When a gift from God looks like a disaster

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You all know the story of Uzzah, the son of Abinadab, whom God killed when he touched the ark being transported to the City of David.

The ark had rested in Abinadab’s house for a good while after the Philistines gave it back, having captured it from the startled Hebrews in battle.  1 Samuel 7:1 – So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the LORD. They took it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the LORD.

Now comes the drama. King David is ruling and wants to bring the ark into his city, Jerusalem. The leaders of Israel all agree that this is a good idea. But there is the problem.

As I read in my study-bible’s notes this morning, the manner in which the Hebrews organized the transport of this ark of the Lord’s covenant showed a decisive Philistine influence on their thinking.  A generation earlier, when the Philistine cart pulled by 2 momma cows transported the resting ark back to Hebrew territory, that picture must have erased their understanding and memory of how the Lord decreed the ark should be moved.

Those from Abinadab’s house apparently do not check with God or consult the law. Instead they organize a Philistine-style movement plan.  At one point the oxen pulling the cart carrying the ark stumble.  Uzzah reaches for the ark and God kills him immediately.

‘Whoa!’ exclaims a startled King David who suddenly flushes with shame, rage and fear, all at once.  He makes the command decision:  “We’re NOT going any further.”  1 Chron 13:12-13 records his decision:

David was afraid of God that day and asked, “How can I ever bring the ark of God to me?”  He did not take the ark to be with him in the City of David.  Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom, the Gittite.

Okay, put yourself in the shoes of Mr & Mrs Obed-Edom, their relatives and all their servants.  How would you have reacted?  I can image the terror when the King pronounces this decision.  Did some of these fears blitz through their minds?

  • If Uzzah, a son of the family which had successfully housed the ark for about 40 years, died from a seeming good motive (to keep the ark from falling) what is going to happen to us?
  • We don’t know anything about tending the ark?  What….how…..who?
  • We’re doomed!  We’re all gonna die!

But look at what the text says after David changes the ark’s travel destination:

1 Chron 13:14 . The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house for three months, and the Lord blessed his household and everything he had.

What the Obed-Edom family and household did NOT expect was God’s blessing.  But look at what the Lord did!  We read that nothing BUT good things occurred to all the people and every THING Mr. Obed-Edom owned.

I hope that fact encourages you as it did me.  What looks like a sudden disaster turned out to be a gift from God, beyond anything ANYONE in the family and household could have predicted or even prayed for.

So what has God ‘gifted’ you with recently that seems like suffering or a problem?  Draw encouragement this day from the goodness and wisdom of our Father.

I’ll close with this paraphrase of something I read by Tim Keller referring to the insanity of worry:  I’m not wise enough to know what is best for me.

Why we hate to wait

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1 Cor 13:4  Love is patient

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all the ways His Word reassures me.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Those big mountains!

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He moves mountains without their knowing it.  Job 9:5

 

mountain for faith blog - 6 jan 2019

Reading through the book of Job, I stopped on Job’s assertion about God and lingered.  But of course, our God moves mountains!  He created them, in the first place.  Out of nothing.  What’s the big deal about moving mountains?

Well, having a few figurative mountains in our own lives, my mind instantly recalled some of Jesus’ teachings about mountains.  I googled ‘Jesus and mountains’.

Mark 11:22-24 topped the entries. I reread the verses about Jesus and his guys walking back into Jerusalem for the Passover, having spent the night outside of the city in Bethany. That morning making his way toward the temple courts, Jesus had been hungry. En route he spotted a fig tree but upon finding no hint of emerging figs, he cursed it.

Now at the end of a long day, on the way back out of the city, the disciples noticed this very same fig tree. Totally withered, due to Jesus’ words 12 or so hours earlier. In response to their surprise, he announced:

“Have faith in God…..I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Mark 11: 22-24

Reading Job’s reminder to his three friends that God moves mountains, then juxtaposing these words of Jesus that tie prayerful faith and trust in God to moving mountains, I saw something NEW and empowering.

Mike and I are working and praying about some challenges that LOOM gigantic.  You know those kinds.  They look, feel, and frankly seem….. IMPOSSIBLE! To us.

The only reason I can come up with for why these obstacles appear immovable is that I don’t SEE mountain-moving bulldozers on the scene. All I see are the problems.

But if God is in the business of creating and moving mountains, then I should be able to trust him to move MY mountains.

Jesus says it is SOLELY a matter of asking God and then trusting that he can and will move the mountain.

Can it be that simple?  That straightforward?

You might as well ask me, “Maria, do you believe what the Bible teaches about God is true?”

That’s a yes/no question. I either do believe God’s truthfulness or I don’t.  If I don’t, then I need to repent. And ask for Holy Spirit help to believe, trust and rely on Jesus and his promises.

After all, if I trust God for the safe-keeping of my eternal soul, what’s a mere earthly mountain?

My hero and role model has feet of clay

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Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,  as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  1 Peter 3:3-6

I love this report about Sarah. I find her refreshing.  I am relieved that it is her Peter exhorts us to copy.  Yet I know the full story of Sarah.  I know that Peter, guided by God’s Spirit,  has selected the characteristics of Sarah WHEN SHE WAS AT HER BEST!  Yes, Moses wrote the unvarnished account of this matriarch who didn’t trust God all the time.  She is the one who thought she knew best how they could ‘get a baby’.  So she made her personal servant sleep with an old, old man.  And then she treated Hagar shamefully.

(One sin I think we women all share is that we, too, think we know best – pretty arrogant for a finite creature, don’t you think?_

Yet God holds her up as a role model. For me, for you (even if you are a man)

This time in life when our future feels as uncertain as that of Abraham and Sarah’s, I draw comfort from the realism-laced prescription that Peter writes.  I (and Mike as well)  am to cultivate a gentle and quiet disposition or attitude.  None of the crazed, “But what are we going to do!!!”  No need for that stress and unrest if we trust God!  We don’t HAVE to know today what we will do next week.

No, I am to be like Sarah and the other ‘holy women’ of the Bible ‘who hoped in God’.  That is they trusted, believed, counted on God to do and be what He said he would do.

But what sells me on wanting to be like my mother, or older sister Sarah is how Peter writes, “She didn’t fear what was frightening!”

We live in a scary world.  And it’s always been that way since the Fall.  That’s reality.  Yet because we have the happy, sovereign, good and all-wise triune God, we are NOT to fear.

So, do I know what will happen, what our future holds?  No.  But I am growing more able to rest and feel assured that God does know and is sovereignly working out the details.  We are to rest, trust, watch and be ready to move out.  To travel light.

Sarah left her home and friends behind in Ur. No mention is made of her pining away about what she left behind.  She moved and tented wherever her husband led.  Trusting and submitting to this fallible husband BECAUSE she trusted God.  And she was at rest.

I bet she didn’t have a worry line in her old face!

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.

Copying Moses

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Exodus 33:15 And he (Moses) said to him (God), “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.

I was battling some fears a few mornings ago.  Recalling and declaring some of God’s promises out loud. So my ears and mind could have fuel to fight for faith. But they didn’t FEEL enough.

I’ve often reminded myself that God’s presence is my greatest good.  While true, that Thursday morning I needed a stronger visual to cling to.

And God gave me something to consider:  the octogenarian Moses and all he faced during 4 decades of unending labor.

Poor Moses! How overwhelmed he must have felt!  Here he was 80 years old, probably feeling more than a bit fragile.  Maybe even exhausted emotionally and physically. The initial assignment of leading God’s people, the Hebrews, away from Pharaoh and Egypt had not been as easy as God had made it seem. There had been:

  • all those duels with the Pharaoh
  • the final green light to depart
  • a miraculous trek across a seabed and days of camping in the wilderness
  • and then that unbelievable golden-calf rebellion

Now God had instructed Moses to continue the circuitous and long expedition toward the Promised Land.  But without him.

And Moses balked.  Basically, he challenged God:  “I won’t go unless you go with us!  Unless your presence accompanies us each day and night!” And God conceded. What an exchange.  And what a lesson for me.

Here’s how God’s Spirit is using the biography of Moses to encourage me:

Moses was 80 to 120 years old during the entirety of his assignment.  I’m only 61.

Moses had a wife, 2 sons and a father-in-law to deal with. Plus a LARGE tribe of Hebrews, ‘cum’ stragglers – Men, women, children AND their animals.  I have a few issues, a small extended family, 2 cats and some friends.

My conclusion:  If God’s presence was enough for Moses, then surely, He is enough for me!

Since Thursday, I’ve grown fond of Moses.  He’s my human model, for now.  A flawed leader for sure (just like every man and woman in the Bible). Yes, Jesus is the perfect one to emulate.  But somehow despite all of Moses’ sin and failings, his steady reliance on God’s presence encourages me to copy him in this example.  I want to trust God’s provision all the more, just like Moses did.  Til the end.

I realize that I don’t have to SEE the future provision.  Just knowing God is with me – that’s enough to fight those imagined fears and what-ifs.

Vitamins and minerals against anxiety

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You will keep him in shalowm shalowm* whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3 (*Hebrew for perfect peace)

Years ago, in our 20s, Mike and I sold Amway products.  One item that we whole-heartedly promoted was their top-of-the-line vitamin and mineral supplement named Double X.  I’m not sure what the X stood for, but whatever it was, twice as much good stuff was packed into those green little shapes.  Double X was pricey, even back then. We grew accustomed to budgeting for vitamins.  Daily exogenous micronutrients still form part of the healthy way we cook and eat.

With school starting this month, I’ve engaged in the ‘good fight of faith’, pondering how to resist the temptation to worry.  For me, it’s always about ‘having enough time’ to give to those extra-curricular activities important to me like writing this blog, reading and creating my ‘English without Fear’ videos.

One of my go-to-verses to battle fear and worry is the one above from Isaiah.  Original Hebrew or Greek words always draw me in.  So, when I read that ‘perfect peace’ is really shalowm shalowm, I rejoiced!  You all know that shalowm is far more than peace and tranquility; it includes welfare, contentment, soundness, health, quiet and safety.

Who doesn’t desire all that?

So, what’s the catch?

Oh….just the habit of keeping our thoughts FIXED on God.  That’s all.

Right!

But just as the Spirit of God brought my Isaiah fighter verse to mind, so, too, he brought a devotional that same night. The author penned almost as an afterthought that for every thought we invest in regrets or excitement or discouragement concerning earthly, transitory details, we ought to commit 100 times as much of our thought life to ALL WE HAVE IN CHRIST!

I have to confess that I don’t even apportion 2 to 1 of my thoughts and emotions to what Jesus has given me!  The writer’s exhortation not only pulled me up short but has stayed with me all week long.

So how do we DO what he recommends?

One technique I’ve used in the past, occasionally, is to go through the alphabet, letter by letter, and just praise God out loud for all the words I can think of about Him.  I do this on hikes with Mike when we can go for long stretches of time without talking.

For example:

A:  Father, I’m so glad that you are always available, that you have adopted me into your forever family, that you are always the same, that you have altered my reality by giving me new life, that you adore me, that you arrange all the details of my life, that Jesus argues with the accuser that He has taken care of my sin problem.

I just point out as many things to God as I can think of beginning with that letter.  And then I move on to the next letter.  Sometimes halfway through the alphabet, I’ll add another deed or characteristic that I’ve already prayed about. No matter.

What other ways can you think of that we can think about God’s good eternal gifts to us?

Of course, I haven’t mentioned ‘the trust you’ part, but I see my praises for his deeds and attributes as ASSUMING a trust in him.

Father, may you give us your grace to rejoice and be glad in who you are and who we are because of you.  Thanks to Christ, Amen!

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