Is God sovereign over technology?

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Being taught something, without putting into practice what you have received in theory is futile. All good teachers teach by that principle.  We know what we know, when we can DO something with it. When we first start applying and using ‘book learning’, we will make a lot of mistakes.  That’s why teachers regularly give us homework and evaluate our progress, often by means of unannounced ‘pop’ quizzes.

It’s no surprise, then, that the model teacher, Jesus, fondly employs this same method.

Fully aware of Jesus’ motives and desire for me to grow through his tailored lessons in ‘being holy as God is holy’, I wasn’t initially thrown off guard yesterday when he handed me an unannounced practical exam. I’ve been working very slowly through John Piper’s latest book, Providence. His developed arguments reinforce what Mike and I have known for some years, that nothing occurs in this world that is not designed and sent forth by God.  The Bible explicitly proclaims this truth throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

For example, Isaiah 45:7 is one of many places where the LORD testifies to his purposeful, planned happenings: I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. ESV

Mike and I are slowly learning to relax and trust God when ‘things don’t go as planned or as hoped’.  That’s why we regularly pray for each other when problems pop up. These days, it seems that many of these unexpected ‘gifts’ are tech issues that suddenly confront us with the potential both to frustrate and rattle us.  God sends them for his good purposes, but Satan uses them, trying his best to cause us to vent, feel anxious, distracted or even angry.

Yesterday, God gave me one such ‘gift’.  Immediately, when a major problem with the raw recording of my latest English without Fear video suddenly occurred, I did not panic. Seldom does a week go by without a few divinely-initiated ‘monkey wrenches’ thrown into the mix.

Since I’m learning to expect problems, I immediately saw and attributed this issue as an opportunity to count on God.  I pictured a smiling God handing me a practice session to see if I really believe what I SAY I believe, that he controls all events in my life.

I talked with him as I worked through one possible fix after another. Nothing helped. 

While I kept trying to fix this issue, my mind played with many thoughts such as:

  • Does God always provide?
  • Can I count on him for this?
  • Is he who he says he is?

I googled the problem and learned that because I had updated the IOS of my MacBook Pro, my video recording software needed an upgrade.  That took time to install. 

Once squared away, a new issue presented itself – the settings! When I recorded a trial video, there was no sound.  I fiddled around, still proclaiming my faith in my sovereign and good Father. Bungling through one change after another, I grew hungry and frustrated.  Yet, I kept practicing patience.  ‘This is from my Father, so he means this for good.  I will NOT let Satan rattle me.’

Time was marching on.  I had a Zoom class to teach at 2 pm, so I temporarily gave up to clean up the kitchen before my class.  Wiping the counters and loading the dishwasher gave Satan the opportunity to heat up the temptation toward self-pity. I could actually imagine myself giving in to a vent: ‘I’ve wasted all this time and I’m still no closer to a solution!’

By grace, I called out to God and told him all the truth I could think of so as NOT to yield to Satan’s whispers. Suddenly, I remembered what I had written in my journal earlier in the morning.  My mom used to say, “For this, I have Jesus.”  I combined that truth with something I heard Kathy Keller share at a conference: “I trust the One who died for me.”

At 2 pm, as my English-language learners entered my Zoom room for our weekly conversation class, I had to leave the entire problem with God.

Ninety minutes later, I ended the Zoom session and checked a text from Graham, our video-content-creator son.  He told me which setting to check in my recording software.  I did and it worked!!! Hallelujah! I texted him and Mike the good news.  God had come through and I had NOT given in to Satan.

‘Well, there’s this week’s blog topic!’ I thought with a smile. Victory in Christ, thanks to his grace.

But God wasn’t finished with me. I woke up this morning and started to edit what had worked perfectly yesterday afternoon.  No sound!!! What?  There’s a Part 2 to this lesson? That DID catch me by surprise.

I had to laugh, though. ‘You must REALLY want me to get this lesson, that from you and through you and to you are all things’ (Romans 11:36).  Nothing happens or fails to happen except by you.  You are the first cause of every event.

What did I do?  I took screen shots of my recording, still in the recording studio software and sent them to Graham and Mike.  Then I had to leave for a doctor’s appointment. Again, I talked to God on my drive to and fro, affirming my complete confidence in his goodness and his plans. And I asked for help.

What happened?  I don’t know.  I couldn’t get the sound to work on what I had successfully recorded yesterday.  So, I did a test video.  There was sound. For the umpteenth time, I recorded my English without Fear episode and it worked. Praise God!

What will happen next time?  He only knows.  But today, I’m rejoicing in his help and in ‘passing the pop quiz of faith’.  Satan, you lost that one.  My God is sufficient.

Incoming artillery barrage from Satan: You’re not doing enough!

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There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you free. Romans 8:1-2 Berean Study Bible

Oh, the places we have lived and the friends we have made.  England, Virginia and North Carolina enriched us the most. We now live in Alabama. My former school colleagues, church friends, neighbors with whom I WANT to stay in contact now number in the 20s, I would imagine.  These are people for whom I still pray and feel close, but in different degrees. Deciding who is in my ‘inner circle’ has been challenging.  I have limited emotional energy and time to invest. I imagine that’s the same for you.

Add to those different groups of friends from our past, God has planted us in yet another community with new neighbors, church friends and colleagues at Mike’s office.

How have I organized those in whom I invest? There’s my mother-in-law with whom I spend 30 minutes twice weekly on a Zoom call, keeping up with her. Two grandkids I occasionally (depending on their schedules) teach either French or Spanish by Zoom. Then there are two close friends I’ve chosen to invest in. With one gal, I connect daily through Voxer, an asynchronous audio messaging platform.  My other regular friend and I leave lengthy video messages for each other once a week, using Marco Polo. They are the gals who are closest to my heart. 

Yet, I feel overwhelmed with how to ‘handle’ other friends. ‘Shoulds’ distract me and cause me guilt:  

  • I need to schedule a catch-up call with Jane
  • We should reach out to neighbors and get to know them over a meal
  • Martha is a young mom at church with whom I click, I should schedule a walk and talk.
  • I haven’t talked with my sister-in-law in a while; I should find a time soon to connect.

So, what’s the problem?  There is not enough time to schedule in all these people, given my other responsibilities. Plus, I feel guilty in admitting that these ‘shoulds’ feel like a burden.  The background music in my mind keeps playing the same-ole refrain, “Something is wrong with me that I don’t want to stay in touch with everyone; that’s selfish!”

This morning I woke up heavy with, “I don’t do enough to stay connected to people, past and present.”

Journaling my raw thoughts during my morning time with Jesus and my Bible always help me process what I’m feeling and thinking. The Holy Spirit always helps me sort through the yuk and bring me out into the light.

Here’s how once again, he came to my rescue. 

With relief, I wrote down exactly how I was feeling condemned and distracted.  Having finished reading the appointed scriptures for the day, I then opened up my Oswald Chambers app on my phone. The first whiff of freedom emerged. ‘Don’t worry anymore about yourself….’

Copying Oswald’s exhortation, I then wrote this conclusion: ‘Every time I start to think I’m not enough, recognize that I am focused on the wrong issue. Leave it alone and hop over to the most important issue: ‘Jesus, YOU did enough for me.  I am enough IN you.’

That triggered this idea: ‘What if I focused and meditated on your ‘enufness’, Jesus? Oh! Didn’t I recently read something about being sprung from prison?  Yes!  Here it is, from yesterday’s scripture:  Psalm 116:16 You threw open my prison door.

That truth set me to considering a daring suggestion that seemed to spring up from inside.  ‘What if I DIDN’T initiate contacts with my other old friends and new acquaintances here?  What if I just trusted the Holy Spirit to lead people to contact me if they want to catch up?  Could I DARE give that a try?  That would feel SO freeing!

But what about all the exhortations to ‘one another’ and love brothers and neighbors?’

God encouraged me by bringing Philippians 2:13 to mind. You know that statement Paul makes where he writes that it is God himself who gives us the desire to work for his good pleasure.

I looked up ‘desire’ in the Greek.  Glancing down at the various meanings, I dared to hope that this was the answer.  Desire can also be expressed as:

  • being gladly inclined toward something
  • taking delight and pleasure in doing XYZ

With mounting energy, I asked, ‘What excites me?’ I didn’t have to think.  The answer flooded my heart:

  • Writing! Having time each day to write energizes me.
  • Learning Spanish fills me with joy

You know, that line in Philippians clearly teaches that it is God who plants desires in us that conform to his purposes and good pleasure. ‘Could it be that simple? To follow my God-given desires, especially this urge to write?  Is my craft, my calling to express myself beautifully in order to connect and encourage others? Is that why the Holy Spirit daily brings me fresh ideas that link his word with my life?

And the Spanish, well that’s clear. The absolute joy and pleasure of growing more proficient. For years, I taught French to adolescents. Now, I get to expand my areas of fluency, giving me entrée into a different world with fascinating people. Describing my language acquisition process and what I feel inside as a second-language learner thrills me.’

I put my pen down and closed my journal to get ready for my exercise class. Throughout the day, I have been letting these ideas sink in.  I think I’m on the right track, for not even three weeks ago one of my friends reminded me that the Holy Spirit corrects with gentleness.  He doesn’t condemn.

More than just a solution to ‘what do I do with all the people from my past’, God confirmed what he has called me to do.  Satan apparently likes to suck away our joy and burden us with duties that God maybe hasn’t appointed. I’m quicker to recognize Satan’s ploys, that shame-producing condemnation together with distracting thoughts.

Return to your rest, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you! Psalm 116:7 Berean Study Bible.

I’ll let you know what happens, as I leave to the Lord my other friends and acquaintances. I believe I can trust him to let me know when I should engage.

The pattern of spiritual attacks

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As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So, humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:6-7 NLT

Almost 20 years passed before I recognized Satan’s spiritual attacks. Of course, I had heard of spiritual warfare and read Ephesians 6 multiple times, and I could see Satan’s hand in life’s suffering.  But a new awakening to spiritual reality took place half way through the most severe religious persecution I had ever experienced.

As soon as I arrived at Carolina Day School in Asheville, North Carolina, the harassment started.  Middle school parents believed stories their children, my French students, passed on, about how I was ‘proselytizing’, how I (an evangelical) crossed myself during class, as do Catholics.  I fervently sought other jobs, clamoring to get out of there, but God kept me at this school.  It was awful.

Cousin Terry gave me a promise to cling to:

No weapon formed against you shall prosper. Isaiah 54:17 NKJV

I asserted that fact over and over, many times in a day as I walked to the copy room or bathroom.

I understood external suffering from outside, but I had never been conscious of the dark world’s incursions into my thought life.  I had always assumed that I was she who gave birth to discouraging notions and feelings. They were products of my mind, or so I had always reasoned.

But half way through my tenure at this school, about six years ago, the Lord opened my eyes to a new facet of spiritual reality.  I was about to travel with other teachers to a conference.  Very demoralized about my French teaching and how students and parents reacted, I didn’t want to go.  Two nights before our departure, I experienced what I’ve heard termed, ‘the dark night of the soul’.

My despair over teaching spread to every part of my life.  Not only did I not think I could or should continue teaching, I saw myself as incapable of being Mike’s wife, of being a grandmother, of continuing to manage our week-to-week finances, even of preparing meals.  So convinced that these changes were true, I awoke feeling unable to carry on with my life. Not suicidal, but in total despair and without hope. Someone or something had flushed my normal enthusiasm down the drain

I don’t know the exact moment God draw back the curtain, but it was later that same day. Suddenly, I knew!  These weren’t my thoughts; they belonged to the devil!!!  Relief flooded my mind and heart.  As fresh energy for life flowed back in, I felt strengthened and enthusiastic once more.

I partook of the conference and even acquired some new ways of engaging students.  I returned to my classroom, feeling ready to carry on.  Praise be to God.

That event and what God taught me propelled me on to enjoying the best three (and final) years of my French classroom career.

Five and half years later, I still experience AND recognize occasional attacks.  But not always do I identify their source.  I still have fallen for the lie that they are MY thoughts and feelings.

The other night turned out differently.  After at least two hours of sleeplessness around what I affectionately call “pee o’clock”, I fell into a nightmare.  Just before the alarm sounded, I was praying in my dream, “Help me! I am under spiritual attack!”

Fifteen minutes later, although tired, I eagerly sat down with coffee, Bible and my journal at hand. As I had been feeding the cats and making the coffee, I quickly recognized what had occurred. With the dream still fresh, I replayed my fearful, desperate cry for rescue against this enemy.

As I started to write about this, God took me in a different direction, his application surprising me. I had spent part of my awake time, worrying about all the self-assigned tasks for the coming week and my desire to have more ‘Maria time’. What God brought to mind turned out to be a picture of my prevailing sin as a bed of smoldering coals.

I hoard time for Maria, and am aware of this top manifestation of my sinful selfishness. Suddenly, I pictured Satan blowing on these coals of ‘Not enough time for Maria’.  Small flames of discouragement had flamed into strong fire during my awake worry time.

What is interesting is that over the past couple of months, I have actually relaxed more about ‘time’, trusting God’s grace to be sufficient. More and more, I have let go of the need to get stuff done.

Thanks be to God, I saw my nightmare for what is is, a desperate dark ploy to keep me tied to Satan’s lie.

I immediately dumped cold water, dousing those roused embers. And Satan fled.

Then I wrote in my journal a version of Paul’s account of his take-away in God’s Holiness School.

Paul wrote:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

I composed this:

I have learned to be more content each day.  I know what it is to have little time and what it is to have plenty.  I am practicing the secret of being content in either case, whether I have ‘too much’ to do or the day looks wide open.  I can trust Jesus to provide just what I need for what he has pre-planned for me to do.

In other words, it’s okay to be weak, to be needy, to not have enough time.  As a needy little child, I can safely trust my Father to give me what I need. I’m not wise enough to know about the day ahead.  But he is!

Battling to keep walking with the Truth

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Jesus proclaimed: ‘I am ..the Truth’. Aren’t you glad that Truth is a person who takes a very intimate interest in each of us, His brothers and sisters? Without Him, we would never be able to withstand our enemy, that liar who seeks to discourage us by attacking God’s Word.  Our greatest daily, if not hourly, temptation that we must resist is our bent toward doubting God.

In these two reflections, I describe two types of suffering that accompany our difficult calling to believe Jesus.

**

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 NASB

I have a sweet friend eager to be with Jesus.  Days dark with death exhaust her. Her son’s marriage is dying and she lives with him and his wife.  Another son’s own son is in jail for murdering a man.  Somber and sobering shadows press in on her.

But the darkness is passing. Her Savior, Jesus, the good Shepherd is walking with her through the dying. She doesn’t dwell there.

King David, too, suffered the death of relationships and dreams.  And King Jesus led him back into the light. David never forgot the comforting presence of this Shepherd.  He felt the guiding, bounding presence of rod and staff, until relief came on the other side. Do you suppose he was able to trust His shepherd, having been one himself?

Joy returned including feasting and fellowship when God restored his rule.  Prophetically and with bracing frankness, he proclaimed that as good as temporary relief can be, what awaited him AND us is permanent joy and love forever.

My friend needs to cling to this truth, as do we.

**

Fight the good fight of faith 1 Timothy 6:12 NASB

Mike and I have been rewatching The Lord of the Rings.  So, when I read this chapter today, ‘The Last Battle’ lingered in my mind.

What if you and I woke up daily fully expecting another day of warfare? Isn’t that what Paul is teaching?  Most assuredly, there are many possible conflicts in life, but they are worthless compared to this one.  What is our one major conflict? The fight for our faith.  The ongoing struggle to trust Jesus.

As long as our enemy persists, we must engage in daily war. Satan’s primary objective continues – to cause us to doubt God’s word.

What should Christians expect, then?

In God’s good providence, He plans daily battle training to strengthen us.  Furthermore, we should prepare for enemy skirmishes, probing our resolve.  Occasionally, frontal assaults test us. And some of us will be engaged in a lifetime-long war. Think ‘The Hundred Years War’.

If we go to bed still trusting God, then we can celebrate the victory. Restorative sleep prepares us for another day to fight, divinely equipped.

Why is life so hard?

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Why are we surprised by hard things, by suffering? How many times have I thought, “If we can just sell the house!  Maybe when God heals Mike! Once he finds a new job!  Once I get to leave this job!”  But then, on the other side, new situations await.

I just want to be real with myself.  Life is hard because:

  • The world is broken due to sin
  • We have an evil enemy
  • God puts His family members through difficult times to burn away all that is impure, unholy and not of Him.

I am now letting it sink in that there is always another issue, a problem, a crisis, a sticky relationship.  Christianity is honest about life on Earth 1.0 but God doesn’t just leave us with truth, He reassures us that He has overcome the world and that His Spirit is with us to help us.  Remember, too, that suffering is not for naught. May we keep Romans 8:28 front and center.

I selected these two reflections from the past week, a series of days that ‘felt’ hard. But looking back, they were no more challenging and frustrating and painful than most weeks.

**

Necessity teaches the naked woman to spin. Danish Proverb

God’s truth has many sources.

Roberto, a fellow language learner and friend, works on his English as I do with Spanish. But there’s a difference. Yesterday, I complimented him on his progress. He sadly demurred, adding: “I don’t need English here!”

“What do you mean?”  Listening, I realized the blessing of necessity. I volunteer weekly at the local pregnancy center. Growing numbers of Hispanic gals seek counsel and assistance. My intermediate Spanish makes a difference.  This week I spoke Spanish in all three appointments, delighting me. And I long for improvement.

Years ago, a school hired me to teach logic.  Me, a French teacher. I had never heard of logic as a subject, so I Googled it.  You can imagine how motivating a classroom of 8th-graders can be when you have to teach.  Slowly, day by day, I learned about logic and loved it.

If God is calling you to do a difficult ‘something’, about which you know nothing, thank Him!  A new skill is His gift to you.

****

The LORD tests the righteous Psalm 11:5 ESV

Let’s admit it, life is very hard. 

My friend Lisa has a son undergoing a painful life experience. Her favorite promise from Jesus is: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

Today’s assurance from God is that He is going to add more pressure to the righteous, and that on top of the normal suffering on Earth 1.0. What?  Yes, as a good and wise Father, He is training us to resemble the Family. Only by treating us like precious metal needing to be rid of impurities, can we be made pure.  High temperatures!

The rest of the psalm provides two contrasts. How He reacts to the wicked is the first. He hates them!  And second, those He loves (another name for those being tested) will see His face.

Seeing God’s face is Hebrew for finding favor with God! So, take heart.

A fresh year to adventure with Jesus

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Welcome 2021! Another clean and fresh chapter, adventuring with Jesus.

Ever since I heard Christian peace advocate Jamie Winship talk about his years working among warring radical tribal Muslims, my time reading the Bible and praying to Jesus have changed significantly. 

Thanks to a new way of listening to Jesus, I received a nudge, encouraging me to start writing daily.  The game of this new habit, 6 weeks in, is to put into 175 words or fewer an insight God reveals from that day’s readings and meditations. I love this ‘pleasant boundary line’.  Each week, therefore, I select two of my dailies and offer them here, to you.

My goal is to encourage you, too, to read, digest, talk truthfully to Jesus and listen for what He thinks about any problem or situation or worry and then do what He says.  An adventure is bound to follow, making life 1.0 (until His return) exciting and energizing.

Blessed adventuring to you, dear reader, this 2021.

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, Revelation 4:11 NIV

For years, I announced: “I’m not creative!” I believed I couldn’t generate novel ways of teaching. Pressure to use my imagination stressed me.

But toward the end of my classroom teaching years, I began to come up with new ways of presenting learning experiences to my French students. Innovation turned into a friend. Different ideas energized me, stimulating me to take risks. ‘Same ole, same ole’ bores us all.

What happened is that I relaxed into my calling, how God wired me (and you).  We know that God is Creator. If we bear His image, it follows that we create, naturally.

Now look at the text – being creative is worthy of honor.

When we originate something, try a new approach or employ different materials, we have embraced our calling, reflecting God.

Who do you suppose works to keep us tired and blasé? Who stands to gain if we believe life and God are boring?

**

They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings–and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers. Revelation 17:14

My Bible notes remarked that angels are NEVER referred to as ‘called, chosen, faithful followers’.  Only believers!!!

This news stuns me. Implied is this, that if we die before ‘The Last Battle’, we will fight alongside Jesus in his final military defeat of Satan and his vile, wicked guerrillas.

No wonder this life is challenging, hard, often painful for believers, aka warriors in training. Life on earth is Divine Bootcamp! Field exercises and live fire familiarization prep us for real skirmishes with the enemy and the occasional drawn-out battle.

But remember, we have only one enemy – Satan.  People are not our enemy.

My take-away from today’s Bible reading? Suffering is both real and necessary.  God has carefully planned every detail of our training with this future Day in mind. Those who die in the Lord will experience the most exciting, epic Victory in all creation. R&R awaits all soldiers on the other side, our Rest and Re-creation.

Those infernal lies that seem like my thoughts

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Mike and I have been talking about the number of lies we entertain in our thoughts. We usually assume they are true. In fact, they innocuously blend in with our other ruminations in a way that makes us actually believe they ARE our thoughts (and therefore true!).

I’m an expert at detecting these lies in Mike. They are easy to spot should he happen to speak one out loud –  these inner verdicts on reality. (analyze THAT Latin word! verus =true, dictum = statement).

I now understand this satanic tactic, a favorite of the ‘father of lies’.  He tends to whisper or suggest ideas and conclusions that feel SO much like our own. We think we are the source of the thoughts. There’s no warning sign or danger alert that they might be from someone other than us.

Here’s my most current example. I was experiencing a difficult time with some 7th-grade boys last week. They were distracting French class.  I started fantasizing about how pleasant it would be to teach adults who CHOOSE to learn French (or English) with me. (first mistake – discontent followed by coveting. How?  by imagining something other than what God has given me).  Within a few hours I was thinking:

  • Maybe I’m too old to be teaching middle schoolers.
  • Maybe this should be my last year.

I actually articulated those thoughts and conclusions 3 different times over the weekend.

Result?  I slid into a sulky, grumpy mood by Monday morning.

But God!

I actually WROTE down in my journal, “Father – HELP me!  Give me fresh ways and ideas to deal with these kids. Help my un-desire.”

And to my surprise, within 5 minutes of recording that need, a memory from several years ago arrived ‘front and center’.  At that particular time, I had written a pastor friend, asking him to pray during a VERY painful early year at my current school.  He immediately wrote back to encourage me.

He had exhorted me to keep in mind that one or more of these kids I was teaching might one day become a missionary in a French-speaking part of the world.  All because I had persisted in teaching students French.

Through this very memory, God infused my being with strength!  The hope-giving reminder of why I must continue teaching French vacuumed away the discouragement in a flash.  “I MUST persist,” I concluded.

What followed next was even more powerful.  Suddenly I saw that my feelings and thoughts of no longer belonging in the classroom were not MY notions, but planted FALSE ideas by my enemy, the devil.

That realization grew as I saw more clearly just why this ‘liar from old’ would not want me equipping someone to speak French.  Someone who might one day explain to a French speaker just who Christ was and what He has done.

So, I am reminded, how blind we are when it comes to spotting lies – in ourselves.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we must help each other by engaging with others. We should:

  • CONFIDE our discouragement with brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them to pray!
  • ASK MORE THAN surface questions when we see others; press a bit deeper when we detect anxiety or heaviness in someone’s face and voice. We can offer to listen and pray.

We don’t know how close someone might be to throwing in the towel.  Discouragement is a real life-drainer.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

‘Doing’ the armor of God

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Satan is out to kill you!“, announced our pastor as he undertook to exhort us to armor up and ready our Spirit-enlivened sword.

Two previous sermons had focused on the various defensive pieces of protection issued to each child of God as the proper daily clothing for our protection.  Patrick did not assume that we, his helpless, naïve flock of sheep, had been taken seriously the dangerous and evil nature of our enemy.

His complacency-shattering proclamation got my attention, as I opened my notebook to jot down this truth.

Patrick amplified his opening, explaining with direct language that Satan is out not to bother us, but to destroy us.  Like a vicious lion who will tear his prey to shreds, our enemy bars no holds.  Whether we consciously signed up for it or not, we live in the midst of a war.

Patrick reviewed our protective armor, before teaching on the one offensive weapon. I bet many of you can recite all the pieces:

Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV) Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Who among Christians has NOT heard and read a lot about the armor of God?  But until our pastor highlighted the DOING role in putting on our daily uniform, I was blind. So, what was new?

I’ll boil it down like this – there is an ‘action component‘ to the defensive pieces that goes far beyond simply donning this God-commanded protection.  It is THROUGH the regular practice of DOING, carrying out these functions, that the Holy Spirit of God protects us from Satan.  Without a doubt, we must KNOW for sure certain biblical doctrinal FACTS. But simple knowledge alone falls short of offering the complete safety and security planned and designed to keep us alive.  Let’s look at each piece of battle clothing:

  • Belt of truth:  Yes, we must KNOW the truth about God, per His Word. But we substantively gain protection as we practice truth-telling ourselves.  God’s children copy Jesus.  We don’t varnish or meddle with the truth.  We exercise integrity of speech and action, in line with what we believe. Be honest, brothers and sisters.
  • Breastplate of righteousness:  Yes, our vital organs are covered by Christ’s righteousness.  But as His younger brothers and sisters, we follow His command, articulated by His prophet Micah. We do just actions among our neighbors, we value mercy, both the kind we receive and the kind we give and we walk with grateful humility in His path of holiness, relying on His accompanying Spirit. Again, God’s armor protects us as we put it into action.
  • Good news, peace footwear:  I used to think that simply knowing the Gospel was what this item of spiritual gear symbolized.  I now see that as we intentionally adopt a posture of ‘I’m on a mission to share amazing news about God’s rescue plan, intended to release POWs trapped by Satan in fear and darkness,‘ our armor actually grows in its ability to guard our soul against the evil designs of dark powers.
  • Shield of faith:  I never was really sure just how this piece was different from the others.  After Patrick’s explanation, I now see that when I PRO-actively rely on God and trust His Word, I am wielding my buckler.  Deciding to count on God’s sure but invisible promises, what pastor John Piper calls exercising faith in future grace (as described in the Bible), puts me on a ready alert, looking to smother incoming lies from Satan.  These fears and doubts FEEL like they are MY OWN thoughts.  But I’m learning that they are not.  NOT AT ALL!!!
  • Helmet of salvation: Again, I always took this to be knowing that I am saved, once and for all through Jesus’ work on my behalf.  I’m beginning to internalize that there are two kinds of knowing – one passive and one active, even what I might call aggressive!                                                                                                                          Here’s what I mean by active:  two components constitute this warfare hat – a wholehearted clinging to the FACT and TRUTH of God’s Word, in general, and the comforting and heart-steadying certainty of Jesus’ final rescue plan, scheduled for a TIME and DATE in the ‘near future’.  This is a future historical reality.  So what does DOING this helmet look like?  For Maria, it’s a rehearsing certain truths about God.  Out loud in my prayers and some written down in my journal.  My current ‘biblical mantra’ about a pressing care is this: “Not my battle, not my plan, not my rescue.”  That’s enough to get me to back off in my fantasizing and sinful worry.

I’ll leave sword skills to you and your study.  That seems pretty straightforward.  There is divine power in speaking God’s Word out loud.  Evidence?  He spoke our universe into creation.  His prophets spoke about events to come:  some prophesies have already been fulfilled. You can count on the rest coming to pass, as well.

My advice to me and to you, after digesting our pastor’s sermon:  it’s a good idea to set out our wartime clothes the night before.  There might be an early morning ‘call’ to run to battle.

 

 

Why I liked ‘Star Wars – the Last Jedi’

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Disclaimer – I don’t watch movies for the internal logic of the story.  I look for examples of God’s truth and common grace.

Mike and I kept to our tradition this week – a once-a-year excursion to view a movie in the theater.  Yes, it had been an entire year.  So we were not prepared for 2 facts:

  • People reserve a specific seat online
  • Lazy-boy style recliners are the norm!

We were graced to be let INTO the 1 pm showing when the ticket gal released 2 handicapped seats to us!

A student had given me a gift card to Regal as a Christmas gift.  It was a free date with my husband!  We don’t buy snacks and we took our lunch with us, enjoying some free coffee (Starbucks rewards) before the movie. We left the house in Balsam at 11:10 am and made it home from Asheville by 5 pm.  That’s basically an all-day field trip.  But all it cost us was time.  Definitely worth it.

I praise excellence where I find it.  And God has endowed Christians and non-Christians alike with many talents.  Here is what I found praise-worthy in this Star Wars episode:

  • Female leadership beautifully modeled.  Both General Organa (Princess Leia) at age 60 and her vice-admiral, another older actress showed strength and made decisions with kindness and directness.  Women can be equally effective as leaders of men and women AND do it in a beautiful way that highlights their strengths of compassion and love.  My oldest granddaughter, Chloe who is 8 1/2 continued her father-daughter tradition of attending certain movies on opening night (i.e VERY late on a school night).  I was glad she had seen strong but kind women model leadership.  And effective OLDER women being productive too.
  • The other female warriors, in particular, Rose, drew a distinction between selflessly choosing to sacrifice out of love and giving one’s all motivated by hate. Noteworthy and encouraging.
  • Among the many ‘The Force Be With You!’ greetings passed among Rebellion members, was one ‘Godspeed!‘.  Made me wonder if director Rion Johnson intentionally shifted ‘the Force’ to a personal God.
  • Sometimes we need the brash effrontery of a young raw but bold officer such as X-wing fighter pilot Poe.  He gambled and won the brass’ confidence to command. There is a fine line between insubordination and leadership.  Gauge incorrectly and you face sometimes-dire consequences for your brashness.
  • Failure as a positive lesson to harness emerged.  Luke Skywalker finally admits to Yoda his painful remorse at having failed his nephew Kylo Ren by not spotting his turn to the Dark Side.  Yoda disarms his self-flagellation by suggesting that failure is a good teacher.  In the end, we see Luke has internalized this new thought to make effective use of it in conflict.  That’s a lesson ALL of us need to acquire.  Shame would be waste of a good failure!
  • Hope as a tangible and necessary good recurs several times.  Without hope, we give up.  The Rebellion is small, a mere remnant, dispersed in the galaxy with some silent supporters.  But as long as they hold on to hope, they can survive to fight another day. So too with Christians.
  • Just as our God often appears to His people to be the ‘God of the very last moment’, so it is with Hope for the Rebellion.  When seemingly trapped and Princess Leia announces that Hope has run out, God (or the Force) seems to use human hubris in Kylo’s character AND the instinct for survival of the ice fox to buy time and furnish an escape for the Rebellion.
  • Finally, though insignificantly small in number, the Rebellion represents Good in this epic struggle of Good versus Evil.  That battle illustrates the struggle in our world.  Modern westerners don’t want to think about spiritual powers, let alone dark, evil forces.  But they are real.  Roiling with hate, they oppose God and those who belong to Him.  Star Wars illustrates that truth.

An excellent movie, worth seeing.  Paraphrasing Abraham Kuyper, ‘All truth is God’s truth.’

 

 

Slow reading – best birthday gift ever!

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The birthday present arrived 3 months late, making it VERY special.  I could tell the wrappings contained a heavy book.  “Aah, what could be better than a book from a kindred sister!”  Regina had gifted me with what turned out to be a 37-month course in Puritan thought.  I had no idea how long it would take to read through all 1265 pages when, in October 2014, I opened up William Gurnall’s collection of sermons on spiritual warfare.

Never having heard of William Gurnall, I found out online that this 17th-century English pastor preached biblically-rich sermons that have fed many a pastor and layperson since.   When I ponder the time this dear man invested in writing out each sermon, dipping his quill every couple of words into his inkwell to continue, I marvel.

Through his preaching listeners then and readers today have taken to heart what God reveals in the Bible about the nature of fragile, sinful, and blood-bought Christians and the need to be fortified against the very real dangers of sin and spiritual attack.  These exhortations have stood the test of time, for nothing in human nature has changed since the 1650s and 60s.

Gurnall Book.png (see Wikipedia info at end of post)

How has my journey with Gurnall changed me?  Taking nothing away from the content, I would say that I have developed the very enjoyable habit of SLOW READING.

Living within an hour of Asheville, North Carolina where SLOW COOKING/EATING reigns, it’s not a long stretch to picture slow reading.  This book delighted me and soon I accepted the gift it presented: to savor and take notes from each column and page.

The very language of Gurnall’s writing enthralled me.  Only 6 or 7 decades past the time of Shakespeare, the sentences evoke very different word pictures through the use of what we would call ‘old English’ and Latin.  I found myself eagerly looking up English words I did not know, as well as Latin phrases.

And, my French teacher-self was gratified as I recognized the plethora of French words apparently accepted in everyday parlance in 17th-century England. (puissant or powerful comes to mind).

I took notes as I read.  And I only nibbled on Gurnall weekends and summer mornings when I was home.  Hence, my 37-month trip with this pastor!

I will give you one tidbit from Gurnall that I formulated into a prayer for myself:

  • As Gurnall teaches – not only must I keep killing the pride and the anxieties and the resentments that pop up daily in order to maintain and grow my holiness, which is a source of godly strength and way to see and savor God more and enjoy him. – but I must work to grow the counter qualities. That is – humility, trust/reliance on Him and rejoicing and being glad in each hourly circumstance that God brings since I KNOW that this very circumstance is what He thinks is good for me.
    Help me, Lord!

So what is next?  – a book written in the early 1980s by my favorite pastor to listen to and read.  John Piper spent an 8-month sabbatical thinking about, studying and then writing a book on Romans 9:1-23 entitled The Justification of God.   I settled in with Piper this past weekend, pen and paper in hand.

What about you?  Have you discovered the joy of slow reading?  If you start with William Gurnall, not only will you develop an effective antidote to the unfortunate decline of your attention span due to current technology, but you will be spiritually fortified as well.

**

Per Wikipedia – “Gurnall is known by his Christian in Complete Armour, published in three volumes, dated 1655, 1658 and 1662. It consists of sermons or lectures delivered by the author in the course of his regular ministry, in a consecutive course on Ephesians 6: 10–20. It is described as a magazine whence the Christian is furnished with spiritual arms for the battle, helped on with his armor, and taught the use of his weapon; together with the happy issue of the whole war. It is thus considered a classic on spiritual warfare. The work is more practical than theological; and its quaint fancy, graphic and pointed style, and its fervent religious tone render it still popular with some readers. Richard Baxter and John Flavel both thought highly of the book. Toplady used to make copious extracts from it in his common-place book. John Newton, the converted slave trader, said that if he were confined to one book beside the Bible, he’d choose Christian Armour. Richard Cecil spent many of the last days of his life in reading it, and repeatedly expressed his admiration of it. Charles Haddon Spurgeon commented that Gurnall’s work is “peerless and priceless; every line full of wisdom. The book has been preached over scores of times and is, in our judgment, the best thought-breeder in all our library.”

 

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