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.

 

 

Does God care about the little things?

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“Oh, He is too busy running the world to care about this little issue of mine!”

Have you ever been politely put off by someone pretending to be humble?

Here’s the Truth – our God LOVES to take care of ALL our issues, cares, problems, burdens.  “Cast ALL of your cares on Him, for He cares for you!”  1 Peter 5:7

I’ll tell you a story about one of those ‘little things’ that my Father took care of yesterday and the bigger take-away.

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  We’re living in a rental house with a small frig. Family arrive next week to share the holiday.  I had been fretting on my inability to do any food prep and baking ahead of time due to the size of our freezer section.  Mike to rescue! He seconded my suggestion about buying a chest freezer NOW (instead of waiting until we move into our new house).  Relief!

Home Depot here in Huntsville had a sale. The freezer fit in the back of the Subaru. Mike set it up and turned it on. Monday, I happily purchased the $40 frozen organic turkey, along with some wild-caught Sockeye on sale, also frozen.  Placed them and some bacon in the new freezer.

But the next morning after working out in the garage, Mike reported that the turkey felt soft when he checked it.  Oh, no!  It had been solid as a rock when I purchased it the day before.  My mind flashed to all the rigamarole it would cause us, especially Mike, to have to load the freezer in the car, take it BACK to Home Depot…..et cetera. And when would he have the time to do that?

By God’s grace, I knew immediately what to do:  I handed the entire mess over to the Lord.

“Father, you tell us to cast ALL our burdens on you.  Handle this, please. You know I just spent a bunch of money and that I need a freezer. And how I had planned to do some baking this afternoon.  Help!”

Finishing my quiet time, I bundled up for my walk and prayed on and off during the 30 minutes. I continued to have a steady confidence that this was one of those tests and that the Lord would come through.  Entering the house, I hung up my jacket and took out my phone.  Following Nehemiah’s example, I formulated another quick prayer as I punched in the number for Home Depot, asking God that the manager would be in the store this early (8 am).

He was!  But first I had to go through customer service.  I really hadn’t wanted to explain the situation to the gal on phone duty, but she asked before connecting me to the manager.  Her empathetic response reassured me, “Oh, how awful! Of course, I’ll put you through right away to Drew.”

Drew grasped my situation immediately.  Asking a few questions, he assured me that he would send a replacement over as soon as possible.  By 9 am, I had a new freezer humming in the garage.  And praise be to the Lord!  Per Google, my turkey which had been kept cool over the past 18 hours but not frozen in the defective appliance, could be safely refrozen, if within 3 days.

With joy, I texted Mike to share the good news of how quickly God had worked. Furthermore, by 3 pm I had placed one baked item in my new and fully functioning freezer.

What about that corollary or bigger take-away from this on-time grace?

It’s this:  like all of you, Mike and I have a BIG need that we have committed to God.  We pray every day, asking for a resolution as well as the strength to endure and trust him in the meantime.  And our Father has seen fit to tarry.  Frankly, some days it’s a real struggle to hold on by faith to his promises as well as to remind ourselves of all his past answers.  We intentionally rehearse his goodness as we read about him in his Word and see hourly and daily evidence of his love.

So, in his very rapid handling of our freezer problem, I see reassurance from a loving and kind Father that he really does care about us. Through this quick supply of grace, it is as though he is reassuring us that he IS indeed at work in our big need. But that in his perfect wisdom, he has planned a wait.  So, we await HIS timing and continue to pray.  But not frantically, not desperately.

Oh, by the way, the next time someone thinks to put me off with a quip about God having more important things to do than handle a problem like a defective freezer, I’ll confidently say:

The one and only true, living and loving God cares about ALL that concerns me, AND you, AND the nations at war, AND the environment, etc. And compared to his GREATNESS, and from his point of view, all these problems are little items!

How to offer specific hope to someone today

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Something Caleb Kaltenbach wrote a while back for Christianity Today came up in my prayer feed yesterday morning.  Mike and I use Prayermate to collect and ‘feed’ us prayers each day.  I had cobbled together some of Kaltenbach’s thoughts on the futility and sin of worry and composed them into a prayer for myself.  What caught my attention yesterday morning, praying again through these truths was the possibility of offering REAL hope to someone I might encounter in the next few hours.

Kaltenbach wrote: “What is the hope I can offer a fellow believer?”

He then answered: “God has already created and planned tomorrow…… “

Now that is real hope.  No matter how fraught with problems tomorrow turns out to be, knowing that God has planned every event of the day IS a relief.

But we need more.  The thought of something awful can still be fear-inducing, even if it IS part of God’s plan.

Here is the ‘more’ I must have to let go of fear. Caleb finishes his thought: “…..and He will walk with you into it.”  God promises to be present in the perplexing, the unexpected, the difficult, and yes, the AWFUL.

“Okay, ” you or the  recipient of this encouragement might respond, “Where can I go in God’s Word to SEE that this is so, that God actually teaches both His sovereign control AND His presence?”

I had to know for myself what foundation had already been laid for this claim.  With a few minutes of reflection, this is what came to mind. One of my favorite promises is from Psalm 31:15: My times are in your hands….

You know me well enough by now, if you’ve read this blog, that I love looking up the Hebrew/Greek or Aramaic meaning of our English translations.

From BlueLetterBible.com the English term TIMES is translated from the Hebrew ETH.  However, in Hebrew ETH means so much more:

  • events, ‘nows’, experiences, happy and calamitous seasons

Conclusion?  EVERY occurrence is in God’s hands.  THAT fact is enough for the Psalmist to continue:

Psalm 31:15: My times are in your hands, (so) deliver me from the hands of my enemies and those who persecute me.

I wrote that down and continued looking for more Biblical support.

A few moments later, I ran across 2 Cor 3:5 where Paul writes: My sufficiency is from God. 

Right before that verse Paul pens, “We have confidence through Christ toward God”.

What was the basis of Paul’s confidence? A phrase from his first letter to believers in Corinth points to the reason for Paul’s happy reliance on God: “but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor 15:10)

So, pulling this together for myself and because I want to be ready to offer it as an encouragement to someone else, here is how I am tucking Caleb’s exhortation into my mind for ready access:

Let’s suppose we listen to a co-worker or talk with a friend today and they have a heavy heart. We can listen and then say:

This is what helps me in times of suffering or difficulty:

  1. God has already planned your tomorrow and He will be walking WITH you through it.
  2. He promises that all your times and events are in His hands, not necessarily to prevent a suffering but to rescue and deliver you IN each situation.
  3. You don’t need to look at your insufficiency and feel afraid because, as Paul learned, Christ’s grace toward us IS sufficient for the day.

Sounds VERY good, but does it ‘work’?  Does this offer true encouragement, a life-line when discouragement hits?

I soon found out.  I left this blog post to sit until today, Sunday, when I planned to edit it.

And yesterday afternoon, the disabling spirit of discouragement attacked.  After wallowing a bit, I remembered ‘how to offer some one HOPE’!!!!

It turns out that the first person God planned for me to encourage was me.  I lay in bed talking to myself last night and was able to fall asleep.  Then, this morning, even though I woke up feeling VERY unspiritual, I again talked to myself and turned to the reading for today and prayed:

Holy Spirit, this is Your word. It is alive and full of power.  Feed me. Encourage me.  Let me see marvel-worthy things.

And He did. By grace.

The hope we offer others, I’m seeing, is best tested on ourselves.  I know intellectually that one reason we suffer is to be able to hold out God’s comfort to others, that comfort that we receive from Him.  I tend to be able to see God’s good hand AFTERwards. Hindsight IS valuable if we remember it.

 

 

 

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!

Feeling overwhelmed today?

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Are you like me, sometimes? Do you ever feel unprepared for what you have to do?  Do you feel the task at hand is too big for you?  Do you feel insecure at different times?  It could be that like me, you’ve forgotten some very good news.

First a fact:

Where you are today is where God has put you.  Nothing happens without His directing.  That is, if we take the plain meaning of God’s word in scripture.

Ephesians 1:8-11 (GNT)

In all his wisdom and insight God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head. 
All things are done according to God’s plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of his own purpose, based on what he had decided from the very beginning. 
Now a story:
Mike, my husband, is into his 4th week at a new job.  Like any change in work situation, there is a lot to learn.  The culture of the work community; the expectations of a new boss; the protocol for this or that; wisdom about how much to share of your heart with new colleagues – a lot.  It ALWAYS feels overwhelming, no matter how long you’ve worked.
Last week (Friday, 19 April) in our assigned reading (Chronological reading plan) Psalm 18 was included.
While reading some of the verses I saw explicit mention of how God equips His people.  I saw hope for Mike and for anyone who is in a spot where the demands and expectations feel overwhelming.  It could be a new and different job like is the case for Mike, or a call to volunteer in a new ministry or just to persevere in a difficult situation.  Maybe your ‘hard’ is the day-in, day-out parenting/elder care or loving and tending someone with a disability or chronic illness.  Then there are those who persevere in marriages with an unresponsive spouse or ‘trying’ spouse.  And how about just plain ole stuck in a situation for which there seems no good outcome?
Hear, then, what our good Father says to you, to me, to my husband Mike:
Psalm 18: 31-35
For who is God, but theLord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
    and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.
 He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your right hand supported me,
    and your gentleness made me great.
With those power facts, we can pray for ourselves and for others.
For Mike I prayed this morning:
  • Thank you, Father, that you have equipped Mike with a good mind and the ability to think and make connections and then articulate them to others so they can understand
  • I rejoice that you made Mike to see and create analogies on the spot
  • How amazing that you have placed Mike in this new job here in Huntsville and set US in a church where we can grow in our knowledge and love of you!
  • Father, you continue to train Mike in new applications of systems engineering so he can add value to his firm.
  • You are the God who has given Mike your divine Spirit; the One who is counselor and provider and intercessor and comforter.
  • It’s YOUR right hand that keeps my husband safe, keeps him relying on you, keeps him  repenting and thanking you and you will bring him to you  in the end
  • What more could we be glad about than your gentleness in coming to earth to rescue us and make us adopted kids in your forever family.  That is what we boast about, that we know you, our Rock.

Do you see how God’s word can fill one with HOPE!  O, dear friends, feed on God’s good word and pray it for yourself and for those you love.

 

What if I don’t FEEL any joy?

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Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Romans 12:12

We’re a feeling culture. We don’t ‘think’ anymore.

I often hear people say things like:

  • I feel that we must accept everyone’s religion as being equally valid.
  • I don’t feel like we’re going to make it to the end of the month!
  • I feel that if she made an effort to understand me, then our marriage would have a chance!

The above statements are not feelings; they are beliefs or thoughts.  Since it appears that we don’t even know how to frame our thoughts accurately, then should it surprise us when we struggle to understand feelings?

I came upon Paul’s exhortation above in a collection of R.C. Sproul’s sermons on Romans.  This is what he wrote regarding Romans 12:12 (page 424 of St Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, published by Crossway):

  • ….faith looks forward and finds its anchor for the soul in the future promises of God.  That is the foundation for our joy.

That reassured me that Biblical joy is based on facts.  Promises made by our God and recorded by the prophets for us.

You probably know from past essays that my natural bent is NOT first toward feeling something.  I have to think, ponder and work out thoughts and notions in my mind before I feel.  The feelings do follow I have observed.

Most of the time I don’t FEEL joy in God.  But that doesn’t bother me.  When I substitute the words:  “I’m glad that” for ‘I feel joy in’, then I understand the command to rejoice.  I THINK joy.

I am VERY glad that God’s promises are true and reliable.

I know that I am entitled to them as a follower of Christ.  For Christians are those folks for whom Jesus lived, died and was raised from the dead.  They know what Jesus and the Godhead did for them, OUT OF LOVE, and are VERY glad.  And that being VERY glad begins a deep, lasting and ongoing transformation into the likeness of this very God who has demonstrated His love for us.

So, what makes me glad each day?  That I have Jesus, that I am wedded to Him as part of the Bride.  And as Paul wrote, ….. all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ. 2 Cor 1:20a

My response?  a grateful glad and hearty And so through Him, our “Amen” is spoken to the glory of God. 2 Cor 1:20b

A Biblical ‘Rule of Life’ for 2018

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1 John 3:23   And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

As Mike and I reach the end of another year’s journey through God’s Word, I marvel at the theme that reoccurs through many biblical exhortations: Trust God!

One strong message God has directed toward me since this past summer rings: Be still! Know that I am God (Ps 46:10).  To a fault, I de-FAULT to thinking (as opposed to feeling and doing).  As a result, not realizing I lack the necessary data, I run myself ragged like a caged rat wearing grooves on his treadmill.  Round and round I go, trying to think myself toward a solution.  Imploring God for an answer brings me His counter solution, “Give it up, Maria.  Stop!  Lay it aside.  What you need more than an answer is to know who I AM.  That is enough.”

Recognizing that I’m more prone to live inside of my head than to give to others, God is wooing me toward the joy of enjoying ‘doing’ or action.  I’m a reluctant and slow learner, but gradually I am experiencing that He truly knows what is best for me, what will give me authentic joy.

I’ve written about how 16 months ago I finally ‘succumbed’ to joining work colleagues at lunch, to fellowship while sharing our lives.  ‘One day a week I’ll give you, Lord!,’  I had conceded, begrudgingly and guilted by God into abandoning my ‘precious email surfing’  time alone in my room while munching away.  Not ever, ever imagining how much I’d grow to love that ‘lunch bunch’. Or how deprived I would feel on the rare occasion when everyone split off for teacher duties, meetings or one-off reasons.  “What? eat alone in my room?”  And that had been my hoarded and cultivated custom in the 24 previous years of teaching.

God is patient.  Far more so than we are with ourselves or with families and friends.  This past season He has led me deeper into stepping outside of my self-centered mindset to GIVE (His nature) to others.  For example, a new pattern has fallen into place – that of scheduling one Sunday afternoon catch-up phone call a week.

And I have learned to accept that if I don’t ‘GET to’ all my curated podcasts or reading I have chosen in a day, then what He allows for IS enough.  I’m just not wise enough to know what is best for me.  That is the relief of resting in God’s sovereignty.

So, what about 1 John 3:23?  The apostle John, through God’s divine Spirit, sums up what it is to abide in Christ.  I like it.  I can hold on to it.  And by God’s grace, I can start afresh each morning to practice it:

  • Trust Jesus:  what He has done for me through His blood, what He promises me in the future grace He purchased for me (thank you, Pastor John Piper!), and in the Life (that grace-filled, nourishing sap) with which He feeds me moment by moment as I consciously stay connected to Jesus.
  • Look outward and see who needs what, and after consulting with my special Advisor, move toward him/her/them to offer what I have.  That is called Love.

Pay off?  1 John 3:24 reassures me with this Word of Truth: Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. 

I get it!  And praise our good Father, He is growing IN me, slowly but surely, a desire both to trust Him with all my unresolved issues, problems, questions, and VERY messy situations, while I go about His business of loving others in the strength He supplies.

I never expected the simplicity and relief of this liberty.

 

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