The solution to life’s problems

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Mike and I are journeying through the Bible again.  I think this is year 6 following the Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Each year we discover either new information (“I never saw THAT before!) and fresh insights.

Currently, we are clipping along through the book of Ezekiel at a pace of 3 chapters a day. The theme appears to be constant. Namely: everything that God does and commands Ezekiel to prophesy has ONE purpose, “Then they will know that I am the LORD!”

Whether Yahweh is bringing justifiable painful punishment on Judah’s enemies or whether He’s disciplining Judah and Israel or whether He announces wonder-filled future plans to restore Egypt, Judah, and Israel, the intention is the same:  that the entire world will know that He is the LORD.

Applying this theme to current events has created meaningful nightly discussions between Mike and me. Whether we are reflecting upon recent natural disasters or the threats of North Korean madman Kim Jong Un, it seems appropriate in 2017 to acknowledge God’s very same desire for us as in Ezekiel’s day.  After all, He doesn’t change.  He still wills that all peoples know Him.

Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God! applies not just to nations but to us as individuals.  Here is life-giving advice to combat daily worries and nighttime anxious thoughts.

This morning, however, the Holy Spirit illumined a new context in a devotional I read. Matthew 11: 27b – 28.no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

What is the answer for all of us who feel burdened with worries and responsibilities? Jesus says it is to KNOW God.

“….and just how, exactly, does knowing God help me when I have one or more crises on my hands?  Whether it’s

  • an impending storm
  • a dissolving marriage
  • a child’s life gone off the tracks
  • a stressful job that brings no joy
  • a decision to make with no clear way forward

That’s just the point.  Shifting our thoughts off of the looming or present circumstances onto our Creator and Sustainer DOES bring relief.  What can HE do?  Everything and anything.  For He alone is all-powerful, all-good, all-wise, all-loving, always present.  And He is carrying out His plan for His creation, which includes us and our situations.

Up until now, however, I had never understood how Jesus proposed to give me rest if I came to Him.  Reading Matthew 11 this morning, our twelfth consecutive day in Ezekiel, caused me to see God’s ‘way-out’ differently.  If I don’t have a solution to the immediate situation, reminding myself of God’s attributes, that is reflecting on and knowing Him will shift my focus OFF of what seems impossible onto the One who is ALL-possible. That’s how Jesus gives us rest.  Looking at the problem(s) and at the lack of resources/solutions causes the stress and burdens.

We’re blockheads if we don’t take His Rx for rest.  He even tells us what we’ll get for swapping our yokes:

Matthew 11: 29-30 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

PS:  God even makes provision for those of us who act as doltish sheep.  If we can’t even muster up the willingness to swap yokes, we can call out to Him for help!!!

A summer sabbath rest and fast

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“Indeed, my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Jeremiah 2:13

My thinking has always been:  Maybe THIS essay or article will contain that ONE nugget that will shift my perspective and change my life!  And so I consume, in hope, perpetually seeking, never satisfied.

In my pride I compulsively forward, post to Facebook or print out and snail-mail what I think YOU might benefit from.  And I write blogs, this one and my other at Surprised by Logic.  As though I have something unique or worth trading your free time reading.

Something I read over Memorial Day weekend stopped me in my tracks.

I realize that my motives tend not always to be pure in what I post on Facebook.  There’s a little ‘provocatrice’ in me that is neither necessary, winsome, nor gentle or humble. Furthermore, given that my goal IS to show Christ as all satisfying, then what I sometimes upload works against that goal. Why go out of my way to offend certain colleagues who happen to follow me on Facebook?

Furthermore, another book I’m reading and rereading has shown me to be always hungry and greedy for more input and never satisfied.  God showed me clearly on the same night as that first ‘stop you in your tracks’ insight that His Word more powerfully salsifies than anything else one of us might write.

So I am taking a fast from reading on-line essays and blog posts.  And I’ve deactivated my Facebook account and unsubscribed to nearly all feeds.

To go along with combatting this insatiable thirst that drives me to broken cisterns, I will spare you burden of ‘yet one more post to read’ by not blogging these summer months.  A gift to you!

So I invite you to join me in turning away from the ephemeral artificial cyber world in order to drink from, to feed on that which lasts and satisfies: God’s Book of Nature and His supernatural written Word.  Then each day, once we have filled up on what is eternal, pure, true and beautiful, let us spend time focused on people, God’s very own image bearers.

May Grace and Peace from God the Father, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be yours in abundance!

Maria

What Elijah and I have in common

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1 Kings 19: 3,4b, 5a –   Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.……….. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

I was having an Elijah day.  Tired.  Leg and foot cramps at night degrade my sleep. So when I hop out of bed more than the customary once per night, I feel FOGGY and handicapped the next day.

As you know fatigue is NOT conducive to feelings that represent reality.

I had gotten up at my customary time, knowing that I needed time with the Lord on my walk and at the kitchen counter reading my Bible and praying.  If I didn’t set TRUTH front and center in my life, I would not make it through the day teaching school and interacting with colleagues.

Even with the reminder of our unchanging God, it was still HARD.  The feelings, which seemed to originate from WITHIN me, kept up their assault:

  • I don’t really care about kids!
  • I’m too old to be teaching in a Middle School
  • But where am I going to find another job that pays this much and frees up my summer for family and friends?

Finally, I chose to ignore the feelings and NOT yield to the temptation to draw any conclusion.

I found refuge in this promise from God:  My grace IS sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect when combined with your weakness, Maria.  2 Cor 12:9 (includes my personalization!)

The next day, after a better sleep (Thank you, Jesus!) I thought of Elijah and his emotional outburst and wrong conclusions.

If you read the entire passage in 1 Kings 19, you can clearly see God’s tenderness.  He doesn’t rebuke Elijah, but causes him to sleep, then sends an angel to feed him and to invite him to sleep some more. Only then does God dialogue with Elijah and set him straight with truth – that Elijah is NOT the only believer left, but there are another 7000!

So dear friends, I am learning (and RE-learning) not to agree with or even fight feelings when I’m tired, but just to lay them in Jesus’ lap and take care of my body.  There’s plenty of time to figure things out WITH God knowing that He has promised to give me perfect power for my needs.

 

 

Perfection and futility

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clay pot  “There I go again!”  as hammering self-condemnation reprised.  I had just done what I didn’t want to do, overeat.  Nothing really sinful in that per se, except that overeating is a gateway to my sin of self-centered, interior moping. More familiar than any other melody is my original adaptation of the human ‘Ode to my Pitiful Self’.

But thanks be to God and Bible-centered preaching and writing! Pastor and teacher John Piper rescues imperfect sheep prone to turn inward by proclaiming a recurring life-giving message of: “Don’t waste your disappointments, trials, suffering, failures,……”

God must have thought it was time to break my bent towards control and perfection with this sovereignly ordained ‘trip-up’.  So what galls me the most?  What sends me into despair each time I let myself down and overeat? Certainly not His condemnation, but MY disappointment with myself.

Here’s the rub:  Why am I even surprised that I can’t do what I want to do?

Like Paul, I wail: I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

“Stupid!,” this home-grown expectation or gateway toward self-chastisement. A recent podcast drove that home.  The speaker had been in therapy for a broken marriage and started to heal when she made the connection between her:

  1. Assumption that I CAN be perfect (do what I want to do)
  2. Anxiety over the burden of trying to be perfect
  3. Bondage to control in order to gain perfection

I suddenly saw the futility when I realized that we were never meant to strive for perfection.  In fact, God has intentionally designed us the opposite!  The human model comes with abundant limitations.  We see them as flaws; He ordains them as gateways for God’s glory and grace to show.

...we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 2 Cor 4:7b

Breakable clay is the term for earthenware. In Paul’s time, vessels, plates, jars, cups were made of a clay mixture containing oyster shell pieces. God has purposefully made us out of crumbly stuff.  The Almighty Father and Creator made us delicate and fragile so that we would depend and rest on Him to do all that He calls us to do.  He didn’t aim to populate His kingdom with self-sufficient, sturdily consistent perfect little beings.

That is good news, brothers and sisters.  Let it go, all those expectations of how you want to act.  Yes, we are called to be imitators of Jesus, to be holy because God is holy.  But He knows we are going to blow it, multiple times a day.  Why are we the last to accept that?

Holy Spirit, remind me straight away when I miss the self-assigned mark I naïvely think will make me feel good about myself.  Grow me a new song,

a melody of music“Here I go again, a perfectly designed child of my Father who just sent me a love note that says, ‘Maria, come to me with your mess; don’t be surprised, you just need to give it a rest and flop down and swim in my grace and love!‘”

 

 

Is this all there is?

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Meaningless We spent Thanksgiving week with our kids and grandkids and that was a gift!  For the couple hosting the Cochrane Clan, it was their first time cooking a turkey and planning such a large meal.  They carried it off with grace, good humor and amazing calm.  Of course we all pitched in.

Hanging out with these young parents, I’ve been reflecting on how exciting life was when we were in our 20s and 30s.  Each new experience was thrilling, from eating out in a fine restaurant, to moving into our first apartment, to bringing home new babies and even taking on a mortgage for our very own house.

But as I’ve aged, many events no longer exhilarate.  Whether holidays, anniversaries, travel, purchases, new homes or new jobs.

I can understand middle-aged depression. I thought about that even in church today as our pastor announced his family’s good news that they were gaining a daughter-in-law.  When I watched the future groom bring up the offerings to the front, I reflected on all that lay ahead of him.

I WOULD have envied him, had it not been for the FACT that God has given me new life complete with a new perspective, value system and purpose.

Therefore, there is no despair, but a growing sense of anticipation and a sure confidence that any thrill I once tasted here on earth is a slight foretaste of what is to come.

I am über-thankful to God for having called me out of the futile darkness of this world into the light and knowledge of who He is and why He created me.  I live with a just-below-the-surface happy and almost excited anticipation,

  • Knowing that God IS – that He has always existed and will always be around in an unchanging state, that this world is not a product of random chemicals coalescing for no purpose
  • Knowing that God MEANS for us to know Him and share happiness and true ‘face-time’ with Him
  • Knowing that I have a daily purpose – to reveal to others the worth and beauty of God
  • Knowing that I have a sure future inheritance – a new body with categorically different abilities to see and savor God and His kingdom
  • Knowing that every single event that happens now – on earth – in my life is sent by God according to His plan for my well-being and that of others
  • Knowing that God will provide strength and wisdom and any other necessary resource for everything that He has planned for me this day

Resting on those facts and that understanding of life daily frames my life. And since the best is yet to come, I don’t feel compelled to:

  • ‘carpe diem’
  • or create and check off a bucket list

And maybe now, among those my age, I can offer a better way, a more satisfying path to the ‘good life’.  Why try to fill that void God deliberately allows to grow with self-directed projects, i.e. invented purposes and time fillers?

  • remodeling the house or buying a vacation home
  • traveling or cruising to pass the time
  • leaving a legacy so future family generations will remember Grandma & Grandpa

If there be any legacy I want to leave my grandkids it’s that the purpose of life is bigger than satisfying ourselves.  Knowing God and growing into the man or woman He plans will bring true fulfillment of a life well lived.

I read a French reflection each morning.  The verse highlighted today was Psalm 62:5

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.

The French translation felt more meaningful:

  • Toi, mon âme, repose-toi paisiblement sur Dieu; car mon attente est en lui.
  • You, my soul, rest peacefully on God; for my expectation is in him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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