Not wearing that letter “A” any more!

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Scarlet Letter

James 4: 4 You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? 

 

What a relief!  To come clean and admit that you have betrayed the one who loves you best.  With the ‘worst’ out in the open, there is nothing more to hide.  And in that public knowledge lives freedom.

But do we wear our branding of ‘unfaithful to God’ or do we cover it up, disguise it by good works, competence, religious behavior, helpfulness or talent?

Last week I was wrestling with the wrong kind of fear, the dread of others thinking poorly of me or less of me. But as I let God’s Word guide me in distinguishing fear of man from that ‘AWE-full’ thrilling though cautious respect of God, I found safety again and open spaces.

This week William Gurnall, my current 17th century author of choice, has given me a renewed appreciation for my God-given clothing.

His most famous book is a compilation of sermons he delivered teaching his flock about the reality of warfare in this life and the spiritual tools we are to use to be both safe AND useful as redeemed children of the Father.

500 Old Cabin Cove taken from Blue Ridge Pkwy

So each morning, as I tread up and down the gravel road in our cove, I pray for God’s help to pull together all the scattered thoughts of the previous day and submit them to God.  I mentally and almost physically tighten that first piece of spiritual clothing Paul describes in his exhortation to the Christians at Ephesus:  the belt of truth.

Belt of truth

Which truth? – the truth about who Jesus is and who I am since He bought and freed me.  What others might consider an accessory today is what literally holds us together.  Without that boundary line separating truth from confusion, we come apart.  So tighten your belt, friends!

Next I ready my feet, not with my own planned-out, agenda-bound shoes.  I don God’s sandals that are directed at bringing to those I encounter this day the counter-intuitive message of ‘How to find peace with God’.

Shoes of peace

Everyone is seeking it, though many don’t know that ‘being right’ with the God of the Universe is their biggest need.  But I have to remind myself before I leave the Cove for school that I’m not off to fulfill my plans, but God’s.  After all, I do work for Him.

Since I can’t face the world just with my belt and my shoes on, what is my basic uniform for the day? Certainly not that Scarlet letter of Shame: the Father has replaced that temporary tattoo with a permanent Blood-Stained R for Jesus’ righteousness.

Letter R

What the Romans wore as effective protection for the heart and other organs, God calls our breastplate.  It’s both armor AND an advertisement to the spiritual world of whose we are.  So front and center stamped permanently on me is Jesus’ earned and validated righteousness.

To round off  my equipment, I gather my helmet to protect and SAVE my mind from misleading thoughts and grip my shield to block the doubts and fears and what-ifs that are aimed straight at my heart and head and eyes that day.

By now my morning sweat and lactic acid producing walk accompanied by this mental spiritual dressing has brought me back up to our cabin.  I thankfully pour some coffee, fix a quick breakfast and sit down to sharpen my sword for the day. You know the only offensive weapon our Father gives us is the ensemble of truths and promises written down in the Bible.  I am so thankful for the time to fill up my mind with powerful fuel for the day.  Funny how all those insights that held me firm yesterday have drained away.   But why is that so strange?  After all, we take in physical food several times a day and expect it to tide us over only a few hours. Why should spiritual nourishment be any different?

So I eat with gusto and head out for the day.  Another page in the life of a thankful ambassador reporting for duty to her rebel outpost in that dark place called the World.

Question:  How have you personalized one or more of the pieces of spiritual armor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

Processing Trials – aka membership in the ‘Pure Joy’ Club

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“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…”

The timing was breathtaking:

  • another cat with failing health
  • another closed door session with my principal about my teaching

This was one of those déjà vu experiences.

In October, I wrote about the decision to euthanize a deteriorating OLD cat, Leia.  The Friday before that final appointment with the vet, I was confronted for the 2nd time in 6 weeks with a list of parent complaints about my teaching and relationships with students in my new school.  I was crushed.  And dumb-founded. I have always enjoyed mutually happy connections with students and parents in the previous 21 years.

My reaction at first was to want a way out.  (All this pushback PLUS 110 minutes a day commuting!!!) But I accepted this as a trial and prayed for my students and their perceptions of me with new vigor.  My husband and some close Christian friends also promised to pray.  By the time Christmas break came, I was feeling content with my new school and thinking about the possibility of staying on if they offered me a contract in the spring.

Then Calvin, one of a pair of 8 year-old cats who had moved down with us in June, abruptly became paralyzed in the space of 3 days.

(Calvin is on the left of Luther)

Calvin and Luther asleep with each other - July 09We had almost lost him 10 months earlier in Virginia.  He had fortunately recovered and we were NOT expecting another bout of illness.  And  what followed his sudden lapse was almost humorous given the precedent. Another counseling session at school regarding parent complaints!!!! This time my Christianity and conservative political views were mentioned as possibly making parents less likely to enroll their children in middle school French next year. (I don’t evangelize at school, but I don’t hide my faith.  And I’ve had five letters to the editor published in the city newspaper)

THIS time, I didn’t crumble!

What encouragement!  I have real proof  that I have grown spiritually since October.

Driving home last Monday to a dying Calvin and a husband waiting to learn the outcome of my tête-à-tête with the principal, I  felt peaceful.  My identity and well-being are NOT dependent on my cats’ health or what my boss thinks of me. I belong to Christ.  I have the essentials – the approval and presence of God.  My eternal future has not changed in the least because of these very painful circumstances.

But here’s the point –  I wouldn’t have known the ACTUAL state of what I believe had it not been for these recent trials.

No one wants trials.  We all seek comfort, if we’re honest. But what I have gained through these parallel trials, 3 months apart, is the assurance that God is working IN me to give me what I am missing.

A final point about God’s perfect timing.  I had in the week running up to this eventful Monday listened to 2 sermons on the book of James via podcast.  My friend, Tom Kenney, had stressed that trials are planned by God to complete us, to give us all that we are lacking so that we are perfect and spiritually mature.  And also as God would have it, I had just started some French memory work in the very same book.  Little did I know how much  I was being fortified FOR these trials.

God is so good, it blows me away!

Question: How have you been gifted through a trial?

Measuring others based on which standards?

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My husband and I were discussing different character attributes of people the other day.  I realize that I am fairly judgmental about people (I know that comes as a surprise to you!), but what was a new thought to me was the question of which standard I use.

I realized that I measure others based on the metric of MY strengths and what’s important to me.

Let’s imagine that maintaining a super clean house was high on my list. (it’s not)

So according to my theory – I would evaluate others on how well they achieve the standard that comes easily or naturally to me.

Do you see how ‘playing this game’ makes me a winner each time and feeds my judgmentalism?

But what if OTHERS take THEIR strengths and use them as a grid for seeing how well I do?  Ouch!!!

And what if I am not even AWARE that I’m being evaluated? After all, do all my ‘judgees’ know how they rate on Maria’s scale?

This was a new thought – and a disturbing one. I realize that in every movie I spin,  I’m  the ‘STAR’, the hero/the good guy  in my movie about myself.

What are some external behavioral ways people might judge their fellow man or woman made in God’s image?  Off the top of my head, I thought of possible standards one might ‘secretly’ impose on others:

  • how they dress or fix their hair; whether they keep nails manicured
  • how their children behave or achieve academically
  • type of schooling they choose for their children
  • how generous they are with their time or wealth with friends and ‘strangers’
  • degree of community involvement
  • type of meals served at home, if any
  • how hospitable they are
  • skill in driving
  • whether ‘writing thank-you notes’ is part of their normal behavior
  • how they keep in shape physically
  • ambitiousness at work; degree to which one seeks out leadership roles or responsibility
  • responsiveness to emails and phone messages
  • quality of gift-giving/ability to remember birthdays
  • degree a person talks ONLY about himself v. interest in the other
  • how well-read they are;  quality of books they read
  • whether they do family devotions with the kids
  • whether they go ‘back’ for the Sunday evening service or attend a mid-week small group/Bible study
  • whether they watch TV or read
  • how grammatically correct one speaks
  • degree to which someone initiates invitations to others
  • how tech-dependent or tech-free
  • how ‘good with kids/animals’ they are
  • do they make their beds? (half the world doesn’t per my informal polls of students in French class)
  • whether a stay-at-home mom ‘just’ takes care of the kids OR runs a small business from home

I’m sure you can add to the list.  But the point is….. what are we to do?

You’ve heard it says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (1 Pet 5:5)

I, for one, do NOT want the God of the universe, the living and very present God to oppose me!  All I or you can do is CONFESS, REPENT and beg for help from the One who promises to give us a way out when we are tempted.

1 Cor 10:13  The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

Of course, the KEY is – the DESIRE to drop the judging.(judging can be FUN!) …So that’s what we should ask God for.

Question:  True confessions, if you dare….. – Where do YOU feel superior in your life?

Overwhelmed and the choice to wallow or cast

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Feeling overwhelmed – you can identify, can’t you?

Too many things hanging over me and I don’t want to face any of them. But instead of obediently taking them to the Father, I choose to skulk around in my feelings- “I don’t want to DO anything, I just wish they would all go away and leave me in peace!”

So it was hard to stay focused in church this morning when my mind kept going back to that unpleasant list.

Yet I know the remedy!  God commands us, as a loving Father who understands us and can see exactly what is best:

  • Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.   Phil 4:6
  • You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:2b

The thing is, it feels like too much trouble to articulate what I want, so I let apathy and pathetic pity just hover like a grey cloud.

” Oh God, Help me!  You say that your mercies are new every morning!  If I woke up in a luxury hotel this morning and felt like I wanted something, or I needed something, wouldn’t I pick up the phone and ask for it, either from Room Service, the Front Desk or the Hotel Concierge?”

“Father, I’m not saying that You are a short order needs provider…yet..

You DO say that given a choice between WORRYING about stuff, or taking the time and energy to PRAY in specific words for what I need , (i.e. specifically and measurably) that we should come to You as a loving Father.  Not just once, but over and over again, like that annoying widow.”

  • Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. Luke 18:1

” Okay, Dad, I will go off line from this blog for a few moments and invest the energy into making a list of all that is on my mind for this week.”

I’m back!  – I just typed up a list detailing everything that was waiting for me when I woke up this morning. I wrote each item as a specific request, with measurable phrases like these:

  • Guide me, Lord,  to write down exactly what meals to cook while the kids are here for Thanksgiving, to include the ingredients I need to buy.
  • Guide our prep this week at school so that the team members are closer to being ready for Mock Trial.  May all 7 students show up Monday as well as the double period on Wednesday.

By the way, for fellow tech users, here is a link to an app that Mike and I use daily.  We like it for many reasons.  But one handy feature, is that you can type your requests, save them to Drop Box and then import them into PrayerMate on the iPhone.   App for PrayerMate

Okay, I feel a bit better.  I’ll let you know how God came through.  I know He will; He always does.  He’s that kind of heavenly Father.  Furthermore, He has resources at His disposal that I can’t see or even imagine.  He is the God who operates out of OUR limited box.

How do you know if God has answered your prayer?

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I heard a pastor explain James’ critique of believers’ envy and back-biting as symptoms

of PRAYER-LESS-NESS.

  • What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:1-2

Hmm, that caught my attention!  We fight because we want something someone else has?  Instead we could actually ask God?  Who’d a thunk!  Question is: why don’t we ask God?

Maybe because we are embarrassed by our requests?  They aren’t spiritual enough?

….or maybe it’s because we haven’t learned to form MEASURABLE requests.

Excuse the following humorous/non-spiritual cartoon that illustrates the idea of measurable:

The point is, it does little good to just say, “Dear Lord, please bless this situation.”  How do we know if He has blessed it?  How do we know if and when God answers that petition?

I learned in Bible Study Fellowship to formulate prayer requests in this specific way:

  • Dear Lord, please give me wisdom so I can make a decision about X by Tuesday.  May I not fret while I’m considering alternatives, but trust You.  Superintend the whole process and once I have come to a decision, remind me NOT to second guess my decision.  And if the decision I make is not what You would have for me, then shut the door definitively and guide my steps.  I am trusting You when You say that we plan our way, but You direct our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
  • Dear Lord, please make Mike’s calls fruitful this week.  May his contacts with potential clients result in encouragement for him and a new next step he can take.
  • Dear Lord, may our son and his family make their connections tomorrow as they travel from Podunck to Big City. May the little ones be calm on the airplane and fall asleep.  Seat around them kind passengers who like little kids.  May their luggage arrive on the same plane. Give them a spirit of flexibility for any unplanned events.  May they retain their sense of humor.

This kind of concrete praying makes trusting God an adventure.  And once God answers, you can rejoice and praise Him and pass on to others how God came through.  I was at Ingles grocery store on Thursday doing my weekly shopping.  I only wanted to spend $190 to stretch my grocery dollars.  So I prayed for restraint and God’s intervention in my choices.  And when the cashier, a high school senior, rang up the total, it came to $191.  “Not bad!” I thought.  But then my Ingles shoppers’ card did its thing and the adjusted total dropped to $186!!  

I immediately shared with the teen how I had prayed and how faithful God was to answer! “Isn’t that cool,” I finished up, “We can ask God for specific, every-day needs!”  Who knows if she is a believer, but at least God gets the credit!

Finally, for other tips to praying concretely, here is a blog post about praying LITTLE bite-sized requests.  I like what the author says.

Faith-sized Requests

Suffering – a daily reality

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“Expect suffering every day”   – so says Tullian Tchividjian in his book Glorious Ruin – How Suffering Makes You Free.

Just that concept, that suffering is part of daily life, is liberating.   I have spent too much energy trying to ward off suffering, rather than relaxing in the knowledge that Jesus is with me in my daily trials.

Maybe you share some of these false ideas that I have entertained:

  • if my suffering isn’t as bad as starving children, persecuted Christians, languishing prisoners, tsunami-victims, cancer patients, then it doesn’t count
  • if I pray effectively enough, I can block or mitigate the suffering in the lives of those whom I love
  • suffering is to be avoided
  • if I’m suffering, then God is either absent, doesn’t care, can’t do anything or  just is not good

As I have written before, I wouldn’t have chosen or planned ANY of the suffering in my life, but I do see the blessings that have come to me from

  • eating disorders
  • anxiety issues
  • marriage problems
  • money crises
  • perplexing parenting decisions and situations
  • fears of POOR parenting
  • inadequacies I have seen and still see in myself
  • consequences of bad decisions
  • relational pain that I have caused friends and family members because of my sin
  • spiritual ups & downs
  • being fired once
  • receiving a poor performance review at a former school
  • pets and parents who have aged and died
  • lost dreams

And so now, in the present moment, as I currently suffer with

  • a dying cat
  • a rough start in a new school
  • a tighter budget
  • doubts about my abilities in all my roles with others

…….I remind myself that just as there were past blessings that flourished in the soil of suffering,  God has good (what the Hebrews call TOV) planned for me that will be revealed in the current pain.  Therefore,  I strengthen myself in the Lord with His promises of present help and future grace.  Here are just 4 of many, many great proclamations from our loving and all-wise Father:

  • Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10) 
  • No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11b) 
  • 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. (James 1: 2-4)
  • Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of _______(whatever the circumstance) _______ for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deut 31:6)

What promises of God are YOU clinging to?

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