Sanctification through novels

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Stepping Heavenward I downloaded the Kindle version of this book a few weeks ago.  It’s the last reading I do before turning out the light.  My bedtime routine is to check Instagram, read John Piper’s Solid Joys on my phone and then close out my waking thoughts with a few minutes in a Christian book.  God increasingly seems to make good use of those final 2 activities.

Twice now, the journal entries of this 19th century fictional gal have chided me gently, as though I were she, a Christian who is growing in fits and starts.   Most recently ‘Katy’ detailed the frustrations of a day filled with unexpected interruptions.

Annoying visitors, an incompetent kitchen maid, boisterous children and fatigue battle for her peace of mind.  Her goal this particular day is to prepare a special dessert for her overworked doctor husband.

Almost abandoning the dessert because distractions have eaten away most of the day, the Holy Spirit gently redirects her thoughts from self-pity and complaining to persevering. A grateful, loving and very tired husband rewards her sweetly when he finally arrives home to enjoy dinner and dessert.  As she reflects on all the frustrations, the Holy Spirit reveals to her just how He uses these precise types of circumstances to grow her more like Jesus.

As I read through this particular journal entry the Holy Spirit immediately opened my eyes to see the same thing in my life. So often I complain à la ‘Martha’ who wanted her sister Mary to relieve the burden of hosting Jesus.  I indulge a feeling of being overwhelmed by all there is to do and the seeming inadequate time to accomplish them (and have some Maria-time left over, truth be told!).

But that night in bed, the yeast of insight began to work its way into my conscious thoughts as I fell asleep. The Holy Spirit continued the process the next morning while listening to a John Piper sermon.

My teaching days that feel so packed are exactly what the Great Physician has prescribed.  I KNOW He desires me to REST in the assurance of His provisioning grace for all the good works He calls me to do.  And if I do them my own way, depending on my own resources, I usually start to tighten up and feel burdened.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

But like Katy in this novel, I sometimes have to learn the hard way.  And because our Father is wise as well as loving, He lets me ‘kick against’ the burdens on my own.  But not for too long.

If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it.  It’s charming AND sanctifying.

What do you do when your belt gets tight?

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If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

Tight Belt

My husband has extolled belt wearing for years. Being cinched in provides instantaneous body awareness.

 

My spiritual Belt of Truth provides the same corrective feedback.

Each morning as I don battle dress, I linger over that Belt of Truth, Jesus’ filtering grip designed to allow only true beliefs in my inner being.

But it’s not uncomfortable. No, Jesus proffers His ‘inner-self support’ as relief from the chains we would otherwise wear.

Before realizing I had been gifted at my new birth with a Jesus Belt, I unconsciously dressed in ordinary and bewitching chains. You know what I’m talking about – that default worldly thinking we assume is normal. The chain links go by various names such as:

  • Choose your own identity and meaning
  • Seek others’ approval
  • Pursue your bucket list
  • Amuse yourself now
  • Work off your guilt your own way

But Jesus has promised a much lighter load, crafted to fit comfortably, one that He Himself promises to bear, provided we stay attached to Him.

Despite starting the day with the correct belt comfortingly reminding me of Jesus’ presence, by noon I was squirming, aware that something was pinching. Sitting at my computer, finishing schoolwork from the previous week, I fretted over personal tasks and NOT ENOUGH TIME!

That false god called “Enough Time for Maria” was competing with the Almighty for supremacy. I caught myself grumbling while resenting time constraints. Snap!  Ouch – my  Jesus Belt tightened.

What made my belt prick? I had allowed ‘unbelief’ into my core to dilute my happy trust, contentment and peace.

Quick Holy Spirit conviction brought my confession of this sin of unbelief and repentance. I had to flush two of Satan’s favorite lies:

  • God is not sovereign over your life (for me – the day’s hours and their passage)
  • God is not good

Once I confessed and trusted God’s promise of sure forgiveness, my Jesus Belt felt comfortable again. Thank you, Father, for giving me such a life-saving Belt of Truth.

Whose time is it?

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Rushing Clock

 

 

 

Tomorrow is Monday, the start of a new work/school week for young and old. The alarm will buzz, vibrate, rattle or serenade us into the awaiting day where the mantra is RUSH, RUSH, RUSH!  And for many, the Sunday dread of the pending week has already begun to dampen spirits.

Does it have to be this way?  What causes all advance weariness?

For me, the idea of hurling myself into the day with the goal of squeezing out more TIME than numerically possible has gotten old. I’ve been pondering my assumptions and questioning if they are even true.  For starters:

  • is it true that TIME is immutable, that is to say, ‘fixed and unchangeable’?  Do we really have only so many minutes and hours to do ALL that we want to/have to do?
  • is there something called MY TIME.  If this is so, where do we get this TIME? Does it come to us by virtue of being born?
  • is it up to us to decide what we have to do or want to do?
  • and just what exactly IS TIME after all?

Here are some liberating facts to guide and perhaps change our ideas and eventually our Modus Operandi:

God is the source of all that is.  He created TIME out of nothing. But of course He existed BEFORE He made the construct called TIME.  The fact that God formed TIME doesn’t minimize its usefulness for God or for His creation.  But if He created it, He can tweak it, change it, stretch it, and abolish it when His purposes for TIME have been completed.  How do I know this is so?  Consider some of these events:

  • When the disciples were rowing across the Sea of Galilee in a storm, Jesus came walking across the water toward them.  Here are a couple of lines in John’s gospel:  Chapter 6:20-21 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”  Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
  • Then there is Joshua in the Old Testament. The successor to Moses, he prayed to God for His supernatural intervention, as recorded in Joshua 10:13  So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.

If God has created everything/all things, then that ‘ALL’ includes both the material and the immaterial.  TIME certainly fits in the category of immaterial.  We can’t see it, but we measure it by material things that God has created, like the sun and the moon and Earth’s relative position to the stars.

I’m beginning to see my presumption and small-mindedness in believing that the God who creates TIME is constrained by how I, a creature, count TIME.

After all, is it too hard for God to manipulate TIME so that it is sufficient for me to accomplish HIS agenda for me this day?  Come on!  We’re talking about the God:

  • Who keeps the Hebrews’ sandals from wearing out during their 40-year journey to Canaan
  • Who multiplies rolls and dried fish to feed a mighty crowd of hungry folks
  • Who springs Peter from jail on one occasion and Paul and Silas on another (employing two different means)
  • Who brings dead people back to life
  • Who provides a coin in the mouth of a fish for the disciples to pay their taxes

If all this is so, maybe you and I can STOP rushing around.  Maybe slowing down to smell the flowers and marvel at God’s creation can become our norm.  Just maybe welcoming ‘interruptions’ as opportunities to demonstrate our trust in God’s sovereign control over TIME can become our new MODUS OPERANDI for 2015.

May God’s truth, as David penned it in Psalm 31: 14-15, have the last word:

But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
 My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

God holding clock

 

 

 

PS:  Who might be our actual ‘enemies and persecutors’?

Thanking God for this Present Futility

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Futility

 

 

 

I was set free – again – the other day when I heard someone reading from Romans 8.  Verses 20 & 21 caught my attention.  The Amplified Bible with its extra explanatory words in black translates the Greek like this:

  • 20 For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him Who so subjected it—[yet] with the hope (expectation) 
  • 21 That nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

Since the Fall and man’s first rebellion, frustration and futility and struggle (all known as ‘suffering’) have been built into our universe. Reality is that we live in a broken world that won’t be ‘fixed’ until Jesus comes back.   Furthermore, God informs us that we humans and nature will get worse, not better. When Jesus is plied for the details about the ‘end of the age‘, He responds in Matthew 24:12 with…

  •  because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold

Why don’t I live as though I believe the fact of brokenness and imperfection?   Why do I still wake up each morning thinking that the ideal is possible if I work and pray ‘hard enough’?  When it comes to agreeing with God about my sin problem or nature, I don’t balk at His assessment.  Nevertheless,  I display blindness to God’s description of the world as long as I cling to false expectations and unrealistic hopes in

  • my job
  • my body
  • my marriage
  • my relationships with friends and other family members
  • my government
  • my church

God helped me this week think through a series of propositions leading to a new perspective about work:

1. If God has woven frustration and futility into the very fabric of our world until Jesus comes back, then I can let go of my expectation of finding THE ideal job.  And IT won’t exist until He creates the new heavens and the new earth.

2. Released from the false expectation that I can find and land the ideal job,  I am liberated to seek my ultimate joy in God, not in all-satisfying work.

3. If work doesn’t have to satisfy those deep needs meant only for God to meet, then I can view my job as a place to sprinkle grace by listening to others and encouraging them.  I can meet frustrations with calm since I don’t have to see them as blocking my ultimate joy or satisfaction.  These realities help me to relax and accept that no job will provide what I’m seeking to the degree that I’m seeking it.

4. Most liberating, if frustration and futility are ordained, then I can stop hiding, and instead SHOW my cracks and inconsistencies without fear.

  • Phil 1:29 – For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.

5. Being willing to reveal my broken self and how much I need Jesus’ saving and sustaining power brings glory to God.

6. My neediness and unashamed transparency give hope to others that God might be willing to accept/heal/support/love them.  Were I to persist in the myth of ‘Maria’s Competency‘, how would that help anyone?

Being Real

 

 

 

 

The final relief-bringing thought for me this week was a view of heaven that sprang to mind, that is MY version of heaven.  (No, it’s not one where I can eat dark chocolate without guilt!)

David Zahl, an evangelical Episcopal priest, wrote something for Mockingbird (Blog is here) like, ‘Life is not about passing test after test; you already have the A, the 10/10’.

That got me thinking.  If I knew I had already been accepted into the graduate school of my choice to follow my ideal course of study, I would be ecstatic.  And until I departed for this school, I would relax and enjoy life and fulfill my responsibilities and be fully present without all the anxiety of measuring up, or making it happen or…or..or…..

Kingdom of God is here

Well, those in Christ already have THE ‘A’.  The Kingdom of God HAS commenced.  Eternal life for the children of God IS a current reality.  But all those ideal situations AWAIT us.   They are not meant for this world, but for the next. So let us REST and not fret over the reality of this present futility.  Frustration is the NORM in a broken world.

Here’s a blog about those who give up the quest for perfect

 

Man proposes and God disposes

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Proverbs 16:9  A man’s heart makes plans, but/and the Lord directs his path

Proverbs 16 9

Six weeks ago I received a group invitation to audit a seminary course.  The topic sounded fascinating – Biblical Theology of Women.  I had never thought of taking a course in theology, so it was intriguing.  But like everyone else, my schedule was already filled with more good things to read, study and learn than I had time for.

With some newfound wisdom AND at the same time desirous of taking on yet another ‘good’ thing, I did what I’ve never done before – think outside of the time box and make some serious choices about how I spend my 24 hours.

D.A. Carson, a wise, biblically-informed senior theologian, had counseled at a Bible conference that: If God has wired you to need 8 hours of sleep and you’re grumpy if you don’t, then SLEEP the 8 hours, for heaven’s sake!

So I made ‘enough sleep‘ a priority.

Enough sleep

And not just for the rest of the summer, but during the school year, too!  Obviously, other stuff had to go!  You can’t do it all. Even if ALL of it is ‘good’.  After sufficient sleep, I made my daily walk a priority.  Then came my quiet time which I re-arranged and divided into 2 separate daily time slots for the school-week.

None of that was too radical.  But I found myself faced with the need to eliminate a lot of reading.  Hard questions.  What do I truly WANT to read if I have to prioritize?  The answer was clear:  books!  I enjoy both French-language and English-language novels and books on the Bible, theology and the Christian life.   In order to allot at least 30 minutes a day to reading from them, I would have to eliminate the ever-growing email subscriptions I have kept up with for the past 7 to 8 years.  They had gotten to be a slave driver.  Just their presence in my inbox, piling up, always waiting was a reminder of ‘stuff I had to do!’

So I turned ruthless and cut all but 1 daily (John Piper’s Desiring God) and 1 weekly French and 1 neighbor’s weekly blog.

These steps (drastic for me!) were informed through new ideas from 4 books I providentially read this summer whose one theme was one’s dreams, goals, and purposes and new ways to think about what really matters.

Contented Jason in Lambie - 27 Mar

These past two weeks leading up to the start of a new school year have felt relaxed, almost as ‘relaxo’ as we describe one of our cats.  I haven’t been driven by the tyranny of my daily inbox to plow through and glean good stuff.  Each night after the dishes are done and the newspaper read, I have settled into my French novel, sitting out on our deck.  I have thoroughly relished reading for pleasure.  I now feel that I have a chance to make my way happily through a stack of books – the physical kind whose pages you turn.

Then I received the email with the syllabus to the course I had signed up for – the one that had prompted the weeding and gleaning and reorganizing of my time. And I had second thoughts.

Without ANY guilt, I have decided that I don’t want to add anything to this new ‘stasis’ in my life.  School has resumed and I am choosing to commute, teach, interact and listen to colleagues and students FEELING like I can spend the requisite time and not cheat them of my attention.

Let me draw this reflection to a close and pick up with the title of this blog post.  The adage and the proverb point out the truth that no matter what we plan, God is the one who directs our life.  God used the offer of a free course to bump my life around this summer, all for my good. And then He communicated to me that I should NOT take the course.  I’m not surprised.  But what IS a pleasant turn of events is this:  a friend to whom I mentioned the seminary course has jumped on it, eager to benefit.  God obviously had HER in mind all along.

So let us rest in knowing that even if we choose poorly, God is still in charge and will direct us if we willingly yield to His guidance.

Question:  when was a plan that you had laid out but that God re-directed and now you can see it was a ‘more excellent’ way?

 

 

 

New Beginnings….. or Repentance aka 180 turnabout

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There’s NO way – I don’t HAVE the time!

No time

Have you ever found yourself going ’round and round’ with the same problem, unable to see a way forward?

Time is always the most stalwart of constraints, or so I thought until a new idea collided with my lifestyle time routine.

Over the years as the internet has exploded with content, I have gradually added to my daily life blog posts in both French and English about logic, French culture, teaching foreign languages, apologetics, Biblical Christianity, word origins, cooking and fitness.  Innocent at first, prideful as time passed, I got used to  beaming inwardly at having grown into a well-read, thinking person.  On top of that I would boast (to myself of course!) how I was not like others who WASTE time with TV and idle chatter, but I was one of those few ‘efficient users of time’.

Truth be told, I had become a slave to all the content, spending up to one and a half hours a day reading, saving and forwarding on to friends and family (I truly apologize for blitzing your inboxes with stuff – all very ‘good for you’, you know!)   I took pride in this self-appointed ‘job’, yet felt constrained as I continually pushed up against the 24 hours that God has allotted to each one of us.

*

Then an offer to audit an on-line seminary course on Biblical Womanhood arrived and I was intrigued.

Info about the course is here

Realistically, I knew that there was NO WAY I could fit the required on-line viewing, reading and study into my soon-to-ramp up teaching life this fall unless I eliminated something.

Here’s where God came in – by His providential timing, my oldest son Graham gifted me with a book he re-reads every year.  Pen in hand, I started working through it this week.  Some of Tim Ferriss’ ideas shattered my self-limiting notions about time!Four Hour Work Week

 

 

 

 

  • Being busy is a form of laziness
  • Lack of time is actually lack of priorities

I have ALWAYS asked God to stretch my time, but never have I asked Him to re-order my activities or even IF what I was doing was what He wanted me to do with my His time. 

If you haven’t guessed already, I like to read.  I REALLY like books and there’s never enough TIME!

So prompted by the impending collision of Tim Ferriss’  new ideas AND the desire to add something to my life, I turned ruthless!

  • Yesterday I unsubscribed from all but 3 email blogs,
  • eliminated ALL my Feedly subscriptions
  • and even dropped off the professional list-serves I have followed for 13 years.

This is good news for ALL of my friends and family.  I won’t be passing on more stuff that you either

-read out of politeness and delete

-or delete and feel guilty about

Change can exercise a snow-ball effect.  Along with freeing up study time by eliminating screen time, I have decided that the amount of sleep I get during the summer when I’m not in school is what I really need to feel good.  So come the start of the new school year, I will do the following: instead of getting up super early in time BOTH to walk AND do my daily Bible study ‘cum’ prayers, I will sleep the 7 and one half hours optimal for me and shift Bible time to the evenings when I’m not rushed.

As David prayed in Psalm 31, verse 15:

My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies

My Times are in your hands

 

 

 

I used to ask God to STRETCH ‘my’ time.  How arrogant – as though I knew best how to fill the time allotted to me!

It’s BABY STEPS in this new way of asking Him what He wants me to do with HIS time entrusted to me to steward.

Question: What new idea from God has recently turned YOUR world upside down?

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