One thing is necessary

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40. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations to be made. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha, the Lord replied, “you are worried and upset about many things. 42 But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”…  Luke 10: 40 – 42

A new school year started last week.  My anxieties came back to life after their sabbatical of 2 1/2 months.

What is at the root of these worries?  What I focus on during the school day.  Here’s my list of concerns – those situations where I lack confidence, occasions that intimidate me a bit:

  • Will I be able to capture and hold on to the attention of middle school kids?
  • Will I be able to create and carry out effective and engaging lessons, which actually result in them acquiring French?
  • Will I have sufficient time in my school day to complete teaching, planning, grading and handle all those extra duties teachers seem to have?
  • Will I feel free to spend time with my colleagues, listening and encouraging them, all the while accurately representing Christ?
  • Will I be able to grow the French program in the Middle School?

Those 5 matters I have turned into individual and multiple prayers that I send up to God frequently throughout the week.  Better to pray than to worry, right?

Yes and no.

Reading how Jesus corrected Martha and how He described her sister, Mary, caused me to think again.  Maybe I have miscalculated where I should invest the bulk of my energy. Rather than prioritizing and investing all my mental energy on ways to meet all these challenges, I should focus first on what actually might energize me and provide life.

Luke’s account of the two sisters who have just lost their dear brother Lazarus prompted me to imagine what Martha’s list might have looked like (had she written down what caused HER stress and anxiety:

  • Oh no!  Jesus just showed up and with his group of guys, too.  I’ve been feeding well-wishers and mourners for a week now.  What am I going to serve?
  • I’m exhausted!  Where am I going to find the strength and energy to fix more food. And who is going to butcher the lamb, now that our brother is gone?
  • I was going to send Mary around to the family that supplies our wine because we’re all out!  But look at her.  She just sat down with the men to listen to Jesus!  Where’s her head!  With all this work to do?  Doesn’t she care about me?  So this is the way it’s going to be now that Lazarus is gone. I should have figured!
  • Oh, my – Lazarus IS gone.  How are we ever going to make it, two women alone?

What is Jesus’ response, the God who knows all our thoughts and cares?   Read the 4 statements at the beginning of this post.   Freedom calls me with those enigmatic words of His: One thing is necessary.

What is Jesus NOT saying?  Does he tell Martha to skip all the food prep?  No!  Hospitality is a good thing.  But ultimately it doesn’t rank # 1.  We CAN live without food.

But we can’t live without Jesus.

So what did I see afresh in Luke’s account of a very familiar vignette?

It was how I evaluate a ‘good day’.  In past years, I’ve called it a ‘good day’ if I taught well. If I had a fruitful-for-the-kingdom conversation with someone.  If I completed my work.

But I can’t control any of those outcomes, hence my anxiety and uncertainty day to day.

So what IS necessary?  What is ‘the one thing’?

I can see more clearly how God has been moving me over the past 5 or 6 years to rely on Him throughout the day.  To look to and depend on His divine, supernatural Spirit for EVERY thought, word, action, and decision about the future.

Jesus and Paul challenged followers of Christ to stay ‘grafted in the Vine’, to ‘remain in union with Him’.  We actually are not meant to do anything apart from Jesus.  He even tells us we can’t.

  • John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.

So I have redefined what Maria calls a ‘good day’.  The one responsibility I have as Jesus’ lamb is to do all in His strength, aware of my position IN the Vine.

Teaching a ‘good’ lesson, completing my list, engaging in a fruitful conversation with a colleague – yes, these are important.  But I can’t control the outcomes.  Hence – perpetual anxiety.

But I CAN control my thoughts.  That ability is given to every Christian in whom lives God’s Spirit.

My goal and focus this school year is to rely on Jesus and seek to please Him that way. And when I forget my source for everything and start angsting about X, Y and Z, I can still please Jesus by repenting of sinful AND needless worry.  And call it a GOOD day!

Do you have to know how He’s going to work?

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Phil 4:6-7  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  and the peace of God, which SURPASSES all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

God had already prepared me last week by focusing my attention on His term ‘surpasses’.  I spent quite a bit of time nosing around Blue Letter Bible to see just what ‘hyper-echo’ revealed.  Paul uses it 3 times to mean:

  • is vastly superior
  • stands above

What struck me was what God promises – in return for handing over problems and worries.  He guarantees nothing short of supernatural peace – quite the opposite of what we’re feeling as beleaguered worriers.  Moreover, He asserts that this holy peace of His brings us life-giving energy.  In contrast, anxiously wanting to know HOW and WHEN He’s going to work out the issues SUCKS away life and joy.

But human as we are, we WANT to see the provision, the solutions. Our minds race ahead, exploring options and play-by-play ‘if THIS, then THAT’ scenarios.

Getting back to how God prepped me for a bigger problem by means of this command cum promise.  Going into Friday of last week,  I practiced meditating on Phil 4:6-7,  how His peace counts more than knowing how He was going to fix 2 problems that have dogged me this summer.  Each day I practiced restating out loud Paul’s advice like this:

“Your divine peace is worth more than seeing or knowing how you’re going to handle these 2 issues, so I choose to leave them with You!”

Silly me – I thought God had opened my eyes to the value of God-sized peace for THOSE two problems.  But now I see that the gift of His insight readied me for Friday’s ‘surprise’.

Year 26 of teaching French starts tomorrow, Monday.  Typically I spend the day before we have to report for teacher workdays organizing my room and taking stock of class rosters and supplies.  Friday morning I walked into school around 9 am, carrying two bags of this-and-that. On the way up the steps, my principal fell in beside me and broke the news that only 3 students had signed up for level 1 French class.  I had heard from one of the 2 Spanish teachers that this year’s entering 6th-grade class was small.  With that information in my mind, I had figured a class size of maybe 8-9 instead of 12-15 as in previous years.

The news stunned me.  Only THREE?  Really?  Throughout the day I kept turning over the implications of such a tiny group.  The Holy Spirit did prompt me to text 4 friends who understand what it’s like to teach a ‘minority’ language in America.  They started praying.  And I returned to worrying and casting on Him and feeling sad.

The dark gray cloud sunk deeper into my heart, despite repeating Paul’s promise.  Joy-smothering heaviness lingered.  It felt personal, for I had taught most of the rising 6th graders in an Intro to French last year.  Students in our lower school study Spanish from Kindergarten through 4th grade.  In 5th grade, one of the middle school Spanish teachers continues with a semester of Spanish and I offer them a taste of French.  The idea is they can better choose the language they like or value to continue in Middle School.

I shared the news with Mike when I got home.  The pall lingered through the evening and dogged me during the wakeful night. The next morning my loving husband handed me an essay about waiting on God.  The author wrote from painful personal experience how these situations are exactly the kind that produces the fruit of patience.  Hmm….I had forgotten that patience is one of those 9 traits of holiness cultivated by the Holy Spirit.

If we really trust God’s goodness, then we can rely on and WAIT for Him to act, exercising patience by means of the faith He gives us.

A few hours later Mike followed up with a written-out specific prayer for me, asking God to give me supernatural patience and peace.  And God DID!

This prayer has SUPER-NATURALLY helped me.  In a tangibly different way, I KNOW the power that a believing child of God can access through prayer and have sent by the Holy Spirit to someone else.  It’s not that I FEEL any different.  I have been enabled to believe that God WILL indeed take care of the situation.  I don’t need to know the HOW or the WHEN.

Within an hour of reading Mike’s prayer for me and after typing it up for myself, my spirits lightened.  I regained my ability to think about other things.  What other things?

To be frank, thinking about ME, my concerns or the future is boring and life-sucking. So what is there to think about?  I’m tired of rolling them around in my mind.

Uncle Paul wastes no time in helping us there.  As soon as he describes the gift of God’s peace for those who off-load their worries, he tells us just what remains to be done, one final thing:

Phil 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (NLT)

Here’s what Blueletter Bible says about the Greek word Paul uses (dwell or fix your thoughts on) “This word deals with reality. If I reckon (logizomai) that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise, I am deceiving myself. This word refers more to fact than supposition or opinion.”

So, what about that small class? I’m going to wait and see what the Lord has in store for me and for the kids.  I don’t think this situation is something that He will resolve right away.  Lot’s of homework (i.e practice in relying on His Word and character rather than on circumstances I can see) and some pop quizzes are likely in store for me.  I know they are all part of God’s good plan to produce more fruit and Christ-like character traits in me.

I’m going to wait and see what the Lord has in store for me and for the kids.  I don’t think this situation is something that He will resolve right away.  Knowing God, He’s likely to have planned, just for me, lots of homework (i.e practice in relying on His Word and character rather than on circumstances I can see) and some pop quizzes. I know they are all part of God’s good plan to produce more fruit and Christ-like character traits in me.

But He is good and whatever He brings me is designed to ripen and multiply my fruitfulness, conforming me to Christ.

 

 

How you can help someone

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It started out as an ordinary church supper.  But two events transformed the occasion into a memorable one.

What do you take to a potluck?  For years I’ve relied on my standard, easy-to-assemble quiche.

  • Roll out a commercial pie crust into the plate
  • Add chopped cooked ham
  • Spread evenly 8 ounces of grated cheese (Swiss or Cheddar)
  • Beat up 3 eggs together with 2 cups of heavy cream (or 4 eggs and 1 1/2 cups of Sour Cream for less fat).  Pour on top of the ham and cheese
  • Bake at 400 for 50 minutes

There are rarely any leftovers, but the ingredients have grown pricey.  So I asked my ‘go-to source of practical wisdom, my hairdresser, for some fresh ideas.  What I wrote down was one of those Jiffy corn muffin mix-based dishes that also calls for an egg, sour cream, creamed corn, cheese and a stick of butter.

The little old ladies RAVED!  Not a finger-swipe remained in the 9×13 dish.  Note to self – keep making this for future potlucks.

The next surprise is weightier.  One of our elders shared a 20-minute message whereby he wove together and linked 30 or so Biblical promises from God to us, His people. This man’s goal was to encourage us to believe how much God loves us.  As I let wave after wave of strengthening truths bathe my heart, one couplet of verses startled me. Something new in Ephesians caught my attention, sparking some thoughts.

Whispering, I asked Mike to locate the passage on his phone’s ESV app.  I scanned the screen.  Sure enough, I noticed an anchor in Paul’s most famous prayer on behalf of this particular church.

Ephesians Chapter 3, verses 14-17 records the former legalist confidently asking God to grant the people strength to know His love so that they can be filled up with ALL of God. No new news there. But the structure of that clause-laden Greek invocation arrested me.  Here’s how I parsed it out looking at the Greek words on the Blue Letter Bible Website.

(Paul prays) I ask God to grant you all

  • to be strengthened with power
  • through the Spirit of God
  • by means of Christ dwelling in your heart by faith (both His presence and the gift of faith are permanent realities in the heart of believers)
  • whose presence makes it a given that you are rooted and grounded in LOVE and empowered with effective force
  • So that you all are enabled to seize and possess (meaning of  ‘to comprehend’) both the ‘physical dimensions’ of Christ’s love and the intimate knowing of Him that go way beyond knowledge
  • So that you all may be filled with the fullness (full measure of His grace and provisions) of God

What fascinated me was God’s supernatural interlinking of His Power with His Love. He then transmits to us intimate knowledge about Himself.  Thus, God’s power, love, and knowledge synergistically work, filling us up with Himself!

What a God! And what a prayer!  If you’re anything like me, you might be filled up with a churning mixture of anxieties, fear, doubt, pride with a touch of scorn for others tossed in to sour the pot.  Who would not rather be filled up with just God?

And just how do we replace the junk with the life-giving alternative?  By echoing Paul’s prayer for ourselves and then directing our thoughts to savor these God-given treasures that are rightfully ours.

Without a complete sifting through the Bible, these promises seem to constitute the most powerful prayer we can offer for others and ourselves.  And since I’ve been writing about power prayers, have you ever seriously thought about Jesus’ plea to His Father for us, His brothers and sisters?   Chew on this:

John 17:24 (NIV) “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”

Jesus is asking His and Our Father for transfer to heaven.  Do you think that the Father will deny His Son this request?

This baby bird got fed!

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Baby bird gets fed   Psalm 86:4    Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

I felt like crap Friday night.  And I woke up feeling the same.  In a complaining, whiny mood, not content.  Why?  just the same ole-same ole reason – ‘not enough Maria time’ to satisfy me. (yes, school is back in session)

When I went to bed, I wisely made the decision to forgo exercising in the morning. I reasoned that just MAYBE I needed more time with God.  If I could start my quiet time earlier, then maybe I could find refreshment for my soul before we headed out the door with our planned Saturday’s activities.

Providentially, I had noticed the above verse from Psalm 86 the previous day and written it down. God used my hand-copied Psalmist’s plea to revive me.  It occurred to me – If the writer was begging God to give him joy, then he obviously wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about anything.  Why would he ask for what he already had?

A very weak, half-hearted request formed in my mouth.  No fervor or confidence accompanied this prayer.  It wasn’t mixed with strong faith.  It was all I could do to THINK the words.  No sound waves left my lips.

Praise be to my good Father who has planted His Spirit in me! For one of the happy jobs of the Spirit of Christ is to intercede for those saints in whom He resides.

Here’s what happened:  the Lord DID gladden my heart.  Just like the baby bird in the nest who can do nothing but open his mouth (thereby blocking sight of mom and dad arriving with food), I lifted my soul to the One who could fill it.  The invisible but real supernatural and almighty Sovereign Lord of the Universe filled my emptiness:

  • Our dreaded ‘change-the-water-filter-under-the-house-all-the-while-praying-the-seal-holds‘ bi-monthly task proceeded stress-free.
  • Our hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail out of Hot Springs turned out to be delightful.  The incline worked our bodies but didn’t punish our calves or thighs.  God provided a beautiful summer day.  The vista views and the close-up trees and bushes together with the pine straw smells and QUIET, all worked together to calm and renew our souls.
  • Grilling pork chops and spotting examples of grace in a Downton Abbey episode blessed us.
  • Coffee and reading on the deck as dusk approached and the mountains darkened quieted us for the night
  • A solid 8-hour sleep brought us to a new morning, thoroughly equipped with new soul and body strength.

And this morning, during my quiet time I gave thanks to the Lord who showed me mercy yesterday when I didn’t deserve it and hesitantly asked

Matthew 12:20a – He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

 

 

 

Moving from believing THAT God….to treasuring Him

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Apparently 75% of Americans say they believe in God. Source of statistic here.  Sounds like a lot until you realize that 100 % of Satan’s henchmen believe God exists, for they rebelled against Him!

James writes in 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

Demons believe

Therefore, the frank acknowledgement that there is a god is insufficient. One obvious problem needing clarification is just who is this god that people identify?  Wouldn’t it be more useful if pollsters helped responders spell out just what KIND of god they believe in?

Let’s assume, for the purpose of this blog, that we have clarified and agreed upon the one and only true God. A problem remains.  Is it enough to believe that this God is real?

No!  And if that answer bothers you, then good!  But don’t despair if you suddenly fear that your belief alone is insufficient.  Read on:

I, myself, was assured this morning that I am a Christian and not someone akin to the demons.  For it IS a frightening assertion that belief alone in the existence of God does not make one an adopted child of the Father with all rights and privileges in his Kingdom.  Many people followed Christ during His public ministry, but very few were ‘His sheep’.  Why did they seek Him?  Food that doesn’t run out, replenishing buckets of water, healing, political solutions, purpose and identity come to mind.

John Piper, whose teaching continues to edify my faith, proclaims that valuing God for what He can do for you is not what it means to be a Christian.  That is a perverted version of ‘believing that God exists and is almighty’.  Saving faith is treasuring Christ more than anything He can do for you or give you.

Trembling like you might upon hearing this narrow definition, I often ask myself, “Am I a real Christian, then?”  For I DO appreciate all that Christ HAS done for me and promises to do.

But the Holy Spirit gifted me this morning when I was listening to one of Piper’s sermons.  God brought to mind my attitude toward God as a teenager attending church with my family. During my junior year of high school I fell into the horrible and frightening pit of binging and vomiting – bulimia. No amount of resolve broke the cycle.  Sunday after Sunday, I prayed in that same pew that God would remove this problem.  I knew enough about God’s previous miracles to believe that He actually could deliver me from this nightmare.  But He didn’t and I’m glad.  For I wasn’t seeking Him, just what He could do for me.

A couple of years into married life, the VERY bad news about my rebellion against God confronted me in a gospel-proclaiming service so unlike the pleasant, but anodyne church of my teen years.  If I thought the bulimia was my biggest problem……… (and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did – I used to smugly boast:  ‘My only sin is overeating!’)….. THE frightening and very real fact of God’s wrath against me was a categorically different crisis.

Both Mike and I gratefully grabbed the gift of pardon and adoption when offered the only remedy – Christ’s substitutionary death and life for us.

Did God then remove the bulimia?  No, not right away.  That deliverance did come a few years later when I was carrying our first son.  But more remarkable than that, God has undertaken to open our eyes to the wonders of the gift of salvation and all that awaits us.  I revel and marvel daily that before the creation of the universe, the Triune God planned for me to be one of His adopted kids with full rights and an inheritance and a future of endless joy far greater than the happiness inherent in freedom from food addiction.

The apostle John says in 1:12 – But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.

John Piper explains that it takes a miracle from God to change our desires. We can’t make ourselves savor anchovies if we’re wired to gag every time we pop one in our mouth!  Only the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power removes the lure of cheap delights and creates hunger for the Bread that never perishes, Jesus Himself.

So, if you have ANY interest in Jesus or in reading your Bible, take heart. That’s a permanent holy gift planted in you by our loving Father. Thank Him for it and pray that He would cause your enjoyment of Him and His presence to grow, surpass or replace anything that either this world offers or He offers. Treasuring Him over His gifts is the goal that promises both to glorify Him and satisfy us.

 

 

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