How the Lord changed my mind

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God still surprises me and I’ve VERY glad.  I am learning that He doesn’t tend to act in the same manner in similar sets of circumstances.  I should know that just through the two accounts of God’s instructions to Moses about how He, God, was going to provide water from the Rock to thirsty, wandering Israel in the wilderness:

In the first instance, Moses was to STRIKE the rock.

Ex 17:5-6 Then the Lord told Moses, “Go over in front of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.  I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock and water will come out of it, so the people can drink.” Moses did this in front of the elders of Israel.

But again, when the people had no water, God told Moses to TALK to the rock. Moses disobeyed.

Numbers 20:8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

The God who spoke our varied and intricate universe into existence IS creative and intent on teaching us obedience.

Now to my situation:

For almost two years I had been creating video content for my YouTube channel (videos and transcripts here)  to help English language learners acquire English through simple stories in slow English.  But as 2019 turned into 2020 I had been questioning whether I should continue.  The response and number of subscribers to the channel didn’t seem worth the time I was spending.  After much prayer and discussion with Mike, I decided to let my waning desire be my guide to a decision.  I stopped creating videos in early February 2020.  Relieved of that ‘task’ each week, I happily shifted more time to what was providing satisfaction:  acquiring Spanish!

This self-imposed lay-off coincided with the 5 weeks of work it took to move from a rental house here in Huntsville into a new house and get our household up and running.

To my surprise, God intervened about two weeks ago to direct my thoughts back to ‘English without Fear’.  Through Scripture, books on God and various prayers I read as well as devotions from my favorite teaching & praying pastors (John Piper, Scotty Smith, & Charles Spurgeon) God seemed to be saying that I had a duty to STEWARD my talents, gifts and experiences for the benefit of others.

I immediately thought about His gifts to me – the personal joy in learning and using French, German and Spanish as well as the ability to teach a second language.

“Huh,” I mused and pondered. “The Lord doesn’t seem to be working through my desires right now. He seems to be appealing to the responsibility I have to put to use for others more of my skills and experience.”  Since calling a halt to ‘English without Fear’ I’ve been using my growing, intermediate Spanish skills in my newish volunteer position as an intake counselor at our local pregnancy resource center.  Was God urging me NOW to add back into my week teaching English as a second language via my videos?

I pondered, reasoned, waited and prayed.  The message came again – “Maria, as a believer, you are called NOT to be idle nor hide your gifts, your light, under a bushel basket”

Maybe DESIRE alone should NOT be what determines how I spend my time. With that conclusion, I started back up creating content for ‘English without Fear’.

My resolve, for now, is to be faithful with what the Lord has given me. It matters not if few still watch.  If one or two are helped, then isn’t that enough? And if NO one watches right now, isn’t the bigger principle my obedience to Holy Spirit nudges?

Therefore, for the time being and with His grace, I will keep my hand to the plow, confident that He will signal me when and if it is time for a course change.

 

Power to obey Jesus

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What is the most difficult command God has given you? And how did you respond?

The other night, right before turning out the light, I read a brief devotion about Peter’s cry for help as he was sinking amidst the stormy waves. Jesus chastises him with question, “Why did you doubt?”

I’m thinking, ‘Hello, Jesus! it’s not every day an ordinary man tries to walk on water. Can’t you give him a break? Can’t you give him an attaboy for attempting to do something no one else has?

Curious to see what more might be in the text, I looked up the passage in my bedside-table Bible.

Matt 14: 28 – 32 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Did you notice that Peter actually DID take some steps on the water without sinking?  How is that?  I think there are two conditions that he met:

– Jesus gave a command

–  Peter believed he could obey Jesus’ command

So, what happened?

Peter changed his belief.  At first he believed that just by the power of Jesus’ summons, he COULD do the beyond-ordinary feat. But all of a sudden, his fears and what he saw around him felt MORE real and true than Jesus’ word to him.

Let’s take Peter’s successful steps on top of the water and think more broadly. Does his experience mean that you and I CAN obey the commands God gives us? I think so. But the power is not in us. What I draw out of this scenario with Peter and Jesus is that:

  • Believers CAN obey (and are expected to obey their Lord)
  • But not without God’s power.

I’m reminded of Mike’s 2 favorite verses:

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.

Phil 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Back to the other night. As I lay pondering these principles drawn from Peter’s experience, other commands came to mind:

  • Do not fear
  • Do not be anxious
  • Cast all your cares on me
  • Be holy
  • Love one another
  • Think about what is true, right, beautiful, praise-worthy, excellent etc

The list goes on and on. What’s new for me is the realization that we believers, grafted into Jesus, are not only expected to obey but we are to count on, depend on Jesus’s grace so that we CAN obey.

How does that help?

Practically, with my sinful default temptation of fearing the future and not trusting God!

The last couple of days each time I’ve been lured into sin, I’ve stopped and reminded myself of this FACT:  Maria, you CAN obey this command.  Not only CAN you, but Jesus expects you to given his promised grace. He provides the power and strength TO obey. No command of his goes out to the world without supernatural ability for believers to obey.

NEVER does our God envision us muscling through to obedience with our puny human strength.  That’s not only impossible, but absurd.  Rather, He expects us to rely on the fact that we are in union with Christ. We have access to His power. At least 80+ times the phrase ‘In Christ’ is written.  We are not alone.

So, brothers and sisters, be encouraged. And don’t forget that each time we disbelieve our Lord, we have been equipped to repent and receive immediate forgiveness. Obedience not only pleases our Holy, Triune God, it makes us happier.

 

 

You never gave me a young goat!

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About that goat reference in this post’s title, can you identify whose complaint that was?  If you guessed ‘the Older Brother’, you know your Bible!  Luke records that complaint from Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:29, to be exact.

Mike has been reading G.K.Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy out loud to us in the evenings.  Chesterton takes some time getting used to; I have to concentrate more and think through his prose, almost sentence by sentence.  In our current chapter the author is addressing fairy tales and what they teach us about reality.  Chesterton points out that main characters tend to complain about limitations imposed on them when they should be in awe, marveling over what they actually have been granted.

For example, when Cinderella challenges her fairy godmother about why she has to leave the party before the clock strikes midnight, she should really be captivated by the sheer improbability of EVEN going to the ball!  Where’s her question about that turn of events?  Did she ever imagine she would dance with the Prince, let alone be magically attired in elegance with a chic hairdo to boot? So improbable was that scenario, especially since she had been forced to sew for her step-sisters after cleaning house all day.

How like us humans, to complain.  If we are alive, it is SHEER gift. If we are believers, then we have hit the jackpot of God’s purposeful favor.  The guarantee of everlasting life WITH God is the only true ‘happily ever after’ fairy-tale ending we all long for. Yet, we seem to have eyes for what we lack, what we haven’t been given.

I know this well.  Though I rarely complain out loud, were my inner chatter publicized, I would feel great shame. The time I spend envying, longing, wishing silently…that’s PURE complaining. Whom do I envy?  Those who SEEM to be doing and enjoying what I think would satisfy me.  Like traveling, living overseas.  (I’m a linguaphile.)

Is there hope for envy-addicts? Yes!  And I am experiencing it.  It’s called God’s School of Contentment. I’ve been a student in this training academy for decades, now.

The point is that this addiction has deep roots, so it FEELS like I haven’t made much progress.  My Father gently AND frequently hands me a new lesson. Like this week.

Today in the notes of my Spanish study Bible (one of my tools for acquiring Spanish!) the writers noted that ‘obeying the Lord tends to mean leaving off one thing in order to receive something better.‘  The passage in question was Abram’s leaving Ur, his extended family, the land and even the familiar pagan gods to go where THE one and only God was guiding him, to receive new land and descendants.

How did the Lord use that explanation in my holiness training? Immediately I saw that I am to LEAVE OFF the sinful, evil pleasure of envy, in order to bolster contentment with my lot, the circumstances which He has granted me.  (A corollary evil pleasure of mine is worrying, but that’s another post!)

Those Bible notes were anchored a few minutes later by a verse that ‘popped up’ in my Prayermate app – 1 Tim 6:6 Godliness with Contentment is GREAT gain.

And just how does God define the concept of contentment?  The Greek word is ‘autarkaa’ meaning ‘sufficiency’. Blue Letter Bible describes it like this: ‘A mind that looks at one’s lot and says: IT IS ENOUGH, what You’ve given me IS SUFFICIENT.’

Following that description I read one final thought that deepened my desire to practice this trait:

  • without this contentment I will do today’s deeds NOT as an expression of Christ’s all-sufficiency but in order to make up for some deficiency I feel.

So, same message from a couple of different sources.  To top it off, Regina, my spiritual reading buddy, sent me a Luther quote earlier this week. Scrolling through her texts I found it again: “To obey is better than……. miracles.”

Isn’t our Father good!  He doesn’t give up. He keeps after us to make us ultimately happier through holiness.  The obedience in view here, this day, is thanking God for my boundaries, my lot. Being satisfied, being content with what He deems best for me is part of that holiness training.

One of God’s gifts I was ignoring

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For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

Driving my granddaughters to school through Tampa rush-hour traffic this week has made me extra cautious.  Plus, I’m driving my son’s new car and I don’t want to damage it. En route to school yesterday morning, my speed just happened to be under the 70 mph limit on Interstate 275-S where the traffic was flowing before all the congestion hit. As a police car passed me on the left, I remarked to 10-year-old Chloe, “Obedience brings blessings.  You don’t have to worry about being pulled over if you obey the speed limit!”

I didn’t share the REAL reason I was traveling a bit slower.  It had nothing to do with avoiding a ticket and unnecessary stress. Nevertheless, I put in a general plug for obeying God.  The REAL reason to heed this traffic law is that I’ve been thinking differently about obeying God in the past 2 days. I’m starting to wonder that maybe our Father’s commands are actually a GIFT, a BLESSING, as opposed to a restriction God has imposed.

As I grow older and my cohort of friends is  aging; as I have grown children in their 30s with their own children; as the Holy Spirit shaves off some of my self-centeredness, sensitizing me to the pain and suffering of those around me, I find myself caring and praying A LOT.

But as God has grown my desire to pray for more people, a concomitant self-imposed burden has emerged.

Years in Bible Study Fellowship back in Virginia taught me to pray for specific needs in a way that is measurable.  Instead of asking God to ‘bless John’s work’, I’ve learned to detail just what John’s tangible need is and name it, asking God’s help WITH the ‘it’.

My prayers now look like this: Father, please guide John to soften his tone with his co-workers so that they and he cooperate better and carry out the assigned task at hand.

Why all the detail?  So, I can know when God comes through and then have the specifics to thank Him!

What then is the burden?  Just that I have fallen into thinking that if I don’t pray specifically WITH all the pertinent details, then my prayer is less effective.

I know what you’re thinking!  Am I not forgetting the comforting promise about the Holy Spirit’s help?

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Now that I have given you background, I want to share how marvelously the Spirit came to my rescue yesterday!  There’s a situation in our life that feels complex and overwhelming. Monday evening our granddaughters were in dance class.  While I waited for them Mike and I chatted briefly. He shared a setback over the phone.  After we hung up, a wave of dismay rolled over me as I tried to place this news into the context of God’s promises.

Thank you, Father, for the time TO think, to know where to hang this new piece of data according to what is TRUE about You!

Here is what the Lord did. He gave me insight having to do with obedience!

My obedience is not something I think about much. But on this occasion the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ many teachings NOT to worry.  The Spirit then brought​ to mind​ divine commands​ penned ​by Paul & Pete​​r​,​ reenforce​ing the Lord’s lessons::

Cast ALL your cares on Him, for He cares for you! 1 Peter 5:7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6

Here then is how my mind worked to bring me back out of this tight spot after hearing Mike’s report.

“Oh, I am supposed to OBEY my heavenly Father.  And He tells me to hand over every single care TO Him. What a relief!  Here you go, dear Father, take this new development in this season of painful suffering and do what is best.  Amen”

Simple and easy.  I picked up my Kindle book, reading while I waited for the girls to finish. Each time my mind drifted back to the dark, tight spot it’s like I shook it off and reminded myself: “My Father is handling this.  I am to obey Him and leave it in His hands.”

The night that followed, I woke up a couple of times to gray mist seeping into my thoughts. But by the power and reminder from God’s Spirit, I quickly swept them away with this assertion: “I’m obeying my Father, so I am not going to think about IT!”

Just as with any new habit, this change in reflex will take practice over time.

But already, I FEEL the lightness. The bottom line is that I am to obey my Father. Yes, I will continue to pray daily with thanksgiving. Once. And then obey Him by leaving the matter with Him.​

I wonder what other commands our Father has given that might actually be blessings!

 

Laying my burdens down

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My Friday morning Bible study is studying the book of Hebrews this year.  Last week’s discussion focused on God’s warning about NOT mixing faith with God’s facts.

I’ve known for a while that my ‘unbelief’ is the root of ALL my sin.  That each time I’m worrying about something like Mike’s health or ‘am I staying in contact enough with my kids and grandkids?’ (one of my besetting fears because I am so selfish!)

But by grace, my heart is drawn to return often to the comforting Rx of Philippians 4:4-7.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Here is what I have seen this week:

  • The key and power for a peace-filled, worry-free day is OBEDIENCE to His command of being glad in Jesus and all that He is, has done and promises.  The strength FOR this kind of peace is not in me and what I can ‘gin’ up by forced grit.  And a superficial summarizing feeling of Jesus’ work for me won’t cut it.  Actually naming, calling out all that His blood purchased for me, is what will build up the spiritual strength to hand over my worries.
  • Supernatural strength will then permit me to obey God and his second command – to be gentle or reasonable with those I live, work, worship and fellowship.  Gentleness means going along with what pleases these neighbors/brothers in all the discretionary matters of personal preference.
  • But what assures me that MY needs will be met if I do seek to fit in with others?  The next FACT – the Lord is near or at hand.
  • Whew, okay, since He is near and at hand, I can and SHOULD hand over all my anxiety-producing needs & desires.  In fact, as I read somewhere this week: God won’t pick up your burdens UNTIL you lay them down!
  • Continuing on from there, do you notice that little 2-word exhortation from Paul who never has ‘throw-away words’?  ‘WITH thanksgiving’.  No begrudging my having to obey Him.  Just a glad handing over.
  • Payoff for all this obedience? Out-of-this world PEACE to barricade my mind against those pesky and sinful worries.  The ‘Sanballats‘ of my life is what I now call those worries that plague me if I don’t draw on God’s strength in Jesus.

“Remember, my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and also the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.” Nehemiah 6:14.  These were false prophets who wanted to HALT Nehemiah and the Judeans who were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.

I now see that the battle against the sin and danger of worry is never-ending in this life.  So….I desperately need to hear the good news of what Jesus has done.  Over and over again.

And I need to be reminded that handing over these concerns is a command I am to obey.

A final thought that bolsters this case for NOT worrying comes from Jesus’ exhortation to take up our cross and follow Him.

Matt 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

If I am to take up His cross, then I have to lay down my burdens that I’ve been holding onto tightly.  It only makes sense.  Reminding myself of WHY I can trust Jesus is my daily discipline to access His power to obey Him and receive His peace.

 

 

My first duty of the day – to make myself happy in God

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My hero in the faith is George Mueller, the 19th-century British pastor who together with his wife established and ran orphanages for four to five decades.  He intentionally journaled throughout those years in order to encourage the ordinary Christian to live and work by simple but powerful faith.  He wanted the average Christian to KNOW that learning to pray in reliance on Jesus was a tool and blessing that all could learn to do, with powerful results.

One of his personal resolutions that he followed to the benefit of thousands goes like this:

“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.

Life may be falling down around us, but to be a Christian means to be the possessor of the most precious and lasting treasures imaginable.

It’s probably like this for you, but when that morning alarm breaks into my oblivion, it’s like I have forgotten all that is true and unchanging.  What hits me is the immediacy of the day’s circumstances.  And given this suffering and corrupted world, many days seem to loom difficult and heavy-laden when I get up.   If I let my feelings take their cue from those first thoughts, I will stay depressed throughout the day.  Or I will use something created to distract myself, what God calls an idol. (food, email, escape reading)

God offers an alternative if we but follow it.  Christian are called to rejoice always (1 Thess 5:16). Therefore, Mueller’s advice is not optional if we are to obey our Father in heaven.

I don’t intend to talk about how I go about making myself happy in God.  What I rather mention is why God wants his children to be happy they belong to him.  I’m learning the reason God commands me to exult in him is because joy in God is key to loving others.

Listening the other day to a sermon by John Piper I actually felt capable for the first time of LOVING OTHERS.  You remember how Jesus summed up the Law in Matthew 22:40 by saying in effect:

  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

Because I seem to be wired more as a rational person than a loving, emotional person, I’ve struggled with what love looks like according to God.  I often feel guilty that I don’t FEEL love towards my neighbors.

But the way John Piper explained love, it sounded doable for a Christian empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Piper explained what God means by love like this: “Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others”

Given THAT definition, making myself happy in God each morning is not only life-preserving to me, but equally necessary for those around me.  When I have re-established and reconnected with WHY I can be happy no matter how crummy the day’s circumstances may be, then I have strength and energy to move out of myself toward others.  That is the ONLY way to love others.

Have you ever had someone do something for you out of duty?  How does that feel?

It’s like when we tell a child, “Tell Sammy that you are sorry!”

and the child’s “Sorry” doesn’t satisfy at all.  It’s not from the heart.

Same with our deeds done to meet a neighbor’s needs.  If we help out of obligation, it’s not the same as initiating something out of the energy and God-given strength borne of joy in Him.

Joy in God is a pervasive and persistent theme in the Bible.  It doesn’t seem optional or healthy to neglect.

May this truth from Nehemiah 8:10b find its roots in you and me:

“Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”

 

Know your heart AND your bowels!

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Proverbs 3:5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

Good life advice for Christians, right?

But wouldn’t you think the inspired author of Proverbs would have called us to trust with our mind or our will instead of our heart?  After all, don’t we decide matters rationally?

Hebrew heart language is NOT an anomaly.  Here’s another verse from the Old Testament:

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Looks like the Bible is again telling us that our actions stem from what’s in our heart.

Here’s advice from Moses that reinforces that point:

“The word is very near you,says Moses to a rescued Israel, “in your mouth and in your heart (from Deut 30:14)

My husband and I have a running friendly disagreement.  I say that feelings flow from thoughts. And he maintains that feelings surge up unbidden with no connection to thoughts. He maintains that he has little control over those very strong emotions that seem to take over in extreme situations like:

  • being blocked unfairly, whether in the car or in a conversation
  • being accused of having let someone down with that wrench to the gut and tell-tale invasion of red flush across the face

The Hebrews AND the Greeks did recognize and identify the source of THOSE powerful emotions.  They sprang from the gut or the bowels!

Lamentations 1:20 refers to this organ as the origin of the strongest feelings – no rational thinking or deciding going on here!  Look, O LORD, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death.

What about the New Testament?  Jesus gives us a vivid example of deep anger arising from within.  Do you remember when he and his disciples journeyed to Lazarus’ house? Before they even reach the house, sister Martha meets him and dialogues rationally with a calm Jesus.  Martha slips back in the house and notifies her sister Mary who runs out to see Jesus. Mary’s weeping when she meets him triggers a responsive emotional echo in the Son of God that is other than rational.  Jesus allows Mary to lead him to Lazarus’ burial site accompanied by a growing crowd.  John 11:33 – When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

That groaning is the same gut feeling that wells up unprompted by rational thought or beliefs.  I’ve heard pastors explain that Jesus practically snorted like a horse, so indignant at death was he.  Rationally Jesus understands the cessation of earthly life, but his physical reaction is beyond thinking and feeling.  It’s in a different category.

Why does this matter, this distinction between gut feelings/bowels and the heart?

It turns out that my husband and I ARE both correct in how we evaluate feelings.  There are those that well up from our depths over which we seem to exercise little control.  More often, though, we deal with the ‘ordinary’ and frequent feelings that flow from our thoughts and beliefs.

And because ordinary feelings spring from what Bible language terms, ‘the heart’, then we CAN learn to change them and that is GOOD NEWS!

Not only CAN we replace and rework the content, we must!  God emphasizes the heart and commands us to control this mind/thought/feeling/-deciding organ.   Garbage in , Garbage out goes the prosaic adage. When we DO filter the content of thought and ideas , our heart changes.

Since having recently recognized that the Bible tends to look at the heart more as the thinking organ of will and choice, I see this distinction all 0ver the Bible!  And I am helped.  Before, I had concluded that I had little chance to fight worry, fear or anxiety, but now I know that I CAN, due solely to the Holy Spirit in me.

God, through Paul writing in Romans 12:2b exhorts us…..continuously be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.

My current ‘go-to’ steadying truth these days seems to be:

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about (at fearful circumstances, either real or potential) for I am your God!  I will strengthen you; Surely I will help you; Surely I will hold you up with my victorious and righteous right hand! Isaiah 41:10 (Amp)

With practice (like in any other skill) I am learning both to desire and to obey my Dad’s commands.  I want to please Him!

More details about the Bible’s understanding of ‘the heart’

 

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