Are you pessimistic like my mother-in-law?

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Isaiah 55:2b – Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

Are you around pessimistic people, folks who think our country is ‘going to hell in a handbasket,’ as my dad used to say?

Each week I call up and chat with Mike’s mom. Her end of the conversation often focuses on the state of our country and American society. My mother-in-law, who is 90, lives far from us in Seattle. Her two-bedroom apartment is in an upscale retirement complex.  As a very outgoing widow she does enjoy all the social activities offered to residents. However, she does find it awfully quiet when she closes the door to her 6th-floor apartment overlooking Lake Union.  That fact combined with a life-long TV-watching habit means that she likes to keep the TV going for about 5-6 hours a day.

What does she watch?  For 4 of those hours, she’s tuned in to ‘newsy’ programs.  If you know anything about human nature, then you’ll agree that people are more drawn to bad news than to good.  Content creators of these news shows take advantage of this fact and create what people will watch.  I get that. But absorbing negative news for 4 hours a day, together with digesting all the articles in a typical big city newspaper can’t help but color one’s outlook.

What my mother-in-law watches, reads and discusses with others who form part of her retirement community feeds her soul, her thought life. It follows, then, that what comes out of her mouth is negative.  What we dwell on we talk about.

This morning, I came across the familiar exhortation from the Father to his people via the prophet Isaiah about good food.  I immediately saw the connection between what we eat and the ideas we allow to enter and dwell in our mind.

Just as food is tasted, savored and chewed up in our mouths, so too is news (both cheery and depressing) tasted and experienced.  By nature, we image-bearers like to share with others both what delights us and appalls us. Hence, every weekly conversation with Mike’s mom invariably touches a horrible national event, a further rip in societies institutions like the family or school or an international crisis.

Yesterday, I innocently asked, “Have the public schools started back up since it’s the end of August?”  That led her directly to complain about the scandal of teacher unions and how teachers and families and children and society…..are not like they used to be.  When she was growing up.  I tried to say that human nature doesn’t change; that there are still plenty of caring people in the world showing kindness, working for justice; that most news shows report just the bad; that God is sovereign and we can trust Him and pray……

She brushed my responses aside. Mom is a kind-hearted elderly gal, BUT she is very pessimistic.  Although a Christian, she hardly takes in any good news from God.  Her church focuses on social justice. She reads a devotional written by clergy in her denomination and she prays.  Bible ‘food’ comes in a few Sunday tidbits of scripture read before the homily and the words of hymns and repeated liturgical prayers.

In short, Mom is starving. What she eats of the ‘food that is good……the richest of foods’ is but a bite here and there.  NOT enough to change her soul health.

Dear, dear fellow Christian and laboring sojourner – you and I need to eat up, fill up, take in REAL food, LIFE-GIVING food that God gives us through His Word.

What is your daily fare like?  What do you allow into your mind? Are you living on a concentration-camp ration of good food?  Then that might explain some of your outlook.  We’re called to ‘DELIGHT ourselves in good food.’

May you and I eat to satiety, fill up, take in, savor, roll around in our mind’s mouth, letting God’s Word flow through each and every molecule in our spirit.

 

Meditating on half a verse is enough

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Proverbs 30:8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me

Just that a portion of this verse was enough to teach and encourage me!

Mike and I read through the Bible each year, following a chronological plan.  That means sometimes we are reading 3-5 chapters at a time.  We gain so much by studying and discussing God’s storyline year after year.  More sinks in through the repetition.  But it is also good to slow down and meditate on just a small portion of God’s Word. I did that this morning from our assigned chapters, Proverbs 30 and 31.

Here are some riches I gathered from 10 minutes max of thinking and checking the Hebrew of the highlighted snippet above:

  1. Feed me: The writer understands that we are incapable of feeding ourselves in the spiritual sense.  He asks God to nourish him.  The Hebrew word for ‘feed’ means a tearing into little pieces.  I pictured an animal momma preparing bite-sized morsels for her young.  I need to remember, that daily, even hourly dependence on God is how I am to live.
  2. with the food: I can think of all the wrong kinds of ‘food’ I am apt to grab.  Others’ life’s circumstances that look ‘happier’ and travel photos that I wish were mine, to name two.  Neither promote contentment nor rest and trust in Jesus.
  3. that is needful: Again, another corrective: I’m not wise enough to know what is needful, what is good.  But God is! The Hebrew for ‘needful’ has the sense of: proscribed, appointed, assigned.  Reminds me of the psalmist’s assertion about pleasantly placed boundary lines in Psalm 16: 6
  4. for me: Ah, the individual love that our Father gives us.  What I need is different from what you need.  Sure, we all need God’s rescue, His heart surgery, and sustaining grace. But because He fashioned me and placed me, an individual, in THIS epoch, in THIS geographical area, in THIS family, in THIS physical body, He knows precisely what I require to grow more holy, like Jesus. His purposeful arrangement of circumstances and events are what He calls GOOD for me.  Remembering this fact, I let out a breath, and settle down into His care.

What was my overall take-away from meditating on just this partial verse?  That I can unreservedly submit to God, that He knows just what I need, at every moment, and that He gives me the perfect quantity of chosen circumstantial ‘necessaries’.  All to the end of preparing me to share in the happy glory of His forever Kingdom.

The few minutes of this kind of deeper engagement with a small portion of text makes me more apt to recall His sustaining Word throughout the hours of this day.

 

 

Vitamins and minerals against anxiety

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You will keep him in shalowm shalowm* whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3 (*Hebrew for perfect peace)

Years ago, in our 20s, Mike and I sold Amway products.  One item that we whole-heartedly promoted was their top-of-the-line vitamin and mineral supplement named Double X.  I’m not sure what the X stood for, but whatever it was, twice as much good stuff was packed into those green little shapes.  Double X was pricey, even back then. We grew accustomed to budgeting for vitamins.  Daily exogenous micronutrients still form part of the healthy way we cook and eat.

With school starting this month, I’ve engaged in the ‘good fight of faith’, pondering how to resist the temptation to worry.  For me, it’s always about ‘having enough time’ to give to those extra-curricular activities important to me like writing this blog, reading and creating my ‘English without Fear’ videos.

One of my go-to-verses to battle fear and worry is the one above from Isaiah.  Original Hebrew or Greek words always draw me in.  So, when I read that ‘perfect peace’ is really shalowm shalowm, I rejoiced!  You all know that shalowm is far more than peace and tranquility; it includes welfare, contentment, soundness, health, quiet and safety.

Who doesn’t desire all that?

So, what’s the catch?

Oh….just the habit of keeping our thoughts FIXED on God.  That’s all.

Right!

But just as the Spirit of God brought my Isaiah fighter verse to mind, so, too, he brought a devotional that same night. The author penned almost as an afterthought that for every thought we invest in regrets or excitement or discouragement concerning earthly, transitory details, we ought to commit 100 times as much of our thought life to ALL WE HAVE IN CHRIST!

I have to confess that I don’t even apportion 2 to 1 of my thoughts and emotions to what Jesus has given me!  The writer’s exhortation not only pulled me up short but has stayed with me all week long.

So how do we DO what he recommends?

One technique I’ve used in the past, occasionally, is to go through the alphabet, letter by letter, and just praise God out loud for all the words I can think of about Him.  I do this on hikes with Mike when we can go for long stretches of time without talking.

For example:

A:  Father, I’m so glad that you are always available, that you have adopted me into your forever family, that you are always the same, that you have altered my reality by giving me new life, that you adore me, that you arrange all the details of my life, that Jesus argues with the accuser that He has taken care of my sin problem.

I just point out as many things to God as I can think of beginning with that letter.  And then I move on to the next letter.  Sometimes halfway through the alphabet, I’ll add another deed or characteristic that I’ve already prayed about. No matter.

What other ways can you think of that we can think about God’s good eternal gifts to us?

Of course, I haven’t mentioned ‘the trust you’ part, but I see my praises for his deeds and attributes as ASSUMING a trust in him.

Father, may you give us your grace to rejoice and be glad in who you are and who we are because of you.  Thanks to Christ, Amen!

Do we work for our salvation?

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“….Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for or it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good pleasure.…” Phil 2:12b-13a

Work out your salvation

Do you ever feel like you’re on the outside of a certain Bible passage, looking in? Like you can’t unlock what the verses mean, no matter how much you chip away at the word meaning or greater context?  I’ve felt that way for a LONG time, about MANY verses that seem too short and too cryptic.  Recently John Piper explained what is beginning to happen to me.  And it’s a welcome change.  Let me share a recent example and maybe you’ll find some hope for how you, too, can be rewarded with nuggets of gold after some hard-core mining.

A piece of that reward arrived this past Sunday as I was poking around Blue Letter Bible to research the Greek meaning of ‘work out’ in the cited verse.  In that rich soil, God brought forth a new ‘aha!’ moment as He opened up my understanding of Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians.  I’ve always struggled to understand two aspects of his ‘strong suggestion’.

  • what are we working out?  are we actually working toward our salvation?
  • what does working out one’s salvation have to do with what God is doing IN me?

What I have found is that some of the Bible seems to be written in a shorthand form.  A lot of explicit explanation just isn’t there.  Reminds me of poetry, which often stumps me. Or maybe some of these puzzling lines are like the parables Jesus told, meant to keep out those whose only interest in Truth is passing.

But I WANT to know, to understand, to OWN more and more of God’s Word.  So I dig around and soak in the Bible A LOT.  And after 18 1/2 years, things are beginning to ‘pop’.

What got me soaking all those years ago?  I started actually STUDYING the Bible systematically through an in-depth Bible study called Bible Study Fellowship (BSF link here).

I had become a Christian 16 years earlier, but my scripture reading was hit or miss and except for about a year in a British Anglican church, we weren’t around ‘Christians’ who actually believed that the Bible was God’s authoritative Word, alive and full of power.

BSF changed all that.

So now, although we have moved and don’t find ourselves near a BSF class, we continue to read and study our Bible and belong to a church that submits to the authority of the Word.

And I’m beginning to reap my investment of time and energy.  Verses and passages which previously remained closed to me are now opening up.  And it’s exciting!

So what about the WORKING OUT conundrum?  Here’s what I figured out or WORKED OUT from reading the Greek meanings of katergázomai/work out.  When we take something and think it through and see how it applies, then it becomes OURS.  We’re fashioning it to fit into what we already know.  It’s like making room in your house for a new painting.

I was relieved to conclude that NO, we don’t do works to earn our salvation, but we have to renovate our entire understanding of who we are and why we exist in the first place by yielding to God as our Creator, Redeemer and Happy Master.  And the comforting good news is that God does not leave us to do this home renovation on our own!  Look at Philippians 13:a.  It’s God Himself who is at work in us both to DESIRE (will) and WORK to please Him.  What a sweet deal for us.

Knowing God so far, it’s safe to assume that He has many more treasures for me.  If I stay rooted like a tree, near His living and life giving water, then as I draw up cool refreshing nourishment, I will continue to grow.

Tree by a stream

One verse is enough!

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index card

I recently changed my workout system so that I no longer walk in the mornings. For years I had used that time to review/rehearse scripture from memory. Walking and talking come naturally to me. But concentrated breathing and floor exercises have prevented me from doing any more than focused movements and counting of reps!

So I had to come up with another way to chew on God’s word.

Thinking of my two busy daughters-in-law who don’t have the luxury of choosing how they want to meditate on passages of the Bible reminded me of the power of one single verse. With little children demanding mom’s immediate attention, these young parents need to be able to grab one verse, write it on a card and put it front and center so they can quickly return to this source of life after the interruption ceases.

So I decided to pick a verse a day, write it down and carry it with me wherever I go – at first on the 3×5 card and then quickly in my immediate memory. And when I arose the next day, I would select another spiritual morsel to munch on and not feel obligated to hold on to any previous ones by rehearsing them. Packing and carrying with me one verse a day would guarantee I’d have something the Holy Spirit could use to correct, encourage and guide me.

Lest you think that one verse is not very much, come with me and see for yourself how much one can squeeze out of a few living words. Here is one of my favorite promises and exhortations:

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

First – let’s look at the description of God as the ‘God of Hope’. What alternatives could there be, if our God were NOT a god of hope?   ‘Elpis’ or hope (Strong’s Greek 1680) means ‘joyful, confident expectation of never-ending safety with God’

Well – he could be a god of vengeance, a mean god, a god that is picky or incomprehensible or impersonal or …..you get the idea.

Second – Paul doesn’t just pray that we receive a bit of joy, or a taste of joy, but ALL joy. This term ‘all’ or ‘pas/3956’ means the highest degree or maximum amount.

Third – what kind of peace is this? Is it connected to our temporal (literally ‘secular’) earthly circumstances? No! The Blue Letter Bible website describes Christian peace (Greek ‘eirine’/1515) as the “tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ and so fearing nothing from God (is) content with its earthly lot…,”

Fourth – How do we actually receive this joy and peace? Instrumentally through/as we take God at His word, as we rely on Him, as we ‘put all our eggs in the God-basket’, so to speak. And what exactly are we relying on God for? For everything. For whatever we do or say in our daily life is only considered ‘good’ by God if it is done and said in faith, in dependence on Him. God does not want self-reliant children. Then He would get NO credit and we would implode. Humans are created to reflect God’s glory, not absorb glory. Lest we are tempted to think that relying on God is an action that we DO, to our credit, it really is just a matter of resting, of ceasing to strive via our own efforts. We get to rest and receive all we need from our Daddy just as a weaned baby snuggles safely next to mom.

Psalm 131:2 – But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.

Fifth – what is the outcome of trusting God in everything? We will overflow with cheerful expectation of a happy and good God-infused future. And that spill-over hope will refresh, entice, intrigue, annoy?, stimulate, confuse others so that some will be drawn to God.

Sixth – just to reinforce or remind us that the joy, peace and hope truly are not linked to anything WE actively do (besides ‘abide’), Paul reminds us that the outcome from reliance is achieved BY the Holy Spirit’s power and strength working in us. Because the HS has lived in each believer since their spiritual birth day, He is always present to strengthen the child of God with Christ’s power to do the daily works the Father has prepared for each of His sons and daughters.

So do you see, that just by taking each bit of God’s word and asking questions about what it means and what it DOESN’T mean we get rich spiritual food, enough to last an entire day?

Which of God’s promises is nourishing you these days?

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