What God does by setting our boundaries

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The boundary/inheritance lines have fallen for me in pleasures….Psalm 16:6  (literal meaning from Blue Letter Bible)

Fences

We normally recite Psalm 16:6 with the phrase ‘pleasant places’ as describing the boundary lines.  So ‘pleasures’ should have jarred the ear a bit.  But that phrase happens to refer just as often to ‘pleasures’ and to ‘sweet things’ as it does to ‘pleasant places’.

If you’ve journeyed long enough in your life to reach your 30s, then surely you’ve accumulated your personal list of disappointments and closed doors.  Whether prom date rejections, cuts from the cast or team, wait listing at your first choice college or job terminations, sorrow is part of life.

For a while I have recognized that dead ends and startling abrupt turns are God’s intentional means to direct His children along the paths He has chosen. We, of course, don’t see all of his reasons and certainly God has many purposes. But one goal of God’s that I now understand more clearly is that, as my good Father, He is determined to maximize my enjoyment of Him.  He arranges my circumstances and structures my days to include ‘lessons’ (trials and suffering) that will increase my holiness.  I’m learning that as my holiness expands, so does my pleasure and joy in God.

This day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength – Nehemiah 8:9

Nehemiah exhorted the people to put an end to their sincere sorrow over past sins and move on to holy happiness in God.  He knew that their repentance was real  – a prerequisite to being cleansed or made holy. Now it was time to enjoy God and experience genuine joy and receive divine strength.

What is NOT explicit, but is built into the text is the understanding that AS we are increasingly sanctified or made more holy (more like God), THEN we enjoy Him more and more.

  • Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14

A recent revelation has startled me:  All those disappointments, which I might lament, MAYBE they have been expressly for my joy.  Maybe had God allowed me to fulfill my dreams, I would have been ‘ruined’ for the real kind of joy.  It’s like a child who first eats sugar is ‘ruined’ for the taste and delight of fresh fruit and vegetables.

So maybe all the closed doors and thwarted plans, which have set my boundaries, (THIS far and no further!) have been sovereignly arranged with the EXPRESS purpose of maximizing my joy in God.  Could it be? Well, I wouldn’t put it past Him!

A further insight settled on me last week as I was listening to a secular colleague share his story of desires and closed doors.  His dreams of being a film producer had led nowhere and with mounting debt and a family to support, he finally came to grips with putting that career goal to bed and applied for a teaching job out of state.  He now teaches in the classroom next to me.  We’ve talked about God before and he’s easy to talk with but doesn’t seem to have any divine stirrings…yet!

But if God shuts doors and redirects my plans to maximize my enjoyment of Him, might this gentleman’s blocked efforts to move into another career along with desperation over increasing debt have God’s fingerprints all over?  Would it be unlike God to place him at this school in MY sphere to hear life-saving news?

I’m now praying for a soft heart on his part and alertness to know when to speak up.

Am I harder on myself than God is?

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1 Peter 4:8 – Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

James 5:20 – Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Psalm 103:12 – As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Faith's Hall of Fame

Have you ever wondered at the accuracy of God in his assessment of major Biblical personalities such as David, Lot, Noah, Moses and Abraham?  A few of the sins in their lives include:

  • murder
  • adultery
  • parenting of daughters that is abusive by its shameful neglect
  • drunkenness
  • pride
  • self-protective lies that potentially jeopardized the line of God’s chosen people?

Come on, God! You know everything.  Don’t these ‘biggie’ sins disqualify all but maybe Enoch, about whom you report only positive behavior and character in Scripture? How can you even love, let alone acclaim these men You created, called and commissioned?

I thought about this incongruity when struggling a few days back with heavy thoughts of what a poor mom, mother-in-law, friend and grandmother I am.  Maintaining relationships in the way I think they should be cultivated is difficult for me.  Oblivious in my earlier years, but increasingly aware since I turned 35, I have grown in both my appreciation of and commitment to investing time in the dearest of people.  Yet….I often beat myself up for not “X-ing” enough (substitute multiple action verbs for the X).

In the middle of the current ‘I’m not enough’ doldrums, I passed on to one of my daughters-in-law as worth reading a blog post that resonated with my current bleak self regard. She immediately shot back some probing questions that forced me to look even closer at my pity party.  One of her arresting thoughts was this:

  • The more I love my ‘I don’t do this well’ self-assessments, the freer I am to see God work IN those weaknesses.

Hm….

That was last Sunday morning, right before church.  So I worshipped God while all the while thinking through what might be God’s perspective about my ‘muck’.  It occurred to me that nary a ‘Bible Giant’ such as the five I mentioned did everything well.  In fact, when they worked on their own, they fell into big sin.  Only when they served in humble and thankful dependence on God did they experience supernatural results that pointed to God’s intervention.

And isn’t that what God wants?  If we humans, we Christians succeeded in our own wisdom and strength, how would God look good and desirable?

If my weakness is NOT something God despises, then, why do I grant myself freedom to indulge in such negative introspection?  After all, God provides a quick and effective way out of sin, out of my moral debilities long marinated in self-condemnation.

  • If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from ALL wickedness and unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9  And what is unrighteousness, but doing something in our own strength and wisdom.  God calls that sin, because…. 
  • Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:23

There’s actually another sin going on in my stewing in my ‘I don’t do this well’ muck.  It’s plain ‘ole’ fear, mixed with shame.

What do I fear?

  • I’m ashamed that relationships with others, including family, friends and grandkids do not come easily due to my selfish nature
  • Just as I felt insecure as a young mom…that sense from long ago has carried over into feeling unsure as a grandmother
  • If any of my friends or family knows that I have to ‘work at’ a relationship they will feel less loved or think I’m being artificial.
  • My pre-supposition (and fear) must therefore be, “anything that doesn’t come naturally, spontaneously from the heart, is 2nd rate and not authentic. If you have to work at loving someone, you must not really love them. And if you KNOW that about me, you will think less of me.”

Self-criticism  In those ‘I don’t this well’ areas, I obviously have been listening only to these fear voices.

But if I think back to Old Testament ‘giants’, I also see how God assesses them throughout other passages.  For instance, the so-called Hebrews Hall of Fame spotlights the noble actions of some well-known personages.   It doesn’t take much study to notice that those God acclaims as praiseworthy are also ones about whom we have read many unsavory accounts.

What does that say about how God views His children and perhaps how we should view ourselves?

Could it be that as forgiven, adopted and beloved sons and daughters what count are the actions done IN faith, IN dependence on Christ, with no subtraction due to our gross sins? (or ‘little’ sins for that matter – since all sin is forgivable by God when we confess)

And if that is how God evaluates us, sinful as we are, should we spend more time than say, Paul, who acknowledging himself as the ‘worst of sinners’, yet does not allow that fact to deter him from moving ahead.  (1 Tim 1:15 – This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”–and I am the worst of them all.)

So, bottom line for Maria, and maybe for you:

  • Yes, there are areas of my life where I am wobbly (my Mom’s term), but they should point me all the more gratefully to God’s promise to be sufficient for me.
  • It is WRONG and SINFUL to fear and beat myself up (a form judgment and of self-atonement – 2 jobs God has explicitly told me to leave alone.  See Ex 20:3 – Thou shall have no other Gods before Me!)
  • With plenty of areas of weakness, why not look at these situations as prompts to practice turning straight away to God for my supply?

Final thought to marvel over and give thanks: 

Because God the Father has already forgiven my past, present and future sins thanks to Jesus’ substitution for me in death and life, God can justly keep track of those deeds done in faith and happy dependence on Him.

Dear Father, send your Holy Spirit to remind me to STOP beating myself up, even though that is a familiar habit.  Remind me, supernaturally, to look to Jesus for both forgiveness and provision to believe and to do what and where and how You are calling me as your child.  Resting in the sure promises of Jesus, I ask this.  Amen

 

 

How easy it is to lie and steal

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I didn’t lie yesterday, but God showed me how very easily I could have and what a pickle I would have been in.

Lowe's

Mike and I were at Lowe’s to look for a new kitchen trashcan.  We found one we liked, but it was the floor model and had a small dent.  In talking with the sales associate I inquired about a reduction in price due to the dent.  He thought that would be likely.  We found another small defect and I suggested, “We should get 50 % off this floor model then since there are 2 issues and no box to boot!”  He agreed.

We had to wait while he sought approval first from customer service, then from a floor manager who had to check with his supervisor by phone. The supervisor advised him that 20 % is the max discount in such cases, not the 50% I had asked for. In the end, as the floor manager completed the ‘sale’ price, he informed us:

  • “Lowe’s never gives 50 % off for a damaged floor model.”
  • I replied, “But the sales guy said it was likely!”
  • He asked, “What’s his name?”
  • “Bill”

The floor manager THEN informed Mike and me that he was going to have a serious talk with Bill, because all Lowe’s employees know NEVER to offer a discount like that to customers and that Bill could possibly be fired!

I was horrified.  What if I had ‘lied’ about Bill mentioning the 50% off reduction?  I would have had a SERIOUS crisis of conscience on my hands.  I would have had to admit to Mr. Floor Manager:

  • Oh…no, uhh,….. he didn’t really say that.  I just said that…..about the 50% off.  Don’t hold that against him!

My stomach felt the same blow to the gut as THOUGH I had lied.  Maybe God gave me a glimpse of the ‘wages’ of sin!  Whew – I didn’t enjoy looking into the precipice.

**

Then there was a moment last June when I came close to the edge of sin.  I was at school and was putting something back in my desk drawer when I recalled that I needed sticky name tags for a church seminar I was facilitating.  The stash of labels was front and center, lying in that desk drawer at school.  But something kept me from what I’ve done in the past – ‘availing myself of’ a school provision for home use.

Would my using work-provided supplies be considered stealing?  If not, it certainly pointed to something worse: UNBELIEF!

unbelief  How so?  Because lickedy split my inclination was:  I DON’T want to spend  $2 at the store to purchase what I need when I have some tags right at my fingertips.  But who provides me with all my needs, my daily bread?  Is my God THAT miserly in what He gives that I can’t afford a small office supply from the money He provides through our work?  God pointed out the larger sin that underlay my temptation to sin: to steal. I was ashamed and well taught in the moment.

Phil 4:19 – And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

But lest you think that I always stop right before this kind of sin, I don’t. Frequently I know what I am doing AS I move forward, yielding to the shortcut of sin. Remorse immediately follows afterwards.

So why do I lie? Why do I tell someone what I think he/she WANTS to hear?  Because I don’t want to experience the:

  • annoyance
  • anger
  • disappointment
  • dress down of the person to whom I am lying

What struck me during a recent post-lie conversation with God was how misplaced my fears were, how little respect I had for God.  Rather than avoiding the possible displeasure of my interlocutor, I should GREATLY fear lying to God who is holy, who has given me life AND shown me nothing but love and mercy.  Is this how I treat my Father?  What does THAT say about how much I value Him?

One hears in Christian circles that as one gets closer to divine light, as God’s holy flashlight penetrates the dark recesses of sin in the heart, one FEELS more sinful. As the years go by, I grow increasingly aware of my sin, daily and I am shocked.  I don’t know why, except I thought ‘I was BETTER than that’.  Ha!

I am learning (through lots of pop quizzes) to thank God FOR his gentle training rebukes that follow my failures.  It means I’m a daughter,

“……because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Hebrews 12:6

 

 

Can we lose our salvation?

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Treasure

2 Cor 4:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Many Christians (regarding whom, I have NO doubt that they are authentic believers) fight the fear that they are just fooling themselves when it comes to the status of their eternal salvation.

Like a radio with antennae continually seeking strong signals, so too do I search out scriptural truth to bolster the hope and assurance of struggling brothers and sisters I love.

So when I heard John Piper talk about desire being the key to authentic Christianity, I saw something true and comforting that I might be able to pass on.

When we are born again through the Spirit of God it’s like we are given a new set of eyes. We begin to see clearly just what IS treasure and what is trash.  New desires germinate and start to flourish.  Yes, growth can be slow and seem irregular in direction and pace.  But the overall trajectory has been changed.

But what do we do when doubts like these below plague us?  (who do you think ‘might’ be behind these doubts? – not God!)

  • What if the Bible and how one is saved isn’t true?
  • What if I really haven’t believed?
  • What if I’m not a TRUE believer?
  • What does it mean that I don’t seem to feel as enthusiastic or sure as other Christians?

What do we do?  We look at the treasure!

Think about the man who stumbled upon buried gold or silver in that field (Matthew 13:44). Quickly reburying it, he sold everything he had (fields, house, furnishings, livestock) to put together enough money to buy the entire pasture.  Once he possessed the plot of land, do you think he moved on to other pursuits, ignoring the treasure?  No!  I can picture him digging it up and handling it, savoring it, thinking about what it meant to his future.  His imagination easily filled in the blanks.  He might have used some of it for the present, but the rest he protected as his inheritance or retirement fund.

His joy would have remained and been stoked and even grown with every re-imagining and glorying in this treasure.  Had he started to doubt whether he actually possessed this wealth, he would have wasted no time pulling it out and savoring all that it represented.

That’s what we have to do with OUR most precious possession. As believers in Christ, we have:

  • forgiveness and peace with God
  • a new Spirit in us – no longer of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind
  • Christ’s continual presence THROUGH this indwelling holy Spirit
  • and a bright future to be lived in His presence where ‘fullness of joy’ is promised.

So what do we do either to ward off the doubts or deal with them?

We just need to ‘visit’ and ‘revisit’ our treasure every day, holding fast to it.

Whatever it takes to hold on to our faith, we must do.  Faith is our most valuable possession.  John Piper exhorts fellow believers to STRENGTHEN the gift by realizing that:

Little faith = Little joy

Stoked faith = MORE joy!

How do we fan the fires that heat up our faith?  By reading about this great gift in God’s Word and learning what it means for us to be partakers and heirs of God’s kingdom. Remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17).  I need to hear God’s truth every day, throughout the day.  And it’s MY voice rehearsing God’s promises out loud that help me most to HEAR.

LOVE the Treasure!

PONDER the Treasure!

PRAISE the Giver or the Treasure!

GET TO KNOW the Giver!

Look at this concrete advice to early Christians battling unbelief:

Hebrews 3:14

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the assurance we had at first.

Sarah, Sex and the Hall of Fame

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Sarah and Abraham have a baby

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Hebrews 11:11

The above verse resolves the perennial debate between those who pit James against Paul in this tricky question of doctrine:

  •  Which is sufficient for justification –  faith or deeds?

How is that?  Consider…..

Sarah was long past the age of childbearing and her husband was no longer virile when she overheard the angels assuring Abraham that in a year’s time she would give birth to a baby.

Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”…Genesis 18:12-14

So what happened?  Did Abraham and Sarah trust God’s message to them?  His word certainly affirms that they did.

Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3b repeating Genesis 15:6)

**

Impossible situations

What struck me the other day is that both Paul and James are correct.  Abraham and Sarah DID trust as fact the unbelievable news that they would be able carry out the physical sex act together AND conceive AND give birth to a baby. And based on their counting as true God’s promise, they physically came together in a sexual union and the aging body parts worked and…voilà…9 months later, Isaac was born.

Do you see how considering God’s word as good as reality the foundation for the actions that follow? It’s not an either faith/or action but a both/and way to live!

Let’s bring the Sarah and Abraham illustration into our lives. Where are you facing something too unimaginable for you to believe God could or would actually do the ‘impossible’?  Have you sensed God directing you to take a step of faith and trust Him to work through you, accomplishing something that common sense, or intuition or worldly wisdom say COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE DONE?

God commands us to**:

  • confess our unbelief and admit we need help to trust Him
  • believe him and roll each and every heavy, worrying situation onto Him.  Next we are to…
  • pull out one of God’s promises of future grace and relying on that,  we are to…..
  • move out and take the action, step by step as He shows us.  Finally, we are to…
  • give Him thanks and praise when He has done the ‘impossible’ through us and in our situation

(**the above formula comes from Pastor John Piper in his acronym APTAT – admit, pray, trust, act, thank)

What helps me is to rest in the assurance that if God commands this kind of obedience, then He will help me each step along what appears to be an obscured road.  Reassuring to me is the FACT that His word promises light for the next segment of the journey and at the right moment.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

 

Take your heart medicine this morning!

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Heart Meds

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13

My heart is ready, O God, my heart is willing; I will sing and give praise. Psalm 57:7

Gospel heart medicine is crucial to preparing our mindset or outlook for the day.  To keep our physical bodies running, we don’t neglect to take our daily medicine along with our energy-providing food and drink.  It would be folly to assume that the meds we took and the food we ate yesterday would serve us today.

So too must we bathe our thoughts in the truth of who we are and whose we are.  This requires getting ready. What does this preparation consist of?  Here are a few truths I meditate on each morning:

  • As born-from-above Christians, we belong to Jesus.  Our inheritance and future are secure.  The Bible teaches that our eternal life after we die will be categorically better than our current circumstances now in earthly bodies.
  • Since we are with Jesus, we are in a real war against spiritual forces of wickedness, all who hate Jesus.  If they loathed Him, count on being targeted as well. It is naïve to think otherwise.
  • If we claim to be followers of Jesus, we have to prepare ourselves to die this day.  That is reality.  How do I know?  Here is what Jesus said:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”  Matthew 16:24

What is taking up one’s cross but being prepared to die for Jesus?  Jesus’ realistic call at the very least requires His followers to look not to their own interests.  That’s what self-denial means.

And Paul echoes this theme in his letter to the Romans:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

William Gurnall, a 17th-century English pastor whose sermons I’ve been reading, taught his church about the necessity of establishing this ‘living-sacrifice’ frame of mind each morning.  Without spiritual mental preparation, one would be unequipped to respond with readiness to the call ‘to up and die’, as Gurnall penned it.  In fact, we might not have the advanced warning and time to plan for our death that a lingering sickness affords. We might be faced with a sudden in-your-face execution like the kind of:

  • Columbine High School’s Cassie Bernall when the teen killers spotted her Bible on her desk and asked her if she were a Christian
  • John the Baptist’s sudden beheading one evening after Herodias’ daughter requested this cousin of Jesus’ head from Herod. This drunk and proud king had publicly announced he would give the young girl anything for having danced for him and his friends.
  • the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded on the beach by ISIS. They refused to comply with their murderers’ demand to renounce Jesus.

I know this is pretty sobering and might be difficult to swallow.  But look at it this way, if God DOES grant us to live through this day, we can climb gratefully into bed and give sincere thanks to Him for the gift of a completed day in His grace and care. Furthermore, preparing to die enables us BETTER to handle the suffering, trials, difficulties and discouragements that are woven into the fabric of a fallen world. At the very least, this gospel-rich mindset should make it easier to let go of material goods that are guaranteed to breakdown and end in a landfill one day.

Landfill

I want to be like those unknown heroes of the faith chronicled, in chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews.  But without Bible-saturated preparation, morning-by-morning, I won’t have the faith-fueled mind; ready for whatever Jesus has planned for the day.

And if we need an example, just look at the verbs describing what flowed because of the FAITH (not out of their confidence in their own abilities) of early believers:

33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.

I would assume that if you are like me, you won’t wake up this kind of ready for the day. So join me in taking the right kind of heart medicine.  And let’s face the day, JOYFULLY prepared for whatever comes our way since we too look forward to our ultimate future with Jesus: 

You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. Hebrews 10:34

 

 

God’s individual curriculum plan for your life

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Hebrews 12:10b  ….God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

2 Cor 1:8-9  For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Does it surprise you to consider that God has designed both specific pain and specific pleasure for your holiness?

The verses above clearly indicate purpose with lead-in phrases like:

  • in order that…..
  • that was to make us…….

In a previous blog I reflected on the truth that God’s will for our lives is our holiness, our sanctification (same word in Greek).

And if we accept that God is sovereign over every molecule in the universe, then Romans 8:28 brings both truths together. God not only CAN work the bad and the good for our benefit, He designs all things to increase our capacity for holiness and Christlikeness (these two are one and the same).

Two brothers in Christ I know are struggling with different issues that trouble them deeply.  As I’ve been praying for them and specifically reflecting on the pot-holed and often painful path God has proscribed for me, I am beginning to feel some liberation that I want to pass on to these men and to others.

From numerous examples in the Bible we can ascribe afflictions like cancer or a car accident or anti-Christian persecution at work to God’s directing hand:

Isaiah 45:7I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and create calamity,
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

In fact, if you don’t subscribe to the idea that God controls these events, you’re left with a powerless God who just sympathizes with you, but can’t direct/stop/influence the universe. That’s Deism, not a god worth worshipping or one in which to rest and seek refuge.

What has been a hurdle for me to get over is the idea that God might have ON PURPOSE designed me with and allowed to develop in me certain:

  • sin patterns
  • unhealthy tendencies
  • wrong ideas
  • harmful dependencies

I’m not saying that God is evil, wrong or even unloving for doing this.  But if He is sovereign, then He created you and me with these flaws for His good purpose. Since His goal for each of His children is holiness, it follows that you and I would receive a tailor-made plan, designed in love by this perfect Father for His perfect ends.

IEP

My main sin struggle has been with food/body image/weight as idols. I’m 58 and that issue blossomed when I was 16.  I have suffered years of pain. Yet, I am beginning to see that over these years God has been using my disgusting eating/vomiting/compulsive exercise patterns and embarrassing self-absorption to wean me off of myself and on to Him for everything.

I could also describe my runner-up sin, that of a clutching need for ‘enough time for Maria’, but I’ll spare you. Just know that God is getting lots of mileage out of THAT particular design feature.

The very GOOD …….NEWS (new to me) is that the bad stuff I’ve done and still do is part of God’s ‘individual education program for Maria’.  And you have such a life-long plan, too, if you are one of God’s born-again children!

So what’s uplifting or encouraging about that?  Glad you asked!

I was out on an overnight experience with the 8th grade class this week.  We ate camp food.  The oatmeal tasted REALLY good!  So I ate 2 big bowls at breakfast (plus some fruit, an egg….)

As soon as I did and felt FULL, my default ‘beat-up on Maria/self-absorption shtick’ kicked into high gear.

But THIS time, I talked about IT to myself and said:

  • What’s done is done.  And God knew, allowed and even ordained this.  He is sovereign over each sin/lapse/mistake.  It’s part of His plan for me. Sure I have to deal with the consequences, but ‘good’ is being worked IN me right now.  As I repent and rest in His wisdom, I’m growing in holiness.
  • and even more important (Listen up, my two brothers in Christ!!!) we don’t have to be grim and beat ourselves up. These painful days are ordained for a beautiful end.  You might protest like I have, ‘But I thought I was better than this!….I hate my sin and the fact that I’m letting myself and others down when I wrap myself up in X’!

Believe me, I understand.  But where did our idea that we would NOT be dirty or a slave to something or able to control our behaviors come from? Why are we surprised at our junk?  I think it’s a line straight from Hell:

Satan:  How can you be a real Christian if you are doing THAT!!!!

Before I call it quits on this post, I want to go back to my declaration that God has designed our pleasures, too, for growth in holiness. Paul mentions that he has LEARNED how to be content in Phil 4:12 – I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Having what we want, enjoying prosperity can be burdens, too.  We have to gain God’s perspective on success, material well-being and happiness.  Just think of the suffering that befalls lottery winners!  I’m not saying that all the beautiful and pleasing circumstances or gifts are meant as trials.  Just beware that the good stuff can lead to sin, too!

How’s THAT for something to chew on!

When you look, what do you see?

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Fish on a plate

I heard of a freshman bio professor whose first lesson to his eager students was to study a fish on a plate and write down everything observed.  That’s it – no other instructions.  The professor even left the classroom leaving the students on their own.  Not very happy with the paucity of direction, some jotted down a few items and departed with a shrug.  Others added more, as they waited in vain for their biology instructor to return. Eventually, they pushed back their chairs and made their way to the door in puzzlement.

Two days later, students streamed into the class, sure that they were at last going to hear a lecture from this renown expert.

Same fish – again!

Same assignment – again!

Different reactions this time.  Pockets of grumbling, some annoyance, sighs of resignation…..  The professor didn’t stay around to respond.  A few entitled students packed up in a huff, muttering about not getting their money’s worth: others, remembering that they actually cared about the semester grade, settled down to add to their fish list.

The next week, to their initial but short-lived relief, the professor did not abandon them to THE FISH!  Instead, they felt some well-deserved humiliation when he gently chastised their impatience.  Explaining why observation was a skill worth developing, he opened up to them the primary task of a scientist.

Whether this event actually took place or it’s a ‘fish tale’ is not so important.  And in fact, I did hear a pastor recount seminary experience when his professor staged the same kind of exercise, using a single Bible verse.  They were to write down 50 points or thoughts generated from careful meditation of that one verse.  Again – a similar reaction of disbelief and initial frustration.

But the point is this: we often look without seeing.  To our detriment.

Isaiah 6:9 – And he (the Lord) said (to Isaiah), “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’”

Not wanting to miss any more spiritual nourishment than I have already, I’m learning to ask myself key questions when I study a verse, forcing myself to linger IN a text, studying a sentence, questioning word choice.  Years of listening to John Piper preach have helped me pick up some of his habits of the mind.  That man treats God’s Word like a tenacious dog with a bone, gnawing and enjoying it for all it’s worth, determined to get every last molecule of taste and pleasure.

dog and bone

Two places I’ve recently parked are the following:

God, via Paul, commands us to pray by/with the Spirit.

  • 1 Cor 14:15 Then what am I to do? I will pray with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will also pray [intelligently] with my mind and understanding; I will sing with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will sing [intelligently] with my mind and understanding also.

I’ve often tried to sort out what is meant by praying by/with the Spirit.  But the other day, the phrase ‘by myself’ surfaced in my conscious mind. Startled, I realized I had not yet pondered the question that seeks distinctions.  By what other means/power/source could one do something if not by/with the SPIRIT?  And specific to this verse, what OTHER ways of praying might there be?

  • by superstition
  • by myself
  • by rote repetition
  • by duty
  • by force of habit
  • by guilt
  • by fear

But God does not leave us to choose our means of prayer – if we are adopted children of God the Father, then we have His Holy Spirit in us permanently. Most assuredly, God means us to pray effectively by MEANS of and in DEPENDENCE on His supernatural power.  Knowing His intention, who would want to rely on himself?

Here’s one more example, a pair of verses with a word worth lingering over:

  • As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you KEEP my commandments, you will abide in my love. (John 15:9-10)

What does KEEP mean?  you keep what is valuable, you hold on to it, you guard and protect it.  Yes, one of the meanings the Greek word offers is ‘do or perform’ (tareo – Strong’s # 5083) but I can DO a duty without treasuring or wanting to please the one who issues the order.  I DON’T want to be a DUTIFUL daughter of my heavenly Father.  I want to WANT to please Him.  I think the key, at least for me, is to meditate and try to grasp the stunning news that Jesus loves me in the same way the Father loves Him!  Only by starting there, the magnitude of His surprising love for us, can I be drawn to wanting to please God.  Only by repeatedly returning to His love, do I WANT to walk in union with Him where He leads.

May it be said of me, “For the joy set before her, she walked with Jesus, enduring whatever she, in union with Jesus, suffered.” Joy

The pain of thinking wrongly

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My mom used to say that most of what we fear never comes to pass.  I can look at her worries and attest to the truth of her reasoning.

German Bread

My mom loved to travel to Europe ‘just to eat the bread’, she would often claim.  She was an extravert and also cherished rubbing shoulders with strangers, whether on those long plane rides to Zürich or in shops along the lakeshore of Lugano.  She would quickly encourage their stories as they happily opened up their hearts to her.

But the time leading up to the travel itself was the source of much worry and anxiety.

Travel Anxiety

Even local ordinary activities caused her anxiety.  Crossing the drawbridge grillwork of the James River Bridge near her house in order to get to the commissary on Ft Monroe was a big deal to her.  I’m not sure what she thought might happen – just maybe that the car would plunge over the side, into the river below.

When she died, it was probably not the way she had pictured or feared.  She collapsed one Thursday afternoon, walking on their property along the James River.  I was at the gym talking to a friend who had just attended a funeral that day. Funny the details you remember.  And my dad, who had meticulously planned HIS departure before his wife’s, was equally caught off guard by her sudden death.

Like my mom I, too, subject myself to needless pain, running scenarios through my head and praying that God would NOT bring my deepest fears to pass.  So I was startled, pleasantly, when I read a column by Andrée Seu Peterson about our fears in the latest issue of World Magazine.  She mentioned in passing how much help CS Lewis had been in this realm with his conclusion chronicled in A Grief Observed (his wife Joy had died from cancer).

This is important.  One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness).  One only meets each hour or moment that comes.  All manner of ups and downs.  Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst”  (from A Grief Observed)

That is powerful.  It dissolves the size of all the things we dread, because it reduces them to a succession of moments. I know what pain in the moment is. When I am on my 27th pushup or hustling up that last stretch of 13 % incline gravel road leading to our house, I am in pain.

Old Cabin from below

But as soon as exertion is over, the pain is forgotten.  Most important, though, is how the pain comes to us – measured out like sand running through an hourglass, grain-by-grain, moment-by-moment.

So here it is Sunday and work looms tomorrow, especially noticeable after 5 days of relaxation over Thanksgiving week.   But when I launch out into the dark new day, taking on the Cove walk challenge and commuting to Asheville and having to grapple with an annoying 7th grade boy and come up with creative lesson plans, it will be moment by moment, not monolithically as I have been imagining my tomorrows.

 

Hourglass

Is it this way with you, too?  I want God to remove unpleasant things from my life, but He promises more – Himself:

  • Be content!
  • Do not covet what I haven’t given you!
  • Be free!
  • Rejoice, for I will be with you each of these moments of dreaded events or humdrum circumstances or even celebratory crazy-good times!

For, listen up! This is what really matters (says God)…… I am bigger than any of those instants, good or bad.  My transcendent but real presence dwarfs each and every blink-of-the-eye unit of time that comes to you.  What is the next grain of sand of pain or joy, compared to me?  I will give you exactly what you need for the grain-sized moment that comes. Fear not, relax and rest in my provision – my manna for the moment.

Manna for the day

Now THAT thought settles my restless mind.

Christianese – even the Bible is ‘guilty’

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I used to get so mad at my mother! 

She was one of those happy Christians (this was in the days when I was NOT a believer) who would spout:  “The joy of the Lord is my strength!”  Those words seemed to make sense to her. Not only did I have NO idea what they meant, her enthusiasm just pissed me off. (Sorry for the irreverence!)  She seemed naïve and Pollyannaish.   Did she mean:

  • The fact that the Lord has joy…..that…. somehow…. translates into strength for me?
  • If I can somehow tap into and siphon off some of the Lord’s joy…..I, too, can feel strong?

What in the heck is the connection between joy and strength?

Turns out that her saying was NOT just a catch-phrase; it’s an actual Bible verse, i.e. Nehemiah 8:10

Even after I became a Christian, I still didn’t know what it meant…… really!

Only in the last couple of years have I come to understand:  

–setting aside of worries or troubling situations to focus on what I have been given as an adopted member of God’s forever family IS the ONLY path to joy.( Going round and round gnawing on my problems doesn’t produce joy!!!)

— and that being content or happy about the sheer FACT of being in UNION with God produces strength for any circumstance.

–‘glad and glee-filled’ to belong to Christ puts me in a different category above my problems.

— from such a different plane/angle (I KNEW 10th grade geometry would come in handy!)  I am equipped with a qualitative different perspective.

Therefore, the problems either diminish in power/severity…… or disappear, hence STRENGTH.

There are many other snippets of Scripture that are like that: code words without apparent interpretive amplification to connect them to a meaning.  Take for instance this one from Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (1:21)

We can figure out the 2nd clause without much trouble: when we die, we gain Christ’s visible presence because we’re with Him.

But what do those 4 words signify: TO LIVE IS CHRIST?

I was helped this month by an article in Tabletalk Magazine (June 2013, pp 64-65).  The author, Trip Lee, is a Christian rap artist with Capitol Hill Baptist church who talked about all the other idols one could have that provide meaning for life: wealth, worldly success, sex, family, physical fitness, social justice…..But what, in fact,  provides ANY and ALL meaning is Jesus.

That made sense!  (Check – another Bible phrase deciphered!)  It’s like saying, ‘the meaning of my life is Jesus; the organizing principle of my life is the person of Jesus; what I live for in life is Jesus.’

When I got to talking with Mike about this, I suddenly understood that ‘back in the day’ of parchment, scrolls were rare and limited; you HAD to write in an efficient manner – kind of like our tweets.

I’ll close with one of my favorite short scripture nuggets that I recite to myself each morning as both comfort and anchor for the day.  Christ in me, the hope of glory: (Col 1:27)

What does that mean?

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul” Hebr 6:19

  • “Christ in me” – as a qualitatively new creation (spiritual DNA got changed at the New Birth), I have God in me, as much as if my molecular structure was permanently altered.
  • “the hope”- since God is IN me, I am assured, I have a 100 % God-backed guarantee (God does NOT lie, or else He wouldn’t be God) that I will be with Him.
  • “…of glory” – not only will I be face to face with God’s glory, I will also somehow be a partaker/ sharer in this über-celebratory love feast.  I will be…..  fêted, praised, appreciated, fussed over, lavished with abundant love & attention in quantities that are overflowing – hence glorified.

What are some of YOUR Bible phrases that you have translated or are still puzzling you?

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