Trials in a new light

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Emerg Procedures

School is back in session and we’ve been briefed on emergency procedures.   I got to thinking about how trials are like fire drills for the Christian.  How so?  Their purpose is to put instructed procedures to the test, to see if they are sufficient.
So it is with hardships, problems and sufferings that try my faith. Instead of recoiling from difficulties, I should be glad to see whether there are any gaps or weak spots in my spiritual armor. For then I can take steps to strengthen and shore up my faith in God’s Word to me.
Why is testing and building up armor a good thing and how can that make me glad?
Joy comes from relying on God.  And an adequate spiritual defense is needed to live in this fallen world. Life is filled with devils and skirmishes are around every corner. The war is real. But with perfected, tested armor I can be assured that God’s provision is sufficient.
And sufficiency is connected with contentment.
Who doesn’t want to be content?  Ponder the originality of our Verbal Creator!  The Greek word – 714 arkeo, refers to these three aspect of the same state of being:
  • It is sufficient
  • I am satisfied
  • I am content

How cool is that!

Father, supernaturally grow in me the same state of mind that Paul learned – to be ‘arkeo’ or content because with You continually present, he carried his sufficiency within him.

Phil 4:12  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

My inner murmurer

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Do everything without complaining….– Phil 2:14a

And they complained in their tents and they did not hear the voice of Lord Jehovah. – Psalm 106:25

Here’s a typical Maria tape – a transcript of my inner narration:

  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to go for my cove walk (it’s painful because of the hills)
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to water the plants
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to make supper AND get a crockpot ready for tomorrow night
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to wash my hair today
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to start back to work, which will REALLY cut into ‘my’ time

I tend to dread chores/events that are either discomforting or ones that reduce my time to sit down and do what I truly love – reading and catching up on correspondence with friends via email.

I think that inner wingeing voice has had free reign for longer than I know.  For a while now I’ve been aware that I am the source of most of my discontent.  But looking back, I think I have lived for years, accompanied by that unceasing inner complaining.

It’s only in the past week that I have suddenly awoken to the fact that I, Maria, a born-anew person, am endued with the permanent Holy Spirit of power, love and even-keeled understanding. Hey, I don’t have to continue struggling with discontent. I can kill the fleshly default. How?  By believing and acting on the many promises He has given me as part of my equipment.

And this idea to break my complaining habit is not just a good Maria plan.  God WANTS me to turn away from such sin.  No matter how ‘natural’ it may be.  No matter how common, accepted and normative in our culture it seems.  But come on, maybe verbalizing discontent, even to myself, might be something God frowns on, but is it really such a big deal, such a huge sin?  Isn’t it just one of those ‘little-ole-lady’ sins, as my husband used to call them?

Um, nope.  There’s an entire commandment devoted to it.  #10 – Do not covet!  What is coveting but wanting what you don’t have, wishing things were different.

Just this awareness that I CAN conquer my grousing habit has been enough to change the quality of my inner life.  The insight that inner complaining is wicked and evil has motivated me to find a new narrative.

I find that as soon as a thought forms like, “Oh…the dreaded up-and-down hill walk faces me before I can sit down with coffee and Bible” I’m quick to substitute a new script:

I GET TO go exercise my body.

That one little 2.5-word replacement for “I’ve GOT TO” apparently is sufficient to halt the complaining and block my mood from souring.

So for sure I’m encouraged by my waning discontent, but even more significant is the growing realization that I was engaging and practicing sin.  For according to Psalm 106 as quoted above, my inner murmurer was preventing me from hearing God.

Thank you, kind Father, for giving me your Holy Spirit who keeps on working to make me holy so I can see you and hear you more clearly.

Romans 7:25 – I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Are you discouraged by the times?

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Many Christians grow more alarmed, daily. Violence at home and abroad, coupled with upside-down moral values in government and society, create fear and anxiety. I am not immune. But God’s Word gives me hope. We are most definitely NOT the first body of believers to have been marginalized or persecuted.  Nevertheless, I think some of us ‘moderns’ FEEL caught by surprise by the times.

For months, I have tried to imagine the conversations among the faithful German remnant of believing Christians who must have prayed unceasingly during the Hitler years. How did they fight the darkness of monstrous and barbaric Nazi rule? What were their heart to hearts with God like?

  • “God – what is up with this on-going nightmare? How long, O Lord, must we endure this evil Führer and his henchmen? Why are you allowing Hitler to live? Why have you not permitted the assassination attempts to succeed?  Can’t you see that we’d be better off without him?  Do you realize what has happened to your church here in Germany?”

And what is God’s word throughout every generation, to peoples swept up in the plots of vile men?

  • Psalm 37:1 Fret not because of those who are evil…
  • Psalm 49: 5 – Why should I fear when evil comes, when enemies surround me? And verse 15 – But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.

Clearly, for German Christians to keep happy in God, they had to preach truth to themselves. Truth about what God promised to do and be for His children.

But theirs was not the only horrific era. Jewish believers during the rule of King Manasseh (he lived from 709 to 642 BC) had 55 years to hang on to God’s promises by faith. This descendent of David was the most evil and long-lasting King of Judah. How did those faithful, God-following men, women and children cope? What did they talk about when news from the royal court included reports of the King sacrificing his own sons to false gods? And when prophets like Isaiah emboldened by God to preach Truth were murdered, how must they have feared and cried out to God!

I am learning to think biblically and that keeps the despair away. Nowhere in the Bible does God guarantee his children physical safety or a type of heaven on earth. ‘Au contraire!’ – what he does promise is that those who put their whole trust in him will have their souls saved. Maybe our bodies will be sawn in half or burned in a fiery furnace like what was intended for Meschach, Shadrach and Abednego. But for eternity, we will be with God in physically resurrected bodies. Jesus said so. And he came back and showed his followers proof – himself.

Even Job knew this and declared as reported in Job 13:15 – Even though he kills me, I’ll continue to hope in him. At least I’ll be able to argue my case to his face!

So, physical deliverance is not something I can count on, but that does not mean I should not petition God, asking him to be a refuge, to bring me out to an open space, to rescue me. Furthermore, I together with all of you, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, need to PRAY for our church to grow more holy.

I used to think that if the Church were purified, then we as a body might have a salvific effect on society.  But I’m beginning to see otherwise.

Pastor John Piper mentioned in a sermon, posted on his website that, “we must be very careful not to assume that the degeneration of culture at the end of the age is owing to the failure of the church to be holy. There is no promise in the Bible that the holiness of the church will guarantee the transformation of culture.

That startled me!

So why be holy?  Why work to purify the church?  I think it’s so that we, the faithful, may see Christ more clearly.

That’s it?

Seeing Christ more clearly sounds so….lame!

Not so.  We are not to despise the little things.  Seeing Jesus as he is, now that is the very source of our happiness and our strength.

If we don’t keep our eyes on God, His promises, His past actions and the unchanging character of the Holy and Happy Triune God, we will look at circumstances, society, ourselves and be depressed.  And impotent.

May we follow the example and join the ranks of our believing Fathers and Mothers, hanging on to God by faith and with tenacity, good cheer and solid hope through however many dark days He has ordained is best.

What are you attached to?

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Did your attachment tendancies start with a pacifier or your favorite ‘blankey’?

linus Or were routines, like story-time right before bed your go-to comfort? Whatever it was for you as a child, you probably have some items or practices or even a person in your life that make you feel more secure.

Reading 2 Chronicles 26 about King Uzziah of Juda this morning raised the matter of attachment. Here’s how verse 5 reads:

He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.

The French translation of this verse adds a richer understanding.  The verbal phrase reads:  “Il s’attacha à Dieu…” (He attached himself to God…)

This amplification feels like a quartz vein shot through with gold, worth the effort to mine it.  Here are 2 questions to kick off our digging:

  • Why do we attach?
  • and, how do we attach?

First, why do we attach?

I think humans and animals are wired by God to crave certainty and security.  But He has designed us to look to Him to meet that need, not to anything He has created.  Given that the Fall fractured both us and all of creation, we are misguided. We look for substitutions for God that FEEL real.  For even though God is as real as anything we can see or touch, He is spirit, thereby immaterial and invisible to us at present.

On to the second question –  how is it that we attach?

Primarily by thinking about, talking about, keeping near, and treasuring.  A small child keeps his blanket close by.  A crying baby calms down with his trusted pacifier. When I was bulimic, I grabbed cookies or M&Ms to tame the stress.

For some, a variation of attachment might be an acted-out routine that has brought peace. I know friends who routinely undertake remodeling projects as a diversion from anxiety or for stop-gap immediate relief some go shopping or clean out a closet (me!)  More dangerous measures include gambling, porn indulgence, use of drugs or even some extreme sports.

(If you are curious to learn about some non-biblical, psychological reasons for attachment, here is a link to various views.)

Beyond inherent and obvious dangers, what’s wrong with the above attachment items or practices?

The only reason that counts is simply this: these stress-relievers are just as uncertain as the uncontrollable circumstances that bring suffering.  When LIFE happens, pressuring us, what if we are circumstantially kept from our go-to stress reliever?  Maybe that’s the origin of the expression ‘going postal’! Our God knows there are times we humans explode in anger or act otherwise irrationally.

God offers a different way of handling life’s uncertainties and stress, one that the apostle Paul learned.  This morning, while reading a bit of Puritan pastor William Gurnall’s teaching on holding on to faith in the Triune God, I glimpsed a connection to Paul’s teaching on contentment.

You are familiar with this early Christian boasting in having acquired the ability to be content in all circumstances.  ‘All’ included the gamut of experiences ranging from physical comfort and ease all the way to the many times he suffered beatings, imprisonment or calumny from his fellow Jews. (Phil 4:12)

I think Gurnall provides the method for Paul’s method of ‘learning’. Gurnall writes that in times of blessings, plenty and the absence of suffering, we should practice  “Keep(ing)…(our)..minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” Col 3:2

Then when the times of suffering and deprivation come, we should be more equipped to continue to feed ourselves on the rich truths of heaven, the expectations of one day enjoying our inheritance presently kept for us by Jesus.  Directing our imaginings Godward takes practice. You’re probably like me.  My thoughts DO NOT automatically tend toward meditating on the ‘diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ’ (Jonathan Edwards). It takes effort to dig and work a groove in my mind, through much exercise.

I mention Edwards’ line above about what to think about when meditating on Jesus. Because when I first considered devoting time to building a habit of thinking about ‘things above’, my first reaction was:

  • just what should my mind focus on?

John Piper gave me a clue when he quoted Jonathan Edwards in a sermon I recently heard. An example of these very different but astonishing qualities of Jesus would be how He is both the Lion and the Lamb.  Powerfully fierce and humbly submissive, all at the same time.

There ARE multitudes of rich treasures to be mined in the Bible.  And I think this is what is meant by God’s teaching us to ‘attach ourselves’ to Him.  We attach primarily by what we think about and talk about.  If I’m attached to my children, then I will pull out pictures and extol all the cute things they do.  Likewise, if I’m attached to God, I will boast in how great He is.

Contrary to what a material naturalist might argue, we are NOT deterministic beings.  We have been given the gift of imagination, of choosing what to think about.  Paul knew that. Therefore, I think his secret of learned contentment was harnessing and directing his thoughts God-ward.

That encourages me.  I know that I have plenty of time when my mind can float.  I do have the power to direct and focus those thoughts.  I CAN practice a new and different way of thinking.   I want to build up these mental and spiritual muscles of my mind during those periods when I’m not struck down by suffering.  Then when pain does come, I will know how to flee to my true refuge.

I’ll leave you with the French exhortation:

Attache-toi à Dieu!

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

How easy it is to lie and steal

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I didn’t lie yesterday, but God showed me how very easily I could have and what a pickle I would have been in.

Lowe's

Mike and I were at Lowe’s to look for a new kitchen trashcan.  We found one we liked, but it was the floor model and had a small dent.  In talking with the sales associate I inquired about a reduction in price due to the dent.  He thought that would be likely.  We found another small defect and I suggested, “We should get 50 % off this floor model then since there are 2 issues and no box to boot!”  He agreed.

We had to wait while he sought approval first from customer service, then from a floor manager who had to check with his supervisor by phone. The supervisor advised him that 20 % is the max discount in such cases, not the 50% I had asked for. In the end, as the floor manager completed the ‘sale’ price, he informed us:

  • “Lowe’s never gives 50 % off for a damaged floor model.”
  • I replied, “But the sales guy said it was likely!”
  • He asked, “What’s his name?”
  • “Bill”

The floor manager THEN informed Mike and me that he was going to have a serious talk with Bill, because all Lowe’s employees know NEVER to offer a discount like that to customers and that Bill could possibly be fired!

I was horrified.  What if I had ‘lied’ about Bill mentioning the 50% off reduction?  I would have had a SERIOUS crisis of conscience on my hands.  I would have had to admit to Mr. Floor Manager:

  • Oh…no, uhh,….. he didn’t really say that.  I just said that…..about the 50% off.  Don’t hold that against him!

My stomach felt the same blow to the gut as THOUGH I had lied.  Maybe God gave me a glimpse of the ‘wages’ of sin!  Whew – I didn’t enjoy looking into the precipice.

**

Then there was a moment last June when I came close to the edge of sin.  I was at school and was putting something back in my desk drawer when I recalled that I needed sticky name tags for a church seminar I was facilitating.  The stash of labels was front and center, lying in that desk drawer at school.  But something kept me from what I’ve done in the past – ‘availing myself of’ a school provision for home use.

Would my using work-provided supplies be considered stealing?  If not, it certainly pointed to something worse: UNBELIEF!

unbelief  How so?  Because lickedy split my inclination was:  I DON’T want to spend  $2 at the store to purchase what I need when I have some tags right at my fingertips.  But who provides me with all my needs, my daily bread?  Is my God THAT miserly in what He gives that I can’t afford a small office supply from the money He provides through our work?  God pointed out the larger sin that underlay my temptation to sin: to steal. I was ashamed and well taught in the moment.

Phil 4:19 – And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

But lest you think that I always stop right before this kind of sin, I don’t. Frequently I know what I am doing AS I move forward, yielding to the shortcut of sin. Remorse immediately follows afterwards.

So why do I lie? Why do I tell someone what I think he/she WANTS to hear?  Because I don’t want to experience the:

  • annoyance
  • anger
  • disappointment
  • dress down of the person to whom I am lying

What struck me during a recent post-lie conversation with God was how misplaced my fears were, how little respect I had for God.  Rather than avoiding the possible displeasure of my interlocutor, I should GREATLY fear lying to God who is holy, who has given me life AND shown me nothing but love and mercy.  Is this how I treat my Father?  What does THAT say about how much I value Him?

One hears in Christian circles that as one gets closer to divine light, as God’s holy flashlight penetrates the dark recesses of sin in the heart, one FEELS more sinful. As the years go by, I grow increasingly aware of my sin, daily and I am shocked.  I don’t know why, except I thought ‘I was BETTER than that’.  Ha!

I am learning (through lots of pop quizzes) to thank God FOR his gentle training rebukes that follow my failures.  It means I’m a daughter,

“……because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Hebrews 12:6

 

 

What do you want for your kids – Happiness or Holiness?

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Scales - balance

For years I was a ‘normal parent’, that is I would echo the other moms in my peer group at school: “I just want my kid to be happy!” Happy in what, about what?  Happy at school, happy with their friends (that they HAVE a friend!) happy with their teachers, with their sports or music activities, happy with our family.  I was an insecure mom!

Then I started to grow in my Christian convictions and practices as I was “being transformed by the renewing of my (your) mind.” Romans 12:2.  

I changed sides to the “I just want my kid to be holy!” I felt smug and in the know. In my mind I diminished the moms who cared only that their child was ‘happy’.  How shallow and worldly, I would remark to myself.

Recently I’ve had my beliefs changed for the better by Randy Alcorn’s book, Happiness

Happiness by Randy Alcorn

Having re-discovered the abundance of scripture verses that command and describe happiness in God, his actions and his creation I am convinced that there is NO conflict between happiness and holiness.

We were wired BY GOD himself to be happy in him and to be dissatisfied with anything less.  How ‘novel’, to find out that God is not against us being happy.  Not only is God a happy God, he in fact both commends happiness and joy AND commands it:

  • Happy are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights – Deut 33:29
  • Happy are the pure in heart, for they shall see God – Matt 5:8
  • Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!   See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9
  •  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Phil 4:4

Having considered happiness, what about holiness?  I know I don’t need to articulate any texts, but what I do want to do is show the connection between holiness and happiness.

Take a look at Deuteronomy 6:18 – And you shall do that which is right and good in the sight of the LORD: that it may be well with you,…..

I first read this verse in French and was startled – ‘be well with you’ in French was rendered ‘happy or heureux’.  Intrigued, I looked up the Hebrew translation and found out that YATAB (Strongs # 3190) lists as a primary translation – to be joyful or happy.

I think it’s safe to claim that ‘do that which is right and good in God’s sight’ is equivalent to ‘do holiness (or be holy)’.

I’m beginning to see how when we OBEY God (exercising holiness), we are happy!

Sometimes favorable circumstances ALSO accompany this ‘happiness’ but not necessarily.

This discovery greatly encourages me.  Not only does God COMMAND me to be holy, He also COMMANDS me to be happy.  And the way to be happy in God’s kingdom corresponds to how He has wired us.  We are happy when we are holy.  No conflict there!

So in light of this insight, were I to be raising children again, I would teach: Be happy by being holy!

 

 

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