Sticking to my word is costly

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But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes ‘ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. Matthew 5:37 (NASB)

I bet you’d agree with me, that it’s easy to fall into trouble through what comes out of our own mouths.

Just a couple days ago I had one of those pop quizzes from God. It wasn’t new material; in fact it was a review of a character trait that he is working to form in me – that of being true to my word. Apparently, I still need the reinforcement!

I have a cousin in another state. Let’s call her ‘Sue’. Sue and her husband ‘Pete’ and I usually check in with each other by phone once every couple of months. She works during the day, so our catch-up calls are in the evening. The least convenient time for me.

When Mike gets home from work, I focus on him during our ‘sacred’ happy hour/dinner prep/sharing prayers and dining part of the evening. Then when the dishes are done, I enjoy sipping my tea, nibbling on my 100 % cacao dark chocolate and reading – ‘Maria Time’.

I knew that Pete’s oldest grandson was to start college this fall, so while I was cooking blackened salmon on Monday night, I texted Pete and asked for an update. He immediately called back, but I didn’t answer because it was time to flip the blackened salmon in my cast iron pan. Once safely searing on the other side I texted back: ‘Can’t talk now, I’m cooking salmon!’

He texted back: Call us when you finish dinner and I’ll tell you about the grandkids.

I inwardly grimaced and said, ‘How about tomorrow night!’ And so, it was settled.

The next day, my selfishness started kicking in. The urge to postpone grew stronger and stronger. Finally, I decided to ‘just be honest’ and propose a different time, maybe during the day (when it isn’t so costly to me to spend time with someone on the phone). But if it were during the day, I knew it would have to be a chat just with Pete who is retired, because Sue works full time still.

After dinner I texted Pete with that proposal. We ate dinner. I was relieved that I had been forthcoming with Pete, sharing that the reason I wanted to reschedule the chat to a day time was because I focused on my husband during the evenings, (leaving out the ‘Maria Time’ part of the truth).

But God began to chide me! I was not at peace.

Ignoring the lack of peace while we cleaned up the kitchen, I made some tea, sat down to check my texts and emails before settling in to read. I saw a response from Pete.

He simply had texted back: “Call Sue’s cell, mine is dying.”

There it was…foiled by God! Cornered into keeping my original word to Pete.

So, I called Sue’s cell. The three of us chatted, catching up. Toward the end of our call Sue asked me to pray about an important meeting happening the next day. I realize that had I allowed my selfishness to rule, I would have missed knowing about Sue and her need. I even took the opportunity DURING our chat to pray out loud for her.

When she wrote me after her meeting, she thanked me and reported that knowing that I was praying for her had kept her calm and at peace. Pinged!!!

Had it NOT been for the persistent nagging of the Holy Spirit I would not have kept my word. Thank you, Father!! I think I understand why keeping one’s word is important.

But I don’t think the Father believed I had REALLY learned my lesson. Two days later, He gave me another opportunity to practice faithfulness to what I had assured a friend I would do. She had asked me to listen to one of her pastor’s sermons. I replied that I would the next time I was on the treadmill.

I did set my iPhone to the podcast and started to listen to the 40-minute sermon once I hopped on the treadmill. But halfway through Satan ganged up against me WITH my natural selfish bent and whispered: ‘You can stop now, halfway through and shift to what you rather listen to. As long as you are honest and tell your friend that you listened to a good chunk of the sermon…..’

My response THIS time was immediate. I spoke back: ‘But I TOLD her, my words were explicit, that I would listen to the sermon during my treadmill time!’

This time it felt good to stick to my word, the FULL intent of my word. And you know what? I finished the sermon and STILL had time to listen to the podcast I wanted to hear.

God is SO good and gentle. And I am SO selfish, but…..I take comfort in his promise in Phil 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in ME will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

Can we be content ALL the time?

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Have you ever looked at and analyzed those ‘Blessed are the….’ in Matthew 5?  You know, that famous hillside occasion when Jesus preached to many?

They seem to promise complete, 100 % satisfaction ONE DAY.  In the future.  Not now.  For instance, Jesus mentions:

  • A future Kingdom
  • Seeing God
  • Acknowledgement as sons of God
  • Mercy
  • Possession of the entire earth
  • Comfort

He teaches that the desperately needy, hurting, sad CAN BE those who GET what they crave.  He calls them ‘blessed’ because, the relief of the need is guaranteed. One day.

Some of the verbs Jesus uses in that discourse mention longings:

  • mourning
  • desiring an inheritance
  • craving mercy
  • wanting persecution to stop
  • needing one’s name to be cleared
  • hoping for peace amidst all current rancor and bitterness

I’ve been thinking about contentment a lot these days.  Lots of ‘my wants’ continue to be BLOCKED.  These desires tend to be short-term longings.  I’d like to see family and friends. I’d like to travel.  I’d REALLY like this time of anxiety-riddle uncertainty to end.

What do I tend to do with my anxious thoughts?  Journal about them, read my Bible and see how God corrects my thinking.  Here’s what happened Friday morning that prompted me to slow down and think:

  • God has given me confidence (faith) that he is who the Bible says he is.
  • Therefore, I start from the presupposition that the Bible is God’s true word to me.  His promises and his characteristics are FACTS.  They won’t go away. They won’t change because of WHO God is PLUS his nature and his commitment to honor his word.  He IS his word.
  • I can’t read the Bible knowing that God is God and NOT do what he tells me.

So, what I wrote in my journal on Friday was that reasoning with faith produces actions, which in turn produce FEELINGS! (I had gotten this from John Piper several years ago)

Then it dawned on me!  I wrote: “The only real and worthwhile category of contentment is BEING CONTENT IN YOU, because OF YOU!”

I sat back, wondering at the simplicity of all this.  If I want permanent contentment, then I need to be glad about EVERY thing God has done for me and ALL that he promises to continue to do unceasingly.

Three gifts immediately flew into my mind:

  • You opened my eyes to KNOW what kind of person I am and who YOU are: Holy God = knowledge and faith
  • Through Jesus’ life and death on my behalf, I now have a permanent relationship of favor WITH you = repentance and forgiveness
  • Your holy, supernatural, perfect spirit is IN me, permanently = matchLESS companion and counselor

Then this morning while thinking about what Jesus promises us, his sisters and brothers, brought this clarity:

  • God created us with real desires and longings
  • They WILL be perfectly fulfilled…… one day!
  • Nothing here on what I call Earth1.0 can ever meet ALL of them or any of them in a satisfying way that leads to contentment

When I brought my thinking to a close (it was time to get ready for church) I summarized in my journal:

“The only way to have genuine contentment right now in this broken, fallen world is to be content with who God is and what awaits me from his hand.  Those without Jesus as their savior and friend have no hope of real or permanent contentment.”

Okay….so with whom can I share these thoughts? Thankfully you! – who spend a few moments scanning or reading these posts.  So my question to you is this: How do you see and seek contentment? Do you keep struggling to BE content or SEEK contentment? Has what makes you content changed over time?

Matt 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 

 

 

Are you up to the task?

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Due to this pandemic-shift in my weekly routine I have more time.  One activity I have taken on is teaching 3 of my grandchildren beginning Spanish, via Zoom.  Two live in Florida and one in North Carolina.  Now, you have to know that I am only an intermediate-level Spanish speaker.  I’ve been working on acquiring Spanish, not yet two years. Being fluent in French has helped. God also has given me years of assisting kids acquire a language.

I do not FEEL up to this new task. But it’s not my limited Spanish that unsettles me, it’s my fear of not ‘being ENOUGH’ as a language teacher. I have doubts about creating and engaging my 3 students competently enough to hold their attention so that they both learn and enjoy Spanish.

This feeling of ‘not enoughness’, of not being UP TO the task is not new.  I struggled with that same sense of inadequacy during the 27 years I taught French.  I cannot remember one day when I ever approached my classes feeling confident in myself OR competent.  In fact, I had a love-hate relationship with this career.  On the days when a lesson would go well, I rejoiced and felt energized.  But a previous day’s success never translated into the expectation that tomorrow would deliver the same outcome.

I know I am not alone.  A pastor friend of ours ALWAYS asks Mike and me to pray fervently for the preparation and delivery of his occasional sermons.  Like me, he evidently struggles with doubts and fears about being ‘up to the task’, as do many others I can think of.

What about parents raising kids?  Do they ever have confidence in their ability to nurture, discipline and teach their children?  I don’t know a single mom who does! I never did, that’s for sure.

Mike, my husband, rarely feels self-confident.  During our 6 years in Western North Carolina, he would ask me to pray for EVERY radio script he researched, wrote and recorded, for EVERY article he composed for World magazine, for EVERY Sunday school class he taught, as well as for EVERY session meeting in which he took part.  Here in Huntsville, he continues to ask for and I know he depends on my prayers to our good God on his behalf.

One of our sons who is an Army lawyer texts us to pray for each court appearance and airborne jump he makes. We also pray for the weekly work, travel and parenting needs of our other son and his wife. They regularly share the tasks that face them that keep them ‘needy’.

So, I ask you, is self-confidence wrong or is it the norm?  Could it be there is something weirdly weak about me and the people I’ve mentioned?

Tabletalk, the devotional monthly magazine published by Ligonier ministries, reassured me this week that not feeling UP to it, to the assigned task, is normal.  Pastor David Strain wrote in his March 21-22 weekend devotional (page 57 of the March 2020 issue):

…..the infinite God…only (is) enough. (This doctrine of God’s infinity) reminds the anxiety-riddled introvert: “You are right to feel your limits so keenly. But you are wrong to think you should be up to the tasks before you.  You were never meant to be enough.  You were meant to live depending on Me. Only I am enough! My grace is sufficient for you, and My grace is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).”

What a relief!  No wonder I don’t feel up to teaching the kids Spanish.  I’m not supposed to.  That uncertainty, that fear is a gift from our good Father. He created us to be needy, right from our conception.

I love 2 of the looser translations of Matthew 5:3 where Jesus proclaims the poor in spirit to be blessed.

Contemporary English Version: God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!

God’s Word© Translation: Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Is there no room for confidence in the Christian life?  You know the answer to that!  We put our confidence not in ourselves but in the One who is infinite, powerful, good, wise and sovereign over every one of us whom He created: whether rock, butterfly or human being.  What a relief NOT to depend on Maria!

What God means to do in your life

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I’ve been memorizing the first chapter of 1 Peter.

What I like about memorizing Scripture is that it causes me to think through and meditate on the words as I try to lock them down in my brain.  I started to memorize Bible verses when I was 48 years old. Wes, our youngest son, was a senior in high school.

One fall Sunday, a layman’s sermon delivered (not read) and peppered with Bible verses he clearly knew from heart wowed us both.  As head of the finance committee, he had been invited to the pulpit that morning to share with us the joy and experience of giving sacrificially.  After the service we both approached him to ask how he had managed to recite all that Scripture – a true feat! He told us about the Topical Memory System from the Navigators.  Wes and I were immediately sold and committed ourselves to memorizing and being able to recite all 60 key verses before he left home in June for West Point.

Since then, I have worked through entire SHORT books like Colossians and whole chapters.  I don’t work to retain these long chunks forever, for that would take constant practice and my practice sessions would expand as the months passed by.  But for the duration of the ‘work’, I am chewing on some portion of Scripture every day, often throughout the day.

The payoff is rich.

Which brings me to this morning’s ‘aha!’ moment from verse 2 of 1 Peter 1:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
I’ve put the ‘chunks’ I was meditating on in different colors.  What HIT me this morning during my walk was the ‘sanctifying WORK’ of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s how my thoughts took off:
  • Maria, the Holy Spirit is working in you ON PURPOSE.
  • His work actually probably overrides MY plans as He directs my circumstances,
  • These circumstances of my life are part of His plan to sanctify me.
  • I wouldn’t choose MOST of these ‘detours’ if I were in control of my days, months and years.
  • No wonder these trials are painful at times!!!

A few significant activities of my life FEEL HARD these days:

  • Morning exercise is HARD and I have to fight my natural feelings of reluctance and dread when I get out of bed and lace up my shoes.
  • Losing these 6 pounds is HARD.  It’s taken me 6 weeks so far to lose 2.
  • Teaching school is HARD.  It takes effort and I fight laziness and just wanting to stay home with NO expectations hanging on me.
  • Practicing NOT worrying, but entrusting family needs to God is hard.  When you love someone and they suffer, you suffer too!

What helps counter all those energy-depleting concerns that tend to occupy large parts of my mental and emotional life is the idea that these details are very much intentionally part of the Holy Spirit’s plan to sanctify.  Random suffering drains, discourages and disheartens.  Knowing that God has planned and intends ALL this for my good strengthens me to endure.

I don’t think I’ve grown enough to rejoice in the trials, yet, but I know that I need to reach that point.  As I walk these days in fellowship with the Spirit of Christ, I am learning His methods.  EVERYthing He does is for my good, to sanctify me.  I can trust Him.  I MUST trust Him, if I am to flee from fear and discouragement and enlarge my capacity to enjoy God.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matt 5:8

 

The gift of neediness

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needy  How does our society view neediness?  Is it commendable or deplorable?

not-good-to-be-needy

I’m beginning to view my neediness differently.

Up until this year, a packed school week with meetings, evening obligations and reduced time for lesson planning routinely has stressed me out and caused me to DREAD the days ahead.

For example, last year on Friday afternoons, my extra duty was to arrange for and supervise a small group of 6th and 7th graders in a weekly community service activity.  We prepared meals at a women’s shelter in Asheville.  Just the idea of the motivating and encouraging and CONTROLLING these young students sufficiently to focus, work together and clean up all on a time schedule without devolving into a noisy chaos AND missing the bus back to school was painful.

I ‘griMMed’ and bore it.  Yet despite my faithless and pathetic prayers,  (yes I prayed and simultaneously ‘angsted’) God always came through.  You’d think I would have learned how NOT to trouble my heart and the futility of creating this fear and dread picture of what lay ahead.

If the utter uselessness of worry, fear and dread were not enough to convince me, wouldn’t you think I’d be horrified at the idea of disobeying my God and my Savior?  You know Him, our God who COMMANDS us NOT to fear, but to offload all our burdens onto His shoulders?  If I’m not going to believe His words, then why not tap into my God-given ability to imagine?  To what am I referring?

It turns out that I’m actually quite creative when it comes to painting MY personal dread pictures of what I THINK likes ahead.  Can I not use those same artistic faculties to picture  Jesus’ ordeal in Gethsemane?  That awful night when bloody sweat globules bathed His body as He anticipated taking on my sorrows and sins?  He conquered sin and sorrow so I wouldn’t have to take them on, single-handedly.  I don’t HAVE to dread any future moment.  For reality is if I abide in Him, if I walk yoked together with Jesus, then I won’t ever dwell a second deprived of His provision and presence.

John 14:27  I leave peace with you; I give my peace to you: not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it fear.

Somehow over the summer and now into September, my thinking is changing.  I’m beginning to view my neediness, my lack of sufficient time, energy, ideas as a gift.  How is that?

Each day when I feel strapped and resourceless, I am much quicker to select a promise and hug it for all its worth as I move into what frightens me.  And because I’m repeating God’s pledge to myself, because I’m praying it to Him as I tell Him how much I’m relying on Him to provide what He says say He’ll do, I feel CLOSER to Jesus. 

Talking to God throughout my days from the moment the alarm breaks into my sleep to when I settle back into bed at night, makes me sense Him next to me.  You might call it only my imaginings.  But I imagined enough dread scenarios to know that what I picture causes my feelings, both good and bad.

My conclusion? Here’s what both startles and delights me: this neediness, this insufficiency to do most anything given the time and resources I can see for the day ahead is turning into a gift. A ‘practicing the presence of God’ by turning my thoughts to Him makes me feel happier.  When I’m not need, my thoughts float elsewhere.

Could it be that this is what Jesus meant when He taught:

Happy are the needy, the beggars, those who are not self-sufficient and who know it, for they get the presence of the happy holy triune provisioning God!      (Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God – Matthew 5:3)

 

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