What if?

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The Lord is my light and my salvation—
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the refuge and fortress of my life—
Whom shall I dread?

Though an army encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
Even in this I am confident. (Psalm 27: 1, 3)

“But Daughter, what if the men forget?” the anxious and elderly man conjectured, rubbing his hands as he rocked back and forth.

“Father, I have their assurance. We mustn’t be fearful.  They will come through.  After all, I did not let them down when they were being sought by the King’s men,” Rahab spoke quietly with calm assurance as she rubbed his shoulders.

The old man seemed to soak in her words for a few minutes, but then another thought assailed him.  “What if they can’t find our house in all the confusion of the attack?”

Tenderly, Rahab reminded him, “But I have fastened the scarlet cord to the window ledge, just as they instructed me.  They will see it.”

One last time, her dad fished for another possible mishap, “Yes, but what if they are killed by the King’s soldiers before they can save us?”

Rahab’s words silenced his doubts, for a while. “Father, I trust the God of the Hebrews. He is not like any other god. We know how He rescued His people from the Egyptians and led them through the desert.  He is trustworthy.  He always does what He says.  We will put our faith in Him, not the spies or fortuitous circumstances, but in this Rock.”

Rahab

Like Rahab, I have moved beyond my known world of visible help out into the wilderness where many of God’s people have journeyed.   About two weeks ago heart palpitations invaded Mike’s heart. Uninvited, they immediately set about to mess with his pumping chambers, adding extra beats in an intermittent pattern that disrupted his sleep in a debilitating way. What brought them on? Apparently a series of seemingly random events such as dental pain and a bad cold and a reaction to Sudafed are the precipitating causes we think. But ultimately God, the originator and sustainer of the universe, is the First Cause of all that happens to us.  Permitting these little messengers of Satan to plague Mike, God has gently and lovingly overseen my husband’s battle with fear and anxiety at night.  ‘What-if’ scenarios have especially been hard: apprehension that the heart meds won’t work and worry that sleep will evade him.

What God has shown me as I’ve battled with Mike, mining God’s word for strength and assurance, is this:

Every hero of faith has been led out to the very same desert, alone except for God, and beyond sight of provision, to confront and battle the fear of the ‘What-Ifs’.  Similar to how American Indian young men endured solitary testing for their manhood initiation rite, believers have been dragged or led into an arena to do spiritual warfare.  Equipped only with God’s word, (His promises, His past provisions, and knowledge of His character) this fiery trial has provided them the opportunity and gift to prove decisively to themselves whether God is true and faithful. Just look at a few of our Biblical ancestors:

  • Rahab had to trust the spies’ promise of rescue when Joshua and the tribes surrounded and attacked Jericho
  • Abraham had to hold on to God’s promise that heirs as numerous as the stars would come through his son Isaac who lay bound on the wood, about to be sacrificed
  • Esther had to entrust her life to God as she courageously broke the king’s law and approached him unbidden, risking death
  • Mary faced possible death and certain public humiliation by explaining to Joseph and accepting the circumstances of her imminent pregnancy
  • Paul’s friends in Rome brought food and supplies to him in prison, courting possible imprisonment by association

Many weak, frightened and flawed men and women have encountered that ultimate, often unsought moment.  They have had to answer once and for all the only question that matters.

  • Can I trust God?  Do I believe what He says in the Bible?  Will He actually come through?

With no more visible proof than what each of us has already learned about Him experientially, and/or by reputation per other believers’ accounts and in His Word, we come to the edge, alone.

  • Do I step into the chasm, trusting in the evidence provided?
  • Will He catch me?

Many of you have already endured this refining, this baptism of fire meant to bless you, not to harm you. Sure, we can orient our life in the direction of banking all on God, preemptively before God brings on a trial of trust. But sometimes our good Father accelerates the timetable or the intensity of the ‘Faith Course’.

Mike and I didn’t consciously enroll in this particular curriculum.  But obviously God thought it was necessary to strengthen our faith, to test it so WE would know how real and valuable the gift of faith is that Christ purchased for us. We needed a push, apparently!

Daily the homework and pop quizzes confront us, but I know that all who stick it out in God’s school make it to the end, fully qualified.  And what is reassuring is that He doesn’t enroll anyone who is not going to graduate and be purified.  In fact, we have the personal attention and daily assistance of the Remedial Counselor.  We can’t help but pass.

As I reminded Mike this morning, we WALK through the valley of the shadow of death. We haven’t moved in, to settle down.  Yes, it is dark and scary and over the past few weeks we have not KNOWN what to do.  We feel like Hezekiah who prayed publicly in front of his people,

“….we have no might to stand against this great company that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” 2 Chronicles 2:12

In our need, the road has seemed starless and confusing with no signposts directing us where to go or what to do. But our good Shepherd IS leading the way, HIS way, along ‘paths of righteousness for His name’s sake’.  He will bring us out into green pastures.  The end is sure.  I can see it, with my eyes of faith.

 

 

Are you a one-thing person?

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Psalm 27:4

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

I’ve been distracted on and off this week by various good things.  We spent some delightful days with friends Joe & Mary in the rich, rolling farmlands of southwestern Missouri.

48 - Mary talks to chickens

Before this week I actually thought I had NO relationship with Missouri! Come to find out, not only was one of my daughters-in-law born in St. Louis, but also I had spent a week in St. Louis at a foreign language conference 3 years ago.  And I learned that Ferguson is part of St. Louis.

One topic that pulled away my energy and gaze was the possibility of modifying our eating/exercise routines.  It turned out that Joe cooks and eats ‘paleo’, following a certain gal’s version of food choice/prep. He also introduced us to the ‘Happy Body’ workout routine.  I devoured both books prominently perched in their kitchen.

What I noticed was that for a few days, my mind obsessed and was jazzed more by THOSE topics rather than in the eternal matters of MEGA value.  Listening via podcast to some God-centered talks by John Piper and others brought me back to my senses.

Yesterday, on our last leg of the trip home, I was meditating/reading Matthew 6:33: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

When you start to look at the significance of EACH word in a verse, fresh insights pop.  Here is what jumped out and sunk in for the first time:

  • SEEK – we don’t spend time hunting for something we don’t value.  So Jesus is saying in effect, “Make my kingdom your treasure”
  • SEEK – the objective is not obvious to the casual observer.  Effort and focus are needed. ‘Duh!‘, you say.  I realized that I can’t see/seek more than one thing at a time.
  • FIRST – heretofore, I thought first was more ‘chronos’-oriented.  But I looked up the Greek word for ‘first’ and it’s PROTOS (Strongs 4413), which means – ‘above all, top priority, chiefly’
  • KINGDOM – hmm, what am I going to do with a kingdom when I find it?  Certainly not conquer it, nor visit it as a tourist. I’m seeking a kingdom in order to find the King. He is what’s important. And if I find the King, I will be submitting to Him.  Lots of implications here!
  • HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS – not mine.  My life is not to be about adding more ‘subtitles’ or beefing up my résumé.  Who am I trying to impress? (if I’m honest, it’s YOU!)  But seriously, if I find this Kingdom and submit to this King, then I’ll be wearing the uniform/the colors of one of His gals, not my own colors.  And compared to those clothes, even my best show-offy threads are but grubby, stinky, fit-only-for-the-bin rags (see Isaiah 64:6)
  • ALL…ADDED – did you notice that there is nothing else we are counseled to seek once we have found His Kingdom? Everything we need (the stuff we angst over and which Jesus gently takes to task both His listeners and us His readers)

Here are some other verses that back up this ONE-THING orientation I sense God is calling me to cling to:

Luke 10: 40 to 42But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

After those verses, I can see that this ONE-THING focus is really about adopting or choosing a ONE-THOUGHT or ONE-TRACK mind.  In fact the Greek word for worried is MERIMNAO  (3309) or ‘thinking about many things’.

My favorite verse in the entire Bible – Psalm 84:11 actually addresses this mental posture as well.  God promises NOT to withhold any good from those who walk/live uprightly.  And wouldn’t you know it, ‘upright’ or TAMIYM (Hebrew 8549) means to be all in one piece, to be integral as opposed to scattered.

All the above to say this:  that when other stuff is front and center in my mind, I give away pieces of my life.  When I’m focused on Jesus, His good news, my status as an adopted child of the King, all that God the Father has given me, including the forever presence of my supernatural Counselor-Comforter, then Life and ‘Shalom’ return to me.

Father – thank you for reminding me each time I’m sucked away by some other compelling, luring, competing possible ‘first thing’.  Thank you for the vivid contrast I feel when you bring me to my senses, once again.  May I not wander off any more THIS day.  And when I awake and it’s a new day, be so kind as to remind me straight away of WHO and WHAT is my ONE THING, so I can live and feel WHOLE.  Amen!

Mag Obsession

What is your ‘One Thing’?

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You’ve heard of Double A batteries?  How about Double C Idols?

That would be the twin gods of comfort and certainty.  I was stopped short in my thoughts the other day by a quote attributed to Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  Quoted in the excerpt at the bottom of this essay* she asks her listeners to, “Finish what King David wrote by filling in YOUR one thing: ‘One thing I have asked of the Lord, this one thing I seek_____________________’.”  (Psalm 27:4)

Pausing to reflect, I had to confess that I couldn’t even narrow down all my prayer requests and heart longings to ONE THING. But I remember saying to myself, ‘what a great idea!’

Pretty soon, in less than 24 hours, I realized that ALL my prayers pretty much center around wanting MY comfort and certainty in the details of my life and the lives of those I care about.

In other words it’s all about me. Yet…that is not wrong in and of itself.  God KNOWS that we operate in our own best interests. He wired us that way.  He just KNOWS that which is in our best interests – a life fed, fueled, and instructed by Him.

Even yesterday on our hike up the Art Loeb Trail to Ivestor Gap,

Art Loeb Trail plaque and Mike - 31 Aug

I saw how much we crave certainty. Mike was navigating by topographical map. He is a typical mission-oriented male, just the way God made men to be.  He had scoped out a hike and this was our 3rd attempt to complete it.  The first Saturday, because we weren’t used to how long it takes to hike this kind of hilly terrain, we had taken a wrong turn.  Then last Saturday, I casually mentioned that 4 hours of hiking was probably what I had in mind for a typical Saturday field trip.  That information, shared with my husband for the first time, caused him to change our day’s goals.  We successfully completed half of his planned hike. Yesterday our goal was to finish it.

As we ran into those inevitable decision points (how come THIS trail fork isn’t showing up on the map?), I realized how much we CRAVE certainty and how it eludes our grasp most of the time.  What a futile passion, then, to want to KNOW that things will turn out the way we imagine them in the beginning.  What a waste of emotional energy to angst, to stress, to push to ENSURE those pictured circumstances turn out ‘our way’!

God doesn’t promise us THAT KIND of assurance.  (He DOES assure us of our salvation, if we have trusted in His forgiveness applied to us based on Christ’s work.)

Back to David and Psalm 27: As we hiked in the lush hills of Western NC, I meditated on my ONE THING while…

·         passing locals gathering  blueberries

·         smiling at families tenting for the weekend

·         chatting with a young couple & their daughter the age of our grandson. They were hiking up and down the hills, acclimating her to their lifestyle.

Art Loeb Trail from FR 816

By the time we reached our parked car, I had formulated what I am NOW going to pray to God about and continue to order my life around;

·         that I may KNOW moment by moment  that I ‘live and move and have my being’  (Acts 17:28) IN Christ

·         that I RE-MEMBER that I have a new ontology, a new nature thanks to the Holy Spirit in me

Why that request?

·         I forget….daily..hourly

But if I can stay aware that ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me..’(Gal 2:20), then why stress over ANYthing?  Logic and common sense say that if I don’t have a crystal ball, if I don’t control the universe, than I cannot possibly know exactly what IS BEST for me or my loved ones.  But the One who created the universe and all that is in it DOES know.  And united to Him is the safest place to be.

What is your One Thing?

*

How would you finish [this] sentence?  “One thing have I desired of the Lord; that will I seek after _________.”  What is the greatest desire and longing of your heart? In the answer to that question lies the explanation for much of what we do – our choices, our priorities, our use of time, the way we spend money, the way we respond to pressure, whom or what we love. [King] David’s answer (see Psm. 27:4) reveals why God could say, “This man’s heart beats like mine.”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss  (30 Aug 2013 Quote of the Day, Grace Tabernacle Church

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