Entering a new decade with God

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Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

It was early fall; I shared lunch with a fellow teacher about 15 years older than me. “How did you cope with turning 40?” I asked.

Her response startled me: “Have you ever heard of Bible Study Fellowship?”

Intrigued, I joined as soon as I could.  And God changed my life.

At 50 I switched schools. Summit Christian Academy in Yorktown, Va hired me, a French teacher, to teach civics, US history and LOGIC!  My qualifications?  An initial BA in Foreign Affairs from UVA.

I had to google ‘Logic’.  And God changed my life.

Sweet 60 is my soon-to-be demographic.  A new decade.  I ponder this significant celebration. It feels different. I know God so much better now.

Over the past 20 years, He has taught me to live by some fundamental facts. (Does that make me a ‘fundamentalist’?)

  • He does all things well (Mark 7:37)
  • He is good
  • He is sovereign
  • I belong to Him, for He has given me His Spirit. (Romans 8:9)

Those truths settle me.  His holy gift of peace permeates.  Being one of His sheep is enough.

No, I don’t know what my Father has in store for me as this new decade dawns. But one thing I do know: I trust Him.  And He promises a happy future for every son and daughter, liberated by Christ. (Matt 25:34)

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Proverbs 4:18 (ESV)

The ball and chain of craving results

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How do you measure your day, your work, your life?  If you’re American, chances are you think only about measurable results.

What’s wrong with that?  Why would you do something if you didn’t desire a specific outcome?

This is the month when New Year’s resolutions are grasped with intensity and then discarded with quiet disappointment. Yet hope seems to re-sprout with each new beginning, whether that of a school year, a budget cycle, calendar year or sports season.

Recently I have discarded my lifelong focus on outcomes.  I had become a slave to working for a specific result.

As a professional French teacher, I long to see students achieve skill AND enjoyment in the language.  Nothing inherently wrong with that.  Except my approach has been to hand over far too much power to my students to grant me the ‘success’ or even the ‘peace’ that I crave.

Yes, ‘crave’.  In fact, I now see a pattern that has emerged in my life. As I approach the end of my 6th decade, I find it easier to see themes and responses to life that I, by my actions, have crafted, either consciously or subconsciously.  Finally, I’m gaining the courage to give myself permission to STOP.

Is anyone else like me, in measuring their day by how well people react?  You might be a kindred sister or brother if you are a doer/performer like a musician, stand-up comedian, speech-giver, writer, film maker or even a skill coach.  Or maybe you’re one of the moms at home who teach their own children and are anxious to see growth.  Or among evangelists sharing the Gospel and discipling new Christian believers.

Despair and insecurity probably haunt more people than I realize.  Will it ever end, this never feeling like we measure up?  And I’m not talking about meeting OTHER people’s standards or expectations;I’m talking about the SELF-imposed high bars?  Let’s be real and call them what they are – prison sentences!

Recently, a ray of real hope broke through this burden I pick up every day illuminating a path of escape to a more fragrant and lighter world.

My daughter-in-law, who battles the home-school version of  ‘you’re not enough’, shared a verbal picture of what another mom explained as her daily task with her children. It was SO simple and SO doable.  Boiled down, the advice is this:

  • Each day, your job is to spread an age-appropriate feast before your children of that, which is true, beautiful and good.  In such a way that they can TASTE and SEE that the Lord is GOOD. (from Psalm 34:8)

Period.  That’s it.  She is not responsible for the OUTPUT, just for the INPUT.

Light-bulb explosion.  Isn’t that also my job as a language teacher?  to provide compelling and interesting and appropriate comprehensible input to my French students?

I am NOT responsible for their output.  That is an impossible assignment.  I can’t control them.  But I CAN control what I feed them.

And is this not also applicable to missionaries, both foreign and domestic, wherever God has assigned them (and us)?  We’ve all heard stories of years of labor before even one convert results.  The heart-warming account below is just one of many such examples. Missionary who thought he had failed.

What really convinced me of the sin of prideful expectations for Maria was a quote from CRU’s last print magazine, dated Sep/Oct 2016.  To wit: “We focus excessively on our output, because we want to be judged according to our effort, not our ability to remain dependent on someone else’s finished work.”

I am seeing this new insight transform my responsibilities.  I neither DO nor CAN control results. But I AM accountable in all my relationships for what I do and say and perform per the strength that God gives.

This lessened burden seems almost too good to be true, but I am proceeding as though it is and trusting our God to keep guiding me in all truth.  To Him be the glory for to Him belongs the power.

Downton Abbey and Why Jesus Came

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downton-final-season  Mike and I just finished watching this series.  You have to understand how we ‘do movies’.  Thirty minutes at a time, while enjoying supper on trays.  So we have have moved through Seasons 4, 5 and 6 (with a break of several years) at a enjoyably slow pace, savoring each scene as well as imagining what would happen next.

After our hiatus, we noticed a shift from what seemed like an intentional soap operatic purpose of shocking the viewer TO a peppering of events with grace.

We could be mistaken in assigning a perceptible shift in the screenwriting of Julian Fellowes.   It could be that over the years we have grown both more desperate for and in love with God’s Grace, so that we spot it wherever its fragrance wafts.

One dramatic category of this Grace pervaded that final show.  All the broken relationships were healed.

Yes, some might call this contrivance, a tying up with a pretty bow this microcosm named Downton Abbey.

But we loved it!  Reconciliation between humans is a powerful, supernatural and divine blessing.  God has so wired each of us with the need and longing to be ‘right’ with each other and ultimately with God Himself.

  • Deep calls to deep……Psalm 42:7

I’m not ashamed to admit this: we sobbed, both of us.  Tears painted with the recognition of this holy ache planted deep inside.

Realistically, we all know that harmony doesn’t last, at least in this world. Edith’s parents, Robert and Cora Crawley, articulated as much. But the desire for it and the joy that sweeps into our hearts when we are made right with one another point to a world where that kind of peace will be its warp and woof.  That life exists.  Jesus’ birth is proof.

This is one meaning of Christmas.  Creator and Father God intruded into our broken world as the God-Man Jesus to provide the one and only way for us sinful creatures to be reconciled to Him.  And being reconciled to Him, we have hope for harmony at the horizontal level.

By the time you read this, Christmas day will be waning or already past.  Invariably, if you are older than 7, your expectations have not been met.  The hype, YOUR hopes for a mystical, otherworldly taste or experience of Joy bigger than you were not met.  Either in the gifts or in the relationships.

Tomorrow looms as another cold-water, ordinary or even painful day.  But cheer up, reality is actually better than we imagine.  Because of Jesus, Christmas’ promises will neither disappoint nor fade away.

Jesus really did come at that point in history, when Augustus demanded a registration of all his subjects.  And His predicted death and resurrection are the evidence you need to safely trust His words about your future.

There is a new earth and new heavens awaiting Christians, one where true reconciliation with God and with each other will be played out forever.

Downton Abbey gives us a glimpse of what we long for and what is possible.  Thank you, Julian Fellowes!

What is the meaning of life?

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UVa

Traipsing wearily across the grounds of ‘The University‘, as those affiliated with Mr Jefferson’s proudest legacy like to refer to UVa, I was lost in existential thought.  Not unusual for a 20 year-old with too much time on her hands.  What was the meaning of life?  Why was I here?  Where was I headed? Why was I so unhappy?

“Smile!” chirped the startling and uninvited voice of the stranger who passed me by.  I felt like snarling, “I wasn’t frowning! and what’s it to you!” Non-plussed, I said nothing.

Those at the beginning of adulthood share the propensity to seek meaning with two other cohorts – those in midlife and those approaching death.  It’s then that one has time to think about what’s important.

I remember flirting with those issues a few years ago as I was nearing 50.  One mom whose last daughter was about to leave my school where I taught dealt with that approaching emptiness by outfitting and equipping a new house with fancy décor. This was the temporary diversion she had found to put off those nagging questions that matter.  She didn’t need a larger house now that she was soon to be an empty nester.  And as an example of a man approaching death, I have only to look at my dad.  The more his body betrayed him, the more earnestly he sought to insure that we wouldn’t forget him or his accomplishments.  He commissioned self-portraits and published chronicles of past exploits, gifting all his family members.

Recently I’ve been thanking God for one of His benefits that provides me with daily comfort and assurance. It’s one that I had almost taken for granted.  Paul’s shorthand statement sums it up:

Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

If the 2nd half is clear, (when we die, we get to be with Jesus face to face if we have been redeemed by Him), the first half is cryptic.

But it’s not THAT difficult to flesh out.  A Christian is someone who can now see, thanks to God removing the blinders. And what is it that we see?

Was blind, but now see

 

 

For one, we see the big picture of life (aka – the ‘meaning of life’), that is:

  • who created the universe
  • why we were created, our purpose
  • someone IS in control and the universe is not subject to random chance
  • there is TRUTH and it consists not just in principles but in a person who embodies truth
  • despite much evil in this world, one day justice WILL HAVE its day in court; there will be an accounting.

Spoiler alert

 

 

 

 

What will be the nature of this accounting?  Every one of us perpetrators of evil (whether we’re the proverbial little ‘ole lady or an Isis member, or the ordinary sinner who lies, steals, covets, envies, gossips) will either pay for our own deeds or know and be thankful that Jesus suffered in our place as a substitute.

Thanks to Truth, I walk around every day KNOWING that all authority is in God’s hands.  When I meditate on God’s promises in the early morning and look up at the stars, I thank Jesus that He is holding each one of them in their place by His breath and the power of His word.  I don’t have to guess what my purpose is for the day.  I don’t have to wonder what will happen to me when I die.  I don’t have to struggle to reconcile how a supposed loving God can allow all manner of pain and suffering to happen in the world.

Why

 

 

 

God doesn’t reveal to me the purposes behind allowing every bad thing, but I know that He is 100 % in control and that He is a good God and that I can trust Him when He says He works even ‘this’ for the ultimate good of those of us He has called and given the ability to love Him.  That is enough for me.

So back to the part of Paul’s verse that sums up my peace.  The way to live this toilsome, troubling, sometimes terrifying, sometimes terrific life on earth is to center on Jesus, the risen and living Son of God.  He gives me all I need for life, for walking step by step through each day with purpose, peace and provisions, as I need them.

Even though I want to SEE with my eyes the provisions laid up for me, I have to remind myself that He calls me to walk with my eyes of faith (that He has provided).

This gift of KNOWING, of having the Big Picture, of being held securely through a Biblical Worldview is a blessing worth more than treasure can buy.  (Just think of countless quests and books penned.)

To Live is Christ

And to set forth that worldview or ‘Meaning of Life’, Paul dictated ‘to live is Christ’.  It is a handy way of communicating that Jesus Christ is our God, is our Creator, is our Savior, is our Righteousness, is our Wisdom, is our Intercessor, is our Brother, is our Provider, is our Ezer (helper), is our Comforter, is our Protection, is THE Explanation for all that is and ever will be.  Whew!  That is enough for me.

Thanking God for this Present Futility

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Futility

 

 

 

I was set free – again – the other day when I heard someone reading from Romans 8.  Verses 20 & 21 caught my attention.  The Amplified Bible with its extra explanatory words in black translates the Greek like this:

  • 20 For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him Who so subjected it—[yet] with the hope (expectation) 
  • 21 That nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

Since the Fall and man’s first rebellion, frustration and futility and struggle (all known as ‘suffering’) have been built into our universe. Reality is that we live in a broken world that won’t be ‘fixed’ until Jesus comes back.   Furthermore, God informs us that we humans and nature will get worse, not better. When Jesus is plied for the details about the ‘end of the age‘, He responds in Matthew 24:12 with…

  •  because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold

Why don’t I live as though I believe the fact of brokenness and imperfection?   Why do I still wake up each morning thinking that the ideal is possible if I work and pray ‘hard enough’?  When it comes to agreeing with God about my sin problem or nature, I don’t balk at His assessment.  Nevertheless,  I display blindness to God’s description of the world as long as I cling to false expectations and unrealistic hopes in

  • my job
  • my body
  • my marriage
  • my relationships with friends and other family members
  • my government
  • my church

God helped me this week think through a series of propositions leading to a new perspective about work:

1. If God has woven frustration and futility into the very fabric of our world until Jesus comes back, then I can let go of my expectation of finding THE ideal job.  And IT won’t exist until He creates the new heavens and the new earth.

2. Released from the false expectation that I can find and land the ideal job,  I am liberated to seek my ultimate joy in God, not in all-satisfying work.

3. If work doesn’t have to satisfy those deep needs meant only for God to meet, then I can view my job as a place to sprinkle grace by listening to others and encouraging them.  I can meet frustrations with calm since I don’t have to see them as blocking my ultimate joy or satisfaction.  These realities help me to relax and accept that no job will provide what I’m seeking to the degree that I’m seeking it.

4. Most liberating, if frustration and futility are ordained, then I can stop hiding, and instead SHOW my cracks and inconsistencies without fear.

  • Phil 1:29 – For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.

5. Being willing to reveal my broken self and how much I need Jesus’ saving and sustaining power brings glory to God.

6. My neediness and unashamed transparency give hope to others that God might be willing to accept/heal/support/love them.  Were I to persist in the myth of ‘Maria’s Competency‘, how would that help anyone?

Being Real

 

 

 

 

The final relief-bringing thought for me this week was a view of heaven that sprang to mind, that is MY version of heaven.  (No, it’s not one where I can eat dark chocolate without guilt!)

David Zahl, an evangelical Episcopal priest, wrote something for Mockingbird (Blog is here) like, ‘Life is not about passing test after test; you already have the A, the 10/10’.

That got me thinking.  If I knew I had already been accepted into the graduate school of my choice to follow my ideal course of study, I would be ecstatic.  And until I departed for this school, I would relax and enjoy life and fulfill my responsibilities and be fully present without all the anxiety of measuring up, or making it happen or…or..or…..

Kingdom of God is here

Well, those in Christ already have THE ‘A’.  The Kingdom of God HAS commenced.  Eternal life for the children of God IS a current reality.  But all those ideal situations AWAIT us.   They are not meant for this world, but for the next. So let us REST and not fret over the reality of this present futility.  Frustration is the NORM in a broken world.

Here’s a blog about those who give up the quest for perfect

 

Pity, Pride and Promises

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Several of my dear friends have been struggling with the very real and insidious satanic snare of: 

  • self pity – look at how terrible my circumstances are!
  • pride – these circumstances should not be happening to me!

The trick of Satan is to mask his role in promoting these depressing and self-righteous feelings!  Instead, we think they are OUR true assessment of reality.

One friend is struggling with her marriage and wishing it were otherwise.

The other friend is struggling with his vocation and wishing it were otherwise.

Who can rescue them (and us when we are so attacked) from this downward spiral that seems unending?

One version of an endless cycle

Thank God that He exists and has come that we might have life.

The other day I, TOO, felt that descent into murky grayness as I was meditating on some difficult circumstances. But before I hit dark despair, the Holy Spirit brought to mind God’s promise in Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Then I recalled

  • the FACT that God is sovereignly controlling all my circumstances
  • the FACT that God is always doing 10,000 plus things in every circumstance that touches me
  • the FACT that God predestined me to work, to help, to pray, to give, to worship, to trust in activities and projects of His own choosing
  • the FACT that God chose to give me life today for His purposes
  • the FACT that I can trust God of all ‘people’ to be consistent and true to His Word

All those thoughts got my mind OFF of my circumstance and reversed the trend of my feelings.

So dear friends, I am praying that the Holy Spirit will remind you hourly:

  • that you can trust God
  • that God is close to the broken-hearted
  • that He is allowing this circumstance, at the moment, because He has good in mind for you, for those involved and others about whose situation you might not know

So……relax, trust and remember how He has come through in the past and what He promises for your future.

1 Cor 2:9

Who’s in charge?

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If I were in charge, I wouldn’t have done it THAT way!

 Have you ever muttered that?  Consider these scenarios

 ·       You’ve been praying for an adult child to come to Christ.  Here he is, approaching 50 and just beginning to show signs of a softened heart.  But you think, “Lord, his life would have been so much better had You done this 20 years ago!”

·         Or it could be your aging mom – defiant until almost to the end.  Suddenly a hearing loss or lessened mobility has gotten her attention and she is asking about God.

·         Or, it’s your husband who has plugged away at his career with such a great attitude, yet no recognition.  “Father,” you plead, “can’t You allow him SOME measure of success!?”

·         You’ve heard of Joni Eareckson Tada – paraplegia PLUS breast cancer?  Not what she would have chosen..yet she claims she wouldn’t change a thing!

·         And finally a Scottish woman whose 2 children died in infancy, her ‘good for nothing’, titled husband was worse than terrible so that all in all she led a bleak life….yet…at age 35 he succumbed to a terminal illness that softened his heart. He actually repented and turned to Christ – literal death-bed conversion whose veracity was attested to by Scottish Presbyterian Pastor Samuel Rutherford.  She later wrote that it was totally worth it, to know that he would share eternal life with her.

 

For sure, not what these fellow believers would have chosen had their plans been sovereign.

 We should also take heart, for it’s not just recent believers who share our puzzled expectations, but Bible heroes as well. Many men and women in the Old and New Testaments echoed equally poignant laments.  The prophets did not understand God’s use of evil nations against God’s chosen people.  You can hear both Habakkuk’s incredulity and horror in 2:13 when he questions the Almighty’s strategy of bringing the hated Chaldeans AGAINST Judah:

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
                 and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
                 and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
                 the man more righteous than he?

 And what about the Hebrews en route to the Promised Land?  I bet they would have been quick to give you their 2 shekels’ worth about the frustrations inherent in a 40-year detour.

 

So….? How do these anecdotes help you & me?  When life doesn’t go according to our plan, we have to remember that Jesus is the happy controller (1 Tim 6:15) not us.  Therefore, His route and plan WILL be best.

With this fact about God in mind, I want to encourage all my dear friends (AND ME!!), those

 ·        who have miscarried too many babies

·         who are raising children with less than perfect brain chemistry or physical attributes

·         who are waiting for the right Christian man to join them in marriage

·         who are working diligently to build a business, yet have yet to see growth

·         who are praying that their children’s marriages will heal

·         who struggle with finances

·         who cry out to God to grow their church

·         whose bodies are breaking down and wearing out

·         who want nothing else than children and spouses to come to Christ or to grow in Christ

 God DOES know what He is doing and you are neither forgotten nor unloved.  Cling to Him, wait in faith and pray on:

 With Habakkuk, cry out:

Though the fig tree does not bud
            and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.  (3:17-18)    

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