Running away from safety

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(Jesus replied) One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42 ESV

Young Will sat up front and kept himself looking alert in 6th-grade French class. He didn’t act up, goof off, or engage in any typical middle school boy behavior. Only problem was, he seemed to have a sieve where his brain should be. After two months trying different remedies to help him with French, I decided to ask him outright why he thought he wasn’t making progress.

His forthrightness stunned me.  “It’s like this, Madame Cochrane, my mom only allows me two hours a week to play Fortnite (a video game). So, if I want to maximize my two-hours play time on Saturdays, I must spend the week strategizing and planning my time.

Will had mastered the art of appearing to pay attention, with full eyes on me and the board, all the while living somewhere else in his mind.

I think we can all relate to that. Last Sunday in church while singing a hymn, I time-traveled days ahead to when I fly out to Seattle to prepare Mom for a move back East. When I ‘came to’, I pictured reaching forward and pulling Maria back to the ‘here and now’ of standing and singing.

Although actively participating in the singing, my appearance hid a distracted mind.

In our Luke passage, I picture sisters Mary and Martha. Yes, we notice how kitchen tasks absorbed Martha’s attention, causing her to fret.  But even had she put meal prep aside in order to sit down near Jesus, as her sister, would she have been present, attentive to his teaching?

Why is this so hard for us? Many reasons come to mind, but the primary one is that we have an enemy whose goal is to distract us away from Jesus. Our identity which we often attach to our doing as well as the beckoning of the world both fight to be most important to us.

God be praised that he doesn’t leave us alone with our distractions! I thank him for keeping after me. Recently, he has tapped into my power to visualize other ways of living, of being present with him.

I love how God packs the Bible with vivid imagery.

But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the faithfulness of God forever and ever. Psalm 52:8 (NASB)

When I read the above verse, I let my mind wander, pondering what a tree needs to flourish. Nutrient-rich soil, cool water, and sunshine came to mind. How clearly these requirements apply to me. For me to grow and produce fruit for others, I have to stay connected to Jesus. Abiding in the vine, following the Good Shepherd, seeking the Kingdom are all metaphors for being present with God.

Picture our green olive tree.  Let’s suppose she’s afraid of what might happen in the future. Can’t you just see her pulling herself up and away from where she is planted?  There she goes, out the door into the dry sandy wilderness of ‘futurizing’, trailing her roots behind her.  How long is her strength going to last? In a short time, away from where she constantly received the light and water she needed, she starts to weaken.  Her branches become dry and wither.  If she doesn’t come to her senses, she will die, away from her One Source.

Friends, that is us, when we don’t stay put, when we don’t grip our Savior’s hand firmly. Jesus is HERE in the present. Outside of each successive eternal now-moment, is nothing but sinking sand. Why do we tend to run ahead into these frightening, lonely places?  I don’t know.

But one thing I DO know…and it’s this.  I want to stay put, to hold on and live this gift of another heartbeat, another breath standing on my Rock where ALL of God’s goodness is.

I’m not in charge and it’s not about me!

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Haven’t you found this to be true, that the Lord can teach us via a variety of His sources, such as Scripture, books, podcasts, nature or counsel from other mature believers?  If we seek Truth and Wisdom, Jesus provides. One caveat, for other than the Scriptures themselves, we must evaluate and compare, as did the Bereans, all advice and input about spiritual matters with what the Bible says. This week, I’ve chosen a vignette from a conversation and one from Scripture.

Now, I’m praying I retain AND apply both.

The Lord is my shepherd….he leads me. Psalm 23: 1-2 ESV

I caught up with Cousin Terry today. Bible-saturated with God’s wisdom, she’s the spiritual mother of our family.  She described how she knows when God wants her to take on a ministry.  He never pushes, He invites. “Maria, God never drives His sheep!” 

We mentioned the difference between cattle herders, those men who herd their stock toward grazing fields or to the stockyards. They use dogs and men on horseback to push toward the intended destination.

Jesus is not our herder, He’s our shepherd.  Shepherds position themselves ahead of their little flocks, calling to them personally, gently guiding, encouraging and sometimes pulling them out of danger spots with the hook of their staff.

“How does it feel to you, Terry, when God is leading and guiding you to a place of service?” She paused, then mentioned, “I sense a growing interest that energizes and excites me, plus a sense of immediacy. As in ‘get on with it!’.”

Aren’t you glad our Father doesn’t push us around?

***

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;” Luke 10:41 NASB

Here’s a painful diagnostic question I read in some Sunday School material for our middle school girls: ‘What would those who know you well say is your focus?’

And just how would they know?  One way to discern would be from your conversation.  Everyone’s favorite topic is themselves, but what aspect would stand out?

Like Martha I often elevate tasks and having ‘enough’ time to that number one place in my life.  When I struggled with bulimia and body obsession, I would talk a lot about food and exercise.

Recently, I asked Mike to stop asking me about my sleep.  Good rest has eluded me for years. But Holy Spirit conviction is changing my focus.  I don’t want my daily goal to be about optimizing life for Maria.

That new desire has its roots in something I read in Vaneetha Risner’s latest book, Walking Through Fire. She described a Holy-Spirit thought that caused her to pivot.  She had been churning over the future when unbidden He communicated: ‘It’s not about you!’.  Those words have continued to settle me with His peace and recalibrate my day.  Life is meant to be about God. 

I sin against our Holy God when I place myself ‘front and center’.  I want to be like Martha’s sister Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him.  It would have been easy to spot what she valued most. I hope others will be able to know that about me as well.

Focusing in on the wrong words!

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A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  1 Tim 2:11

How’s that for a controversial admonition!  Why it’s enough to stir up some of us gals into a frenzy!

The other day, I listened to a podcast conversation where a woman, well-equipped to handle the Bible in a way faithful to the text, respond to some pushback about this thorny passage.

She handled it by pointing out that most ’21st century moderns’ pass over just how counter-cultural and preposterous was the idea, this new tradition, of women being included in LEARNING! Up until then, only men enjoyed the privilege of being taught.

Jews and gentiles alike would have balked initially at women acquiring any kind of education beyond that necessary for running a household. But Paul viewed men and women from God’s point of view. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28

For as many years as I have read this section of Scripture about women who are to be ‘quiet’ in church, I had missed the main point.  That emphasis being that women were actually encouraged to LEARN.  What other facts have I missed by not giving each word of God equal attention?

Here’s one more example –

He (Jesus) answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ Luke 10:27

I’ve always focused on the ‘ALL’ as a modifier, as in: “You’ve got to be kidding!  love God with ALL my heart, strength etc.  How is THAT possible? I love too many other things as well!”

Having shifted my attention to examine each word for meaning, I realize that one possible interpretation of this admonition is this:

Given that every person is going to love something with all his or her BEST energy, that something must be GOD instead of something like…

  • a job
  • another person
  • oneself
  • money
  • the favorable opinion of others
  • one’s family or kids
  • leisure
  • one’s country

Doesn’t Jesus’ command change everything?  For it acknowledges that human beings are wired to be devoted to SOMEthing.  If we don’t wholeheartedly worship God as worthy of our full attention and energy, we will shift our soul and strength to something created.  And that is idolatry.

How about looking at a familiar passage to see if you can read it through fresh eyes?  What might you have missed?  Let me know in the comment section.

 

 

One thing is necessary

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40. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations to be made. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha, the Lord replied, “you are worried and upset about many things. 42 But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”…  Luke 10: 40 – 42

A new school year started last week.  My anxieties came back to life after their sabbatical of 2 1/2 months.

What is at the root of these worries?  What I focus on during the school day.  Here’s my list of concerns – those situations where I lack confidence, occasions that intimidate me a bit:

  • Will I be able to capture and hold on to the attention of middle school kids?
  • Will I be able to create and carry out effective and engaging lessons, which actually result in them acquiring French?
  • Will I have sufficient time in my school day to complete teaching, planning, grading and handle all those extra duties teachers seem to have?
  • Will I feel free to spend time with my colleagues, listening and encouraging them, all the while accurately representing Christ?
  • Will I be able to grow the French program in the Middle School?

Those 5 matters I have turned into individual and multiple prayers that I send up to God frequently throughout the week.  Better to pray than to worry, right?

Yes and no.

Reading how Jesus corrected Martha and how He described her sister, Mary, caused me to think again.  Maybe I have miscalculated where I should invest the bulk of my energy. Rather than prioritizing and investing all my mental energy on ways to meet all these challenges, I should focus first on what actually might energize me and provide life.

Luke’s account of the two sisters who have just lost their dear brother Lazarus prompted me to imagine what Martha’s list might have looked like (had she written down what caused HER stress and anxiety:

  • Oh no!  Jesus just showed up and with his group of guys, too.  I’ve been feeding well-wishers and mourners for a week now.  What am I going to serve?
  • I’m exhausted!  Where am I going to find the strength and energy to fix more food. And who is going to butcher the lamb, now that our brother is gone?
  • I was going to send Mary around to the family that supplies our wine because we’re all out!  But look at her.  She just sat down with the men to listen to Jesus!  Where’s her head!  With all this work to do?  Doesn’t she care about me?  So this is the way it’s going to be now that Lazarus is gone. I should have figured!
  • Oh, my – Lazarus IS gone.  How are we ever going to make it, two women alone?

What is Jesus’ response, the God who knows all our thoughts and cares?   Read the 4 statements at the beginning of this post.   Freedom calls me with those enigmatic words of His: One thing is necessary.

What is Jesus NOT saying?  Does he tell Martha to skip all the food prep?  No!  Hospitality is a good thing.  But ultimately it doesn’t rank # 1.  We CAN live without food.

But we can’t live without Jesus.

So what did I see afresh in Luke’s account of a very familiar vignette?

It was how I evaluate a ‘good day’.  In past years, I’ve called it a ‘good day’ if I taught well. If I had a fruitful-for-the-kingdom conversation with someone.  If I completed my work.

But I can’t control any of those outcomes, hence my anxiety and uncertainty day to day.

So what IS necessary?  What is ‘the one thing’?

I can see more clearly how God has been moving me over the past 5 or 6 years to rely on Him throughout the day.  To look to and depend on His divine, supernatural Spirit for EVERY thought, word, action, and decision about the future.

Jesus and Paul challenged followers of Christ to stay ‘grafted in the Vine’, to ‘remain in union with Him’.  We actually are not meant to do anything apart from Jesus.  He even tells us we can’t.

  • John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.

So I have redefined what Maria calls a ‘good day’.  The one responsibility I have as Jesus’ lamb is to do all in His strength, aware of my position IN the Vine.

Teaching a ‘good’ lesson, completing my list, engaging in a fruitful conversation with a colleague – yes, these are important.  But I can’t control the outcomes.  Hence – perpetual anxiety.

But I CAN control my thoughts.  That ability is given to every Christian in whom lives God’s Spirit.

My goal and focus this school year is to rely on Jesus and seek to please Him that way. And when I forget my source for everything and start angsting about X, Y and Z, I can still please Jesus by repenting of sinful AND needless worry.  And call it a GOOD day!

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