Achsah’s wisdom toward her husband and confidence in her father – a model for us

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Joshua 15: 16-19

Caleb said, “Whoever strikes Kiriath-sepher and captures it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter as wife.” And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it. And he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife.  When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she got off her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?”  She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.

Achsah is one confident daughter.  She knows what is necessary for a secure future with her new husband Othniel – land with easy access to water.  She knows who can provide, her dad!

Here are the facts leading up to her in-person request of her good father, Caleb:

  • Caleb offers Achsah, his daughter, to the man who subdues and occupies a certain town.  This city is located in the midst of the territory Joshua gave Caleb in recognition for Caleb’s decades of faithful service.
  • Othniel (Israel’s first and future judge-to-be after Joshua’s death) steps forward and handles the challenge, winning the hand of Caleb’s daughter.
  • Achsah is wise and ‘suggests’ to her husband that he ask his new father-in-law for a field.
  • We draw the implicit conclusion that Othniel accepts his wife’s suggestion and goes to Caleb with the request.  Apparently Caleb deeds over some land.
  • We learn a few verses down that the land Caleb gives his son-in-law is actually desert (‘land of the Negeb’)
  • Finally we read that Achsah saddles a donkey and pays her father a visit.

Now let’s look at the dialogue between father and daughter.  Caleb is direct.  As soon as she dismounts, he asks:  What do you want?  Achsah doesn’t mince words: Give me a blessing.

She then requests springs to water the land Dad has given them.  Employing the language of ‘blessing’, she humbly communicates that she doesn’t DESERVE what she wants, but that it would be GIFT.

She spells out just what kind of ‘blessing’ she has in mind.  She and Othniel will need access to life-giving water if they are to farm successfully and support their family and servants.

The good father immediately complies and gives her TWO springs, the upper and the lower springs. Achsah did not specify just what kind of springs they needed.  She left it to her dad to decide what was best.

Achsah’s confidence in her father impressed me.  When her husband comes back with the news that Dad had given them a parcel from the Negeb, Achsah doesn’t grumble.  Nor does she berate her husband (“Why did you settle for THAT kind of lot, you dummy.  It’s desert!”)

She saddles up and goes to Caleb, trusting in his fatherly goodness and generosity.  And Caleb satisfies her request.  He indeed blesses her with ownership of the entire springs, not just one spring.

This example of a wise young wife and faithful daughter shows me both how to act toward Mike, my husband whom God has called to lead our family and toward my good Father who owns ALL.

Husbands respond positively to gentle suggestions.  They appreciate wise and gentle counsel from their wives.

Fathers love to give good gifts to their children.  Our Father in heaven, of whom Caleb is a shadow and a type, is always ready to respond profusely to His kids’ needs and requests.

Lesson? Let us approach our Father in heaven with confidence since Jesus has done the hard job to rescue us, His rebellious children, from well-deserved eternal judgment.  May it NOT be said of us that ‘we have not because we ask not’.

Do you know anyone who has named her daughter Achsah?

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Lessons from the Shadowy Valley

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Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.  Psalm 107:4-9 (NIV)

Mike and I are beginning to come out of a LONG trek through the wilderness, a journey without much light or clear vision. For the past 4-5 years, Mike has felt stymied in finding enough satisfying, suitable and value-adding work.  His original business plan when we moved to western North Carolina in the summer of 2013 aborted.  Another enterprise got off to a good start and then stalled one year later.  The door that God DID keep open these years of desert wandering has been as the tech reporter for World News Group.  But the work, as God-glorifying and useful as it was, left him with unexercised analytical skills and isolated from incarnational, face-face-face community. He grew depressed and increasingly beset by some irrational fears.

But thanks be to God, who provided a good biblical counselor and subsequent understanding and clarity to both of us.  The result? We are leaving western North Carolina shortly, something neither of us envisioned when we moved to these beautiful mountains.  But our good Shepherd, our constant guide and driver along the meandering ‘straight’ path He calls ‘good’ (see underlined verse above), has brought us within sight of a new city where we can settle.  The next God adventure awaits.

What have we learned in this God-appointed long trial and trek in the Valley?

  1. God gets our attention in adversity.  Neediness forced us to plow beneath the surface of His Word, unearthing treasure.  We grew hungrier for our daily reading through the Bible, year after year. We each started writing down in a notebook what we noticed in our readings and then sharing them at ‘Happy Hour’, while I was fixing dinner.  Discussing each other’s observations, unanswered questions and insights drove Scripture further into our hearts.  We now know experientially that man does not live by temporary food and comfort-providing stuff, (those good gifts God provides that come with the potential to become what we most value), but by God’s living Word.
  2. We each individually battled daily temptations to WORRY and FEAR.  We still do, but we have grown quicker to repent and remind ourselves of the Truth about who God is and what He says in the Bible.
  3. We practiced enunciating specific, measurable God-requests.  So many people prayed for us on and off these past 5+ years.  When you ask others to lift up your needs before God, you have to articulate well just what you do need.  Why? So you can recognize God’s provision when it comes and so you and the ‘pray-ers’ can properly THANK God for hearing and acting.
  4. Since early December 2018, we began keeping a prayer notebook.  We set it up like this: one page per day with a vertical line to make two columns:  Mike’s needs and Maria’s needs.  We each articulate and explain what is on our heart and our mind, for instance, a dreaded task to do, a burden or a fear.  I write each of them down in measurable detail.  Then we take turns praying out loud for one another.  My favorite part of this process is to look back to yesterday’s needs and see which ones God has already answered!  Then we praise our good God.
  5. A final lesson that we want to retain is this:  wilderness paths along which the Spirit leads us are prescribed by God as His good plan to conform us to His Son.  The trials are part of God’s curriculum designed to make us like more holy.  For what purpose?  to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the Beloved One. Eph 1:6 Berean Study Bible.  Why do we want to hold fast to and not forget this fact about struggles, this truth, this component of God’s School of Discipleship?  So the next God lessons don’t catch us by surprise or alarm us.
  6. We also want to continue this habit of daily praying together.  Not only do we see tangible documented evidence of God at work, but that sacred space with Him has provided a safe place for Mike and me to invite the other into some of the dark corners of our hearts. Our marriage benefits from that practice.

Providentially as I meditated on how to record my thoughts for you, this timely meditation by 19th-century the famous English pastor cycled through again:

Charles Spurgeon’s morning devotion for 8 March

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Acts 14:22

God’s people have their trials. It was never designed by God, when he chose his people, that they should be an untried people. They were chosen in the furnace of affliction; they were never chosen to worldly peace and earthly joy. Freedom from sickness and the pains of mortality was never promised them; but when their Lord drew up the charter of privileges, he included chastisements amongst the things to which they should inevitably be heirs. Trials are a part of our lot; they were predestinated for us in Christ’s last legacy. So surely as the stars are fashioned by his hands and their orbits fixed by him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: he has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us. Good men must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them. Mark the patience of Job; remember Abraham, for he had his trials, and by his faith under them, he became the “Father of the faithful.” Note well the biographies of all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and you shall discover none of those whom God made vessels of mercy, who were not made to pass through the fire of affliction. It is ordained of old that the cross of trouble should be engraved on every vessel of mercy, as the royal mark whereby the King’s vessels of honour are distinguished. But although tribulation is thus the path of God’s children, they have the comfort of knowing that their Master has traversed it before them; they have his presence and sympathy to cheer them, his grace to support them, and his example to teach them how to endure; and when they reach “the kingdom,” it will more than make amends for the “much tribulation” through which they passed to enter it.

Those infernal lies that seem like my thoughts

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Mike and I have been talking about the number of lies we entertain in our thoughts. We usually assume they are true. In fact, they innocuously blend in with our other ruminations in a way that makes us actually believe they ARE our thoughts (and therefore true!).

I’m an expert at detecting these lies in Mike. They are easy to spot should he happen to speak one out loud –  these inner verdicts on reality. (analyze THAT Latin word! verus =true, dictum = statement).

I now understand this satanic tactic, a favorite of the ‘father of lies’.  He tends to whisper or suggest ideas and conclusions that feel SO much like our own. We think we are the source of the thoughts. There’s no warning sign or danger alert that they might be from someone other than us.

Here’s my most current example. I was experiencing a difficult time with some 7th-grade boys last week. They were distracting French class.  I started fantasizing about how pleasant it would be to teach adults who CHOOSE to learn French (or English) with me. (first mistake – discontent followed by coveting. How?  by imagining something other than what God has given me).  Within a few hours I was thinking:

  • Maybe I’m too old to be teaching middle schoolers.
  • Maybe this should be my last year.

I actually articulated those thoughts and conclusions 3 different times over the weekend.

Result?  I slid into a sulky, grumpy mood by Monday morning.

But God!

I actually WROTE down in my journal, “Father – HELP me!  Give me fresh ways and ideas to deal with these kids. Help my un-desire.”

And to my surprise, within 5 minutes of recording that need, a memory from several years ago arrived ‘front and center’.  At that particular time, I had written a pastor friend, asking him to pray during a VERY painful early year at my current school.  He immediately wrote back to encourage me.

He had exhorted me to keep in mind that one or more of these kids I was teaching might one day become a missionary in a French-speaking part of the world.  All because I had persisted in teaching students French.

Through this very memory, God infused my being with strength!  The hope-giving reminder of why I must continue teaching French vacuumed away the discouragement in a flash.  “I MUST persist,” I concluded.

What followed next was even more powerful.  Suddenly I saw that my feelings and thoughts of no longer belonging in the classroom were not MY notions, but planted FALSE ideas by my enemy, the devil.

That realization grew as I saw more clearly just why this ‘liar from old’ would not want me equipping someone to speak French.  Someone who might one day explain to a French speaker just who Christ was and what He has done.

So, I am reminded, how blind we are when it comes to spotting lies – in ourselves.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we must help each other by engaging with others. We should:

  • CONFIDE our discouragement with brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them to pray!
  • ASK MORE THAN surface questions when we see others; press a bit deeper when we detect anxiety or heaviness in someone’s face and voice. We can offer to listen and pray.

We don’t know how close someone might be to throwing in the towel.  Discouragement is a real life-drainer.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Vitamins and minerals against anxiety

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

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

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

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

Who doesn’t desire all that?

So, what’s the catch?

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

Right!

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

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

So how do we DO what he recommends?

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

Not my plan, not my life, not my worry

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It started like this.  We were reading about King Jehosophat and his God-ward response to the imminent attack by hordes of Moabites and Ammonites.  At the time, I was praying for someone enduring a long-term trial.

Each time I ‘revisit’ the reign of King J, I draw encouragement to turn over ‘impossible’ situations to our Father.  While in 2 Chronicles this time around, I shared with Cousin Terry my ongoing prayer.  She immediately pointed out what happened AFTER the Judean king humbled himself in his public prayer about the approaching enemy.  Opening up to chapter 20 of 2 Chronicles I found this in verses 4-6a:

And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly.  And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go……..”

Seeing in print God’s encouraging direction NOT to fear, but to trust God and to fight in the Lord’s battle shifted something in my mind.

Subsequently, when I found myself wondering how God would come through to answer this top-of-my-list petition, I stopped and confessed to day-dreaming. I redirected my thoughts and recited out loud:

  • not my battle
  • not my plan
  • not my rescue

Next, I would turn my thoughts toward HIM, the one true God who is imminently qualified and powerful, and motivated to make his name known as Rescuer.

You might push back and say: ‘What’s wrong with indulging in a little speculation about how God is going to act?”

For me, it’s sin.  Because I derive more pleasure from fantasizing through possible outcomes God might choose than from thinking about what awaits me in heaven or about all the privileges I have now as a follower of Jesus.

Three weeks later, the ‘not my plan’ response has grown roots as my # 1 weapon (when I catch myself) against WORRYING, FEARING, FANTASIZING, ENVYING OR…. today, DREADING.  I added ‘dreading’ this morning when I realized that only one week of summer break remains.  Past years have found me dreading the rev-up of the school year that lessens leisure time at home.  Today God enabled me quickly to direct my thoughts this way.

First here is my assumption as a rock-solid foundation:

I believe that God sovereignly directs all things in this universe “……according to the purpose of the One working all things according to the counsel of His will.” Ephesians 1:11.

And then this premise:

It must follow logically that my good Father has a plan for me today along with the provisioning grace needed for each happening event.  Since God only plans what will be ETERNALLY ‘good’ for me as his child, I can relax.  I trust him.

Freed from all that mess of anxiety and fear, what do I do?  At my Father’s disposal, I do the next thing that seems good to me, keeping my eyes on him for a change in direction.

How comforting, these 3 words.

How do you combat the sin of worry and fear?

 

 

 

 

Discounting the current gifts from God

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There’s this ONE prayer and request that I keep asking God for.  It’s the ‘tugging on the Father’s sleeve’ kind.  That heart-filled longing that would consume me if I let it. Over the many years, I’ve learned to compartmentalize it somewhat.  Allotting it very specific time in my prayers each morning.  But I also pray when the occasional acute detailed need arises.

When I’m feeling strengthened by God, my prayers are statements of faith, attesting to God’s goodness and His sovereign control over all events. I KNOW for a fact that our Triune God is:

  • sovereign
  • loving
  • holy
  • wise
  • all-powerful
  • good
  • merciful
  • faithful

Those characteristics of our Father sustain me most days and nights.  I can leave this need in His hands.  But on occasion, there are those tearful prayers when along with David, I cry out:  How long, O LORD!

Like yesterday morning. I felt depleted and discouraged.  Will God EVER answer this request?  The tears flowed.  I had my notebook open and penned my lament. But as I dried my tears, a new thought arrived.

What if I am SO fixated on this one thing that God has not yet provided, that I miss the good gift He already has bestowed?

Like my sweet husband.  We’ve been married 38 years.  And ever since our crisis at the 20-year point, our relationship has been on the upswing.   That in itself is a gift from God.  But over the past year, Michael’s expressions of love for me have distilled into something even more pure and tender.  The notes he leaves me on our frig whiteboard are enough to make any wife cry with humility and gratitude.  How did I end up with such a choice life partner? Only by His grace, for sure.

So here is the new thought that I believe the Holy Spirit of the Father brought to mind yesterday after my Godward plea. I’m going to put words in His mouth:

  • Maria, are you SO fixated on wanting this one thing that you are missing My many gifts designed specifically FOR you, my beloved daughter?

That thought startled me!  What if God is answering my request for X with this other gift because that is what He KNOWS is best for me RIGHT NOW!  In fact, could all His gifts be what He has decided I actually need at this Kairos moment in my life, while I’m seeking X?

Does that mean He won’t ever provide my X?  Not necessarily, but that answer is beyond my ‘ken’ or knowledge.  I can’t predict if He will bring about my desired circumstance.  But He is my good and wise Father.  I can trust Him.  For right now, what He gives is enough.

The Holy Spirit left me with this final realization:

  • Maybe THAT is why our Bible teaches and reinforces gratitude over and over.

Since then, I’ve been pondering and reflecting on what I might have already missed or discounted from God’s hand.  What OTHER gifts has He given me that I have not even VIEWED as gifts, nor as an answer to my Big Request?

How about you?  How is God answering your heart prayers?

Psalm 107:1 ESV – Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

 

 

Praying, the physics of intercession and gratitude

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What do you pray for?

  • safety?
  • the salvation of family or friends?
  • a new job?
  • patience?
  • healing?
  • reconciliation in a marriage or other relationship?
  • wisdom for a difficult decision?
  • unity in your church?

I pray for all these things and more!

Recently, WHILE praying, God has been pinging me for my lack of gratitude for so many of His gifts.

Here is what has happened.  Every day, on my Prayermate app, a different ‘Unreached People Group’ pops up in my feed.  Here is a photo of today’s UPG on my iPhone:

Prayermate Image  If you look at the % Evangelical of these people, the Shixing of China, you’ll notice that percentage-wise there are NO believers among that group. None!  That stuns me.  But more than being sad for their lostness and eager to pray that someone WOULD share the Gospel of the one, true God, I feel a deep conviction of how little I value MY salvation.

These 3500 people are locked into fear and superstition and a future worse than their present conditions.  Yet, I, by God’s grace have been given the most valuable gift anyone could want – God’s Holy Spirit presence with me right now, because of the Cross, and a future with Jesus, face to face.

So, what’s wrong with me?  Why am I not stunned by His grace, past, present, and future?

Two days ago, as I pondered and prayed for a people group currently imprisoned in darkness, I thought about ALL my prayer requests, not just the ones for others’ salvation.  I realized that each person’s request could be paired with multiple examples of God’s past provision TO ME of the very same grace I was begging God to give someone on my list.

For example, one son and his wife were traveling home from a trip this past Saturday.  I prayed for their safety.  Then the Holy Spirit reminded me of how He had brought Mike and me home safely only 3 days earlier.  I quickly thanked the Father for that, with a sudden rush of gratitude.

What I am beginning to confess is not just blindness to God’s hourly goodness in my life, BUT a pathway to NOTICE, NAME and EXALT Him for all His benefits and gifts.

I’m a language teacher, not a science person.  But even I recall something about Newton’s laws of motion. His 3rd law goes like this:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

So if I’m obeying God’s law or principle, then each time I ask Him for something for someone, that request should generate the equal and opposite act of gratitude for having met the same or similar need in my life.

Here’s one small illustration of how I put this insight into practice today as I was preparing to leave home for school.

  • Initial action: Father, please give my husband your peace this day as he works from home and keep our house safe.
  • The opposite and equal REaction: Father, thank you for protecting our house through the night.  No trees came down on it, despite all the rain we have had over the past 2 weeks. Thank you also for how you are growing my husband, through Your Word, to depend on You when problems confront him.

My hope is that by praying according to this ‘Law of Physics’, which is a principle our Creator God set up, that my eyes will focus more readily on all the gifts He gives me hour by hour.  He really does ‘load us with blessings’ each day.  (Psalm 68:19)

I repent of time lost to praise Him.

 

 

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