Is God behind all this global suffering?

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News agencies world wide report droughts, floods, murders, homelessness, job loss, disease and more.

Christian organizations such as Open Doors post pleas for prayer:

  • Unprotected, Christians murdered in Nigeria
  • West Africans suffering from Fulani, sickness and little food
  • Locusts in East Africa destroy crops
  • Daily assaults on Christians in Asian country

Is all this suffering from God’s hand?

I am a Christian who believes that the Bible is the true word of God. I thus accept as fact what God teaches, that nothing happens outside His sovereign will. (some thoughts about ‘two wills’ of God)

Isaiah 46:9-10  I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.

I am thinking, thinking a lot these days and reasoning from what I know, from what God says in His Word. He doesn’t answer all my questions, but there is enough truth for me to ponder and think clearly.  He expects me, as one of His, to apply my mind. ‘Think on these things’, Paul exhorts in Phil 4:8.

I know that all that has befallen me in my 6 decades: the bad, the painful, the shameful, the sicknesses, the sin, the blessings, the rescues, the deliverances, the joys, the ‘pleasants’….all have been planned for my good, to bring me to Jesus (rescuing me from the right judgement of my guilt and fair eternal penalty) and to make me holy like Him.  If God is God and if He is good, wise, all-powerful, faithful and loving, then He has good reason, good purposes for what He does.  Whether I see His reasons. Whether I agree with them or not.

I don’t struggle with that anymore IN MY OWN LIFE. 

But recently I’ve been thinking those who are REALLY suffering in the world, in what we call the 3rd-world areas. (Is there a ‘second-world’ label??)

My pain and struggles have been those of an advantaged American born in the second half of the 20th century.  Past and present – far more people have been and are overcome by poverty, hopelessness, violence, hunger, sickness, disastrous weather and terrorism.  Does God work all those imagination-defying ‘awfuls’ to bring SOME to Christ and make THEM more like Jesus? Are these conditions His tailored will for their lives, just as my circumstances are for me?

That is what I have been wondering.  And it’s a new idea for me.

Not for a moment do I think this is merely an intellectual exercise, that God intends for me just to ponder logically when I read of 3rd-world suffering.   Why not? Because all through the Bible, God’s people are commanded to take care of and provide for the down-and-out in our reach.

  • Deut 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land; that is why I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.

In just the week that this topic has been on my mind, my conclusion is that somehow, in God’s wisdom, those who are His, those whom He is calling from each people group, He has placed in the designed location, time and circumstances best suited for their hearing and responding to the Gospel.  No, He doesn’t condone violence and oppression of the poor. But He does ordain what is at the ‘moment’ an evil for a greater good since He KNOWS has PLANNED and will bring about the eventual outcome. All through the Bible we read that His hand is behind droughts (think Naomi and Ruth), slavery (Joseph to Egypt) leprosy (Naaman), murder plots (Esther and the Jews), imprisonment (Paul and the Philippian jailor).

I choose to hold fast to what I know is true about our God.  I have learned that He is trustworthy.  I don’t have to understand or see His reasons to accept that what breaks my heart will one day be the cause of my praise for the resulting beauty of his Grace revealed.

In the meantime, may He keep my heart soft both to call on Him for justice and relief and to be part of His provision.

When God doesn’t answer

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Are you waiting for God to show you what to do? Who among us is not living with uncertainty or facing an impending decision?

One of my daughters-in-law is considering ‘officially’ homeschooling her 3 kids in the fall when the new school year begins.  Currently supervising and experiencing poor on-line assignments planned by classroom teachers has prompted her to provide alternative educational activities that enrich and suit each of the three children. The kids have settled in nicely to the new content and its rhythm.  All should be tranquil, right?

Unfortunately, at times, like we all do, she falls into churning about the future, details swirling unsettled in her mind. No peace and no answers, yet!

I’m experiencing similar quandaries:  what should I do about the English without Fear videos I create? Continue, produce fewer, abandon?  And what’s with my Spanish experience?  Daily I work on my own language acquisition. Beginning Spanish lessons for my grandkids via Zoom continue. But, but….what does God have in mind for me, ultimately?

Even though I KNOW that there is a time for everything, even though I KNOW that no one is forcing me to decide the future of my English and Spanish activities, I find myself indulging in analyzing pros and cons of how I spend the time God allots me.

Aren’t we two gals a microcosm of the world, both now during Covid19 times and in the past.

Reading Psalm 77 (NLT) this morning showed me a better way to face all our unknowns and handle decisions.  The psalmist Asaph is in a bad way.  He needs God for some dire situation:

  • I cry out to God; yes, I shout – v 1
  • I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help – v 3
  • I’m too distressed even to pray – v 4b
  • Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? – v 7
  • Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? – v 8

No answer.  God is silent.

But Asaph doesn’t give up. Nor does he continue to stress himself out with: What about this, what about that? What shall I do, especially since God doesn’t answer me?!!!!!

Through the Holy Spirit, God mercifully prompts Asaph to start thinking about all the ways God has come through for him in the past:

  • But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. – v 11
  • They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. – v 12

And off he goes.  Asaph never returns to his issues, his problems and the decisions he needs to make.

You know what this sounds like?  It’s just what Paul tells us WE should do in Philippians 4: 4-8.

In encouraging the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul assumes they all have problems and decisions to make that could weigh them down with anxiety. After reminding them to name what they are glad about in Jesus who is near them, he says:  openly present all your needs to God, thanking him for his care.

Notice that Paul does NOT explicitly say: ‘God will immediately give you the answers and resources you need.’

I think Paul would say if you asked him: “But what about…..?”:

  • ‘But of course, God will provide. But until he does, his immediate answer and gift to you is supernatural, unworldly peace. Not a peace based on answers for your particular situation.’

Yet, Paul does not leave them to fight deep groove of worry.  He offers a practical way to PROTECT these anxious, weak and struggling Christians.  Paul commands them to shift their thoughts to all that is TRUE, NOBLE, RIGHT, PURE, LOVELY, ADMIRABLE, EXCELLENT and PRAISE-WORTHY.

Isn’t that what the psalmist Asaph shows us by switching his wakeful thoughts to God’s past actions?

Psalm 77 is great because we don’t know the dire circumstances burdening his life.  Therefore, we’re free to adapt it to our own peculiar churn and inner distress.

I admit though, that this is hard for me to do!  I seem to prefer the familiarity of worry even though I know it harms me.  Shifting my thoughts takes an act of the will.  I have to turn my back on temptation, pray for help and set my mind to reflect on all the ways God has come through for me and my family in the past.

Yes, I still don’t know about my ‘future when it comes to teaching English and Spanish.  My daughter-in-law doesn’t have answers TODAY about homeschooling in the fall.  But we don’t have to be slaves to our as-of-yet unmet needs.  We have a good Father who doesn’t change. He’ll provide wisdom when it’s time. We can’t imagine or picture WHAT new information he’ll send our way, at the RIGHT time, that time when we SHOULD choose a course of action.

For now, for today, I want to remember that my Father’s will for me is a peace that goes beyond having answers and information.

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.

 

 

What do you do with 30 seconds?

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Six of us sat at the table Wednesday night at church.  As those gathered to pray together, we had broken off into small groups.  One by one we shared what was weighing us down, what we were desperate to hand over to God through the prayers of our sisters.

One gal asked us to pray that she would put to better use those small pockets of time in her day. Her default response to 30 seconds here and 2 minutes there has been to pull out her phone and check social media while she is waiting – whether in line at the grocery store, or for the light to turn green.  She confessed to knowing full well that exchanging the ‘free’ moments for scanning her social media go-to spots does not give her LIFE!

This confession could have been all of ours’; in fact it is!  Who doesn’t turn to her phone for a quick dopamine hit? I know I do.

Our sister already knew a better use of those moments.  She suggested that she could read Scripture (also on her phone) and/or pray. Both options would clear her mind of fluff, re-center her and give her something edifying to share with the next person she meets.

We prayed. For her and for us.

That was Wednesday.  Yesterday, Saturday, Mike and I headed out in the car for some errands. As we were driving to the first place, I told Mike about our Wednesday night praying for redeeming those fleeting free moments. I mentioned that as an addicted feed-scroller, I prayed that for me as well.

Mike pulled in to his barbershop.  I stayed in the car while he dashed in to make an appointment for later in the week.  Without thinking, I pulled out my phone to check……..Instagram!

But the next second, before I could tap on the icon, my Friend and Counselor, the Holy Spirit said, “Wait a minute, what were you just telling Mike?”

Convicted! How quickly I had forgotten.

Thanks to God’s timely reminder, I put down my phone and picked up with a strategy to think about God.  I used the alphabet to enumerate some of the gifts He has already given me:

A – You made me ABLE to hear and believe your Word.

B – Your presence is always BESIDE me, BEFORE me, BEHIND me, and BETWEEN me and danger.

C – You CHOSE me before you created the heavens or the earth.

D – You are bearing my burdens this DAY.

E – You have EQUIPPED me for today’s duties.

F – You gave me saving FAITH to trust you and your word.

I think I reached the letter J by the time Mike returned to the car.

Using this alphabet structure to enumerate some of God’s gifts to me is easy.  Another use would be to name an attribute or quality of God for each letter. Or maybe using the letters to pray for a friend. A for Anne.

What was the result of how I spent these 3 minutes?  I felt calmer, cleaner, more relaxed. And I KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that this use of the time pleased my Father.

Do you have a way of thinking about God and His Word that is your practiced default for those sleepless periods in the night or the ‘in-between’ moments of the day?  Share with us.  And may the Lord be pleased and glorified by our thoughts.

Phil 4:8 (NLT) And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 

 

 

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!

 

Drivenness is dangerous

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Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Graham reminded me of this truth yesterday as I was catching up with him. I had just face-timed my granddaughters as they were en route home from school. After chatting with them Graham and I talked.  This older son of ours has been an inspirer, sounding board, tech resource and overall great listener as I have fleshed out a ‘business’ called English without Fear.

In 2018, having taught French for years, I started to help second language learners acquire English the same way I teach French, through listening with understanding. What I call ‘Mommy Talk’ as opposed to left-brained, rule-based learning.  It works.  Many, many students can attest to the joy and confidence they have received in my classroom because of this method.  I personally know this is the optimal way to teach and pick up a language because I am acquiring Spanish that way.

Three months after thinking and praying about this new venture, I settled on a target market or niche –  those wanting to learn English as a second language. I learned to write, record and upload story videos in slow English with lots of images. I set up a YouTube channel and some tech support sites.  My idea was to eventually bring in some income that would supplement our retirement, post classroom.

But ‘retirement’ came sooner than later.  Seven months ago, God opened the door for Mike to step back into full-time work and we moved here to Huntsville, Alabama.  I left the schoolhouse after 27 years, not even finishing out the spring semester.

Suddenly, my identity was no longer ‘French teacher’.

Mike’s new job generously would provide enough income so I knew that I wouldn’t be looking for another job teaching French.  I recognized that God was gifting me with time and flexibility to spend with our far-flung family.   I would also be the support at home for Mike so he could focus on this new challenge of re-entering the workforce.  We were swapping roles, in essence. He had come from 6 years doing some part-time work at home in North Carolina while managing the house.

What I didn’t anticipate was how challenging it would be for me to move into this new role.  Only once in my life had I stayed home and that was when Wes, our second son, was born. And then for only 2 years.

I now see, though, that since the end of March, I haven’t let myself rest in God, allowing Him to lead me.  I don’t think I even ASKED Him through prayer about what kind of life He wanted for me in this new season, in this new place.

As I had done (and later recognized with repentance) in previous years, I just announced my plan and prayed for Him to bless it.  Blind to my folly.

Bereft of my ‘uniform’ of working woman, French teacher, I dressed myself in new clothes.  My new identity? Content creator for a digital product.  Without a pause, as a stay-at-home wife, I set up a daily schedule.  Discipline comes easily.  (‘she said smugly: Doesn’t it for all people?’)

Long story short, I have now become my own slave driver, but with tears.  No one has done this to me.  Deep grooves of habitual self-drivenness: I start something – and I’m all in.  Zeal and ambition are not, in themselves bad.  But when they become part of one’s identity, they can be deadly.

But God!

His gentle and persistent grace have caused me to blink twice and clear my eyes.  I realize, now with alarming clarity, that I myself had shackled Maria.  My body knew it, though, and my husband.  He’s skilled at reading body language.  He is also a good listener.  Empathetic.

What alerted me? tears, dread of having to do something with this ‘business’, and 2 days with Regina.  This friend of 13 years met me last week, half way between her home in South Carolina and my house here in Alabama.  We spent 18 hours catching up.

While describing how pleasant Huntsville is, I realized how I don’t ‘let’ myself just take an afternoon and wander, explore, go for a walk.  Why not?  ‘I have work to do.’  My boss/dictator has been telling me every day that I need to make this English without Fear endeavor into a successful business.

But why? To what end?  We don’t need the money.

Here’s my reasoning for undertaking this project:  I have experience, aptitude, some gifts and a sense of what is needed in the Second Language Acquisition space (encouragement for teachers who feel overwhelmed, as well as learners of English).  There is a need!  I can help.

But what was missing? Wherefore the dread and tears?

I lacked the desire.

Yesterday, in the car driving home from an ‘intercambio’ with a Columbian gal where we spent 30 minutes in English followed by time for me in Spanish, I was thinking about ‘what I had to do’ the rest of the day for ‘my business’.  And I dreaded the plans.

I turned off the podcast I was listening to in the car.  To think. What is it I REALLY want to do, where I don’t feel driven? That’s easy.!  I really want to speak Spanish easily. I already spend time each day with Spanish content.  And I look forward to it.  NO DREAD!

Aha!  DESIRE!!!

That is what has been missing all along in this business.

So yesterday when Graham reminded me of Paul’s word to the Galatians, I knew he was speaking Truth. Direct from my good and loving Father.

I don’t have to pursue English without Fear as a business.  God has given me space and time to slow down. To enjoy life. To savor NOT rushing.

But what about…..

I don’t know. But, here’s a thought: I could just keep creating English without Fear videos as a ministry.  No schedule.  Nothing to prove.  Just as a service.

I already have the identity Christ bought for me – ‘chosen, redeemed, beloved daughter and little sister in Christ’.  I already have a purpose for living – to glorify God by enjoying Him THIS day.

Phil 4:5 says – Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

Please forgive me, ALL of you who have graciously put up with and borne my grim, head-down, no-time-for-play presence.

I’ve been living contrary to God’s Word, by letting my DRIVENNESS be known to everyone.

Which Maria do you think will refresh others?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Was it a good day? How do you know?

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Isaiah 43:6-7  I will say to the north, ‘Give up’,
    and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
 everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.’

How do you evaluate your day?  How do you determine if it was a GOOD day?  Is it based on your To-Do list, how much you cross off?  Or do you call it ‘good’ if no problems surface, if the kids go to bed and stay asleep, if you have enough energy to meet everyone’s needs?  Maybe it’s a good day if you don’t binge or fall back into a harmful habit you’re trying to shake.

I’ve fallen prey to many false and harmful frameworks for looking at the hours the LORD gives me.  From the get-go, if I go down the path of viewing the day as MY day, MY time, I’ve walked away from how my Father views the time He allots.  For years I was wrong. I wore ‘glasses’ that saw standards such as:

  • productivity,
  • not overeating or
  • having my students respond favorably to my teaching
  • problem-free relationships

Those turned out to be self-shackling measurements.  I felt great on the days I ‘succeeded’ and somewhere between SAD and DEPRESSED on the days when I felt short of my expectations.

By God’s grace, in the past 2-3 years I’ve been allowing His Word, His truths to shape how I think about each day.  Change comes slowly, but I FEEL less stuck in unhealthy patterns of thinking. This past week I caught a powerful glimpse of what I believe is more in line and more FREEING to me of how God measures the daily hours given me.  The relief came from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Question # 1 goes like this:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

If I understand what this question and answer teach about my life’s purpose, then I will set my focus and invest my energy to that end.   What exactly does glorifying God mean?  Since God is the most important person in the universe and the most praiseworthy, then He deserves my ongoing happy attention, my grateful praise, and relieved reliance on His promised provision.  My thoughts, my words, my posture, my choices and my hourly interactions with Him and others should highlight His kindness toward those who belong to Him.  With these two Meta Purposes for my life which focus more on the MANNER of living each day, I am free to do what is at hand without giving the way I complete it such POWER to make or break my day.

If it were you who was explaining all the above, I’d likely ask: But what does that LOOK like across your various actions/activities? It sounds lofty, but can you bring it down to the man in the street level?

That’s what the 2nd part of the answer provides.  People can recognize our high esteem and praise of God primarily in our visible, sincere satisfaction, relief and gladness in being a covenant member of His family – that is, ‘a son or a daughter,’ as the text from Isaiah describes family members.

If I trust God and rely on His promises, then I should have a relaxed, peace-filled, gentle demeanor.  Paul explains in his letter to the Philippians (4:4-8) that he learned to hand over his problems (aka:  how to be content) to the Lord:

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. 

So, I take it that my body language and tone of voice should visibly show this peace and contentment with all that the Lord is for me. I think that is what ‘enjoying the Lord’ looks like in Christians.

I am now trying out this simple way of looking at my spent day. It goes like this.  “Maria, how did you do today in:

  • showcasing God’s goodness in your life?
  • heaving and leaving all your cares with Him because you believe Him when He promises to take care of them?
  • thinking about and savoring your adoption as His beloved daughter?

Realistically, I know that this will be a practice that grows more natural over time.  There’s no A or F for the day.  The Father loves me SO much, that He is pleased at my toddler-like stumbling to be more like His daughter.  Repentance with His promised forgiveness takes away my fear of being honest.

The other freeing aspect of this evaluative framework is that it suits ALL of our conscious days we live in our current body. It’s appropriate for our ‘prime times’ and it works for the periods of life when our health is poor and we are physically in decline.

What do you think?  What’s your journey been like in how you deem a day ‘good’ or ‘eh’ or ‘bad’?

I could still be completely wrong in my thinking – maybe He doesn’t want me to evaluate the day at all!  I’m open to having Him align my seeing with His.

Who or what dominates your thinking?

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Is it just me, or do you find that living by faith and not by sight grows HARDER and HARDER as the years go by?  The ‘pop quizzes’ that used to land on me every few weeks now seem to show up every couple of days.

Not one to spot my unbelief right away, I sense God gently but firmly taking my face between his hands (so to speak!) to make me look at my unbelief. My pride recoils at yet more evidence for my lack of trust in the Lord as Good Father, Faithful Shepherd, Wise Counselor.

This past week has been that kind of personal attention or ‘handling’.  I have struggled to let go of persistent worry. It’s not that I have been anxious about anything, rather I have OBSESSIVELY ‘angsted’.  My personalized version of Phil 4:6 is now “Do not OBSESS over anything!” rather than the tame ‘do not be anxious’.

I KNOW what I’m supposed to do and I do try!

  • Daily I hand over my needs à la ‘Cast your cares on Him….’
  • Hourly I pray with much fervor à la ‘The fervent prayers of a righteous man…..’
  • I recollect many blessings, the good things about God, who He is and what He has done and the promises laid up for me……

Yet, I feel bound up in worry.

So, it was no surprise to me that the Sovereign Lord, the One who reigns over all creation, used a portion of yesterday’s assigned Scripture from 2 Sam 19: 1-8 to show me exactly what happens when I make a created thing PRE-EMINENT in my life.

Just so you’ll know how I recognize something as being preeminent in my life, it’s those occasions when my thoughts ‘glom’ onto a created thing like sewing pins sticking to a magnet.

Here’s a synopsis of events 2 Samuel 19:

  • King David’s rebel son Absalom has been killed by David’s men and the coup squelched.  David acts ‘un-kingly’ as he indulges his natural grief in an unceasing, over-the-top inconsolable fashion.
  • He does not publicly thank the valiant ones who risked their lives and their homes to flee Jerusalem and side with him.  He does not acknowledge the cost to his loyal citizens who probably fought against some family members supportive of Absalom.
  • He obsessively wails to such an extent, to such a danger point that General Joab, his chief of the army, has to shock him into acting like a king.  Joab point blank tells him that if he doesn’t stop crying about his son and get back to doing his job as God’s anointed king, then he’ll find himself at the end of EVERYONE’s spear.

That’s the narrative in a nutshell. In what way did I see this biblical example as a gentle rebuke from God to abandon my anxious obsession?  Reading this account revealed the evil of disobedience. God had appointed David to shepherd God’s people for Him. David courted danger, almost to the point of no return, when he inverted God’s priorities. This observation is what convicted me.

The king harmed good people when he made his son more valuable, more meaningful than the welfare of those in his care.

I do the same when I place a created thing over the Creator.

Our pastor’s sermons on the preeminence of Christ have bathed my thoughts over the past several weeks (when I wasn’t anxiously obsessing!) The Greek word for preeminence ‘proteuo’ is described in two ways:

  • Ranking first
  • Exercising the most influence

So even as I have struggled with handing over a particular problem to God and then taking it back, I’ve been asking myself:

Maria, who or what is preeminent in your life?”

It’s a piercing question that demands honesty.  I have felt bound up in the time I’ve invested in trying to ‘solve this suffering’ of a loved one.  And God keeps throwing me reminders to ‘JUST STOP IT!’ (you’ll smile if you’re old enough to remember TV actor Bob Newhart as the UN-empathetic counselor). Our good Father gave me the very same counsel but from a different source.

Margin

Dr. Richard Swenson, an author whose book about regaining margin I’m re-reading, penned this arresting statement

The purpose of life is not to solve suffering but righteousness.

Bolstering that truth has been the realization that EVERY single human being on earth in every epoch has lived or is experiencing now a life of suffering.  The purpose of life cannot then be to ‘solve’ suffering.  I have known this but now I KNOW it more deeply. My purpose, your purpose if you belong to Christ, is to be content in Him, to enjoy Him, to seek to please Him, to sing new songs of who He is and what He has done.  In the midst of suffering.

I think we can fall into the trap of making an idol out of a problem-free life, a life without suffering.  At least I am beginning to see that about me. And if that is my or your goal, then we are setting ourselves up for misery.

May God help us all to be joyful obedient servants of our loving God.

 

 

 

What do we do when life goes south?

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We all face disappointments, some minor, some crushing.  God, I have learned, does not waste our trials.  In fact, He explicitly tells us that we WILL have trouble in this life – all of us, whether Christ-follower or not.  As believers who have God’s Word,  we should expect to suffer.  I read just this morning in Acts 14: 21b – 22:  “Then they (Paul and Barnabas) returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God, ‘ they said.” 

So how do we think when yet another blow comes?  Recently I’ve been gifted with a situation that requires me to regain my balance and ‘prepare my mind for action’, as Peter exhorts.

The elevator synopsis is this:  While enjoying my best year of teaching kids French and anticipating staying on at my current school for a while longer, the tables turned abruptly and I know I need to look for a different job for after this contract year ends in June.

Here is how I am bookending or ‘sandwiching’ these new circumstances, using God’s exhortation through Paul to me:

Philippians 4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

The background is this:  two believing Philippian gals were upset with each other and the entire family of God was affected. Even Paul at a distance had received reports of this disruptive and sinful conflict.  By NAME, the apostle exhorts these two sisters in Christ to drop the issue and focus on the stupendous fact that both their names are written in the Book of Life.  How’s THAT for putting a dispute into context?

Paul’s thoughts then run to a myriad of OTHER reasons to find greater joy in the Lord than being right or vindicated in a disagreement.  Hence his double directive – ‘Think over all the gifts you have as a child of the Living God! Now THOSE are worth rejoicing about, over and over again, not just once!’

Philippians 4:5  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

I think the logic goes like this:  the über-rejoicing about being in Christ should result in you being mild in temperament, easy to get along with.  Let THAT quality be what people talk about when they mention you, not that you are quarrelsome.  And if you need help with self-control, take heart – Jesus is close by, ready to enable you to build this new habit.

And if you say, ‘But what about my grievance with my sister?  It’s a real problem and still bothers me!’  Take heart, because Paul goes on to provide THE way to deal with that need and all others:

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

Jesus is our Lord and aims to take care of ANYthing that weighs on us.  But we have to hand it over, for good!  How?  By asking Him to take it on.  I see the thanksgiving part of this teaching as what we do each and every time we forget that the problem NOW belongs to Him.  Instead of worrying, we must say something like:

‘Oh, right, there I go again!  I have started dwelling on the fact that I need a new job.  But I have handed that problem over to You, my Lord.  Thank you, Jesus, that you are managing this for me.  Help me to NOT to take it back, as I am prone to do.’

With the abruptness last week of finding out I need to start a job search, I have succumbed several nights in bed to thinking, thinking, thinking about lots of ‘what ifs’.  That is just plain ‘ole’ sinful WORRY!  Each time I catch myself, I repent and ask for His help to do what He commands.

What carrot does God offer as an inducement to rely on Him to bring about a resolution to my situation?  Something the entire world longs for, pagan and believer alike – true and lasting peace!

Philippians 4:7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Our hearts are the seat of our longings and desires.  And our minds are a thought-generating factory.  As Christians, we need supernatural help to protect and block wrong desires and sinful ideas.  It’s no secret that our strong hankerings and thoughts fuel our actions.

I take Paul’s teaching in verse 7 to mean this:  God’s powerful peace, strong enough to shield you and me from harmful wants and musings, is ONLY given to those who STOP trying to handle their needs and manage their problems on their own.  We only get His peace if we abandon our situation entirely, 100 %, to Him.  But if you’re like me, worrying sneaks up on us unaware.  We often pretend and call it ‘being concerned and responsible’.  Phooey!  Bottom line, how bad do we want to be steadied by this promised gift of peace?  The way to HAVE and to HOLD it is by exercising God’s gift of faith – trusting in and relying on His character and His promises to provide.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Why this advice?  Paul has learned that even when he has set his mind to:

  • rejoicing a lot about all that Jesus is for Him
  • committing to His Lord and Savior all his stressful situations and those of believers he dearly loves
  • he still has mind-space to worry.

His remedy is to fix his thoughts on the many beautiful and true God-given gifts, worthy of his mental energy.  You and I are to do the same.  For instance, when I notice the cleaning lady at school treating her job with dignity, consider her example. Or when I learn about one or two honest, earnest politicians who take their responsibility seriously, I can praise God for His goodness.

But just in case, my mind has such a large capacity that I run out of ideas that are healing and safe, Paul gives us a challenge that should take up the rest of our mental energy:

Philippians 4:9  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Do you know how hard it would be to copy Paul and to practice, over and over, his habits of speech and rest and trust and thinking well of others?  That’s why I say that God has given us plenty, more than enough, to fill and steady our minds and hearts.  His promise of reward is not just PEACE, but Himself as the God of peace.

Wasn’t it the bus company Greyhound who advertised:  ‘Leave the driving to us’?  One of the reasons for traveling with them was so passengers could relax and focus on the scenery and enjoy the people around them instead of stressing over the traffic.

In the same way, we are to leave the worrying to God.  We’re NOT the driver, nor the captain of our souls.  Those jobs are way beyond the abilities God in His wisdom has deemed good and safe for us.

So, this job situation, I see as another opportunity to enjoy God’s peace and practice my Uncle Paul in contentment.  How about you?

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