What do you do with shame?

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They say shame is the most painful of emotions.  I can attest to that.  My shame faux-pas have been due to utterances.  Words pronounced without thinking, mostly in haste. Not a few times in my life have I said something I soon regretted.  The words used up less than a minute of real life when they burst forth but fueled much replay time in my post-mortem.

Shame brings regret and grief over the possible irreparable change in a relationship.

I experienced a fresh episode of this kind of heavy sadness the other morning.  I had encouraged someone to share an anecdote with some visiting family members during dinner.  Not only was it untimely but unseemly.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  The effect was not good.  And I saw the consequence later on.  So for the next couple of days, I felt heavy and depressed.

But God!

His Word IS living and active – Hebrews 4:12.  He DOES restore my soul –  Psalm 23:3.

How did He lift the burden?  I’ve been slowly memorizing the book of 1 Peter.  I began toward the end of January of this year and it’s now mid-September and I’m about 1/3 of the way into Chapter 3.  The blessing of committing Scripture to heart is that the Spirit of Christ uses it in timely moments.  Like this week.

The promise was this:  1 Peter 2:6  The one who trusts in the Living Stone (Jesus) will NEVER be ashamed/shamed or disappointed or frightened away in haste (as Isaiah 28:16 renders this original fact.)

As soon as God reminded me of His truth, I FELT the shame leave.  My God-given reason kicked in like this:

  • I am one who trusts in Jesus.  And He promises to cause all circumstances/events to work for my good.  Even those that are painful.  And if He says I won’t be ashamed or shamed, then I don’t need to wallow or indulge in that feeling now.
  • Besides, if I believe God truly is sovereign, even over our sin and mistakes, then I can trust Him to bring good out of this.
  • Finally, doesn’t God say in Psalm 84:11 No good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is upright/blameless/without blemish?
  • I regret what I said, AND I am even more motivated to depend on and pray for future self-control over my thoughts and mouth.  And I know that in Christ I am without blemish.  So then God did not withhold this event because He deems it a good thing. I will trust His judgment.

The upshot?  No more shame.  Just a reliance on my Father to heal the damage I did to the relationship and confidence that He is working in me all the time, through falls and victories in Christ.  Christians are entitled and given access to this kind of relief and healing balm NOW through God’s Word.  And for that I am exceedingly glad!

 

 

Pursuing or pursued?

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passion

Today it seems as though everyone is chasing after something.  Twenty years ago the rousing motto meant to motivate Christians and humanists alike was ‘Pursue your passion!’.  Christians added a further motivation, something to the effect that ‘where your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need’, this then is where God is calling you.

It seems fair to say that people of all stripes and walks of life seek something.  The thousands of possibilities fall into several predictable categories like:

  • safety
  • peace
  • health
  • work
  • meaning
  • relationships
  • security
  • identity
  • control over one’s future
  • freedom
  • acceptance

I’m sure some of those are worthwhile.  Who doesn’t want to reap the benefits of clean water and the cessation of war. But as significant as may be these many directions in which we focus our life’s energy, maybe it’s more important to do a 180 and ask a different question.  Instead of what vision we place in front of us, how about considering who might have US in His sights.  Who might be chasing US!

“….surely your goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”  Psalm 23:6

I was looking up the Hebrew word ‘pursue’ in a different passage and when I scanned all the places God uses this verb, I came across the familiar and beloved 23rd Psalm.  My mother used to joke about the 3 angels, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy when she talked about this well known promise.

David’s prayer reminds me of a more contemporary vision of divine pursuit. You’ve heard of the poem, The Hound of Heaven.  The image is of a God who WILL have His way, who never stops persistently tracking us, setting up roadblocks to direct us to the point where we give up and ‘reluctantly’ yield to His will.

CS Lewis admits that when he finally gave in, exhausted, to God’s decision and deliberate ‘hounding’ and handed over his life to this God, he did so with great reluctance.

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words “compelle intrare,” compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”  (taken from his book, Surprised by Joy)

I don’t know how you look at your life, but I for one am glad that God has and continues to pursue me.  If there is a driving force in my life, it seems to be one ceaseless message.  In the Old Testament Hosea sums up this directive best:

Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know him. Hosea 6:3

and in the New Testament, Jesus exhorts us to follow the sane and life-giving goal:

Matthew 6:33 – Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteous way……

Yes, justice and peace are important and we should pursue them in God’s strength and in His way.

But our significance comes NOT from what we pursue, but from WHO pursues us.

 

 

 

A sheep’s reflection on the Shepherd

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Sheep

The Lord is my Shepherd:

Jesus is my protector, guide and provider.  And I belong to him.  Shepherds take care of helpless animals who can’t look after themselves.  That must be God’s assessment of me.  I’m not fit to go it alone.  I need to be with other vulnerable ones in Jesus’ flock.  He’s also not just ‘any ole’ shepherd.  He’s MY shepherd.  That makes me HIS sheep and he knows me by name.

I shall lack nothing:

Jesus is a good shepherd.  He provides all I need.  That promise, that he will give me the time, energy, desire and ability to do what is needful this day, comforts me.  Especially when not a day goes by that I don’t struggle with trusting that he really will come through.  He’s ‘forcing’ me to learn NOT to live each day based on the provision I see waiting for me.

Having a shepherd also means I don’t have to hoard my own supplies. Besides, sheep don’t have pockets! AND I don’t really know what the day will bring.

He makes me lie down in green pastures:

I obviously don’t know a green pasture when I see one.  Or else my shepherd wouldn’t have to lead me to one.  And the fact that he forces me to lie down there speaks of my needing to learn to wait patiently and keep my eye on him. If I were in charge of my life, I’d move on, ‘knowing’ what was best for me.

He’s a good guy and I can trust him, because these abundant grazing areas are first on his agenda. Because of our stubbornness, he has to drive us, his flock, to rich and nourishing pastures both to feed and to rest in security.

He leads me beside still waters:

Gosh!  I was thirstier than I thought!  The calm quality to the stream implies no danger or threats.  And along with food and rest, Jesus takes care of all my other most basic needs and desires.

We all thirst for something, whether recognition or accomplishment or truth or comfort. My good shepherd can sort all that out and give me what is best.  The fact that I require him to herd me and the other sheep along implies I don’t know what I’m really thirsty for or how to satisfy that need.

He restores my soul:

My French Bible translates this as ‘He gives me renewed strength‘.  Boy, do I need to know the shepherd cares about that!  Especially since my energy is depleted about 9 pm each day.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his own sake:

The direction Jesus takes us is ‘God-ly’ and in keeping with the characteristics of the happy, triune Godhead.  And since all his decisions accord with his divine nature, I can trust him.  If Jesus’ next step were contingent on how I acted or thought, my life would be precarious.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death:

The way is dark and confusing at times. I don’t see where I’m headed.  And I probably don’t detect all the dangers.  The text also reassures me that I’m not meant to live there.  I’m walking through it.  There’s an end to this scary trial.

I will fear no evil, for your rod and your staff comfort me:

I may not see you (Where are you, God???) but I know you are near me for I feel your correcting rod when I start heading in a dangerous direction. And when I ignore your warning, then I know from experience that you will haul my little sheep derrière out of each pit I stubbornly choose.

You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies:

Spiritual forces of wickedness directed by Satan seek to plant rebellious and wicked fear thoughts in my head almost every day:

  • Why trust what you can’t see?
  • There’s no way God can do that!

Often I have to battle anxiety that takes the form of ‘what ifs’:

  • What if I don’t have enough time to get all my schoolwork done this week?
  • What if Mike doesn’t sleep well tonight?
  • What if my Christian witness at school, as cautious as I am, gets me in trouble?

But Jesus feeds me daily with encouragement from the Bible, from devotional books, from others’ prayers, from podcast sermons AND most especially each time a prayer is answered.   Whether a need on behalf of a friend that I repeatedly and insistently brought before the Father or help I received via others’ prayers for me.  Seeing God come through is the biggest boost!  We, his sheep, get the help and I love to give God the glory. Each time God provides an answer to prayer, my faith deepens, even if by just a bit.

You anoint my head with oil:

Jesus has a job for me, one of his sheep!  And it’s work that he has planned just for me from before the creation of the universe. Tailor-made work meant to advance his kingdom, pushing back the darkness.  I’m reassured again that each one of us, his sheep, is individually important.

My cup overflows:

I receive more goodness from your hand than I need or desire. You keep pouring it on! It never ends.

It’s a fact!  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

I’m hemmed in by the holy, happy, loving and compassionate community of the one true and living God.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever:

My life is only going to get better. Living near Jesus forever means I will always be safe and completely satisfied.

**

Often on my morning walks I personalize Psalm 23 or the Lord’s Prayer. Talking it through TO the Father reminds me of these realities and reconfirms to ME my status as a child of God and the privileges and responsibilities that go with my position.  My life DOES matter and this day is a gift. The morning conversation reassures me of those facts and of the one who will be with me throughout the next 24 hours.

 

 

 

Rotting manna

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“Mother, you’ve gathered too much!  You know what Father instructed us to do, ” seven-year old Adina exclaimed with astonishment.

The determined woman was quickly stashing extra manna in her robe’s folds.  “Hush, Daughter.  You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Carmela commanded, moving the sack already filled with the day’s flakey white substance.

The two had left the tent since daybreak and numbered among the many, quickly collecting what would be their only foodstuff until the evening quail God promised.  Moses had commanded the men, her husband Zibeon included, on how much and when to harvest the strange-looking and utterly unappealing white scraps.  They were then to mix and shape the flakes together with some water, baking it on a flat, iron pan-like board over the family’s fire.  Surprisingly, the result yesterday had been tasty and satisfying.

manna

More important than HOW to bake this new food, was the injunction JUST to take from the ground what would be sufficient for the number of people in each family.  Yesterday Zibeon had been with his wife and daughter and Carmela had been afraid to pick up more than necessary.

But today Zibeon, confident that his wife knew what to do, had sought out some of his tribe’s men with whom to confer about other matters.   Consequently only little Adina accompanied her mother.

The child did not pursue the topic of conversation.  Hebrew children knew better than to argue with their parents.  But she pondered what Father would say or do if he knew.  Her mother did not leave that possibility to chance. Upon entering the tent, she strictly warned Adina not to report anything to Zibeon.  “Your father has enough on his mind, Adina. Besides, Mother knows what she is doing.”

The day sped quickly as Adina helped her mother with household desert chores and played with her cousins.  Forgetting the morning’s incident, Adina with her tummy comfortably filled with this new wilderness food that God had provided, fell asleep shortly after sundown.

But the next morning, the conversation rushed back as she awoke to her father exasperatedly demanding, “Where did all these maggots come from?”  He and Carmela were examining a clay container where Mother had stashed the extra, forbidden manna.  Carmela sheepishly confessed her role in inviting creatures drawn to the rotting flakes. Having learned her lesson, she decided instead to trust the living God, Yahweh, who had promised the Hebrew people that He would provide food each day.

**

This fictionalized figment of my imagination is based on the account in Exodus, chapter 16, starting with verse 13b:

“….in the morning the desert all around the camp was wet with dew; 14 and when the dew disappeared later in the morning it left thin white flakes that covered the ground like frost. 15 When the people of Israel saw it they asked each other, “What is it?”

And Moses told them, “It is the food Jehovah has given you. 16 Jehovah has said for everyone to gather as much as is needed for his household—about two quarts[a] for each person.”

17 So the people of Israel went out and gathered it—some getting more and some less before it melted on the ground, 18 and there was just enough for everyone. Those who gathered more had nothing left over and those who gathered little had no lack! Each home had just enough.

19 And Moses told them, “Don’t leave it overnight.”

20 But of course some of them wouldn’t listen, and left it until morning; and when they looked, it was full of maggots and had a terrible odor; and Moses was very angry with them. 21 So they gathered the food morning by morning, each home according to its need; and when the sun became hot upon the ground, the food melted and disappeared. 22 On the sixth day there was twice as much as usual on the ground—four quarts instead of two; the leaders of the people came and asked Moses why this had happened.”

And the application to us, in the 21st century is two-fold.  First, no matter which economic stratum describes us today, what we need comes from God.  We are to depend on Him for all our needs during this present 24-hour period. The ‘Daily Bread’ Jesus teaches us to ask Him for is broad enough to include all our necessities.

But for those who are not dirt-poor, the rotting manna lesson is just as crucial and freeing.  When we gather and stash away more than we need for this day, the extra spoils and is good for no one.

God cares more about developing in us the UNNATURAL and learned reflex of trusting Him to provide for tomorrow.  If we allocate extra resources that we keep just for ourselves, why WOULD we or SHOULD we put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of dependence?  Oh, just for a mere reason or several:

  • God commands it. – “And he (John the Baptist) answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’ “ Luke 3:11
  • Giving away our surplus, ‘our bread for tomorrow’ brings joy“Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.” 2 Cor 8: 1-4
  • Relying on God humbles us and brings glory to God in the eyes of the world AS He meets our needs –“I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” Isaiah 43:20-21 
  • Realizing that all we have belongs to God who is our provider frees us from being tied down to stuff.  John Wesley, reacting to news that his house had burned down, nonchalantly responded with something like, ‘It belonged to God anyway; one less responsibility for me!’ 
  • Finally, HAVING to depend on God is apparently what God, our good father thinks is best for us.  When Paul describes the trials that he and his fellow missionaries underwent he adds: For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 2 Cor 1:8b-9

So what is going on in my life that has caused this reflection?  Just the trials from the past 2 months and my return to desperate praying of both the Lord’s prayer and Psalm 23.  I’ve sought renewed assurance that He will provide. And along with banking all on those rich promises and practices I’ve been confronted with my need not only to TRUST GOD and abandon anxiety and fear but actively to practice DEPENDING ON HIM through voluntary generosity of time, talent and money.   What helps is remembering that the EXCESS, what I hoard and hold back, will rot just like the manna. And then what good will it be?

 

 

God’s constant provision as seen in the Wizard of Oz

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Scarecrow from Oz

The local movie theater shows kids’ classics for free in the summer.  Accompanied by my granddaughters I relived this childhood favorite for the first time on the big screen. Startling were the illustrations of how God provides in the moment. I don’t mean to say that He is actually invoked and evident in L. Frank Baum’s cinematic version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  But seeing the scarecrow use brains he didn’t think he had to guide Dorothy and the others in escaping the Wicked Witch of the West and her winged monkeys and guards brought to mind life lived walking with Jesus. One could almost call this film a parable of the Christian life.

I’ve been meditating this summer on the stunning promise from our Jehovah-Jireh in Romans 8:32 – Since He (God) did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?  That’s enough provision to settle anyone’s heart.

Yet……I perversely WANT to see – ahead of time – all the provision I’ll ever need, IN PLAIN SIGHT!  But that is not the way God has set up this world. He is training us to trust Him, to lean on Him moment by moment, to live by faith in who He is, to treasure Him as our greatest provision.  Time and time again, God exhorts us to be content with Him as our greatest good.

Viewing again this vintage film drove home in a gentle and nostalgic way the futility of worrying about the future.

The lion, tin man, scarecrow and Dorothy had NO idea what circumstances would be like just around the corner.  How could they have anticipated that the guards who worked for the evil witch would rejoice to see their tyrannical sorceress melt away?

Witch melting

And when the ‘Wizard’ inadvertently departed Oz without Dorothy, she had no need to worry about what to do next.  For Glinda, the good witch, appeared with all that was necessary at the opportune moment.

So, too, is our God and Father always with us, to provide just what we need in the kairos moment.  Psalm 23:1 – The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not lack a thing! 

Isn’t our God amazing in how He uses EVERYthing to teach us.  That’s a love that never stops!

It’s good to be a sheep

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sheep

 

 

Psalm 23:1, 3  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want……He restores my soul. 

What peace and grounding there is to be found in the first psalm I ever remember learning.  Thank you, Cousin Terry, for reminding me of the rest and assurance that is available to all believers!

We were catching up over the phone.  In response to my question of how she was doing financially (she lives on a fixed income), she confidently recited verse 1, that she lacked and desired nothing due to our shepherding Lord.

After we hung up, I savored recalling each truth and promise packed into those six verses of the 23rd psalm.

Here are my take-aways from just one and a half verses:

From verse 1 –

  • I’m a sheep.  As a simple beast, I don’t have the vision or the wisdom to know where to find green fields and clean, refreshing waters.  I need a GOOD shepherd.  Yet most of the time I operate as though I know what is best for me and where I should head.
  • The shepherd knows me well.  After all, He is MY shepherd.  That means I am HIS little sheep.  I belong to him.  And Jesus knows best how to take care of me.  I act like a foolish beast when I don’t trust Him and His provision.
  • If I don’t have the thing I think I need or want, then that something is not what I should have at the moment. In fact, I will NEVER not have what my maker knows I need.

From  verse 3 –

  • Restoration is a big deal.  The Hebrew word shuwb (#7725 Strongs) refers to life-giving actions that my Shepherd performs, namely….RETURNS, REFRESHES, STRENGTHENS, REPAIRS, CONVERTS.  So often I’m scattered, distracted, worried, headed off on an unhealthy tangent or plan.  I NEED a wise and good shepherd who knows best and doesn’t hesitate to perform holy restoration/restauration.

feeding 4000

 

 

 

  • What Jesus, my Shepherd, repairs and restores is what the Old Testament calls the soul, or nephesh (#5315 Strongs). For the Hebrews, nephesh represents the entire YOU.   Your immaterial feelings, thoughts, pleasures, desires and dreams as well as your material or physical self.

Does that include my disappointments?  what about my ‘yet-to-be-realized dreams’? And my shame?  YES!

Does that include my energy and desires, my ‘get-up-and-go’ as my Dad used to call it? In a word, YES!

This master shepherd CAN and DOES guide, provide, love, encourage, feed, console, motivate and protect me in just the right amounts and combinations at the most kairos or propitious of times.

So with just 1 verse and a fragment, the Psalmist answers my anxiety.  God is always communicating a message of rest, of peace, of provision.  My life is not as complicated as I make it out to be.  And I bet yours isn’t either.  After all, if we are Christians, we know we are just sheep, senseless and stubborn at times, but well taken care of.  Aren’t you glad our Shepherd is committed to us?

Lies that fuel worry

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Sleepless in Balsam

Sleepless

That was me – Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights.  Couldn’t turn off my mind from pursuing one thought after another.

Nothing bad, just the possibility of another job for next year.

And it wasn’t a sense of joyful anticipation that fueled my thoughts, but a chewing on the pros and cons.

Relief finally came via reminders of Truth.

  • When I woke up Saturday morning REALLY tired despite lying in bed for 8 hours, the Holy Spirit gently chided me that I had failed to take advantage of Almighty God’s loving command to cast all my cares on Him.
  • Christian Community provided more light on what was True.

Anne and Wes were here for the weekend.  Listening to Anne describe her thought process on one of her issues (and what turned out to be a lie she had swallowed) helped me see some presuppositions I, myself, had accepted as Truth.  As it happened for Anne, finally admitting to a trusted Christian friend one of her ‘facts’ (aka –  an unsubstantiated belief), she was able to see, in the light of day, what her friend was able gently but rationally to point out.  Her account of thinking incorrectly helped me to look at what I had accepted as fact.

Here are were a few of my irrational thoughts mixed in with half-truths:

  • Those who are good teachers LOVE the field of education and teaching
  • I don’t love teaching but I enjoy some aspects of it
  • Therefore, I must be a fraud
  • Furthermore, I should not, AT MY AGE, attempt to move into a new educational opportunity
  • Something new might involve MORE work and a greater time commitment
  • I’m basically lazy anyway
  • Therefore, I would again be FAKING energy and interest that I don’t have in an interview

Listening to Anne gave me pause.  Maybe not ALL of my assumptions are true!  Maybe it’s irrational to compare myself to the best in my field.  Maybe my ‘good enough’ is sufficient for God’s purposes where I am.  Maybe where I am has less to do with teaching/educational work, than with being present for my ‘neighbors’ in my daily community.

Good Enough

One new thought prompted another as Anne shared from her life.  Maybe Satan is the source of some of these assumptions in order to discourage me from investing energy in my work life.  Hm – that hadn’t occurred to me. I default to believing that my thoughts have their origin in me.

And maybe it’s not about being good enough, or the best or wildly enthusiastic.  Maybe it’s about being faithful today, where I am, with what I’ve been given to do.  And to do IT with His power and wisdom and energy.

A comforting image came to me as I laid down for a nap on Saturday afternoon.  It was of the relief and ordinariness of just being a sheep in the Father’s fold.  Just a good sheep.  Voilà – my new ambition.  “Maria – just be a good little sheep!”

sheep So that is what I aspire to, this day.  Not to invent/create/or pursue my own goals, but to follow my all-sufficient Shepherd.  After all, He promises that as one of His sheep:

  • I will lack nothing
  • I will receive sufficient rest, energy and strength for the day
  • I will be directed, not for my sake, but for the honor of His name and character as the Good Shepherd
  • I will feast on royal food and be anointed with family oil reminding me of whose I am EVEN in the midst of enemies

Finally, to ensure that I clearly understood my Father in this matter yesterday, the Holy Spirit guided my podcast listening to a sermon in which the pastor taught from Romans 8.  The verse that was for me was verse 14:

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God”

Working backwards, I reasoned thus: Since I know that I have been adopted into God’s family and am a co-heir with Jesus, my brother, then ipso facto, the Spirit DOES lead me.  The Greek word is ‘ago’ (Strongs # 71) and it can mean COMPEL, DRIVE, BRING.  Much stronger words, then ‘lead’, wouldn’t you say?

If God is sovereign, then I can trust Him to drive me or keep me where He wants me.  And concerning this other job possibility I WILL turn over the next card and do what is at hand, this day, but I will pray to remember NOT to pre-occupy myself with the future.

Can anyone relate?

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