How God used a Daddy Longlegs

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Creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay, into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:21 Berean Study Bible

Each morning during the summer I like to sit out on the back patio to watch the birds, study the day’s Bible passages, pray, journal and read a bit in a theology book.  Right now, I’m savoring my way through John Piper’s Providence.

I love hearing and glancing up at the birds as I soak up early morning beauty. I don’t spend a lot of time watching their playful antics at our birdfeeder. I simply appreciate sharing the morning hour with them. But this morning at one point, not a bird, but an insect caught my attention and I became fixated.  A struggling Daddy Longlegs spider was nursing one of her eight legs which didn’t seem to working right.  She was trying to move closer to one of our plants, but kept falling over and resting.  Had she suffered a stroke, or broken a leg? Was she old? I couldn’t move my eyes off of her persevering move-and-rest struggle.

My eyes suddenly filled with tears.  Startled, I asked myself ‘What is going on?’ I’m not often moved to tears. But when something goes right to my heart, tears signal a deep feeling that I dare not ignore.

The Holy Spirit wordlessly whispered and I journaled: ‘Don’t you want to live in a world where no one and not a single living thing dies?  Where insects, birds, animals, flowers, trees, people flourish forever?’  Of course, I do.  I thought of the local pregnancy resource center where I volunteer.  Each of our appointments with gals who find themselves pregnant give us an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  I feel nervous sometimes and pray for a way to gently lead a gal into a conversation.  But this morning, I thought: ‘Why am I afraid to ask people that very question prompted by observing a handicapped spider? Afterall, God has wired all of his image bearers to protest death.

Don’t we struggle to let go of our beloved, aging pets?  Why do we shrink back from the ravages of disease or even old age in those whom we love?  Because it’s not supposed to be this way. We know that.  Even secularists feel this. 

Think about what drives the ‘health space’ here in America, where one can find fitness training programs, multitudes of supplements to buy and eating plans promoted with religious fervor. Engineers playing with artificial intelligence also come to mind. I don’t know a lot, but I hear enough about well-financed research projects to extend human life span, or clone versions of one self. None of this is new.  Weren’t we taught in our history classes that Ponce de Leon explored the new world, partly motivated to locate a fountain of youth?

Back to Mr. or Mrs. Daddy Longlegs who by the way, per Wikipedia live longer than I would have imagined such a fragile being could endure, 1 year for males and up to 3 years for females.  What brought me to tears is what the writer of Ecclesiastes 3:11 penned, He has planted eternity in the human heart’ (NLT)

I pray that the next time someone brings up an aging and infirm person or beloved pet or even if someone laments the harm done to trees and baby seals, I pray that I gently ask them my Holy Spirit-inspired question:

  • Don’t you want to live in a world where no one nor any living thing dies? Yes? Then let me tell you how. That kind of world depends on one person, whose name is Jesus.

Friends, we have good news of a coming new and forever creation, where all will be made beautiful and meant to last. It’ll be better than Eden because we won’t be able to harm anyone or anything.  Finally freed from our sin because of Jesus, we will joyfully enjoy God, one another and the rest of the created world.

My sin exposed, the good and the bad of it.

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For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Romans 7:19 NIV

For the very first time ever, I can say: ‘I hate my sin!’ I realize that until this morning, I have never seen my sin from God’s perspective: ugly, shameful and with a will of its own.

A trail of broken confidences follows me. Heart-sharings from Christian girlfriends who have trusted me as they confide and unload burdens. Issues that they would not want me pass on to anyone else.  And I have betrayed them.

A gentle malaise, a warning from the Holy spirit recently came over me when I contemplated ‘confiding’ in someone else what a friend recently had revealed to me. I ignored divine counsel and pandered to my naked lust to feel superior at the expense of a friend.  I have known this side of me for years.  And in the past, with ‘sincere and well-intentioned’ human sincerity tried to tamp it down, to resist indulging it. No success, nor any progress, evidently!

Writing this early in the morning, I now see the wisdom in John Owen’s advice: ‘Be killing sin or sin will be killing you!’ Constant vigilance is our call.  This is the ‘denying yourself’ that Jesus teaches.

What happened this morning, then?  I woke up from a deep sleep and rescue from a Holy Spirit nightmare.  I know it was from the Lord because conviction pierced my heart.  And I felt shame.

How can I call this good? Because the Lord has finally brought me to a place where I can say with true conviction: “I hate my sin.!”  No more will I harbor the illusion that I can control this behavior. Cold Turkey is the only remedy. Give it up, girl!  Yet, I know I have no power.  I don’t trust myself.  I am addicted to those sweet morsels of corruption, that once digested putrefy in my heart. Excuse my coarseness, but the results are far worse than those embarrassing farts!

I think THAT is the point, to know that I can’t control my sin.  It’s not a habit to be controlled.  I must be willing to eradicate it.  Is this the living sacrifice that God calls for?  To lay ourselves on God’s altar with honest vows and pleas? 

This morning, I begged, ‘Take this away from me, Father! Make me willing to keep offering it freely to you. Yet, you know I can put no confidence in Maria’s mind or heart to do this even five minutes from now. Like Paul who shared with the Roman Christians I admit…’

22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I see the way forward and it is daunting. For how will I and any of us put to death this insatiable monster named ‘Me!’? My and your only hope is a moment-by-moment alert, desperate, clinging, dependence on the Holy Spirit who IS our Ezer, our ‘Helper, par excellence’.

May the Lord give us that victory that is in Christ who is our righteousness and our sanctification. We already have his forgiveness. But I NOW want to be conformed to Jesus MORE than indulge this evil habit. Keep me abiding in that NOW.

First the heart, then the actions

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Create in me a pure heart, O God, Psalm 51:10 NIV

Let’s face it.  Relationships are hard!  No wonder, since we live in a sin-saturated world.  After all, our perfect world Eden didn’t last long. Eve and Adam disobeyed God, breaking our world’s order and harmony forever. But instead of fix our world at that point, he set about fixing us, with the promise (future – dated for a set kairos event to come) to give us a new world, a renovated earth 2.0.

Back to difficult relationships and today’s focus on the heart.  Like you all, Mike and I live with some regrets and painful sadness about how our interactions with others have gone over the years.  Thinking about an upcoming visit with some family members caused me to worry this morning. I turned to a fresh page in my journal as I started scribbling down my thoughts.  I wrote in clear declarative sentences:  I feel anxious thinking about what we can do differently to reduce the awkwardness we feel around this couple. Even writing this down caused more angst.

I continued: How am I going to have the wisdom to know just what we should change in our interactions? And if God does bring something to mind and we agree about it and then attempt to implement it, that might make us feel even more uncomfortable resulting in us looking ‘pained’. Likely we’ll be so focused on monitoring our behavior and their response that it will appear like we are NOT enjoying them! 

I now felt worse than when I started to identify my worry. But the sweet Father gifted me with wisdom from above. He sidestepped the ‘what should we do, how should we act’ aim of my worry and presented a new and different approach.  What would happen if Mike and I directed our prayers not to relational tools, but instead asked God to purify our hearts?

I stepped further into this new idea and started to write, Father, you who swap out dead hearts for living hearts that incline toward you, YOU know how to get rid of all the junk in our hearts. It’s no big deal for you to drain away impurities such as: regrets, past hurts, memories of visits that did not satisfy, mindfulness of having to ‘walk on eggshells’, fears about what they think of us, disappointments, and unwelcome feedback that we didn’t see coming.

What if you really removed all that ‘yuk’ and replaced it with a heart totally filled with delight and love toward them? Wouldn’t they notice and respond in kind? Wouldn’t we all feel more natural?

All of a sudden, lightness flooded my whole being and the heaviness and sense of being weighed down vanished.  I realized that it’s not first a matter of deeds and actions, but the heart.  Out of the heart flow our actions.

We wouldn’t even have to game plan our responses and actions. What a concept!  We might actually be able to sit back and enjoy their visit AND look forward to it, as well.

I bet you have relationships that perk along quite naturally.  You feel comfortable with a friend or family member.  You don’t TRY to act a certain way.  You simply are who you are and it all works.

Of course, we can still hurt those who are this easy to love.  That’s why good friends still need to practice forgiveness.  We’re going to step on others’ toes because we’re sinners. Genuine friends aren’t afraid to say with soft and gentle directness, ‘ouch….that hurt when you said/did that just now!’.

Thank you, Father, for providing your wisdom from above.  Please, we ask you, do this supernatural work in us.  It feels like it’s impossible, but nothing is impossible for you.

A bit of vulnerability

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Our Father is a very personal parent.  He treats each of us differently, according to what we need. In His holy judgment obviously. I like to think of His discipleship training course as an IEP, an individual education plan, in ‘educator speak’. 

This week has been no exception to tailor-made lessons for Maria.  Painful ones, yes, but kind.

**

May the God of peace…(be) working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ….Hebrews 13:21 ESV

I woke up feeling blah today. Usually cheery, I checked the usual suspects (sleep, pain, problems).  Fact is, I didn’t sleep well and my body feels off. But the REAL issue is that my heart is cold.

Two days ago, I read an email from a ministry we support. Once a year, they launch a focused prayer season.  I didn’t print out the attached guide.  It just felt too much, to add something else to pray for every day.

Then yesterday, our pastor sent out his weekly email detailing the upcoming Sunday. This year, 2021, we’re back worshipping in person. And two other services are planned for Passion Week.  My reaction?  Not interested.

Now THAT is the real reason for ‘the blahs’.  God made me look fully into a picture of my unholiness, my sin.

But, God prompted a friend…..who just ‘happened’ to send the above verse. Firmly nudged by the Spirit, I made a ‘deal’ with God. “If that Good Friday service is during the day, I’ll go!”

I checked the email. Sure enough, it’s scheduled for noon.

*****

He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35 NASB

God’s timing, as always, was impeccable. I listened to an interview with a Christian comedian while cleaning yesterday. He described how his comedy improved once he changed the question (and purpose) from ‘How can I get people to laugh?’  to ‘How can I give people what they need?’

This morning I felt hurt when Anne texted, cancelling Spanish class for Noah because of her surgical appointment.  I have been longing for more contact with her.  So, not even knowing that she had scheduled a procedure stung.

I sat quietly with God, journal open.  Providentially, I had been on the cusp of writing down that comedian’s advice.  By grace, the Holy Spirit prompted me to ask, “What can I give Anne right now in this relationship?” Then I knew!  I can write her a newsy, encouraging card.

Immediately, I felt happy, hurt feelings dissolved. I had let go of “I’m not getting what I want” to something better and more freeing.

And you know what?  About an hour after I experienced the bigger blessing of looking at how I could serve this dear gal, she texted and suggested we face time tomorrow. A sweet smile from my Father.

Last week’s birthday present from God

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Last Thursday was my birthday and it ranks the best I’ve celebrated in a long while.   One I won’t forget, for sure.

What made it so meaningful? Was it the fact that when I walked into my Orange Theory fitness class, the manager had written a ‘Happy Birthday, Maria!’ message on the tripod chalk board?  What a way to kick off and energize MY day. I felt special, being made much of by the staff

Was it that I got to tutor a 10-year old Russian gal in English and we had a breakthrough in how best to learn English?  No…although that was very satisfying.

Could it be that my husband Mike planned, shopped for, prepared, and plated a delicious steak dinner for me? A first in our 40 years together? We WILL be calling this a new tradition, adding it to our treasure chest of cherished rituals.  I ABSOLUTELY loved this gift, because Mike had announced to me more than 2 weeks prior just what was in the works.  The anticipation of my meal gave me great joy as ‘my day’ approached.

All the above delightful activities marked my celebration.  But the ‘highlight’ was how my heavenly Father humbled and rebuked, via my hairdresser.

Every 8 weeks I sit for 2+ hours in Shannon’s chair.  She ‘refreshes’ my color, washes, conditions and trims my hair.

The salon had rescheduled last week’s original appointment two times. They didn’t check with me first to verify that the new times would work with my calendar.  They just shifted them, notifying me by text.  The new time of 10 am left me with little margin to eat lunch and tutor the Russian gal.  This TIME boundary directed my thoughts and words.  Once the receptionist verified my normal temperature, my first words to Shannon attacked:

” I have to be out of here by 11:45 at the latest because I have another appointment…AND…. (intended to punctuate my seriousness) YOU ALL moved my time twice, putting me in this position!”

Shannon shot back, “Well, THAT’s aggressive!”

Bulls eye!  Her rebuke penetrated my heart. The LORD got me! The Holy Spirit convicted me in meteor-like speed.

Shame filled me!  She was right.  I hadn’t even greeted her with a friendly, “Hi, Shannon. How are you doing?”

Had I treated Mike that way….. launching into a blame-wrapped demand for something from him…….well, I like to think I wouldn’t have.

Yet, here I was entering Shannon’s salon and treating her like a machine, not another human being.

Profuse apologies poured from my mouth as I told her that I was SO sorry and that she was SO right to call me on that.  I knew this was from the Lord.  What kind of ambassador for Christ am I with that kind of interacting?

So, what I did next, was to ask her: “Shannon, can we rewind the scene and start over?”

Desire granted.  I backed up 5-6 feet and walked up to her with a smile: “Hi, Shannon, how are you? Thanks for fitting me in, today.  I know scheduling with Covid restraints is a challenge.”  She played the part with warmth and proceeded to seat me in her chair.

What a gift from my heavenly Father, to see how my self-preoccupation led me to sin. Human beings are all image bearers of Almighty God, worthy of respect and kindness.

I will not forget THAT reminder.  On my birthday, too.  Conviction and the ability to ask pardon and receive forgiveness from the offended, hurt person is a gift.

Oh, Father, take not thy Holy Spirit from me! Thank you that You forgive me when I sin. Because of Jesus. Keep me meditating on your kindness, rather than my schedule.

Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man You discipline, O LORD, and teach from Your law,

 

 

 

You never gave me a young goat!

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About that goat reference in this post’s title, can you identify whose complaint that was?  If you guessed ‘the Older Brother’, you know your Bible!  Luke records that complaint from Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:29, to be exact.

Mike has been reading G.K.Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy out loud to us in the evenings.  Chesterton takes some time getting used to; I have to concentrate more and think through his prose, almost sentence by sentence.  In our current chapter the author is addressing fairy tales and what they teach us about reality.  Chesterton points out that main characters tend to complain about limitations imposed on them when they should be in awe, marveling over what they actually have been granted.

For example, when Cinderella challenges her fairy godmother about why she has to leave the party before the clock strikes midnight, she should really be captivated by the sheer improbability of EVEN going to the ball!  Where’s her question about that turn of events?  Did she ever imagine she would dance with the Prince, let alone be magically attired in elegance with a chic hairdo to boot? So improbable was that scenario, especially since she had been forced to sew for her step-sisters after cleaning house all day.

How like us humans, to complain.  If we are alive, it is SHEER gift. If we are believers, then we have hit the jackpot of God’s purposeful favor.  The guarantee of everlasting life WITH God is the only true ‘happily ever after’ fairy-tale ending we all long for. Yet, we seem to have eyes for what we lack, what we haven’t been given.

I know this well.  Though I rarely complain out loud, were my inner chatter publicized, I would feel great shame. The time I spend envying, longing, wishing silently…that’s PURE complaining. Whom do I envy?  Those who SEEM to be doing and enjoying what I think would satisfy me.  Like traveling, living overseas.  (I’m a linguaphile.)

Is there hope for envy-addicts? Yes!  And I am experiencing it.  It’s called God’s School of Contentment. I’ve been a student in this training academy for decades, now.

The point is that this addiction has deep roots, so it FEELS like I haven’t made much progress.  My Father gently AND frequently hands me a new lesson. Like this week.

Today in the notes of my Spanish study Bible (one of my tools for acquiring Spanish!) the writers noted that ‘obeying the Lord tends to mean leaving off one thing in order to receive something better.‘  The passage in question was Abram’s leaving Ur, his extended family, the land and even the familiar pagan gods to go where THE one and only God was guiding him, to receive new land and descendants.

How did the Lord use that explanation in my holiness training? Immediately I saw that I am to LEAVE OFF the sinful, evil pleasure of envy, in order to bolster contentment with my lot, the circumstances which He has granted me.  (A corollary evil pleasure of mine is worrying, but that’s another post!)

Those Bible notes were anchored a few minutes later by a verse that ‘popped up’ in my Prayermate app – 1 Tim 6:6 Godliness with Contentment is GREAT gain.

And just how does God define the concept of contentment?  The Greek word is ‘autarkaa’ meaning ‘sufficiency’. Blue Letter Bible describes it like this: ‘A mind that looks at one’s lot and says: IT IS ENOUGH, what You’ve given me IS SUFFICIENT.’

Following that description I read one final thought that deepened my desire to practice this trait:

  • without this contentment I will do today’s deeds NOT as an expression of Christ’s all-sufficiency but in order to make up for some deficiency I feel.

So, same message from a couple of different sources.  To top it off, Regina, my spiritual reading buddy, sent me a Luther quote earlier this week. Scrolling through her texts I found it again: “To obey is better than……. miracles.”

Isn’t our Father good!  He doesn’t give up. He keeps after us to make us ultimately happier through holiness.  The obedience in view here, this day, is thanking God for my boundaries, my lot. Being satisfied, being content with what He deems best for me is part of that holiness training.

Why we hate to wait

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1 Cor 13:4  Love is patient

As Mike and I wait to hear about a job, we find ourselves very aware of all the other waiting situations that friends, family, fellow believers, and colleagues are enduring.  Such as those awaiting:

  • to undergo medical tests or scheduled procedures
  • results of tests
  • a diagnosis, finally
  • the conception of a child that will lead to a healthy newborn
  • the sale of a house
  • acceptances from college
  • a marriage proposal
  • an adoption to be final
  • renovations or construction to be completed
  • the merciful death of a suffering loved one
  • the release of someone unjustly imprisoned or captured
  • a corrupt political regime to topple
  • an indication of maturing spiritual fruit in someone we love
  • the salvation of a loved one
  • someone to hit rock bottom and come to their senses
  • God to finally DO SOMETHING

Everyone is waiting. And no one likes to wait.  So why is that?  What is it about waiting that frustrates and angers us?

If impatience is contrary to God’s way, what exactly is behind or underneath this sin?

As I was getting dressed at the gym this morning I turned off a podcast just to think about waiting.   Since God has deemed it GOOD that Mike and I wait for something about which we petition God every day, we have grown VERY aware of all the people we know who join us in looking for God to act.

Alone (it was EARLY) in the women’s locker room, I reflected on what I’ve been telling God in my prayers.  How we NEEDED more information so we can make plans.  But is that really so?  What do plans (especially when we don’t have enough info) do for us?  Isn’t it that ‘making plans’ give us a sense of control so we won’t HAVE to worry?

My thoughts then turned to this question as I was putting on my shoes: will there ever be a time when we DON’T worry?  Right away, I pictured myself in Heaven with the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit. THERE, for sure,  I wouldn’t feel this impatient anxiety.  Why is that, I asked myself?  Because I’d see God face to face.  It’d be easier to trust Him, seeing Him, I reasoned. I would KNOW that all is taken care of.

Why would being present with God in the restored world be different than now? Don’t I have His presence, His Spirit IN me? and His promises to me?  For sure, I do!  Yet I pushed myself to answer this question. Then I saw the unpleasant truth:   I would KNOW beyond any doubt that He would provide for me.  I would trust Him more than I trust Him here and now.

Shame flooded me.  I don’t really trust God. 

After all He has done for me in my flesh-and-blood, day-to-day life.

After all the ways His Word reassures me.

After all the stories of how He has come through for others.

After the fact that Jesus did everything necessary for me to be united with Him, forever, in the Father’s presence of Love, in the forever restored world.

So maybe, just maybe, this long wait to hear about a job is exactly what God has prescribed to PROVE to Mike and to me that He really is trustworthy.

As a French teacher, I understand about individualized, differentiated instruction.  Could it be that all of us are students in God’s Classroom of Patience, each of us with tailored-made homework assignments and the occasional pop-quiz?

May we learn our lessons well and NOT have to repeat this class!

 

 

 

 

Worry – futile and evil

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Luke 12: 22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “And so I tell you not to worry about the food you need to stay alive or about the clothes you need for your body.” (GNT)

Christians know they are commanded NOT to worry.  And some of us do worry from time to time.  This is an account of when I recently succumbed to worry. We had been in Seattle for our mom’s 90th birthday.  And I was NOT at peace about some of the return trip details.

We were due to land in Charlotte, a 3-hour drive from our house in the Smokey Mountains.  On this late November Friday it would be dark when we landed at 7:30 pm.  I brooded about 2 significant details:

  • What about dinner?  First off, we wouldn’t want to spend time at a restaurant, which would only delay our arrival home.  But where would we buy low-carb food that time of night, once we left the airport?  Should we stop at a food place in the airport before claiming our bags?  The problem was that our bodies were operating on Seattle time (4:30 pm) and wouldn’t be hungry.
  • More troublesome than that was my imagined ‘what-if’:  What if there is a tree down across the gravel road leading up to our isolated house?  I didn’t want to imagine Mike, stopping and getting out his chainsaw and in the dark cutting, and removing a tree.  We would be exhausted from the plane ride and the drive and the general stress of air travel at Thanksgiving.

I had been churning over these 2 situations during our trip to Seattle.  And hadn’t come to any resolution.

Here is how God reminded me, yet again, of the futility of worry:

  • Our take-off was delayed by 2 hours (we sat on the plane, having taxied back for a mechanical problem.)
  • Realizing we probably wouldn’t arrive in Charlotte until 9:30 pm, Mike and I chatted and decided it would be wise to get a hotel near the airport.  Because we were on the plane and back at the gate, I could use my phone. I booked us a room.
  • Now, what about food?  Maybe we’d just skip dinner and eat almonds which I always carry in my purse…..fasting wouldn’t hurt us.
  • Here’s how God answered that need.  We arrived at the Charlotte airport hotel at 10:10 pm.  There was a bar in the lobby.  They stopped serving food at 10:30. We checked in, left our luggage in the car, sat down and ordered bunless burgers, a salad and something to drink.

God came through, providing our low-carb dinner AND arranging our drive home for the next day.  We slept soundly, felt rested and made our way home under sunny skies.  And there were no trees down in the cove.

Once again, I saw how pointless it is to worry and ponder imaginary ‘what-ifs’.

Yes, worry is futile.  But how is it evil?

Hebrews 5:13-14 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

These verses above pinged me last week when I read them in a prayer.  Here are my conclusions:

  • Milk and solid food refer to 2 levels of Biblical teaching – the first is basic familiarization for new believers. The latter – a deeper study for mature believers.
  • The Bible teaches God’s standard of righteousness or holiness.
  • We grow more holy as we learn to distinguish good from evil.
  • God is the One and only who has authority to define evil and good.

Here are two examples of God explicitly describing evil.

  •  Jer 2:13 ….my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
  • Another example of how God defines evil is idolatry or serving something created, rather than the Creator.  Gal 2:20 And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

My conclusion from these and other verses? That doing anything not from faith in or grateful reliance on God is sin, aka evil – Romans 14:23 For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Father, PLEASE help me, by your Holy and supernatural Spirit, not only to recognize when I’m straying into worry but to choose NOT to indulge in this futile, evil pattern. Amen.

 

More Spiritual lessons from a colonoscopy

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Genesis 39:9 How then could I do such a wicked thing, (such as WORRY), and sin against God?

If you read my previous post on this topic, you might remember that God granted me a ‘do-over’ of that lovely procedure, reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. Groundhog day image

As little as I relished prepping for yet ANOTHER colon check, I realized that God was giving me practice in being content, not grumbling and relying on Him.

In His providence, I have been slowly reading, taking notes and meditating on truths from a collection of John Owen’s works on sin and temptation.

John Owen

One truth from his pages seems to be a pointed message from God to me:

  • I need have only ONE focus in this life, as a redeemed and adopted child. Singular & total obedience to God.  That’s it.

Application? If I am called ‘only’ to obey God, per His instructions in His Word, then I don’t have to (in fact I am commanded NOT to):

  • worry
  • fear
  • stress
  • dread or even….
  • rush!

So what KINDS of obedience am I called to?  How’s this for starters? I’m to…….

  • Cast all my cares on Him
  • Be glad in Him
  • Trust and rely on Him
  • Glorify Him
  • Serve Him with gladness
  • Wait patiently for Him to act on my behalf

Can you see why I viewed an extra colonoscopy as practice in obeying God?  This time, I was determined, by grace, NOT to complain or feel sorry for myself.  I wanted to see if I could make it through the prep days relying only on His sustaining, provisioning grace.

As “C Day, 2.0” approached, I refused to indulge in worry, fear, stress or dread.  Each time I STARTED to go down that trail of sin, I caught myself up short, repented and reminded myself of the many, many promises of grace like:

  • My grace is sufficient for you (2 Cor 12:9)

The night before the procedure, Mike said a couple of time:

“You poor thing!”  or

“I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this again!”

Each time, I stopped his tender sympathy with:

“Don’t feel sorry for me, I’m okay.  The Lord is sustaining me! “

So…..where did I experience His grace?

One example is that the ‘morning of’ when I had to finish the gallon of ‘clean you out stuff’, the plastic jug had sat in the frig all night and grown colder.  As a result, the 7 cups I downed in an hour WERE, in fact, easier than the 9 doses the night before.

Other examples of grace I saw our good Father furnish WITHOUT the ‘help of my worrying’ were:

  • no trees down on our property impeding our way out (and perhaps preventing or delaying my arrival – something I had projected and feared the first time)
  • the doctor’s on-time arrival, having commuted 45 minutes to the hospital (a previous worry – What if he doesn’t show up and they have to reschedule?????)
  • no ‘doctor errors’ such as perforations…..
  • a wise post-procedure nurse who told me I did NOT have to submit to the doctor’s announcement that I needed yet a 3rd procedure –  a barium enema with X-ray because my prep was only ‘fair’ (although happily good enough for him to complete the colonoscopy)
  • no ‘abnormalities’ found

But the most significant gift to me was this:  to learn that YES, I can rely on God for potentially scary and unpleasant trials.  And with the help of His powerful Holy Spirit, I can resist self-pity and complaining.

The morning of the procedure I was reading and praying through our assigned portion of Scripture along with some devotions (and chugging my ‘cocktail’!)   I happened to read the Genesis verse at the beginning of this post. It struck me that when I worry/fear/stress/dread or rush, I am sinning greatly against God.  Really?  Yes! For God cares about our hearts.  Your and my behavior is just a tip of the iceberg.   This gentle reminder from Joseph in Egypt against his will reinforced my new and singular focus – obedience to God.

With full sincerity, I can now say that I see the value from God’s perspective, that of training me by arranging for me to go through this ‘trial’ again.  I want to build on what I learned in this ‘pop quiz’.   God’s grace IS sufficient for anything He sovereignly plans for us.  To God be the glory!

 

 

The ‘if-only’ weed – Toxic to my soul

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John Owen is nailing me!  For someone whom I’ve never met and who died 335 years ago, it’s uncanny how well this man knows my heart.

His book on how to kill your sin, Mortification of Sin in Believers, is my current weekend reading before I open my Bible.

Look at what I read yesterday, paraphrased for me:

Do I lack strength and power?  Do I lack comfort and peace? (Owen then writes parenthetically that these 4 qualities are the only ‘lacks’ worth mentioning).  If so, then their lack has been brought on through NOT mortifying my sins. Giving in to any sin (what he calls ‘exercising’ or practicing that sin) precipitates the following:

  • My soul is weakened and deprived of strength and vigor
  • My soul is darkened and deprived of comfort and peace

So what does Owen recommend?

First, he explains how we strengthen the power of sin.  Whatever we set our affections on, whatever we cherish or love we THINK about. And what we invest our thoughts in grows in power to rule us.

Owen quite unnervingly calls those affections not set on God LUSTS.  (And he is not talking just about wrong sexual desires.)  We created beings were made by God to love Him first and foremost. And if we cannot say in all sincerity to God, “You alone are my portion, my treasure,” then whatever takes God’s rightful place as first in our hearts is a lust.  No surprise that feeding and investing my thoughts, fears, desires, and hopes in this cherished but dangerous affection has a deleterious effect on my soul.

Owen describes the condition of directing our beloved and best thoughts elsewhere as ‘a drinking up the spirit and all the vigor of one’s soul’.  The result?  A dark cloud barrier between me and God, blocking all the beams of love and favor from God to me, an adopted daughter.

When I read that yesterday, I realized that one of my pet sins, a ‘péché mignon’ as the French call it, is the ‘if-only’ game. This is where I imagine a better circumstance than the one I’m ‘stuck’ in.  This is sin. And yes, it displeases God, as does all sin.  In essence, when I wish for a different scenario than the one God has given me, I am declaring:  Where you have placed me, the boundary lines you have set for me, the details of my life are NOT good, Father!  If only they were other, I would be happier or more at peace or more content.

What presumption and what a slap in the face of the all-wise and all-good God.

This is sin! This is lust and John Owen says I need to be killing it every day.  That is, if I want the vigor and comfort that are mine by rights as an adopted child of God, whom Jesus rescued and transplanted through his life and death.

These lusts grow stronger the more I fantasize about them.  My thoughts do carry energy; they are fertilizer, ‘Miracle-Gro’ to whatever I direct them.

So what are we to do practically?  How do we kill lust?

Mike and I are going through a very difficult trial.  Like a lot of suffering, we don’t understand it and in this case, don’t know yet what to do.  In our God-centered moments we think and pray like King Jehosophat when he and his people faced the imminent attack of a horde of Edomites: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12

But more than I like to admit I invest time in feeding the ‘if-only’ lust.  So as I read John Owen yesterday the Holy Spirit showed me how readily I elevate ‘fixing this situation or eliminating this suffering’ to the number one place in my life, above God.  The desire for a life without this ‘whatever’ can dominate my prayers and thoughts.

‘But isn’t that natural?’ you might say.  Yes! but just because it is natural doesn’t make it less of a sin.  As believers, we are commanded to walk or live by the Spirit, not by the flesh.

I am finding that a good remedy for this wrong thinking is our Lord’s Prayer.  After all, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He gave them this content and model.

So when I shift my thoughts UP to what really matters eternally – Praying for God to be honored and worshipped by everyone, for His will to be done everywhere and for His kingdom to come NOW those small, self-centered fantasies of peace and good I have indulged pale.  Next, as I pray through the Lord’s Prayer, I am retrained to ask for what I need this day – basic necessities, forgiveness, and protection.  Does God, my Father, NOT care about the suffering and trials He has sent and what we are to do?

Yes, He does! He commands me to trust Him and to hand them over.  He is using them for my ultimate good and will resolve them when and how He deems best.  For now, I am to get back to His priorities – Loving Him and my neighbors.

This is the weeding, the killing of sin that John Owen describes as a believer’s duty.  And not just duty, but the way to enjoy God’s favor, His strength, comfort and peace that He WANTS me to experience.

Thank you, Father, for inspiring and using these Puritans to instruct not just their contemporary flocks but generations of believers who have followed.

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