Coming out of the Productivity Closet

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Bench  Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Must we always be doing, producing?  Why are thinking and meditation given short shrift in America? 

Convicted!  when my friend questioned out loud a commentator’s mild rant about time ‘wasted’ waiting for a cashier or doctor.  What have I missed from God by NOT sitting still, pondering and KNOWING Him?

 

Stockpiled grace to rescue us

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For we walk by faith, not by sight – 2 Cor 5:7

The Martian

Mike and I just finished watching Matt Damon in the movie The Martian.  We both thoroughly enjoyed the humor and the human drama that unified world wide all human beings for a few moments.

One of the God-moments that I spotted in the film involved the Matt Damon character finding a vehicle sent up by NASA years before. I don’t know if the scene was planned to point to God or just that ‘the eyes of my heart’ have been opened to see ALL truth as God’s truth.

The stranded astronaut, unable to contact anyone with equipment at his base station, sets out to explore on foot.  When his space boot scrapes something hard in the sand, he digs like crazy and discovers the Pathfinder, a device sent up by NASA in 1997.  With it, he begins the time-intensive and convoluted process of establishing a way to communicate with those back home.

What struck me immediately was how very God-like this discovery was – a perfect example of what I call, God’s stockpiled grace, planned since before the creation of the universe and pre-positioned for just the right moment in the midst of a TRIAL.

What a blessing that Pathfinder turned out to be!  That fictional provision is akin to the grace we Christians receive from God when we walk by faith.  God commands us to FEAR NOT in tough and desperate situations, but to count on His promised future grace. He has already planned and positioned what we need.  All the resources for life and godliness await us for WHEN we need them.  We usually don’t see them ahead of time, which is WHY God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godly living through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:19

We ordinary mortals who belong to Jesus are not the only ones who have to trust in God’s promised provision for the future (next minute, next hour or next year).  Jesus Himself exercised this kind of dependence.  I was struck by this fact the other day in Sunday school.  We were reading the Luke passage where Jesus is praying to His Father as He wrestled with the lonely path that lay before Him.

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.               Luke 22:41-44

An angel appeared and strengthened Him!  Isn’t that amazing? God sent just the right help at the right moment WHEN His Son needed it.  Jesus received grace JUST as He entered into anguish.

So here’s some Gospel logic – if the Father provided perfectly for Jesus to accomplish the atoning sacrifice that would later be applied to us, His chosen children, don’t you think we can trust this SAME Father to provide what WE need in the moment of our need?  Just like Jesus didn’t see the angel and feel the empowerment until he showed up, neither will we SEE or FEEL the future provision.

Jesus has demonstrated living by faith in God’s future grace.  That encourages me to trust God to venture out and do the same, through the Holy Spirit’s enabling.

 

What’s your: ‘Well, at least I…..

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Lion and Christians - endurance

Luke 21: 16 – 19 (NET)  

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will have some of you put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives/souls. (Greek Word 5590 – psyche)

When bad stuff happens, where do you go in your head to steady yourself?  What’s your # 1 solace?

Until recently, if you follow this blog, you know that my chief ‘go-to’ was my weight.  So when ‘bad stuff’ would happen, be it parent complaints at school, or unexpected bills, or a sleepless night, or a concern regarding my husband and family, or an unresolved issue in a friendship I would say, “Well, at least I weigh X!”  And that was my foundation I counted on to make myself feel better, to regain my equilibrium, aka ‘happiness’.

Pretty flimsy underpinnings on which to live life, right?  God obviously thinks so.  He loves me too much to leave me to my illusions.

He has persistently and continually rocked that bedrock to show me both its flimsiness and my willing self-deception (as well as SIN!)

Here’s the bottom line:  anything other than Jesus can be taken away.  And if we make something OTHER than Jesus our foundation, we won’t have any security in this life.  As a Christian, I should know better.  But my practice has not yet caught up with my beliefs. Maybe as a fellow expert in self-delusion you have also creatively built your life on faulty bedrock.

What might some of these be?  To start, how about:

Well at least…..

  • I am well thought of at work (or, at least I have a job!)
  • It all worked out (whatever ‘it’ is)
  • I have my health
  • I’ve surpassed my parents in education, status and career
  • I am married and have kids
  • I have enough money
  • I give away a lot of money
  • I have completed my bucket list
  • I am a respected Bible teacher or pastor or gifted in hospitality
  • I have a huge following on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook
  • I am an American
  • I’m not as bad off as________
  • I live in a safe neighborhood/city/country
  • I don’t live in a hurricane zone
  • No one knows my past
  • I feel at peace with myself
  • I can think for myself and speak up
  • I survived the accident, the health scare, the attack, the storm, the crisis

All those and a ton more are just ‘plain ole flimsy’ and can easily be removed by God.  Here’s a sure promise:  we will be afraid and vulnerable to what appear to be the whims of fortune if we make anything else but Jesus our bedrock.

If you have been found by Jesus and have made Him your ‘all in all’/what defines you then He can’t be taken away from you.  This then, the Eternal Son of God as Lord and Savior and Brother and Advocate and God and King and Friend and Priest and Intercessor, is what HAS to be first or foundational in our lives.

What’s all this have to do with those strange verses from Luke?  How do we square the statement that we may perish with the promise that not a hair on our head will be harmed?

I recently heard Tim Keller (pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) teach on this passage.  To the apparent contradiction of our body perishing but our hair remaining safe, he explained that what is eternal about us, our soul or our life (that Greek word ‘psyche’) is what remains when we die. Everything else is temporary.

But what was MORE fascinating than that clarification was his point that whatever is at our bottom, underneath all those layers of heart desires and motivations, that X (for me it was a certain # on that infernal scale!), is THAT which possesses our soul.  Only through suffering, if we view suffering rightly (ordained by God for our ultimate good), do we let go of the temporary and grab hold of that which we can NEVER lose, Jesus.

Keller framed it as this:  either something else possesses our soul/the ‘us’, OR we are SELF-possessed by clinging to Jesus with both hands.

Have you ever thought of the term: ‘self-possessed’?  It denotes calm, imperturbability, and equanimity.

So back to the question/title of this post: What is your, what is my ‘at-least-I….’ default treasure? Truth is: Christ is the only treasure that both satisfies us 100% AND can never be taken from us.

Dear Father – I’m so fickle!  I keep removing those false gods, those temporary things that promise to sustain me and bring me joy.  AND I keep falling back into WANTING my former ‘at-least-I _____’ idols.  I fantasize that maybe this time, this X might actually make me happy and give me the deep peace I crave.  Give me a hunger and thirst that only You can satisfy and set THIS FOOD in front of me.  I am often senseless like a sheep and prone to wander from You.  I need to be led, dearest faithful Shepherd.  Thank you for your promise to come after me when I’m lost.  Amen

sheep

Waiting as worship

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Last week I took up the topic of decision-making…

and claimed that there were 2 categories. The first kind I developed had to do with reliance on a subjective FEELING to guide a choice.  I shared how our son stressed over 2 ‘good’ choices: stay at the current college or transfer.  He couldn’t decide off the bat, so as a new Christian, he tossed the decision into God’s lap and asked Him to give him a sign.  This divine nod would be a sense of knowing or perhaps peace about one path over the other. The second category of decisions involved one in which I had made up my mind to LEAVE my current school.  What I was asking God for concerned timing, when I would  budge.

I’ve been reflecting about our most current set of decisions that faced my husband and me.  As I have written about before, we decisively chose to leave Virginia, after raising our boys and burying my dad. We actually had TRIED to move multiple times once my care-dependent father died in 2006.  Mike was gazing at 6 1/2 more years of civil service in a joy-less, energy-sapping environment.  And God kept shutting those doors, by NOT granting Mike a civil service job elsewhere.

(The ‘un-success’ of 3-5 job applications over a period of several years is actually encouraging. It tells me that God intervenes when our prayerful attempts to move in a direction are NOT His plan)

But when we chose to move to Western North Carolina, the doors did swing open.  We took our time, studied the situation, prayed continually, fixed up our house, did a job search for a French-teaching job for me and looked for a mountain cabin we could afford.  In addition, Mike prepared and launched a consulting business that would combine his skill set, his experience, and his contacts over the previous 38 years since he matriculated into West Point.

The decisions were made – the waiting began.

Here’s is what I’m learning:

All of life is waiting.  As obedient children, we ask God for something (He commands us to pray for what we need!)…we wait…the waiting comes to an end, one way or another.  We move on to the next need(s).

But there is a godly way to wait and a sinful wait to wait.  We can be SO focused on what we are waiting for, that IT becomes more important to us than God!  Not only does that profoundly insult God and reduce Him to a blessing machine, it robs US of fellowship with Him and much joy.

A beloved friend wrote this about waiting:

Who would’ve thought that “waiting” is part of God’s plan and is for our excitement and pleasure!

Hundreds of books have probably been written on prayer and waiting, but I’ll leave you with one thought as I close this piece, (and by the way, God DID sell our house, procure me a job and lead us to a perfect cabin up in the hills- we’re still waiting for Mike’s clients as he faithfully does all he can!).

Waiting has to do with patience.  And the New Testament often uses the term, ENDURANCE, to mean patience. Strong’s Greek #5281 (hypomone) can be translated AS : “a patient, steadfast waiting for”.  Now with that in mind, read this verse from Luke 21:19: By your patience, you will gain your souls.

God wants us to develop that permanent part of us, our soul,  that moves into eternity.  Doesn’t that put a different spin on our decisions, our prayers, our waiting?  All of life is waiting because all of a Christian’s life is soul-development.  But waiting doesn’t have to preclude enjoying God’s presence each moment on Earth.  Why not seek Joy in God daily? Isn’t that what awaits us in heaven – closer and more multi-dimensional fellowship with God, joy IN His presence?

I believe that ALL our prayer requests, whether they have to do with trials or desires, are meant to grow our patient trust in Him.  And that quiet confidence grows our souls.  So whether I’m waiting for this or that, I pray that the Holy Spirit will remind me that I can worship God NOW, in the moment, in the midst of waiting.  I don’t want to miss a single gift.  I want my life to SHOW that HE is what I value most, NOT the thing I’m waiting for.

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.

Thoughts on Prayer

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Do we believe without a doubt? When we pray, do we believe that we will receive the things we ask for, not on a future day, but then and there? This is the teaching of this inspiring scripture. How we need to pray, “Lord, Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5) until doubt is gone, and absolute trust claims the promised blessings as its very own.

E M Bounds

I have never met a Christian who boasted in their prayer life.  To the man, everyone confesses weakness, fear and self-recrimination.  Universally, we seen pleasantly surprised when God does indeed answer prayer.  Why is prayer so hard?

Here are some thoughts that encourage my heart:

  • God wants us to pray.  Always.  In every situation. At all times.
  • God expects us to pray as little kids.  We don’t have to earn a PhD first.  In fact, there’s no such thing as a bad prayer.

How can I say this?  Surely we’ve prayed selfishly and wrongly….

Well, here are some examples of God answering ‘BAD’ prayers.

In Numbers 11, the recently-rescued Hebrews pine for food from their Egyptian captive days –

– vs 18 to 20 – “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?

And even Job in the midst of complaining to God about how unfairly he has been treated longs for his accusations to be made into a permanent written record,

Chapter 19: 23-24 – Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!

How ironic is that!

At the bottom of our reluctance to pray, I think, is our fear of being disappointed.  If we pray and get our hopes up and God DOESN’T answer the way we have asked, then we will be even worse off.  We are afraid of being hurt even more.

And not without good reason! For we can all point to people who have NOT been rescued, healed, blessed.  My ‘go-to-example’ of that in scripture is Paul and his ‘thorn’.  And in this New Year, 2013, I think of Joni Eareckson Tada who is STILL paralyzed and in daily pain, 45 years after her diving accident.  Faithful people who have not received what they asked God for. What do we make of that?  Even Francis Chan shared in a talk that he prayed for his Buddhist grandmother to receive Christ before she died.  And to his knowledge she died, darkened and without hope.

I don’t know.  But what I DO know is that God DOES answer some of my prayers RIGHT AWAY.  And some prayers He answers after years of praying.  And some prayers He has not (yet) answered the way I have hoped. I can also point to those prayer requests He firmly turned down.

Here is where I have to bow, submit to and REST on some comforting truths:

  • God IS the definition of goodness
  • God LOVES me and has already done the very best for me by adopting me as his child and making me an heir to His Kingdom Riches F-O-R-E-V-E-R.   And THAT even before I knew what I was getting into!
  • God has chosen to WORK HIS WILL partially by the raw material of our prayers.  He invites, expects and even commands our participation.
  • I am growing as I learn about this Kingdom business of prayer, of talking to God.
  • I can’t get prayer wrong.
  • I don’t have to be good FIRST before praying.
  • I don’t have to have the right amount of faith first before God hears me.  He ALWAYS hears me.
  • I feel better when I pray.
  • I can always pray when I don’t know what else to do.
  • No prayer goes unheard.
  • God SPOKE the world into existence.
  • My words have more supernatural power than I know.
  • The spirit world hears my prayers and WITNESSES the impure faith that I do have and marvels at God’s response.
  • It’s not my faith anyway.  Any faith that I have has been given to me by God.
  • Answers to prayers are NOT dependent on me.  I do not need to fear that my faith will be inadequate or insufficient.
  • And finally, as EM Bounds encourages, I can and SHOULD ask for MORE faith.

What can YOU do to help ME grow in the confident practice of prayer?  Share what your prayers are and when and how God answers them. This kind of practicing gratitude also increases our awareness of God’s answers.

And remember, that God WANTS to answer our prayers..that is His default mode.  And every prayer that is answered brings glory and honor and praise to Him.  Take THAT, evil forces of darkness!

Letter to a dying acquaintance

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Lost Sheep

Dear X

Y told me that you’ve received a really hard diagnosis: gut-wrenching news about cancer. I am so sorry to learn this and can’t even imagine what thoughts and emotions you & your husband must be dealing with!

I want to share with you a perspective about the goodness of God in the midst of extreme suffering.  I have no idea where you are spiritually.  But I would want to be reassured of God’s love during a time like this, if I were walking through a dark valley.

Nothing comes as a surprise to God because he is in charge.  And nothing happens that is not filtered through his loving hands. Don’t fear; you won’t say anything to him that will shock or hurt him or cause him to love you less. He has known about this cancer.  He is with you in every breath you take and during every doctor’s visit.  He is helping you in this transition.

When I am struggling, I often remind myself of the truth that Jesus sustains everything by the power of his word – Hebrews 1:3 (or by his powerful word, as some translations say) or in Colossians, Paul says about Jesus, “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. I literally will say, “thank you Lord, that you are sustaining me by the power of your word!”

So how do we know that God loves you and me? We know about God from both what is written about him, the record of his thoughts and actions in the Old Testament and also the accounts of the actions and words of God in the flesh, Jesus.  The God-man came to save us from ourselves. We NEED saving, because we’ve all gone astray and are confused like the lost sheep he calls us. He tenderly leads us.

Here’s what Luke recounts in his 9th chapter, verses 4-6

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!

Ann – it’s NEVER too late, as long as there is breath in you, to turn to Jesus for help, for strength and even for salvation.  He doesn’t hold anything against the one who seeks him, no matter his or her past.

If you are already a Christ – follower, then I would encourage you to think about heaven and talk about it with your husband.  If he is a Christian too, then he knows he’ll see you again!

For the believer, all that is mortal is being swallowed up by life. We will live forever with Jesus. In new bodies, to boot!  The proof that we will get new bodies (different, but recognizable by others) is seen in the fact that Jesus DID come back after being resurrected. He walked, talked and ate with his disciples for several weeks.  They touched his physical, resurrected body.

This fact of his being resurrected represents God the Father saying to the Jews who had him crucified, ‘You all were wrong in thinking Jesus was blaspheming when he claimed to be one with me.  Everything he said was true.  His resurrection is my verdict of “NOT GUILTY”.’

As I close, I want you to know what I like about God, what gives me comfort and I hope will comfort you, too.

God, because it’s his nature, his character, showers us with

  • loving-kindness
  • mercy
  • faith (a gift)
  • fair and righteous decisions
  • truth

All his decisions are perfect.  We might not see or understand everything right now, but he does work out all things for the good of those whom he loves and who love him.

Please know that I am praying for you and your husband daily.  If you would care to talk more, have your husband call me.  I’d be happy to come visit  during the Christmas holidays.

Praying that you know the true peace of God that is beyond earthly understanding.

 

 

More thoughts on prayer

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“You have not because you ask not”  – James 4:2b

– for Jesus said – “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11: 9-10

The life of prayer is the greatest adventure in this world because God is the director.  Each trial brings more practice, new insights and a deeper understanding of what it means to

-acknowledge a need and my inability to meet it

-ask God specifically for what I think is needed

-trust Him that He will answer the need in His time and for the good of many people (some of whom I do not know)

-practice waiting as a form of worship

Wes and I had an experience when he was a senior in high school.  He and his friend had applied and visited West Point together.  Both passed all the requirements and were accepted, but Sam had a hiccup – he suffered from asthma and would need a medical exception in order to enroll as a candidate.  I was sure that if we prayed in faith and didn’t waiver that all would be well.  We prayed our hearts out for Sam.  As we approached the day of departure, I believed God would come through at the last moment.  And He did, but His answer was not what I had prayed for!

Sam instead enrolled at another college and enjoyed his four years.  I was really shocked that God did not change circumstances as a result of our praying.  Reflecting back, however, I gained new insight into prayer.  We cannot manipulate God.  I am learning that when I pray, trusting God means to hold loosely what I ask for and desire. It’s rather a waiting that He will sovereignly bring about what is best.

And since I cannot see the big picture, I have to let go of my plans.

I’m now facing a situation that is out of my control.  It has to do with travel plans for a family wedding, the Army and this son Wes who is now a lieutenant. The best laid plans of civilian moms can be interrupted by Uncle Sam.  Today as I pray, I wait peacefully.   I don’t feel as desperate for my way to be done.  I won’t manipulate God.  I will wait on Him. And if we have to move to Plan B, I will trust His guidance with those decisions.

What’s a grape to do?

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a

For every tree is known by its fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns; nor from a bramble bush do they gather the grape. Luke 6:44

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. John 15:5 (the Message)

So how do you grow, if you are a piece of fruit? I’ve bounced back and forth between thinking that to grow fruit, you have to work at it:  you know, the whole sanctification process.  Sure God is the one who regenerated me, but now it’s up to me to lead the life of a disciple.  That means I have to work at and make a conscious effort to read my Bible, do acts of unselfish charity for those around me, sign up for committees at church ( no matter my interest ), all in hopes of becoming more Christ-like.  However, once in a while, I catch a whiff of a much easier way, the way of simply resting in what God has done through Jesus on the cross.  After all, fruit doesn’t do anything but simply sprout and hang onto the branch.  Almost convinced, I’ll start to think about how joyous and liberating that would be, if it were true.  That would TRULY be good news.

But then I’ll hear a sermon, or spot the title of a new book or read something about a super-duper Christian and I’ll go back to thinking: ‘No, it can’t be that easy. It’s all about self-denial, picking up my cross and leading a painful life.’

Fortunately, there are two facts that keep me coming back to the notion of rest and NOT having to do anything.  First of all, there is the nature of fruit.  Fruit is a by-product of a healthy tree.  Fruit sprouts automatically.  Jesus, himself, gives his disciples a Botany 101 lesson. Picture this scene as the guys are walking across the countryside:

**

Jesus:  Hey, fellows, look at these olives, what kind of tree do you think this is?

Precocious Peter:  could it be….an olive tree?

Jesus:  Spot on!  Wow.  How about these pinecones?   Where did they come from?

Tentative Thomas: maybe a pine tree?

Jesus:  Bingo! and they said you guys were just dumb fishermen! 

Eager Matthew:  Jesus, remember those rotten figs back in Jerusalem?  What about them?

Scornful Judas:  that’s easy, Dufus!  They’re rotten because the tree is dying.  It’s too close to the Temple Outhouse…..

**

It’s obvious; fruit doesn’t do anything but stay connected to the vital, sap-rich, nutrient-providing tree.  Given the right food and weather and protection from pesky bugs, the tree will grow and do what trees do naturally, sprout fruit.

Even Jesus found it axiomatic (i.e. – you don’t have to prove it) that good trees produce (after their own kind) good fruit.

The second argument for choosing the simple yet liberating concept of just hanging onto the branch comes from Jesus’ response to a crowd.  Recall a lengthy and difficult teaching by Jesus to the ‘always hungry’ 5000.  It’s the day after the miraculous fish and loves meal and the curious want more food.  Jesus advices them not to work for food that will be quickly eaten and digested, leaving them still hungry.  So they ask the reasonable follow-on question, “Well, if we can’t count on you to feed us like yesterday and if we don’t work to support ourselves in the traditional way, what kind of work are you talking about, Mr. Spiritual?”

Jesus stunningly shoots back in John 6:29, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

That’s it?  That sounds so simple, too minimalist and easy.  But the more I understand God’s grace and His good gifts and all that Jesus has DONE; I believe THIS is exactly what God calls us to do!  Just believe.  “Well, well, what about good works?  Where do they fit in?” you might be sputtering.

It’s a good question.  The Christian life DOES involve good works, just like trees produce fruit.  But look at the role of the fruit and the trees.  The fruit naturally appears and grows, just by hanging on and having the ‘good fortune’ to be part of a healthy tree.

If you believe the TRUE biblical Jesus (not the Jesus you make up), trust Him, cling to Him, and absorb the truths He teaches from Genesis to Revelation, then you will grow naturally.  And if God wants you to be a grape that ends up in Kellogg’s Raisin Bran or a grape that floats and sloshes around with other fermented grapes in a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, that is up to God.

Experientially, I know this is true.  I am not someone who has set out to DO Christian works.  I have followed my passions as they have grown naturally from being fed good food (true Bible teaching).  Remember making those pencil marks on a doorframe, measuring your growth as a child?  When you look back, you can see the proof of your change in height.  Yet all along, you probably were unaware of the lengthening of your skeletal structure. So it is in the Christian journey.  Fifteen years ago, I met a fellow mom who struck me as one of those ‘goody-two-shoes Christian ladies’, totally unlike me and certainly not someone I aspired to copy.  Then I joined Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) and started to study the Bible for the first time.  One day, with a start, I realized that God had changed me.  I no longer found this gal off-putting.   We were actually pretty similar.  It was I who had been transformed, all due to that Jesus life-sap I was soaking up as a connected piece of fruit.

Recently, I have spotted another change in me, one that is very encouraging.  I did nothing to work on it, no new DISCIPLINED habit .  Six months ago I read a book about initiating Gospel conversations with people one encounters naturally throughout the day.  My first reaction was how selfish I am STILL.  Unlike the author, I had no desire to make my day be about looking for opportunities to talk to people about ultimate, eternal matters.  After all, my day is about how much time I can cull for Maria to listen to podcasts, read books and exercise.

But thanks be to God who changes our desires.  I wrote last week about Caitlin, my student from school.  She is the teen who has taken up the challenge from this same book and has been initiating conversations with Wal-Mart clerks and gas station cashiers.  I was shamed into actually taking the plunge out of my comfort zone.  Astonishingly, I have been having fun!  This is evidence that I am not the same Maria.  But why should I be surprised?  Paul tells the Corinthians that once they have been regenerated, they have an entirely new nature.

Bottom line – the Gospel continues to be great news.  Just hang on to the right branch and soak in His word and let God do His gardening thing.  He has already done the hard part of grafting you into the right tree: the rest will follow.

When God says ‘No!’

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God just closed a door.  The job at Scott AFB (near St Louis) to which Mike had applied posted a change in status on Friday – the job itself has been withdrawn.  (Perhaps funding to fill it was pulled??)  Mike’s West Point classmate was in charge and had actually asked Mike to apply.  Mike had made the first cut and was told that he was in the top 5-6 being considered for interviews.  The activity at Scott was his old agency that had moved from Newport News to Illinois four years ago. Not only was he very familiar with the work and the people, but he was qualified for the job.  We had not moved with his former agency when it was ‘BRAC’ed because at the time, my dying father was still living in Williamsburg.  It was at that point that Mike was hired to work at JFCOM, all so we could stay in the area for my Dad.

Since applying for this other position 9 weeks ago, we had been patiently living in limbo.  At least now, we know that we aren’t moving.  This job was his last iron in the fire. Other jobs he had applied for (Ft Monroe, Charlottesville, and Huntsville) have all come back as NOs.

Mike and I are trusting that God will give him energy to continue on in the dysfunctional remnant of JFCOM for the next two years until he can retire from the government and seek something else.  The expectation for the same amount of work and projects continues but the command has been stripped of contractors.  So whereas Mike was division chief with people who supported him, now he is on his own, but expected to do the same work.

We will continue to look to Him who richly provides.  Circumstances have no power over us, only God.  I had asked God to help me encourage and support Mike if and when the door shut.  And God is faithfully meeting that need.

At least it looks like I will still be at Summit Christian Academy, teaching French 1-4 and Logic to 8th graders next year.  There are other good reasons to stay. Our church is a blessing.  I have signed up to be trained this summer to teach ESL, a new ministry at Calvary.  Mike continues to teach Sunday School.  And we have many friends here – it would have been hard to leave.

I am praying that God would provide hope to Mike.  He does have hope for life eternal with Jesus, but would like something tangible and earthly to enjoy, to look forward to.  Work does not provide this kind of satisfaction.  Yes, I know, men are meant to toil. And because of the Fall, work is more frustrating since Adam.  But I would really love for him to know that he makes a difference each day and receive that kind of satisfaction.  Nothing is too small to ask God about.  Jesus explicitly taught us to pray expectantly, boldly, with intensity and fervor as a little child bugging her daddy.  Think about the widow who kept at the unjust judge or the man who woke up his neighbor to outrageously ask for food in the middle of the night.

So please join with me in praying for a man who wants to make a difference in his work.  I admire him.  He has integrity.  He is a man who daily seeks to provide value to his bosses and peers and subordinates.

Let’s see what God will do, with us living expectantly, our eyes on Him.  Just a few minutes ago as we were processing this news, he shared one of the ‘take-aways’ he has gotten from BSF and the study of Isaiah – that God is a god who acts.

May the God who does creatively more than we can ask or envision receive much glory in this situation.  And may we learn and display the truth that Jesus is SO gratifying, that despite a trying job, Jesus is enough.  Oh Lord, help us to be the kind of sons and daughters who make you proud.

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