What God commands – impossible!

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May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors. 1 Kings 8:58 (NIV)

I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.  Psalm 119:112 (ESV)

I argued ALL day long!  Conversing with God throughout the hours, using Gospel logic. And at the end of the day, I was exhausted and still miserable and STUCK!

What was the matter?  Nothing more than not being happy with a number on a scale.

You’d say that my battle with the idol of the scales and an arbitrary weight I have self-assigned is IRRATIONAL.  And you’re right.  But I can’t seem to respond to unbiased logic.

The two-day battle took place on a Monday and a Wednesday (the one-day reprieve provided some emotional rest).

What made things worse was seeing that appealing to God’s promises and statements of Biblical fact did not appear to help.  In times of suffering, my go-to verses are these verses that I have personalized:

  • No good thing do you withhold, Lord, because I belong to you. – Ps 84:11
  • I know you do ALL things well, Jesus. Mark 7:37

Between affirming those truths, I tried to OBEY him.  Repeatedly I cast THIS care onto Him.  (1 Peter 5:7) But when no emotional or spiritual relief came, I concluded ‘it hadn’t worked’ and told my Father again, “Look, I’m casting this on you.  Help me!  I’m trying to do what you ask!”

I finally told my husband what I was struggling with, sheepish and ashamed, because we’ve been married 37 years. He has listened to me many a night pour out the same grief and pain.

Besides sharing a powerful insight that maybe this ‘thorn’ is a permanent gift from God, meant to drive me even closer to him, he offered this advice:

Maria, you can’t even begin to do what God commands, such as handing this issue over to him.  He has to help you even with this!  In fact YOUR acknowledged helplessness and powerlessness is what God wants from you, not your obedience.  He knows you are incapable of obeying.

Further tender counseling on his part revealed that I have a ways to go to think rightly about this burden.  Mike pointed out that I’ve been living and functioning as though eating and my body-care were something I could manage or control.  I realize this is a lie, an illusion that I have WANTED to believe. What betrays me is how often my prayers have been:

  • God, Father, just show me HOW to eat and WHAT to eat so I can be done with this.  I’m sick of focusing on me.  I want to be free of thinking about me.

A young friend shared recently how her days are REALLY hard and painful. She’s a young wife with a baby.  Continually she cries out to God for help.  But he doesn’t seem to respond.

Her experience and mine find company in the Psalms.  Some of those dark, hope-less accounts of David and Heman, one of his musicians, don’t end with cheer and relief from God.  Read Psalm 88, all of it.  Here are just two verses:

13  But I, O LORD, cry to you;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

14  O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?

Why do you hide your face from me?

What I’m concluding is that God DOES care.  And if He isn’t answering me in the way I expect him too, it’s because he’s still up to something good in my life.  The story is not over yet.  I just thought that BY NOW, I’d have put THIS struggle to bed.

One byproduct of this misery is this:  I find that I am far more compassionate with some of the ongoing patterns of sin and pain other struggle with, especially the kind we bring on ourselves!

But I’m tired.

What about you? Do you feel saddled, still, with the ‘same ole, same ole’ sin?  What has helped you?

 

Love my boundary lines!

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Sheep in a pen

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Psalm 16:6a

My thorn in the flesh that keeps driving me back to God in desperate need is my tendency to overeat and then get down on myself. I thought I had been liberated from that vicious cycle back in December.  It was then that I renounced once and for all slavishly weighing myself and tracking my exercise day by day.  But then, 10 days ago, I noticed that a certain pair of pants felt tight.  Immediately I spiraled into fear and loathing.

In a nutshell, I suffer from conflicting desires of wanting both to be lean AND to eat as much as I want.  I also fear future hunger and despise feeling stuffed. Taking liberty with the apostle Paul’s cry,

Oh wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me out of this ….(ceaseless struggle!) – Romans 7:24

As I went round and round with God both in prayer and reading my Bible, He brought to mind that psalm snippet above about limits.  Yes!  I NEED boundaries, both to feel safe and to forget about myself. I’m not much different from a dog that escapes from his restrictive yard only to find himself in a big, scary world on the other side.  Once he’s back home on the safe side of his fence or wall, he might then trust his owner’s wisdom and leave off future waywardness.  Actually I bet a dog needs far fewer repeat lessons than I do! After all, I’ve been fighting that wall with God since I was 16.

The Holy Spirit also reminded me what I have recently absorbed, that as Christians, our primary ministry is to our family. For me, my husband must be my focus. And if I am sucked inward, feeling bad about MY body, MY choices and MY satisfaction, I am NOT ministering to this man God has lovingly brought me.

Quickly my plea for guidance, “What am I to do, Lord?” turned into thanksgiving and praise for His Truth revealed in my heart.

Yes, I DO need limits and they DO make me happy.  Once THAT fact was settled, what I was to do fell into place.  No, I would not go back to weighing myself each day.  But I could cut out certain foods and reduce my portion size of others.

And if those parameters are what allow me to forget myself and focus on Mike and others in my sphere, then they truly ARE my happy limits.  Staying INSIDE the parameter is best.

Well, what about this fear of hunger and desire to eat abundantly?  I MUST ‘risk’ taking God at His Word and rely on His promise that I can do ALL things through him (Christ) who strengthens me – Phil 4:13. And all things means happily living with limited portions and occasional hunger pangs. For ifGod is leading me to stay within my boundary lines, then what He commands me to do, He will likewise enable me to do with Holy Spirit power.  As a Christian, it’s a fact that the Holy Spirit resides IN me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but One of love, power and integral/sound thinking.

Sleepless nights – when are they a good thing?

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Restless and troubled by this persistent dream, she could not sleep.  Foreboding thoughts and feelings flitted along the edges of her semi-conscious mind. What did her dream mean? Why was THAT man even in her husband’s presence? Pontius had not mentioned last night at dinner that he was holding in the dungeons this Rabbi and Healer, the talk of all Jerusalem.

Pontius Pilate's wife

She fell back to sleep and the dark drama continued. She watched with horror as the man called ‘The Christ’ silently endured beatings and taunting.  The soldiers who jeered, smirked and spat on the suffering, compliant victim were HER husband’s men. Her heart felt like it was about to leap out of her chest, her mouth ready to shriek in protest.

In her dream, compelled forward to watch the horror of merciless mocking and abuse, she had pressed around her imposing husband’s back. But this stocky man, transfixed and silent, would not let her edge around him to see.  Blocked then, she nonetheless heard the snapping whips, thudding and biting torn flesh. She recoiled as each whistling lash found its mark.

She had woken with a start, shivering in a cold sweat. What was she to make of this dream?  Resolve forming, she called her maidservants to fetch water to wash and dress for the day.  Maybe she could stop from happening that which no earthly person in the palace had told her about.

*

It is vain for you to rise early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of anxious labors—
For He gives [blessings] to His beloved, even in his, sleep.  Psalm 127:2

What keeps you awake at night?  I remember reading about Andrée Seu Peterson years ago and how for about 18 months, God kept her from sleep-filled nights.  What I recall is that she eventually accepted this suffering as a gift from God and used it to pray and read her Bible. Then, all of a sudden, God restored her sleep.

Then there are those Bible characters whose sleep is interrupted by Divine dreams. Heroes of faith like the two Josephs: Jacob’s son from Genesis and the much later legal dad of Jesus – THAT Joseph.  There were also those traveling sages from the East who were warned in a dream NOT to report back to Herod.  And you remember Paul who recounted in Acts 16:9 about when he received specific guidance – “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Not only God’s people, but major players in history have puzzled over dreams like Egypt’s Pharaoh with the fat cows and lean cows (as well as the baker and the wine steward sharing a prison cell with Joseph, Bar Jacob). King Nebuchadnezzar also suffered nightmares that no one but Daniel could interpret, thanks to God’s wisdom.

Divine dreams that communicate a message are positive, GOOD reasons for sleeplessness. But I know you are probably as familiar as I am with the negative and sinful impediments to a rest-filled night.  Yes, I’m talking about not being able to sleep due to the anxieties of the previous 24 hours or of the morning soon to break.

Sometimes, my mind races with too many thoughts and I can’t settle it.  Not that I am worried……but I can’t shut it off.  Is that sinful?

The other night I didn’t get home until 13 +hours after I had descended our Smoky Mountain cove en route to Asheville.  Then, after school, I had headed to an evening meeting, eventually walking into our home a little before 8 pm.  I go to bed fairly early on school nights, so there was little decompress time – especially since I shared with Mike about the day (I had been professionally reviewed by my principal) as well as the meeting later on.

My mind was running at an RPM speed normal for my active day.  The thoughts continued as I settled into bed a little after 9 pm. I know we are commanded to count on (trust) Jesus and hand over ALL of our cares, for He promises to take them on.  I wasn’t ‘worried’, nonetheless the grey cells labored on.

Eventually I fell into a deep sleep, but awoke exhausted the next day.  Was it my fault? Could I have handled the night differently?   My first defense was: “I couldn’t help it!” Normally I DO slow down after dinner; the conversation is less intellectually engaging, I read the paper and then a book to prevent electronic stimulation.

But saying ‘it’s not my fault’ is irrelevant and doesn’t help.  Our good Father actually gives us tools to use.  Thinking about this kind of night since then I’ve come up with a plan.  I’m going to do what Christ exhorts us through Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ………And the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:8, 9b

I want that kind of peace at night, don’t you?  But what assurance do you and I have that we’ll be able to KEEP our thoughts fixed on the above worthy topics? Just the fact that what God commands us to do, He gives us His strength to do. (I’m encouraged by Paul’s teaching in the same letter: “…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  Phil 2:13)

And just which topics are true, noble, right,…..?  We can start with recalling truths about God – who He is, what He has done and what He promises those who call Him Father.

PS:  Back to the story at the beginning of this post – what do you think?  Will we encounter Mrs. Pontius in heaven?  What about her husband?

‘The Big Fall’ into sin – again!

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I noticed the contradiction for a couple of days and named it. Preached it, even.
Then I fell for it.  And sinned big.  (Like in those days before I had heard about God’s biblical plan for wives.)
But back to truth.  Here’s the insight:
“It makes NO sense to believe in the sovereignty of God over every molecule AND worry about how I want my day to go.”  That is irrational and stupid.
But it’s been that kind of week.  I’m going out of town on Monday and the days were filling up.  I WANTED to do X, Y and Z and I saw only limited windows of time open for me to take care of those ‘important’ things on my list.  And I panicked.  Even though I know better.  Even though God patiently sets up this lesson time and time again so I can trust Him.
This past Wednesday, the day of THE BIG FALL, I even comforted myself remembering that God has ALWAYS provided in the past.  Without fail.
Not enough time
And yet…the banner over me was NOT ENOUGH TIME, so I grimmed up and grew hard.  Our conversation through dinner prep and on into the meal took on a combative edge.
That was when I found myself dishing back to him in like manner, feeling fully justified.  Just like during all those selfish years, when I would rationalize – “If he’s allowed to play the dramatic, then I should as well!”  But you know how THAT always ends.
Sin is a shortcut to what SEEMS like a good idea in the moment.  But it never satisfies.  Emotion short-circuits clear thinking. Praying to God didn’t occur to me in the midst of feeling sorry for myself.
So, how did it all end?  My husband chose the ‘mature’ card of love and softness toward me.  Having put as many chores as I could between my eventually wanting to absorb the cool mountain air of an evening in the Smokies I sat down next to him in silence.  He let no more than a minute go by before turning to me. His question drew me out, back to the truth of how much we love each other.  The humble features and pleading eyes showed me how much his heart has grown Christ-like since our last ‘raise your own barricades’ skirmish.
That glimpse and the remedial lesson in trusting God’s provision were worth the pain!
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love ….. )  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

A dangerous question

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“Mike, what would you say is my most precious, cherished sin?”

It took him a moment.  Not to think of the sin, but to be sure I was serious about asking for that level of honesty.

The answer didn’t surprise me, but it still produced an ‘Ouch!’ because it rolled so easily off his tongue:

  • Your obsessive routines of eating, exercise, sleep and reading!

Let me set the scene, so you can see WHY this is such a squirm-producing topic.

My friend Regina gifted me with a weighty tome by puritan William Gurnall  – Here’s the link on Amazon

William Gurnall's book

 

 

 

 

Gurnall wastes no time in getting down to business.  He reminds his readers of Abraham’s ‘Let’s get real about whom and what you love most’ test administered by God as recorded in Genesis 22:2 –

  • Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Gurnall modified it to fit us!

  • Then God said, “Take your favorite sin, your most cherished sin, which you love  – X – and sacrifice it on the altar”

I’m aware of how often I sin, but to identify my FAVORITE sin, my go-to sin was hard.  So I asked the person who knows me best.

So there I was, face to face with THE QUESTION:

  •  Do I WANT to give up my routines that bring me such comfort?

Immediately the voice offered some reasonable words…

  • “Eating healthy, sleeping enough, exercising daily, READING….those are all good things!  Don’t be extreme”

The problem was, that wasn’t God’s voice.

Isaac bound on the altar

I read on in Gurnall.  In the very next paragraph he warned me that unlike Isaac who did NOT resist his dad’s securing him to the altar, OUR sacrifices will tend to crawl off the altar.

Satan facilitates the escape of the victim with a one-two soft punch:

  • What you do is not THAT bad…!

and the 2nd blow is….

  • Don’t rush or be too hasty.  Wait awhile.  Maybe you heard wrong.  Maybe your husband is just jealous of your self-discipline!

I talked this subject of idols over with one of my sons and his wife who is a true Christian sister to me. What we came away with was that prioritization is key.

  • Yes, it so happens that my habits of choice are healthy ones
  • But they can also become cherished control mechanisms for my ‘happy’ life now
  • It’s not an either/or situation that requires me to jettison them, but something easier to see but challenging to implement.

Jesus boiled down the Law to the 2-dimensional Law of Love

Love God, Love People

When my food, exercise, sleep and reading habits DON’T take away from concretely loving God and loving others, I can pursue them.  But loving God comes first and loving people is a way of loving God.

 

Practically it looks like this (I think!):

Priorities:

#1 – first part of my day I spend in Bible reading, prayer and medication on God’s truth – to get myself happy in God, which is my duty

  • Ps 32:11 – Be glad in the Lord and rejoice….
  • 1 Thess 5:16 – Rejoice always…
  • Phil 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!

#2 – whenever a person comes into my presence or NEEDS to be in my presence, spend time with her or him as appropriate (yes, we all have work to do, but work can become an idol as well!)  For me…..

  • that means remembering that my husband is my covenant partner AND BEST FRIEND
  • that means phone calls to family and close friends are more important than reading
  • that means that neighbors, students, colleagues and people along my daily path at the grocery store, in line at the PO at coffee hour at church are more important than reading something on my iPhone

The leftover time is what I get to invest in God-honoring ways.  If I choose to spend that time cooking or reading or walking or browsing Twitter and Instagram, I am free to do so.

 

Question:  Whom would you ask to help you see your most cherished sin?  And how painful would it be to keep sacrificing it in order to make room for more of God?  If this Gurnall book blasts away within the first 5 pages, I wonder what else is in store for me!

I’ll keep you posted.

 

The danger of worry and anxiety

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When I was mucking around in my anxiety, Satan’s lies slipped past my defenses and entered my mind as MY own thoughts and MY own analysis of reality.

Satan's lies

 

 

 

You can call this blog post Prayer Part 5 – what happens when you don’t trust God ON whom you had cast all your worries.

A couple of months ago, I offered to share some insights I had learned about contentment at a conference I attended in June.   A Saturday morning workshop for the women of my church seemed like a good idea back in July.  I don’t work during the summer and I was enjoying a more leisurely-paced life when I suggested this to my pastor.

Here’s reality:  School has been underway for 4 weeks now. The workshop is scheduled for 6 days from now.  I still need to review and finalize the material.   I didn’t realize that I was counting on VISIBLE chunks of time later in the week.  Just the night before one of those chunks became rescheduled with something else – a very good something else.  Nonetheless, that block of time dropped off my schedule and I had been fighting anxiety for 24 hours.

It’s GOOD to plan ahead.  But we should not rely on or TRUST the provision we can plan, orchestrate and see in lieu of trusting the only true and most capable provider whose name is Jehovah Jireh – ‘the Lord will provide‘.

It was Thursday, almost 6 pm and I was en route home from Asheville having done the weekly grocery shopping.  I knew that I would have very little time to relax (aka READ) before having to go to bed.  There were groceries to put away, dinner to fix (albeit a simple one), my breakfast and lunch to sort, chop and prepare, dinner to enjoy with my husband and then dishes.  But I was praying and believing God that He could stretch my 15 minutes or so of ‘me time’ to make it AS satisfying as 45 minutes.  And I had finally turned over the workshop reduced planning time THING to God and was trusting Him in the present situation at hand.

But then Mike (who writes from home for World magazine) casually mentioned that his audio piece had aired that day. We usually grab our drinks and head downstairs to listen on the big speakers to his 4-minute technology segment he writes and records.

My first thought: This will cost me SEVEN whole minutes!  Grim Wife And out popped GRIM WIFE!

I said tight lipped, “I don’t have time to listen right now, would you mind terribly if we listen tomorrow?”  And I slid into the sin of unbelief AND idolatry.

The most important thing I could have done at that moment was value my husband and trust God to stretch the time.  Instead I put MY agenda over my husband’s needs.  My anxiety and panic and yes – my anger at being so limited in time began to grow as my vision took in JUST my needs and the resources I could see.

I’ll spare you the ‘bad-to-worse back and forth’ my anxiety caused my husband and me.  But you can imagine the 24-hour coldness that invaded our relationship.  The discouraging truth was that I was doing the very opposite of what God has been emphasizing to me over the past few weeks – trusting Him with my worries in order to be:

  • clear-headed,
  • single-minded and
  • focused on the one and only thing that is important – His kingdom right here

God commands us to humble ourselves AND hand over our worries to take care of because we actually have MORE important work to do than our own agenda.  We’re to pray.

And when we don’t, the ever-roaming enemy Satan, creeps in to devour our peace and contentment and joy in Jesus. How uncanny that this ‘fight’ happened right before a workshop that might help women step out of some unbelief in their lives….

Sorry

I’m happy to report that our Father gave me a repentant heart desiring to ask my husband’s forgiveness and to get back on track doing what is in my job description and NOT what is above my pay grade.

 

 

Disclaimer:  My husband IS a huge help around the house.  He cleans our house every Friday since he works from home and I commute almost an hour each way to school.  And it’s not like he was standing by idly while I was putting away groceries.  He had gotten our produce box from the farm.  He had carried in all the groceries and put away the 2nd frig stuff.  Much of the chopping and prep of salads and veggies is for my breakfast and lunch.

Expect opposition if you are in God’s will

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Opposition - chess pieces

 

 

 

Saul had just been anointed Israel’s first King as recounted in the book, 1 Samuel, chapter 10.

24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “ Long live the king!”……
(25b)….  and Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his house. 26 Saul also went to his house at Gibeah; and the valiant men whose hearts God had touched went with him. 27 But certain worthless men said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent.

I am learning that you can be in God’s will and right where He wants you to be AND there will be push back and opposition.  The question then emerges: Why are we surprised?

Here are 3 facts:

1) Trials are intended to grow our patient trust (called steadfastness) in God.  They are necessary for us to be complete.  They are required if we are to be fully equipped, lacking nothing.

  • James 1: 2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

2) God uses every aspect of these trials, aka painful circumstances & suffering, to bring about our maturity, training and equipping.

  • 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

3) Sometimes the secondary cause, the deliverer of the suffering/trial/hardship, is via spiritual forces of wickedness.  God, the first-cause, allows these attacks for His own good and loving reasons.

One of those ‘good’ reasons is so we will KNOW how real and safe God’s Word is.  Last week, I re-learned that lesson.

I had gone about 6 weeks with no parent complaints in this my first year in a new school.

No complaints since

 

 

 

 

I really didn’t see this one coming.  And when the complaint filtered down to me via my principal (I explicitly excluded a disruptive child when I passed out mini marshmallows for good participation in class), I was emotionally drained.  My confidence and enjoyment of the students had been growing since the nadir in January.   But this episode set me back.

My tête-à-tête with my principal happened on a Thursday.  And the following Monday I felt even lower.  It was like I had lost all sense of purpose in life. I seriously considered how much money I could make cleaning homes as an alternative to THIS!!!

My poor husband didn’t know how to react to his normally optimistic, perky wife.  But he defaulted to the most effective use of his time and words.   He prayed fervently most of the evening, unlike Job’s friends.

And praise be to God, the next morning, something that Tullian Tchividjian said in a podcast brought relief.  He was recounting his ‘year from Hell’, his first year as senior pastor of  Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft Lauderdale.  And MY thought was this: “I bet Tullian seriously considered resigning and going to work at Lowe’s to support his family!”   My next thought tumbled out: “Wow!  Then we would have been deprived of his ministry of grace, his books and the Liberate Conferences!  I bet this was spiritual attack by those who were bent on stopping any advance in the Kingdom!”

Spir Warfare - the lion

 

 

 

And just with that thought, I was ‘right-side-up’ again with purpose and renewed resolve NOT to let the enemy defeat me.  It might be that God’s will for me at that school is just for this year.  That decision is in His hands.  But for now, I will fight on, determined to reach out to my students and colleagues and be available to them.  I am learning the absolute reality and security of God’s word.  As my cousin Terry reminded me:

No wpn formed against you

 

 

 

 

 

And thank you, Michael, for your prayers.  As James points out, “the fervent prayers of a man who is in right-standing with God make A LOT of power available!” (James 5:16)

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