Face the facts…pray…work and trust God!

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Haggai 2:3 Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Is not this in your sight as nothing in comparison to that? Yet now be strong, alert, and courageous, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; be strong, alert, and courageous, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, alert, and courageous, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts. (Amp)

Facts are never a problem for God. Rather, He, the Creator of these ‘facts’ calls us to face circumstances and name them.

But He doesn’t leave us alone in the midst of our overwhelming situation to stew in our ‘not-enoughness’. Not up to the assigned task? That is how He has planned this moment, for the Lord of the Angel Armies is WITH us. He assures us that He will provide what we lack, making up for our God-designed deficits. Ever our Father, He pushes us forward, gently but firmly, TOWARD the situation that scares us.

Last Tuesday at the local pregnancy resource center here in Huntsville, I faced the facts. Nothing as scary as what the returning Hebrew exiles were up against, (the book of Ezra details this ‘adventure’) but unsettling enough for me to ask Mike and my friend Joyce to pray!

Every Tuesday morning, I meet with women who believe they are pregnant and turn to us for verification and assistance. They also want to find out how we can help them during their pregnancy. My role as an intake counselor is to meet with them, listen and learn what they are facing, administer the ‘pee test’, discuss our cost-free services, share something of the Gospel and to pray with them.

My husband Mike always asks God urgently to provide for me throughout my morning shift because of the gravity of these one-on-ones. All of us who volunteer and work at the center recognize that the life of the baby is sometimes in jeopardy because of the possibility of abortion. Even more important, these appointments can be occasions where questions of the eternal destination of the gal (and her partner) arise. With so much at stake, these 45 minutes or so ALWAYS feel weighty and I depend on God entirely for His direction – what to say and how.

Nine months before I left teaching Middle School French full time, I started working on my Spanish. My motivation? – a planned student trip to France and Spain the following summer. That never happened because we moved to Huntsville, changing my life dramatically. But already hooked on Spanish, I continued my language-learning journey in order to be more useful to God in a volunteer capacity here.

A data geek, I track everything about my personal Second Language Acquisition process. It’s been 27.5 months since June 2018 when I began from scratch. I employ the same method I used to teach French, that is acquiring the language through input, not via grammar or explicit learning. Starting first with simple videos and podcasts, I now read in Spanish and have some weekly conversations (language exchanges). I am at the intermediate level. The ‘problem’ is: I know what it FEELS like to be fluent in French. I can’t help but compare my skill levels. I call my level: Broken Spanish. A Mexican colleague has assessed my speaking as ‘adequate’.

Obviously just where God wants me, forcing me to depend on Him!

Back to ‘facing the facts’ this past week. Arriving at the center, I knew that all 3 of my appointments for the morning were going to be with Hispanic gals. A first for me!

No point informing God: ‘I wish my proficiency level were more advanced!’ He knows because I remind Him often. Daily, I plug on, continuing my Spanish journey, through comprehensible input (my goal is 3 hours with Spanish a day).

So, this past Tuesday, I JUST KNEW that His will for me that morning was to move ahead with my meager ability, trusting Him to make it enough.

Of course, He came through. No, I didn’t suddenly experience a jump in proficiency. My Spanish STILL felt broken and IN-adequate. But it was enough. The Holy Spirit made up what I lacked. The gals helped me as well. (They spoke NO English and two of them from Guatemala were illiterate as well – how scared THEY must feel, far from home!) And I served ‘my clients’ well enough, I think.

I didn’t get to ‘share the Gospel’ in the full sense that I am able to with English-speaking clients. With my limited Spanish it was enough for me to get through the content of their pregnancy status and services and set them up for a follow-up ultrasound appointment. BUT……I wasn’t at all afraid to pray in Spanish. For a year now, I’ve been enjoying my morning time in God’s Word using a Spanish study Bible. (Thank you, Michael!) I have acquired much of the Spanish specialized vocabulary that goes with talking about God.

But get this! I would have been thankful enough, just making it through the appointments without serious misunderstandings. But God gave me MORE.

For the first time, walking to my car at the end of my shift, for the VERY first time, I FELT upbeat about my Spanish. Serving here at the pregnancy center, using my limited Spanish is a GOOD challenge, a ‘meaty’ dig-your- teeth-into kind of worthy goal. Maybe this will turn out to be a ‘turning the corner’ marker in my quest for Spanish proficiency.

More importantly, I learned, yet again: daunting circumstances are no obstacle for the LORD.

With this ‘language high’ so vivid in my mind, this morning’s reading in Haggai struck me as a needed pep talk from God to these 5th-century BC folks (as well as an encouragement to me!) Under the Holy Spirit’s power, the prophet Haggai speaks pointedly FIRST to the elderly returned exiles from Babylon. They are the ones who likely remembered the much larger dimensions of Solomon’s Temple as youngsters in Jerusalem before it was destroyed and they were taken captive. God, through the prophet speaks to:

(Haggai 2:2) ‘….. Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to……’ the returnees who chose to journey and undertake the rebuilding of the Temple:

  • saying in effect…..Yes….this is going to be a smaller temple…and these rebuilding conditions are very, very difficult and dangerous BUT…
  • and the LORD cites those wonder-filled reasons above NOT to be discouraged.

So, it is with me, and with you, with Christians everywhere. God has created us on purpose NOT to be up to the tasks He assigns. That’s the whole point, don’t you think? Each time He comes through, our faith and awe deepen and He gets the glory. My habitual fear of failure and occasional balking alert me to my mis-guided assumption that completing this assignment, this Mission Impossible, is up to me. Yes, I need to face the facts, but I also need to focus more on the Truth. That God is my ever-present Helper. Hebrews 13:6

Can’t you see the water?

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A certain young man whom I dearly love is struggling with fear, anxiety and worry. He has recently been moved into a position with more responsibility and fewer resources that he can see. Knowing himself well, he has rightly concluded: I don’t have what it takes to succeed in this job!

Night and day, he has fallen into obsessing about failure. He feels stuck in the position because it appears to be one that will last until June 2021. He confessed to me last week that he sometimes daydreams of working an 8 to 5 at Walmart!

Haven’t we all been there!

Yes, he is a believer and knows Scripture well enough to realize that all this pressure is from God. He should also know that as a born-again child of God, he has been given solid promises that are his to use and to cling to.

So, when I read Jeremiah’s description of the ever-green leafy tree, I immediately applied it to his pressure-cooker of a job.

God’s sovereign governing of all that concerns his children includes where He ‘plants’ us. The Holy Spirit, through Jeremiah, is reminding us of the following:

  • wherever the Lord ‘plants’ those who TRUST HIM, that place is always VERY near a nourishing, life-giving stream. What does the stream represent? Something that is invisible at first to our eyes. Do you remember when the Exodus crowd were parched and out of strength in the desert? God instructed Moses to strike the Rock (Jesus per 1 Cor 10:4). Water gushed out in abundance. That MASS of people were enLIVEned, refreshed, encouraged and energized. Never would they have imagined water coming from a boulder.
  • the one who is confident in God’s WILL and ABILITY to provide draws near to the LORD, the only constant and dependable supply. Jeremiah is given a vision of the tree moving her roots TOWARD the water. Why would a tree bother to spread out her roots? Because there is no rainwater. But having sensed water and its life-giving relief, she moves toward it.
  • when troubles come, like NO RAIN, the tree keeps her roots IN the water. She does not say once she is satisfied: “Thank you, stream, that will do me just fine. Have a nice day!” No! That would be stupid. Since she has received, she stays connected to the Source.
  • what is the happy result? She doesn’t suffer the natural consequences of rain-deprived trees. She has a secret supply of what she needs. The effect of being so nourished is evident to all – GREEN leaves amidst dying, dried-up trees.
  • furthermore, do you notice the impact of HER leaves staying green all through the drought? She produces fruit. Do trees need their own fruit? No! Fruit is for others, whether the next generation of little trees, for squirrels, birds or humans!

So, sweet friend of mine. This is for you. I believe the Lord has planted you in a desert where you are withering. But take heart. There is a river nearer than you think. God’s never-ending Supplier, His divine Spirit, the Helper, is not just NEAR you, He is in you.

But yes, He is invisible as are His supplies. Yes, depending on your abilities alone scares you. It should! God means you to be overwhelmed if you’re looking at just you and all that is on your plate. But God, rich in mercy, has not planted you NEAR a stream. He has planted the stream IN you!

John 7:37-38 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Do you use reason to strengthen your faith? God does!

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Isaiah 1:18-20 Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

As the plane rumbled through the sky, I asked myself: Why did you EVER want to come and do this crazy thing, Maria!!!!

Helmet on, hooked up, ‘trapped’ in a shuffling line of other scared young men and women moving toward the open backside of the C-130 military cargo plane, I was about to step out into the air from 1500 feet above the ground.  Trusting that the parachute would open.

Tears stained my sweaty cheeks, but no one saw. I didn’t care, anyway.  I had to make a decision. And I did.

By force of will, I shifted my thoughts AWAY from the terror of stepping out into nothingness and focused on facts:

  • Most people DON’T die when jumping out of planes
  • This is a static line jump; my chute WILL open.  I don’t have to deploy it.

And you know what?  I made it!  The next 4 jumps that week were not nearly as scary. I successfully completed the Army’s Airborne School at Ft Benning, Georgia earning my Parachutist Badge.

I was thinking about that first jump last night when I couldn’t sleep. How I had to simply stop looking at my fears and focus on statistics, on facts.  Immediately I saw the connection to the life of faith over sight.

God teaches us throughout his word to focus on TRUTH, that is ‘divine facts’, to reason FROM them to more truth. To move logically from the following two categories of truth:

  • Who he is, his unchanging characteristics or attributes
  • His promises, bought for Christians by Jesus

Plus, a third and growing category of unshakeable evidence:

  • God’s ‘record’ of coming through for me, in answer to prayer, time and time again.

How long have these 3 categories been my source of strength?

I believe that God swapped out my old heart for a new heart warm toward him when I was 24.  I didn’t grow much until I was 40 and started studying my Bible in Bible Study Fellowship.  I turn 63 next week.  Therefore, my Christian experience was Bible-bereft for 16 years, but now has been Bible-enriched for 23 years. These past 23 years have built my confidence in both our Triune God AND his word.

Even before I was a believer, I knew God answered prayer.  In that very same 3-week Airborne School experience, I called on God to help me. It was Day 1 and we had to run 5 miles and then pass a physical fitness test.  I failed the pull-ups. The next morning, an ‘airborne sergeant’ retested me and gave the green light.  I had been praying fervently.  God came through.  I wasn’t even a believer.  But I have never forgotten God’s goodness to this unrepentant sinner. It was the first time I had prayed a specific, measurable prayer and God came through, immediately, undeniably.

If I add the fears of these Covid times together with ‘normal’ fears, I am getting plenty of practice in CHOOSING to shift my focus from current circumstances to God-facts. I am obeying God’s inviting command to reason prayer-ful-ly with HIM and refocus my view of circumstances through the lens of Ultimate Reality and not through the looking glass of my fears.

This is the only AND sure way I find inner peace:  when I shift my thoughts upward.

 

I’m still scared of God

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It was that silent part in today’s service, the private confession, where we are encouraged to share unconfessed sins with our Father, counting on the safety of His promise to forgive us because of Jesus. Something from this morning sprang to mind, surprising me.

Earlier, sitting outside with my coffee and the birds, I enjoyed a time of study and prayer. At some point, I started reflecting and then savoring right now, this particularly SWEET time in my life, in OUR lives. God has answered MAJOR prayers, some going back decades.  What kind? Here are the biggies:

  • Repeated cries for healing from work-induced anxiety for Mike that has affected his body 28 of our 40 years together.
  • Prayers for healing and freedom for me regarding eating, fitness and body weight.
  • Pleas for job contentment for Mike.
  • Repeated requests for release from my difficult job situation.

I can’t recall a time in my life that has been this restful, this satisfying. Ever.

So, what is the problem? What did I confess this morning?

That I am afraid.

That I am afraid that the Lord will remove these gifts that mean so much, that are so wonderful and refreshing. That they won’t last.

Why would He take them away?

  • He has every right to for two reasons: He created us and He redeemed us. We are His possession.
  • I know from Scripture that our Father has committed Himself to sanctifying me, to making me holy like Jesus.  In His wisdom, He might take these gifts away. To deepen and strengthen my faith, testing (for my benefit) just exactly where my happiness is rooted.  In the gifts, or in Him.

So, during the service, those 45 seconds or so, I confessed that irrational fear to my Father.  I called it what it is. Sin. A slap in the face of the One whom I should trust most. (Am I listening to Satan’s lies, I wondered? With malicious reason that enemy of God doesn’t want me to trust the Father’s love for me.) And I asked for supernatural, divine help.  Wordlessly, I off-loaded this weight in those silent few moments:

  • Father, I am so ashamed to tell You that I don’t trust You. That I’m clinging to these gifts that You have given us, not You.  I see now that I fear losing THEM more than I fear displeasing and dishonoring You. Forgive me. You’ve got to help me, though. Help me to trust You. To trust that You are good. That all that You have planned for Mike and for me IS for our ultimate happiness. It’s just hard. And this time You’ve granted us is SO restful. Soothing balm after many years of pain.

After that confession, I didn’t sense any response from Him. But now, as I write, I see how His Spirit is working. Prompting me to use this ‘shalom’ as a springboard to proclaim to others what my Father, the One and Only Living God, the Lord and Giver of Life has done.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

I don’t have to fear what He will do.

‘Satan – depart from me. I reject your suggestions. I know that Christ’s Spirit is in me and He is truth and light and He is more powerful than you.  I will not listen to you anymore!’

Here is what I commit to, with help! Instead of meditating on the ‘what ifs’ of circumstances, may I keep declaring my Father’s works to everyone I meet. May I honor His holy name in my prayers, my words and my actions. By faith, I will rely on the strength that He provides to bless Him.

Father, thank You for your promised grace: strength to direct my thoughts and words.

Psalm 126:3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

What are you most afraid of?

Minority report – what Caleb and Joshua concluded

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Once again Mike and I have been ‘walking with the Hebrews’, so to speak, during their 40 years of enforced wandering in the wilderness. I think this is the 9th year that we have read through the Bible in a year, together.  Each studied passage seems to yield new insights about God and his people.

We reached Numbers 13 on 28 Feb of this year, 2020.  The contrast among reports from the 12 scouts regarding the Promised Land struck me like never before.  All twelve scouts saw the same landscape, with its abundant produce during harvest time, noticed the unprotected villages among the fields as well as took note of the scary fortified walled towns. But the conclusions they drew varied, like night and day.

The majority concluded:

We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are……..The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.  And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them. Numbers 13:31-33

But Caleb & Joshua argued for a different conclusion:

The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.  Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them. Numbers 14:7-9

What made the difference? Did the minority reporters NOT see what the other 10 observed?

I’m sure you know the difference.  Caleb & Joshua agreed: “Yes, the men ARE bigger and stronger, but we have YAHWEH on our side!”  God ALWAYS makes the difference.

This Corona Virus is just another example illustrating the folly and danger of reasoning without God. What I call viewing the circumstances ‘naked‘, without God. Most of the non-Christian world, as well as fellow believers, are leaving God out of this global affliction.  As though God had nothing to do with it OR could do nothing about it.

When Christians succumb to panic, our functional ‘gods’ are made visible, what we count on day to day to give us confidence.  Truth is, they won’t hold up for us. Nothing but God can sustain us.  Created props crumble.

We are not truth deniers. We just bring in ALL truth to bear. We ARE realistic when describing the circumstances, but Christians MUST reason to conclusions in a different manner.

In other words, how does belonging to Christ make a difference? (Is Jesus even a factor  is probably the first question to ask oneself.).

Caleb and Joshua did not disagree with their fellow scouts about the strong, numerous big men and the war-readied cities. What allowed these two men to decide a different course of action was their trained reflex to bring God into the equation.

So, too, we who call ourselves believers must steady ourselves with what we know to be true about God. In the past have SEEN him come through……… to rescue, help, guide, heal and protect us…….. numerous times. Furthermore, we have the HOLY Bible to teach us about God. We have His promises.  We have each other. Why should we fear like others who have no hope?

I’ll leave you with God’s personal offer to his people, from Isaiah 1:18: Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD.

 

 

When fear is unreasonable

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“It is sheer unreasonableness for men created by a loving God and redeemed by a loving Savior to fear any man or anything that may happen. Richard Wurmbrand

What do you fear? What scares you?

I fear harm to my children and my grandchildren.  Thinking about my death or that of my husband doesn’t weigh heavy on me. I think the idea of my kids and their families suffering loss or injury is more about the imagined pain to ME.  When I love someone like I love my boys and their wives, then THEIR pain is my pain.  I bet you can identify. Haven’t we all said, ‘I wish I were the one sick or suffering and not YOU!’  I think it’s because we feel helpless to relieve the pain of the other person. Maybe that helplessness hurts more than what we think is their pain.

Scripture talks about how Satan has us chained by all kinds fear as well as fear of death:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Heb 2:14-15

Rereading this scriptural truth makes me think if perhaps ALL my fears are actually a product of Satan’s subtle suggestions and running commentary to the 24/7 information stream we take in.  Worldwide info-tainment feeds our dramatic and sometimes perverse interest in learning about the disasters others undergo.

And when we take in all this bad news (without remembering God who is sovereign), we are more susceptible to lose our confidence in Him. One byproduct of Satan’s fear mongering is discouragement. Last week, it occurred to me that one reason I find the Christian life SO hard is because of the Devil.  He is EVIL and he has a whole army of spirits at his beck and call whom he dispatches for his deadly work.  His goal?  To kill Christians, frighten and silence them or at the least render us ineffective and discouraged. But we are God’s greatly loved and redeemed children!  We mustn’t forget.

You don’t believe our anxiety and heavy hearts might be the work of the devil?  Tell me then, why do we forget God’s truths over night?  Why do we have to read His promises each day, building back and restoring our faith to yesterday’s level of restful reliance on Him. Why is that?  Wouldn’t you think we’d remember?  I mean, I don’t forget recipes that I make frequently.  I don’t forget my French and other languages I have.  But I forget how good our God is.  I forget that He has given me a stunning cosmic identity and eternal purpose through Christ who redeemed me.

What else is all this daily discouragement but the death of certainty?

Even though discouragement creeps in daily, recognizing who is at the source of my negative fearful feelings helps me a lot.

Knowing that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with ME is a relief.  Just living aware that Satan’s tactical goal is to get me to disbelieve my good Father EACH and EVERY moment increases my resolve to believe God and His Word all the more.

Drawing these thoughts to a close, if we are not to fear death or harm, is there anything we SHOULD fear? For as Richard Wurmbrand from Voice of the Martyrs commented, it is unreasonable to fear any created being or situation, whether Satan or man. Yes, there is One whom we are to fear.  We are commanded and commended to respect, be in awe of, to exercise a holy, righteous fear of the Lord.  Him alone.  This fear won’t send us cowering. This fear purifies and strengthens us.

Psalm 33:8

Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.

Job 4:6 Is not your fear of God your confidence?

Psalm 112:1 Praise the LORD! How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who greatly delights in His commandments.

A writer for Christianity Today puts fearing God into a helpful context:

Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary. When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal …. As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me. He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free. He casts me down, only to lift me up again. He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.

 

Hope – picturing a different cause or future

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We live and die by hope.  Without it, the people perish.

Wait a second, didn’t Solomon dictate that truth a bit differently, as you & I have read numerous times in Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish“?

Well what does a vision do but paint a picture of a future.  A bright, encouraging in-color action scene, personalized to include you births energy-producing HOPE.

The opposite picture or vision, what I call ‘DIS-hope‘, automatically siphons off any happy expectation of good.  Without hope, we quickly plummet, weighed down by that heavy, ominous, foreboding vision of gloom. That sort of picture immediately births those dangerous twins, Dread and Discouragement.

This week through written texts I’ve read, podcasts I’ve heard, YouTube interviews I’ve watched and scripture I’ve pondered, I have noticed examples of the leveraging potential of a new idea. The empowering influence of a new suggestion or previously unconsidered FACT can throw open the door to possibilities.  Light streams into the mind, instantly transforming one of those gray ‘Bunyanian’ sloughs of despair into a light and airy garden of color where flowers delight the senses.  This shift can happen in an instant.

I predict that my recent experiences this month won’t surprise you.  Most of us have felt uplifted by good news about changing circumstances, such as an email notifying your teenager of the awarding of scholarship money to attend college after all. Suddenly, his and your vision of the future shifts.  What brought about this sudden change? NEWS!

News is not confined to events that have already taken place, as in the decision announced by a scholarship committee.  News that paints any hopeful picture with YOU in it, births energy just from a single THOUGHT.

The most potent provider of this kind of new thought is the Holy Spirit.  At least this is MY recent discovery, for He gifted me twice this way in the past two weeks.

Let me explain.  May 2019 presented me with numerous skirmishes with a couple of my worst enemies:  Mr. Worry and Mrs. Fretting.

I’ll share the first occasion where the Holy Spirit came to the rescue with a new thought, a thought that ended a severe 48-hour battle.  My last visit to the ophthalmologist before moving to Alabama left me with startling news.  Apparently, the pressures in my eyes were creeping upward toward the Glaucoma range. He recommended that as soon as I settled into life in Huntsville, I should make an appointment to be seen. The earliest I could schedule was for August.

One day last month, however, I realized that my right eye felt different, as though there were a light layer, a sort of fine haze covering it.  Barely perceptible and not noticeably affecting my vision, the feeling persisted.

Suddenly aware, I fell into worry about the Glaucoma pressures in my eyes and the long wait to see a professional.  I could NOT drop this anxiety.  It pestered me without ceasing. No matter how many times I cast it on Him, repented, fixed my thoughts on the Lord, recalled all that was beautiful and excellent and praiseworthy, the worry kept coming back. I fought and succumbed numerous times on day 1 and into day 2. Sometimes during Day 2 I’d find myself distracted and realized I hadn’t worried for 15 minutes.  But that night, lying in bed, without anything to occupy my mind BUT worry, enemy forces attacked as soon as I lay my head on the pillow.  Night # 2 felt relentless.  I couldn’t shake the thought of my worsening eye. I eventually fell asleep in the early morning hours. Drained, I awoke on Day 3 – a Sunday.

I prayed, asking God to unite my heart just to worship Him, at least during the Sunday service. Unbidden at the moment and totally unexpectantly, relief came! No, it wasn’t from a spoken prayer or any of the sung hymns or even the preached Word. A simple thought broke through.

  • “What if this ‘haze’ is actually a protective layer that God has placed on your eye?”

Oh!  You mean that a reason OTHER than degradation of vision was possible?  I had never considered anything but something negative and scary, something that portended worsening vision.

Now, it could very well be that my eye is in more danger.  But the very idea that an alternative reality was possible halted my incessant, debilitating worry.  RELIEF!

God repeated this experience just a few days ago when I was battling once again, in a different matter.  Another one of those independent, and very liberating thoughts ‘popped’ into my mind. Thank you, Holy Spirit.

So that is my recent experience.  You know what they say, two times in a row makes a habit.  Mike and I currently battle fear and anxiety regarding something else in our life these days.  And I am expecting God to prompt another one of those liberating thoughts to break through into our conscious minds and bring relief.

I thank God that His Word daily feeds and strengthens me to trust Him. I pray and try to bank ALL on His wisdom, goodness, power and intention to work this ‘suffering’ for our good.

AND I am asking our loving and merciful Father, in His sovereign time (but hurry up, please!) to give my husband that new idea, that new perspective, that kaleidoscopic thought or realization that will shift what he is thinking to something new and life-producing.  This slight but empowering change will be such that his subconscious feelings will immediately move out of the pit of despair and gratefully sink into the cool, relieving pool of hope.

British Anglican pastor and author W.H. Vanstone captures this explosive power of a new thought in his book, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense – the Response of Being to the Love of God. This very seismic shift in thinking and then feeling happened to him.  He describes it on page 16 of his book:

  • The clarity with which I saw this (in his situation, the possible BENEFICIAL role of a new church plant in a community pleasantly indifferent to its presence) was an intellectual clarity.  I knew that I was not simply experiencing a change of feeling, but was seeing something that justified a change of feeling.

What about your experiences?  Have you been blessed by a small but powerful kaleidoscopic shift in your thinking?  Please share!

Do you dread anything?

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If you’re somewhat like me, there are certain things you dread.  They could be activities like doing laundry, sitting through meetings, resolving a hurt between you and someone else, packing for a trip, exercising or doing taxes!

What I’ve begun to see in my case is that when I ‘dread’ something, it’s because I have a pre-determined picture or scenario already fleshed out in my mind.  The imagined mini-drama is never fun, somewhat or majorly painful and an ordeal to ‘get through’ in order to arrive at an anticipated more pleasant activity that I enjoy.

At age 61, however, I have to admit that my actual experience of what I dread compared to what transpires is rarely in sync.  The dread is far worse than the event.

What helps me, these days, is to say to myself:  “Maria, who made you clairvoyant? You only THINK you can predict how something will be.  You don’t know at all.  And past experiences do not determine future experiences.”

This FACT should be obvious for Christians, when they actually reflect, for God teaches that He is sovereign over every molecule in the universe.  Remember, if He is NOT in control, then He is not God.

So now,

  • when I dread the army combat movie my husband has picked out for us to watch, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe you WILL enjoy it tonight!”
  • when I dread doing my exercise routine in the morning upon rising, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe you’ll feel really strong and finish encouraged!”
  • when I dread going back to school on a Monday morning, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe a student’s eureka moment will leave you feeling grateful to be teaching French!”
  • when I dread a meeting, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe I’ll acquire some new information that makes my work easier!”
  • when I dread being with someone who ‘always’ complains or adopts a negative or critical demeanor, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe God has transformed his/her heart and I’ll be surprised!”

I find I can catch and correct my inner monologue more easily these days.  I also draw heart from God’s Word in Isaiah 43:19:

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. (NIV)

 

What are you afraid of?

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You’ve probably heard about ‘disordered loves’.  That’s when you love something more than God.

If I’m honest, I struggle with THAT sin not only every day but also multiple times in a day.

What do I love more than God?  Theologically, nothing!  But functionally, I can rattle off probably 10, without pause:

  • my time
  • my comfort
  • my routine
  • speaking French
  • my ability to cook well
  • my appearance (being fit for my age)
  • READING
  • writing
  • sleep
  • long stretches with no obligations

And I haven’t even mentioned people I love!

Yes, I am aware that the Holy Spirit constantly is at work in this entire area of my life.  It’s called pruning, or sanctification, or suffering.

But the other day, something caused me to think about ‘disordered fears’.  I haven’t spotted that expression before, but books have been written about the disproportionate fear of man over the fear of God.  Or how we can become immobilized through fear of failure.

There are a hundred things to fear. And Christians and unbelievers alike battle fear.  Winston Churchill understood the evil of fear during wartime.

Here’s what prompted me to think about how our fears might be out of whack.

First I saw God’s emphasis on loving HIM above everything else.  This lesson has recently been reinforced as Mike and I journey once again through the Bible in a year. Today we finished the book of Joshua.  This successor to Moses is about to ‘be gathered to his fathers’ and he passes on his final advice and admonitions to the congregation of Israel at Shiloh.  He spends a good deal of time recounting God’s faithfulness to the Hebrew tribes, beginning with Abraham and mentioning this fact:

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” Joshua 23:14 (NIV)

BASED on what God has done for them, Joshua explains their responsibility to LOVE God.  It’s a command.  If it’s a command, it must not be a feeling.  Because ephemeral feelings come and go.  Loving God turns out to be an action that looks like this:

  • serving God wholeheartedly
  • clinging to God
  • preferring the one true God to other Gods
  • obeying God
  • worshipping and sacrificing to this God only

But how did I connect this directive to love God to what we are to fear?  Well, you can’t read much of the Old Testament without picking up the importance of ‘fearing God’.  Proverbs 19:23 is just one of many verses: “The fear of the LORD leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.”

Earlier in the week, I was wallowing in some non-God fears.   Kind of like Pilgrim mucking around in the Slough of Despond.  But thanks be to the Holy Spirit!  He brought me up short about the sin of fear.

I saw that these temporal fears (I’m gaining weight, some work-related circumstances might never get better, what if………….happens?) were occupying my thoughts and causing me to be despondent.  That was a slap in the face to God.  God brought me up short about my unbelief in God’s good (*good as HE calls good, that is whatever facilitates my eventual conformity to Jesus) plan for my life.  That realization led me to confess that I was fearing FIRST and FOREMOST something other than God.

I now see that if I shift my thoughts and energy to fearing, to pleasing, to caring about God’s reputation, then maybe my other fears will fall ‘into’ place and to their correct size. God doesn’t want us to deny our fear; He invites honesty.  BUT He is at work to place them in perspective.  Loving God leads to life.  Fearing God leads to life.  Loving AND fearing something over God leads to death.

It’s a new thought for me.  What about you?  Do you struggle more with disordered loves or disordered fears?  OR…..are they one and the same, two sides of the same sin?

 

 

 

Spiritual attack and renewal

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Before we moved to Asheville I wasn’t aware of being under spiritual attack.  As a lover of God’s Word, I should have been!

1 Peter 5:8

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

My first years at my school in Asheville his weapon of choice took the form of parental complaints to the principal. This year, he dialed up the discouragement knob.  I’ve been aware for the past 3 years that complaining, gratitude and contentment are connected. When I complain, I invite unhappiness.  So recognizing the grumbles and replacing them by cataloging blessings has been the approach I’ve PRAYED to employ. Intuitively I knew that gratitude could defend me when mildly demoralized.

The enemy turned subtle; however, the attacks intensified.  He selected a foreign language departmental meeting to resurrect a familiar conflict between those who employ a grammar-based approach to teaching and those (me) who advocate a comprehensible-input method.  I felt like giving up.  The effort to advocate for proficiency over accuracy loomed exhausting.  And I fell into low-level depression.

But God….had sovereignly scheduled a fully-funded conference for me and 7 other colleagues to attend.  Zip enthusiasm. Nada!  I was seriously contemplating giving up teaching after this year.  Two nights before my scheduled departure, the demons descended in force. Could have been just one, but it sure felt like a host of them!

The effect?  I stayed awake most of the night, feeling the energy for any of my roles drain away. Whether managing the day-to-day family budget, facilitating a monthly women’s group at church, writing blogs, or especially my job. Fear filled me and sleep was alien.

But God….revealed the next morning during my time with Him that this was a new form of spiritual attack. That startling insight alone made the difference and carried me through the day.  My resolve to FIGHT grew back.  By the next night I actually felt some enthusiasm growing for the trip.  Then insight.  I could see that God had ordained this conference IN ORDER to refresh and energize me for the next phase of life.  And in order to remind me to depend on Him.

And energize me He did.  I sought out workshops led by advocates of the comprehensible input way of teaching foreign languages. The old mojo flooded back.

That vicious and evil feline tried once more that night of conference day 1. I awoke at 2 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. He repeated his destructive sword parry the following night as well. OVER-WHELM-ING did everything loom. All the changes to shift my lesson focus back on a proficiency track seemed impossible GIVEN the obstacles I played over and over in my mind’s eye.

But God….countered with Truth.  He reminded me that if He planned this trip and allowed me to undergo the attacks to toughen me up, then He will lead me each day as I create and plan new lessons.  I don’t have to have all the answers or specifics in place for the rest of the year.  He is enough.  After all He is my ever-present Provider.  So I do what any of us must do in this world, as temporary New Creation sojourners in a yet-to-be redeemed world:

  • we walk WITH Him, hand in hand, keeping our eyes on the One who creates and sustains

Whew!  Glad I’m not in charge.

Deut 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 

 

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