bet that:

  • It will be something we each feel perfectly suited for, given our ‘bents’ and our ‘experiences’ here on earth
  • It will be among happy colleagues who lovingly support and encourage one another
  • Our leader, Christ, will be the perfect ‘boss’
  • We will do work that is meaningful and satisfying.

So until then, I pray and trust God for patience and gratitude for both my future destination and the preparation He gives me each day in the meantime.

Colossians 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

PS:  I think the inheritance will be the invitation to come take an active productive role with the Triune God in the Kingdom!

Keep Calm - Job

It’s good to be a sheep

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sheep

 

 

Psalm 23:1, 3  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want……He restores my soul. 

What peace and grounding there is to be found in the first psalm I ever remember learning.  Thank you, Cousin Terry, for reminding me of the rest and assurance that is available to all believers!

We were catching up over the phone.  In response to my question of how she was doing financially (she lives on a fixed income), she confidently recited verse 1, that she lacked and desired nothing due to our shepherding Lord.

After we hung up, I savored recalling each truth and promise packed into those six verses of the 23rd psalm.

Here are my take-aways from just one and a half verses:

From verse 1 –

  • I’m a sheep.  As a simple beast, I don’t have the vision or the wisdom to know where to find green fields and clean, refreshing waters.  I need a GOOD shepherd.  Yet most of the time I operate as though I know what is best for me and where I should head.
  • The shepherd knows me well.  After all, He is MY shepherd.  That means I am HIS little sheep.  I belong to him.  And Jesus knows best how to take care of me.  I act like a foolish beast when I don’t trust Him and His provision.
  • If I don’t have the thing I think I need or want, then that something is not what I should have at the moment. In fact, I will NEVER not have what my maker knows I need.

From  verse 3 –

  • Restoration is a big deal.  The Hebrew word shuwb (#7725 Strongs) refers to life-giving actions that my Shepherd performs, namely….RETURNS, REFRESHES, STRENGTHENS, REPAIRS, CONVERTS.  So often I’m scattered, distracted, worried, headed off on an unhealthy tangent or plan.  I NEED a wise and good shepherd who knows best and doesn’t hesitate to perform holy restoration/restauration.

feeding 4000

 

 

 

  • What Jesus, my Shepherd, repairs and restores is what the Old Testament calls the soul, or nephesh (#5315 Strongs). For the Hebrews, nephesh represents the entire YOU.   Your immaterial feelings, thoughts, pleasures, desires and dreams as well as your material or physical self.

Does that include my disappointments?  what about my ‘yet-to-be-realized dreams’? And my shame?  YES!

Does that include my energy and desires, my ‘get-up-and-go’ as my Dad used to call it? In a word, YES!

This master shepherd CAN and DOES guide, provide, love, encourage, feed, console, motivate and protect me in just the right amounts and combinations at the most kairos or propitious of times.

So with just 1 verse and a fragment, the Psalmist answers my anxiety.  God is always communicating a message of rest, of peace, of provision.  My life is not as complicated as I make it out to be.  And I bet yours isn’t either.  After all, if we are Christians, we know we are just sheep, senseless and stubborn at times, but well taken care of.  Aren’t you glad our Shepherd is committed to us?

How to act around ‘pagans’ aka un-believers

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I was meditating again on the fruit of the Spirit, those qualities that the Holy Spirit nourishes and grows in us as we stay connected to Jesus.

Fruit of the Spirit

God had given me a large window of time to mosey around in Scripture, a true gift.  Chaperoning the 8th grade trip meant that we spent a fair number of hours on a comfortable touring bus last week as we took in a few college visits, cultural experiences as well as caving and zip-lining.  I had not expected to have 2 seats to myself on the bus and time to read and meditate.

During my study the Holy Spirit connected the fruit of the Spirit description in Paul’s letter to the Galatians to God’s explanation to wives regarding how they should conduct themselves daily with their unbelieving husbands.

  • Wives, in the same way (as Jesus trusted God and submitted to misguided but wicked men), be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the BEHAVIOR of their wives

Just what does this behavior look like?  Like the fruity verbs of the Spirit!  When – empowered by supernatural divine power – we react with love to others’ attacks, mean-hearted comments or inadvertent damaging acts, we catch them by surprise.  The world operates on a tit-for-tat basis.  You cut me off in traffic, I give you the finger or worse.

But a counter-worldly response characterized by joyful, gentle, patient self-restraint will stop someone cold in their tracks.

We all know that, even if we can’t DO it.  But nothing is impossible with God!  And here is a new thought that might make you at least WANT to try out this response again.

While away from Mike on the 8th grade trip, I experienced a nightmare.  I don’t usually recall my dreams, but this was vivid enough to stay with me upon awakening.  We were fighting, my husband and I.  One of those verbal and emotional encounters where I was checked by my superior sparring partner.  Mike is far more articulate, able to think quicker on his feet and empowered with rhetorical and emotional bullying flourishes.  In my dream I FELT humiliated and frustrated and stomped on.  What a relief to wake up and know it was only a dream!  To be fair to my beloved husband, these ‘fights’ rarely happen and have tapered off over the years as the Lord claims more of us, inch by painful sanctifying inch.

Out of this dream, however, came a powerful remedy for the next time someone hurts me or tries to browbeat me.

  • Peter encourages Christian wives married to pagans (unbelievers) to respond with Holy Spirit empowered behavior.

But here is what’s so cool!  Even when CHRISTIANS treat other Christians poorly, this remedy can work.  That means that when

  • another brother or sister-in-Christ in the office
  • my husband
  • my adult children
  • my mother-in-law
  • a church family member
  • a Christian girlfriend

…..’spews’ over me or hurts me, I can choose to say

If he’s going to act like a pagan, then I’m going to treat him like a pagan…….

– with LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS AND SELF-CONTROL.

Why?

  • it’s a startling, unexpected tactic that will prove far more effective than trying to use the same weapons as my opponent
  • this response promises to bring my adversary, ANEW, face-to-face with the unearned, POWERFUL and totally surprising gospel love of God (and we all need reminders, daily!)

I’m not ASKING God for a fresh experience of ‘meanness’ from the world, but this is the world I live in. So I don’t think I will have to wait long.  I just pray the Holy Spirit will bring this better response to mind in time for me to head in that direction rather than default to my natural and well-worn groove of retaliatory meanness.

What about you?  Have you tried this and want to share what happened?

Bottom line – if someone acts like a pagan, let’s treat them like a pagan – with the powerful weapon of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control!  If nothing else, our response will surprise the ‘hell’ out of them – hopefully!

 

Man proposes and God disposes

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Proverbs 16:9  A man’s heart makes plans, but/and the Lord directs his path

Proverbs 16 9

Six weeks ago I received a group invitation to audit a seminary course.  The topic sounded fascinating – Biblical Theology of Women.  I had never thought of taking a course in theology, so it was intriguing.  But like everyone else, my schedule was already filled with more good things to read, study and learn than I had time for.

With some newfound wisdom AND at the same time desirous of taking on yet another ‘good’ thing, I did what I’ve never done before – think outside of the time box and make some serious choices about how I spend my 24 hours.

D.A. Carson, a wise, biblically-informed senior theologian, had counseled at a Bible conference that: If God has wired you to need 8 hours of sleep and you’re grumpy if you don’t, then SLEEP the 8 hours, for heaven’s sake!

So I made ‘enough sleep‘ a priority.

Enough sleep

And not just for the rest of the summer, but during the school year, too!  Obviously, other stuff had to go!  You can’t do it all. Even if ALL of it is ‘good’.  After sufficient sleep, I made my daily walk a priority.  Then came my quiet time which I re-arranged and divided into 2 separate daily time slots for the school-week.

None of that was too radical.  But I found myself faced with the need to eliminate a lot of reading.  Hard questions.  What do I truly WANT to read if I have to prioritize?  The answer was clear:  books!  I enjoy both French-language and English-language novels and books on the Bible, theology and the Christian life.   In order to allot at least 30 minutes a day to reading from them, I would have to eliminate the ever-growing email subscriptions I have kept up with for the past 7 to 8 years.  They had gotten to be a slave driver.  Just their presence in my inbox, piling up, always waiting was a reminder of ‘stuff I had to do!’

So I turned ruthless and cut all but 1 daily (John Piper’s Desiring God) and 1 weekly French and 1 neighbor’s weekly blog.

These steps (drastic for me!) were informed through new ideas from 4 books I providentially read this summer whose one theme was one’s dreams, goals, and purposes and new ways to think about what really matters.

Contented Jason in Lambie - 27 Mar

These past two weeks leading up to the start of a new school year have felt relaxed, almost as ‘relaxo’ as we describe one of our cats.  I haven’t been driven by the tyranny of my daily inbox to plow through and glean good stuff.  Each night after the dishes are done and the newspaper read, I have settled into my French novel, sitting out on our deck.  I have thoroughly relished reading for pleasure.  I now feel that I have a chance to make my way happily through a stack of books – the physical kind whose pages you turn.

Then I received the email with the syllabus to the course I had signed up for – the one that had prompted the weeding and gleaning and reorganizing of my time. And I had second thoughts.

Without ANY guilt, I have decided that I don’t want to add anything to this new ‘stasis’ in my life.  School has resumed and I am choosing to commute, teach, interact and listen to colleagues and students FEELING like I can spend the requisite time and not cheat them of my attention.

Let me draw this reflection to a close and pick up with the title of this blog post.  The adage and the proverb point out the truth that no matter what we plan, God is the one who directs our life.  God used the offer of a free course to bump my life around this summer, all for my good. And then He communicated to me that I should NOT take the course.  I’m not surprised.  But what IS a pleasant turn of events is this:  a friend to whom I mentioned the seminary course has jumped on it, eager to benefit.  God obviously had HER in mind all along.

So let us rest in knowing that even if we choose poorly, God is still in charge and will direct us if we willingly yield to His guidance.

Question:  when was a plan that you had laid out but that God re-directed and now you can see it was a ‘more excellent’ way?

 

 

 

Longings and Disappointments

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Are you disappointed in how life has turned out so far?  If you are honest with yourself and are over 40, have you flirted with the scary thought that maybe your most intense dreams/desires just won’t be fulfilled?

Dreams - unfulfilled

 

 

 

 

I’m thinking of friends who:

  • have yet to find a spouse, but desire to be married
  • are not able get pregnant
  • long for a family member to come to Christ
  • struggle with chronic overweight, out-of-control spending or other addictions and feel locked into unhealthy patterns
  • can’t seem to find their vocational calling and have it line up with paying work

I have such a dream. When I was a teenager living in Europe thanks to a military dad, I discovered what a rush it was to speak another language and live immersed in a different culture. I reveled in speaking French and German. I often thought that my ideal job would be to work as a clerk in a shop, never mind what it sold, and have that daily interaction with the public be IN another language.

Vendeuse dans une boulangerie

My fantasy, then,  as a young girl was to marry a Swiss and raise our children to be at  least trilingual. This was before I was a Christian and knew about the blessing of being wed to another believer. Thanks be to our God who sovereignly guides our lives. He overrode my young girl’s top 5 qualities in a future husband and brought Michael into my life at the age of 22.

And He gave me a few bites of my dream during the first 10 years of our marriage.

But it’s been years now and that dream of living in Europe and conducting our daily lives via another language has yet to be fulfilled. I often wonder if it will.

Yet, I am beginning to grasp a longer view of life. CS Lewis argues that longings are not in vain.  Given how our normal every-day desires like hunger, fatigue or the need for sexual and social fulfillment can be met in healthy ways, one can argue that there is no such thing as a true unfulfilled desire.  If God planted a desire in us, it is because He intends to fulfill it.  A thorough essay exploring this argument can be found here: Argument from Desire

I’ve begun, now, to quiet myself and let go of potential disappointment.  God is not One to waste anything. It’s been argued that He uses even our suffering.  Why should He then NOT use our longings?  In fact, my theory is that He plants those desires, gives us talents and experiences/practice to hone the skills with the plan to make use of EVERY ONE OF THEM! God has the long view and is not impatient.

And it could just be that those plans are not meant for THIS phase of life, our 80-90 years in a fallen world.  But they are intended for the life to come – the one that is more permanent.

  • So to my friend who has two nieces who long both for a godly Christian husband AND children – maybe those gifts for homemaking and interaction with children are going to be used LATER!
  • And to my dear husband, who would love to sing again from that Anglican repertoire with a group of professional musicians, keep looking forward to that day!
  • And to my departed dad who dreamed of running again with the full energy of youth, I pray to see you doing just that one of these days.

As for me? With my love for languages and learning, I think God has given me THOSE gifts for joy-filled purposes that I can only glimpse.

Best is yet to come - CS Lewis

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