A summer sabbath rest and fast

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“Indeed, my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Jeremiah 2:13

My thinking has always been:  Maybe THIS essay or article will contain that ONE nugget that will shift my perspective and change my life!  And so I consume, in hope, perpetually seeking, never satisfied.

In my pride I compulsively forward, post to Facebook or print out and snail-mail what I think YOU might benefit from.  And I write blogs, this one and my other at Surprised by Logic.  As though I have something unique or worth trading your free time reading.

Something I read over Memorial Day weekend stopped me in my tracks.

I realize that my motives tend not always to be pure in what I post on Facebook.  There’s a little ‘provocatrice’ in me that is neither necessary, winsome, nor gentle or humble. Furthermore, given that my goal IS to show Christ as all satisfying, then what I sometimes upload works against that goal. Why go out of my way to offend certain colleagues who happen to follow me on Facebook?

Furthermore, another book I’m reading and rereading has shown me to be always hungry and greedy for more input and never satisfied.  God showed me clearly on the same night as that first ‘stop you in your tracks’ insight that His Word more powerfully salsifies than anything else one of us might write.

So I am taking a fast from reading on-line essays and blog posts.  And I’ve deactivated my Facebook account and unsubscribed to nearly all feeds.

To go along with combatting this insatiable thirst that drives me to broken cisterns, I will spare you burden of ‘yet one more post to read’ by not blogging these summer months.  A gift to you!

So I invite you to join me in turning away from the ephemeral artificial cyber world in order to drink from, to feed on that which lasts and satisfies: God’s Book of Nature and His supernatural written Word.  Then each day, once we have filled up on what is eternal, pure, true and beautiful, let us spend time focused on people, God’s very own image bearers.

May Grace and Peace from God the Father, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be yours in abundance!

Maria

What’s the big deal?

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dust

And God said to Adam and Eve: “…… you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  (or as the Amplified version puts it….you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt. (Genesis 3:19b)

I was upset with myself for messing up, YET AGAIN.  When I go down that road of self-recriminations, I tune out others and withdraw, my pride wounded.  It’s hard to shake that mood.  But the next morning during my Bible reading, I read God’s reminder to our first parents.  The next thought was: “Why do you expect more from yourself, Maria?  After all, you’re just DUST!”

What an equalizing and humbling assessment.  Taken a step further, if I am just an animated collection of dust, then so are you. So why fear or worry what a fellow assemblage of dirt thinks of me!

Lest you feel TOO wormy, remember God’s words in Isaiah – “Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord”, Isaiah 41:14)

Though we are little and powerless without God, we who belong to Him are fiercely loved.  Consider what God says via the prophet Jeremiah: “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” – Jeremiah 31:3

Can you even take that in?  That the all powerful, omniscient, holy God has always and forever loved you, if you are His redeemed child?

  • Even before He created the universe…
  • Even before Jesus walked on this planet and died for you….
  • Even before your parents were a couple and then birthed you….

….the happy, triune God set His love on YOU!!!  And He will continue to love you.

Yes, we are dust and worms in one sense.

But we are special collections of dust with certain characteristics that image Him.  And evidently His plans to showcase His glory and magnify His joy include loving, creating and redeeming us!  Now THAT’s the big deal!

What makes you happy?

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We all want to be happy.  Even our birth announcement as a new sovereign nation enshrined the pursuit of happiness as one of the top 3 values of the former colonies.

Pursuit of happiness

But how do you define ‘happiness’?

If you look at our culture, that concept changes almost daily.  It used to be ‘choose your own sport or extra-curricular activity in school’ to ‘choose our own profession or college or place to live’.  Now it’s choosing your own definition of marriage, your own gender and even your own racial identity.

Since the definition of happiness seems to shift so frequently, are you and I even in a fixed position to judge what makes for lasting happiness?  The Bible asserts in multiple places, “No! Don’t trust your heart or your mind.”

Jeremiah, spokesman for God said, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick-who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9)

Therefore, in light of that truth,it makes good sense that the Book of Proverbs counsels us NOT to: “…lean on our own understanding” Prov 3:5  Rather we are to…Trust in the Lord (not us)..”

Here’s where God recently has shown me the truth of His Word.

For years I have taught French using a methodology called TPRS Here’s a link to a useful explanation.

I have worked on the skills which are more akin to improvisational theater than anything I’ve experienced.  Workshops, personal coaching, 7 national conferences, teaching blogs have all helped to train me to improve my teaching.

But early on, I absorbed ‘being a skilled TPRS teacher’ as a tool for measuring my worth.  I saw the professionals who could ‘do TPRS’ with such ease, enjoyment and results (aka – engaged students who participated without hesitation).

As a result, I instinctively started judging my school day as a ‘good day’ if the kids responded with their creative energy and focused attention.  And it was a ‘bad day’ if I didn’t feel them eating out of my hand, so to speak.  With that much self-imposed pressure, driving to school would cause me to get anxious and nervous.  My daily question quickly grew to be: Would I be able to ‘pull it off’ again?  My faithful husband prayed daily for me.

Yet, I never questioned the wisdom of this method of self-justification. And my happiness continued to wax and wane according to my ‘success’ with this skill.  And I measured success by my students’ responses to my teaching each day.  But then I realized something about my on-going ‘morning mood’ and connected it to the following truths from God’s Word.

Psalm 1a, 3a – “Happy is the man…..whose delight is in the Law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night” 

Psalm 41:1 – “Happy is the man who considers the weak/powerless/poor…..

What a different way to look at happiness!  So here is what occurred to prompt me to SEE these verses in a new light.

In the couple of months between spring break and the end of the school year, I began to notice that I actually FELT happy during my drive to school each day.  That sense of peaceful contentment had kind of snuck up on me.  As I began to analyze the WHY, I saw that I was no longer measuring my day, my worth as a teacher by how well I taught my French classes.  In other words, I had stopped evaluating my skills and my students’ response to how I taught.  That was part of it, for sure. More significant was the impact that change of focus had on my unconscious thoughts while commuting.

Bu there was another change. I don’t know when it started, but sometime I consciously decided NOT to check email or any social media before I arrived at school.  That meant from the time I arose I either listened to podcast sermons while feeding the cats, exercising, and driving to school or I was reading my Bible over breakfast.  I was feeding, meditating on Truth.  And what I took in not only made me feel happy; it also caused me to be more in tune with my colleagues and students at work. Many around us often feel weak, powerless and poor. It’s a feature of this world broken by sin that everyone is battered and suffers.  Hence, souls are more fragile than we realize.

Freed from the compulsion to ‘prove’ myself each day, I have apparently allowed myself actually to enjoy teaching students and interacting with my colleagues. Schooldays turn out NOT to be all about me and how well I teach.  I’ve stopped using my classes to measure my skills.

I do thank my good Father for this wiser and healthier perspective.  Furthermore, He has given me a contract to teach again in August.  And to top it off, this summer doesn’t quite feel like a temporary pass from the galleys, but a continuation of a life learning to put into practice George Mueller’s advice to all Christians.  That is – to make oneself happy in the Lord first thing in the morning. Link here about George Mueller.

Now if I can only transfer THAT revelation to other areas of my life where I’m still imprisoned by the need to calculate how well I am ‘doing’!

Question: What’s an area of your life where you have been ‘sprung’ from one of your former SUBTITLES and the burden of maintaining it?

We are wired to bask – when boasting is good

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One of my dear daughters-in-law asked me pointedly over Thanksgiving why weighing a certain weight was so darn important to me.  It’s a good question and one for which I struggled to answer.  All I could offer in response was that I am afraid of getting fat.  

This obsession is nothing new.  Ever since a LONG bout with bulimia I’ve spent inordinate amounts of mental energy on how I feel about my body.  I won’t go into the details, because I’m sure you can identify.  If it’s not a weight/body image issue, it’s something else you struggle with that’s connected with your sense of worth.

Catching a podcast sermon the other day finally provided the key to why a number on a scale can dominate my day. 

Tim Keller was talking about how everyone, whether secular or religious, attempts to justify himself, to prove his worth. 

He recast the biblical term ‘justification’ as (and I’m piecing together his definition): 

  • A validating performance report that bestows status and opens doors 

It’s a never-ending cycle that actually hands over control of our feelings of worth to something outside of us.  The ways we seek validation, worth and significance are endless: 

  • Parenting, so your kids turn out ‘well’
  • Decorating and maintaining a beautiful home
  • Earning the acclaim (and unarticulated envy) of your peers and bosses in your career field
  • Achieving and maintaining a fit body or young skin
  • Performing lots of volunteer work or Christian service
  • Mastering a sport or musical instrument
  • Making a statement by your lifestyle choices (TV-eschewer/vegan/ minimal carbon-consumer/frugal/brand-name snob/socially-conscious/pro –this/anti-that….) 

The trouble is, as Tim Keller points out, that the best-case version of this slave-master means you’re only as good as your last accomplishment.  Thus, you keep having to prove yourself. The worst case is that: 

  • Your kids DON’T turn out well
  • Your marriage breaks up
  • You lose the house
  • You remain infertile
  • You break a leg and can’t run for 6 months
  • You attract poor performance reviews from your boss
  • You lose the contract(s)
  • You come in 2nd 

Keller goes on to announce that Jesus offers an alternative. God offers OUTSIDE justification as a gift.  The mind-boggling news in the Bible is that there is a much better way to feel good about oneself.  And it has nothing to do with what we DO. 

Without going into a Gospel presentation, the point is we are offered a life-giving permanent justification. All we have to ‘do’ is admit that OUR way is bankrupt and then submit to His better way.  This means first dropping ALL our efforts to earn status.  Then we have to accept HIS accomplishment as ourvalidating performance record that bestows status and opens doors. This, then, is the ONLY way to be liberated from the above tyranny. 

But….. 

…here’s the rub – My first reaction when I digested Tim Keller’s point was:

  • I don’t want someone else’s merit.
  • I actually want to be well-thought of for what I’ve done……it seems more real, more valid, more praise-worthy. 

I puzzled over how to reconcile my desire to be free and what God says is the ONLY path.  Finally, I sensed a way out of this dilemma. The Holy Spirit brought to mind times in the past when I felt significant because of others’ accomplishments:

  • When our oldest son Graham would perform on stage in high school and other parents and teachers would gush – I would bask in that spillover glory.
  • When my husband would sing in choruses and at church and others would marvel at his voice – I would bask in that spillover glory.
  • When our youngest son Wes got accepted and attended West Point and others would say with awe, ‘that’s quite an accomplishment!’ – I would bask in that spillover glory.

So, you see, we ARE wired to bask and boast in others’ accomplishments if we are connected to them. 

All we have to do is take that innate skill and change who and what we boast in.  If we are believers, we have an Older Brother.  And what He has accomplished for His family members is unparalleled.  

As Paul says in Romans, and Jeremiah describes in the OT, our primal sin is that we have exchanged what we should glory in – God – for something man-made.

Jer 2:11 ….my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. 

So this Christmas 2013 season, as you have some time, maybe you can reflect on what you boast in.  Keller says the way to become a Christian is to repent of what we boast about, about the ways we try to justify ourselves. 

Below is the link to Keller’s sermon. 

Sermon by Tim Keller, Redeemer Pres Church, NYC

Let us Rejoice at the freedom offered

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