What God means to do in your life

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I’ve been memorizing the first chapter of 1 Peter.

What I like about memorizing Scripture is that it causes me to think through and meditate on the words as I try to lock them down in my brain.  I started to memorize Bible verses when I was 48 years old. Wes, our youngest son, was a senior in high school.

One fall Sunday, a layman’s sermon delivered (not read) and peppered with Bible verses he clearly knew from heart wowed us both.  As head of the finance committee, he had been invited to the pulpit that morning to share with us the joy and experience of giving sacrificially.  After the service we both approached him to ask how he had managed to recite all that Scripture – a true feat! He told us about the Topical Memory System from the Navigators.  Wes and I were immediately sold and committed ourselves to memorizing and being able to recite all 60 key verses before he left home in June for West Point.

Since then, I have worked through entire SHORT books like Colossians and whole chapters.  I don’t work to retain these long chunks forever, for that would take constant practice and my practice sessions would expand as the months passed by.  But for the duration of the ‘work’, I am chewing on some portion of Scripture every day, often throughout the day.

The payoff is rich.

Which brings me to this morning’s ‘aha!’ moment from verse 2 of 1 Peter 1:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
I’ve put the ‘chunks’ I was meditating on in different colors.  What HIT me this morning during my walk was the ‘sanctifying WORK’ of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s how my thoughts took off:
  • Maria, the Holy Spirit is working in you ON PURPOSE.
  • His work actually probably overrides MY plans as He directs my circumstances,
  • These circumstances of my life are part of His plan to sanctify me.
  • I wouldn’t choose MOST of these ‘detours’ if I were in control of my days, months and years.
  • No wonder these trials are painful at times!!!

A few significant activities of my life FEEL HARD these days:

  • Morning exercise is HARD and I have to fight my natural feelings of reluctance and dread when I get out of bed and lace up my shoes.
  • Losing these 6 pounds is HARD.  It’s taken me 6 weeks so far to lose 2.
  • Teaching school is HARD.  It takes effort and I fight laziness and just wanting to stay home with NO expectations hanging on me.
  • Practicing NOT worrying, but entrusting family needs to God is hard.  When you love someone and they suffer, you suffer too!

What helps counter all those energy-depleting concerns that tend to occupy large parts of my mental and emotional life is the idea that these details are very much intentionally part of the Holy Spirit’s plan to sanctify.  Random suffering drains, discourages and disheartens.  Knowing that God has planned and intends ALL this for my good strengthens me to endure.

I don’t think I’ve grown enough to rejoice in the trials, yet, but I know that I need to reach that point.  As I walk these days in fellowship with the Spirit of Christ, I am learning His methods.  EVERYthing He does is for my good, to sanctify me.  I can trust Him.  I MUST trust Him, if I am to flee from fear and discouragement and enlarge my capacity to enjoy God.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matt 5:8

 

Lost in thought – musings about abiding in the Vine

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Lost in thought

 

 

 

John 15:5

 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

I came across my friend, lost in thought. He didn’t hear me approach. Reaching out gently, I touched his shoulder so he wouldn’t jump. “Where ARE you? You look deep in thought!”

Don’t we sometimes refer to the content of our thoughts as a place?

At the very least, this illustration from ordinary life helps me to understand and apply what it means to abide in Christ.

Pondering again the whole viticulture analogy Jesus uses to differentiate HIS role from ours yielded some clarity.

If Jesus is the vine (think: TRUNK) and you and I are branches growing out of the vine, we are dependent on nourishment from the trunk. We need to stay connected, no matter how forceful the storms of everyday life blow. Our ‘soul’ survival and our spiritual vitality while inhabiting this current Earth depend on our on-going union with Jesus.

What role does the Father play? God the Father is the farmer, the vinedresser whose job it is to (superin)tend HIS garden. That means He sometimes cuts away new growth if it isn’t headed in the direction He deems best. His pruning sheers clip away the dead stuff as well. And He occasionally transplants us somewhere we didn’t choose, sometimes in soil that doesn’t seem to suit! But apparently, in His wisdom, He knows this particular dirt is rich and will cause us to produce more. I don’t always like the TASTE of His nourishing compost piles. There’s other plant food I would prefer, (namely, my COMFORT)!

Not only does the Master Gardner govern our physical setting, His Son as the vital vine, instructs us in how to be a ‘good branch’. Seems the only job He assigns us is to ‘abide’ in His Son, the vine.  But what does THAT mean? And how are we to do that?

Remember my lost-in-thought friend? We actually abide wherever our thoughts go. If we want to stay connected to Jesus, then we need to think often and hard on what He says in His word. Applying a quote from my favorite puritan, William Gurnall, we must ‘suck hard at the breast of the Covenant’. I think the idea is to be like a dog, working over a bone, aiming to get every last drop of tasty meat and residual flavor that he can.

In the same manner, I want to make it my chief daily activity to turn over Jesus’ promises, His deeds, His words, in order to gain as much nourishment and joy as I can.

What about the Holy Spirit? What role does He play? Ah, this is what is cool and encouraging. God’s Spirit is the One who actually produces the grapes, that is the fruit, through us.

Until recently I thought that ‘bearing fruit’ meant PRODUCING fruit. It doesn’t! It means to be the living stalk attached to the trunk from which the 3rd member of the Godhead grows the fruit. Our branch mission or job, therefore, is to focus on Jesus and His living Word.

This is actually work? Just pondering and thinking?   I know, I know, it’s pretty humbling, isn’t it! We think we’re to do GREAT things for Christ. But remember how Jesus actually addressed our labor?

John 6:28-29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

That’s all! Think on and believe what Jesus says.

If it is we who produce the fruit, then we could claim credit and look for glory. The way God has set it up, He alone gets the credit. Well, what about us? At least we get the fruit, right?

Yes and no. The fruit isn’t primarily meant for the branch that holds it up, that bears it; it’s for others. Nonetheless, we get the privilege of being part of God’s provision to the Church and the confused world. And when God’s fruit grown in us nourishes others, we ourselves are replenished! What a good deal!

Proverbs 11:25b ….those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

Bottom Line? What we think about matters!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christian, freedom and failures

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My school is one of those progressive institutions.  As such, they have embraced the concept of Failure as something positive.  Picking and choosing practices from other educational models throughout the country, our school leaders have sought to implement a healthier ethos.  The rehabilitation of Failure is part of current changes. Apparently, girls have historically viewed Failure as the dreaded ‘F Word‘.

But thanks to Tavis Smiley, talk show host and author of a 2011 book on learning from mistakes, a way to assess flops has reached even our grade-school girls.

Fail up

Teachers at my school tweaked Smiley’s catchy phrase: ‘Fail Up! to create the moniker ‘Fail Forward as a way to encourage our students NOT to be discouraged when at first they don’t succeed. After a few months of hearing their teachers preach the benefits of failing forward (aka, learning from one’s mistakes) this phrase now quite easily rolls off the tongues of our grade-school girls.

That entire preamble to set the stage for my recent failure to stick to a decision I had made for the 5th? time in my life and announced to those who read this blog.  I had resolved NOT to feed the idol/slave driver of the bathroom scale.  I carried through for 5 weeks, feeling ‘free’, once I broke my morning habit.  And for a while I thoroughly enjoyed NOT having my status beat me up at ‘0 dark30‘ each new day!

Then one morning, suspecting that I was gaining weight, I stepped on the scale. Did I talk first to God or even reason through the possible consequences?  Didn’t even cross my mind!

To my dismay, I found that in 5 weeks I had added more Maria to the planet!

Spiritual warfare broke out with an explosive roar as God allowed my trust in His goodness to be evaluated.   The test (….ultimately designed to strengthen my faith) boiled down to this:

  • Was I going to employ my only offensive weapon (God’s Word of Truth), specifically His promise that I had been meditating on and ‘preaching’ to my husband?

1 Peter 5:7 – Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you

Sword fight

 

 

 

Did I really believe that even THIS problem/burden was something He could and would take care of for me, if I heaved it into His lap and left it there?  The torturing dilemma was this:

  • What am I going to do, now that I’m gaining weight?
  • Yet I also desire NOT to be enslaved to the scale!
  • How am I going to eat?
  • How am I supposed to think about food, my body, the scale and ALL that?

I wrestled with my unbelief, confessing and repenting multiple times as my mind darted back to THE BURDEN.

But God…..(wonderful, life-giving words of hope) gently through a persistent hint of possible resolution and peace, brought to mind a plan to cut back just a little each day.  And to weigh ONCE a week to verify if this change might work. I would reassess WITH Him once enough weeks had gone by.

Furthermore, through listening to the quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada’s reflections on thanking God in the midst of her pain and severe limitations, I was reminded to thank my heavenly Father for strong legs, health and a clear mind.

I immediately wrote out a prayer asking God to give me both the desire AND the strength to follow through, in total reliance on Him.  That was a week ago.

The battle has been fierce at times, revolving around the fundamental issue of trust and gratitude.   At times I’ve entertained the idea of just hopping on that ‘evaluator’ THIS morning.  After all, the temptation is not to do something morally wrong or explicitly condemned in the Bible.

But God…..at those moments has sovereignly and lovingly directed a devotional or segment of His Word to address:

  • my lack of belief in His promises
  • my disobedience
  • and the sin of doing something NOT for the glory of God

(1 Cor 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God)

Yesterday was Saturday – my first ‘weigh-in day’ since this battle broke out again.

Drum roll

I was down 2 tenths of one pound.  (thank you, Lord, for this evidence of your grace).

To encourage me, I also ‘stumbled‘ upon my new favorite verse: 1 Corinthians 6:12

The French wording of this verse feels more personal and is easy for me to grasp, so I’ll quote you that, together with the direct translation of those words:

This is the Apostle Paul reminding us, his Christian sisters and brothers, of the freedom we have in union with Christ:

  • Tout m’est permis.  Everything is permitted me
  • Certes, mais tout n’est pas bon pour moi. For sure, but everything is not good for me.
  • Tout m’est permis, c’est vrai.  Everything is permitted me, that’s true.
  • Mais, je ne veux pas me placer sous un esclavage quelconque.  But I don’t want to put myself under any version of slavery!

Whether my past two weeks is an example of ‘failing forward’ as my school sees it, I know one thing for sure! (Certes!):

  • for Christians, God promises to work ALL things together for our good, as part of His plan and purpose to conform us to be like our older Brother, Jesus.

 

What anxiety reveals about me and you

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I realized during a busy period last week that my happiness was not based on Christ alone, but on ‘Christ Plus_____(fill in the blank)’

Christ Plus

That’s not something fun to admit.  But the realization came to me on Thursday, my grocery-shopping day, when I was feeling SCATTERED by all the tasks and details left unfinished at school.   There’s a lot of new tech at school this year and I’ve gained another class to prep to boot.  The workshop I had suggested presenting was staring me in the face with fewer than 40 hours to go and there just didn’t seem to be enough time.  You know the feeling!

But because God had sovereignly brought a blog essay across my path the week before, I was able to recognize and call out my sin for what it was – idolatry!  Just acknowledging that my anxiety in the form of feeling scattered and being bothered meant that I was living according to a formula for happiness rebuked by Jesus was enough to save me in the moment.

Here’s what I realized:  I have made my happiness and peace of mind dependent on getting through my daily agenda, that is

 ….getting stuff done!

To Do List

 

 

Guess what?  All it takes to disturb my happiness is to interfere with my ability to get stuff done.  That’s a pretty precarious position to be in since it means I have basically handed over to the vicissitudes of life the power to block my contentment and peace.

My husband often points out that:

  • unmet expectations are the source of frustration, disappointment and anger

I should know better about all this.  After all, I’ve listened to enough sermons by Pastor Tullian Tchividjean to know and explain his thesis about justification.  His main message is that we don’t have to do ANYthing to secure our justification (salvation) or identity since Jesus provides both.  But I had missed the corollary that Jesus also is the only/alone source of our happiness and contentment. Our formula for true happiness is to have Jesus, aka ‘to be had’ by Jesus.  And anyone who is ‘in Christ’, that is anyone who has given up his ability to help and save himself and who has handed over to Jesus the right to run his life autonomously is ‘in Christ’.

Here is the coolest thing. Once I SAW my sin and asked for forgiveness from Jesus, I felt light!  I was able to do my shopping and interact with the employees that I see every Thursday.  Because I wasn’t fuming about my day, I could focus on them and show interest in how their day was going.  And the more I meditated on this reality, I also was able to hand over all the stuff I needed to do and to realize that THAT LIST had nothing to do with my ultimate happiness.

By the way, the workshop on Saturday proceeded just fine.  The participants enjoyed it and were engaged in discussing God’s command to be free from covetousness and how He helps His flock to find true and lasting contentment.  All went off without a hitch, thanks to God working through the prayers of many of you!

If you’d like to read the blog post that set me to thinking freshly about true happiness, here’s the link

 

 

God uses ALL things, even the ‘Beast Within’

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I heard a sermon where the pastor made reference to Paul’s lament of not being able to control his inner beast:

Romans 7:21 – 24  So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Those most honest with themselves, especially Christians, will sometimes despair, like the ‘Super Apostle’ Paul, of ever being rescued from the struggle.  I think we ASSUME that eventual sanctification will rid us of this ‘can’t be me version!’.

Johnny Cash

 

Even contemporary cultural icons like Johnny Cash could recognize the battle within:  His song ‘The Beast In Me’  chronicles his struggle to tame the evil self within.  Lyrics to his song

 

 

My beast came out in a hurtful way a couple of days ago.  My mother-in-law is with us this week.  Driving back from a lovely outing to Biltmore, she and I were dancing around social issues and lightly touching the topic of her denomination when one of its prominent former leaders came up.  She made me chuckle when she called him a name that I would NOT have expected from the lips of an 85-year old dignified lady!

My choice when I got home was to:

  • tell Mike privately so he could share my smile
  • tell Mike in her presence as we were fixing dinner

Even though I KNEW that by raising it publicly I risked opening up a can of worms – i.e. discussion about areas of disagreement between Mike and his mom, the beast within me carried the day.

And the pattern I predicted bore its sour fruit.  My dad used to call what I did – ‘pulling wings off of flies’ (that deliberate engaging people in their soft spots with the intention of provoking and hurting them.)

As Mike and his mom engaged, his emotions got the better of him and the tenor of his voice changed in intensity and volume.  His mother criticized his MANNER of discussing the issue and he reacted to her criticism like he was a teen at home and the atmosphere got awkward.  I changed the subject feeling remorse and shame, knowing all along that I had deliberately set Mike up.

As you might have surmised, this is not the FIRST time I have deliberately stirred the pot with my poisonous words.

*

But God…!!!

Those wonder-filled, power-affirming 2 words:  as I repented and asked for forgiveness from my heavenly Father the next morning on my walk, I started praying for my husband’s heart and for his relationship with his mom.  I could tell that he had gone to bed bothered and sad.  We hadn’t talked about it.  But I know him.  And worse….I KNEW what I had done.

Later during that next day, I asked him if he were alright.  And he mentioned he was still bothered by the previous night.  As I had been praying for his heart, I just offered the suggestion that if he were to approach his mom and apologize for raising his voice, she might be so startled at this new behavior. And who knew just how God might use that softer side of Mike?  I offered this glimpse of his mom’s possible reaction and a way to clear the air as a suggestion.

He later reported to me that he had done the very thing….and felt better.

*

I re-learned two facts:

  • I need continually to be praying that only what is KIND, true and necessary be what comes out of my mouth. The corollary to THAT is that I must not forget that my first inclination at times is to do what is NOT loving and pleasing to my Father.
  • God IS able to use all our sin for our good and His glory.  Not that we should sin on freely, but that we don’t have to despair each time the beast pops his ugly head out –  unbidden.

Returning to Paul’s admission of his personal on-going struggle with his wicked nature, the comforting reminder in Romans 7 picks up with his question in verse 24b – Who will rescue me from this body of death?

verse 25 – THANKS BE TO GOD – THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD!

God works all things

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I’m thankful that I still have a few more days to practice kindness with my mom-in-law, relying on God to give me both the desire,  the will and the strength to keep the beast tied up!

Wanting to be admired

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  MeVoilà my favorite topic – me! 

 

I’ve grown increasingly aware via my lived-out experiences as well as through reading Christian authors of this unpleasant fact: the more we grow in our knowledge of God and His standards of holiness, the more we realize how far short we fall.

 (Thank the good Lord that our salvation does NOT depend on meeting the bar, but on what Jesus did on our behalf!) 

So when the desire rises in me to boast, in a fake nonchalant way about myself or my kids, I have to pray to resist this pathetic urge.  For that is what it is – sick self-aggrandizement!

Why should I brag about how XYZ I am as though it is a true representation of my value?  Because it’s NOT who I really am.  Yes, I feel a momentary rush as I bask in my own self-proclaimed glory, whether you admire me or not.  But here’s the rub: it’s not the total picture of who I am.

Imposter Syndrom

To be honest, if you knew all those thoughts and feelings and actions that I keep from you, you’d laugh to think that I, Maria, even thought highly of herself for one moment.

 

 

 

 

So there we were last night enjoying supper with some friends on our deck overlooking God’s splendor.

Early Morning Mist at Gilead House - 14 June

And I was aware of wanting them to be impressed with how well I cooked as well as how smart, hardworking, well-read and fit I was.  And at the same time, I knew that to drop hints of my fake-veiled glory was to steal glory form the One who alone deserves to be magnified – Jesus Christ.  I even prayed about my tendency ahead of time, knowing that it would far better to do otherwise.  Admiring Jesus could be potentially life-giving to them and it certainly would satisfy me more deeply.

I think God allowed me to fall again into this sin and then have the opportunity in church today to repent and long to kill that instinct through His grace – aka HS power.  These 2 verses describe the Maria I want to be:

Psalm 34 – 2 to 3

My life makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble and afflicted hear and be glad.

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.

 

Expect opposition if you are in God’s will

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Opposition - chess pieces

 

 

 

Saul had just been anointed Israel’s first King as recounted in the book, 1 Samuel, chapter 10.

24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “ Long live the king!”……
(25b)….  and Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his house. 26 Saul also went to his house at Gibeah; and the valiant men whose hearts God had touched went with him. 27 But certain worthless men said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent.

I am learning that you can be in God’s will and right where He wants you to be AND there will be push back and opposition.  The question then emerges: Why are we surprised?

Here are 3 facts:

1) Trials are intended to grow our patient trust (called steadfastness) in God.  They are necessary for us to be complete.  They are required if we are to be fully equipped, lacking nothing.

  • James 1: 2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

2) God uses every aspect of these trials, aka painful circumstances & suffering, to bring about our maturity, training and equipping.

  • Romans 8:28  And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose

3) Sometimes the secondary cause, the deliverer of the suffering/trial/hardship, is via spiritual forces of wickedness.  God, the first-cause, allows these attacks for His own good and loving reasons.

One of those ‘good’ reasons is so we will KNOW how real and safe God’s Word is.  Last week, I re-learned that lesson.

I had gone about 6 weeks with no parent complaints in this my first year in a new school.

No complaints since

 

 

 

 

I really didn’t see this one coming.  And when the complaint filtered down to me via my principal (I explicitly excluded a disruptive child when I passed out mini marshmallows for good participation in class), I was emotionally drained.  My confidence and enjoyment of the students had been growing since the nadir in January.   But this episode set me back.

My tête-à-tête with my principal happened on a Thursday.  And the following Monday I felt even lower.  It was like I had lost all sense of purpose in life. I seriously considered how much money I could make cleaning homes as an alternative to THIS!!!

My poor husband didn’t know how to react to his normally optimistic, perky wife.  But he defaulted to the most effective use of his time and words.   He prayed fervently most of the evening, unlike Job’s friends.

And praise be to God, the next morning, something that Tullian Tchividjian said in a podcast brought relief.  He was recounting his ‘year from Hell’, his first year as senior pastor of  Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft Lauderdale.  And MY thought was this: “I bet Tullian seriously considered resigning and going to work at Lowe’s to support his family!”   My next thought tumbled out: “Wow!  Then we would have been deprived of his ministry of grace, his books and the Liberate Conferences!  I bet this was spiritual attack by those who were bent on stopping any advance in the Kingdom!”

Spir Warfare - the lion

 

 

 

And just with that thought, I was ‘right-side-up’ again with purpose and renewed resolve NOT to let the enemy defeat me.  It might be that God’s will for me at that school is just for this year.  That decision is in His hands.  But for now, I will fight on, determined to reach out to my students and colleagues and be available to them.  I am learning the absolute reality and security of God’s word.  As my cousin Terry reminded me:

No wpn formed against you

 

 

 

 

 

And thank you, Michael, for your prayers.  As James points out, “the fervent prayers of a man who is in right-standing with God make A LOT of power available!” (James 5:16)

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