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!

More Spiritual lessons from a colonoscopy

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Genesis 39:9 How then could I do such a wicked thing, (such as WORRY), and sin against God?

If you read my previous post on this topic, you might remember that God granted me a ‘do-over’ of that lovely procedure, reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. Groundhog day image

As little as I relished prepping for yet ANOTHER colon check, I realized that God was giving me practice in being content, not grumbling and relying on Him.

In His providence, I have been slowly reading, taking notes and meditating on truths from a collection of John Owen’s works on sin and temptation.

John Owen

One truth from his pages seems to be a pointed message from God to me:

  • I need have only ONE focus in this life, as a redeemed and adopted child. Singular & total obedience to God.  That’s it.

Application? If I am called ‘only’ to obey God, per His instructions in His Word, then I don’t have to (in fact I am commanded NOT to):

  • worry
  • fear
  • stress
  • dread or even….
  • rush!

So what KINDS of obedience am I called to?  How’s this for starters? I’m to…….

  • Cast all my cares on Him
  • Be glad in Him
  • Trust and rely on Him
  • Glorify Him
  • Serve Him with gladness
  • Wait patiently for Him to act on my behalf

Can you see why I viewed an extra colonoscopy as practice in obeying God?  This time, I was determined, by grace, NOT to complain or feel sorry for myself.  I wanted to see if I could make it through the prep days relying only on His sustaining, provisioning grace.

As “C Day, 2.0” approached, I refused to indulge in worry, fear, stress or dread.  Each time I STARTED to go down that trail of sin, I caught myself up short, repented and reminded myself of the many, many promises of grace like:

  • My grace is sufficient for you (2 Cor 12:9)

The night before the procedure, Mike said a couple of time:

“You poor thing!”  or

“I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this again!”

Each time, I stopped his tender sympathy with:

“Don’t feel sorry for me, I’m okay.  The Lord is sustaining me! “

So…..where did I experience His grace?

One example is that the ‘morning of’ when I had to finish the gallon of ‘clean you out stuff’, the plastic jug had sat in the frig all night and grown colder.  As a result, the 7 cups I downed in an hour WERE, in fact, easier than the 9 doses the night before.

Other examples of grace I saw our good Father furnish WITHOUT the ‘help of my worrying’ were:

  • no trees down on our property impeding our way out (and perhaps preventing or delaying my arrival – something I had projected and feared the first time)
  • the doctor’s on-time arrival, having commuted 45 minutes to the hospital (a previous worry – What if he doesn’t show up and they have to reschedule?????)
  • no ‘doctor errors’ such as perforations…..
  • a wise post-procedure nurse who told me I did NOT have to submit to the doctor’s announcement that I needed yet a 3rd procedure –  a barium enema with X-ray because my prep was only ‘fair’ (although happily good enough for him to complete the colonoscopy)
  • no ‘abnormalities’ found

But the most significant gift to me was this:  to learn that YES, I can rely on God for potentially scary and unpleasant trials.  And with the help of His powerful Holy Spirit, I can resist self-pity and complaining.

The morning of the procedure I was reading and praying through our assigned portion of Scripture along with some devotions (and chugging my ‘cocktail’!)   I happened to read the Genesis verse at the beginning of this post. It struck me that when I worry/fear/stress/dread or rush, I am sinning greatly against God.  Really?  Yes! For God cares about our hearts.  Your and my behavior is just a tip of the iceberg.   This gentle reminder from Joseph in Egypt against his will reinforced my new and singular focus – obedience to God.

With full sincerity, I can now say that I see the value from God’s perspective, that of training me by arranging for me to go through this ‘trial’ again.  I want to build on what I learned in this ‘pop quiz’.   God’s grace IS sufficient for anything He sovereignly plans for us.  To God be the glory!

 

 

Spiritual lesson from a botched colonoscopy

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Our Father has a sense of humor.  Even with colonoscopies.

It was the dreaded 10-year purge by puke-worthy prep liquid ritual of aging.

D Day – 2:  give up my beloved fruits and vegetables.  I started to feel ‘OTHER’ when I dined with my colleagues at school.

D Day – 1: no food after 11:59 am.  I stayed in my classroom during ‘lunch’ so I wouldn’t have to WATCH my colleagues enjoy their food.  Pity party continued all afternoon.  Got home and endured my Purge Cocktail. Happily chugged 32 ounces of water right afterward as directed.  Looked forward to warming some vegetable broth (I’m vegan for 18 out of 21 meals a week) to nurse AFTER that my ordeal.  Only to find out that the reason they restrict one to chicken broth is that it’s LIGHT colored and my veg broth is DARK.  And dark colors are ‘verboten’. Nothing but peppermint tea for me rest of evening.  Meanwhile, Mike enjoyed his dinner.  And wine.

D Day – my only consolation for the double horror of round 2 of the prep liquid is that ‘At least I won’t have to do this for another 10 years!’.  Famous last words.

Matthew 6:25-27  Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Once my morning beverage was behind me, the ‘what ifs’ taunted me.  I listened for a while:

  • The doctor who was to do the procedure had told me that he lived in Asheville and commuted the 45-50 minutes to my local hospital.  ‘What if he is sick?  or has car trouble?  or there is traffic? If he can’t make it in, they’d have to RESCHEDULE me!  And I’ll have to drink that stuff all over again!’

I fought that fear with facts about God’s providence and control over every single molecule in the universe.

The worry gremlins probed again:

  • ‘What if there is a tree that has fallen down in the middle of the night, after all that rain?.  It might block our egress off of the mountain onto the 4-lane to the hospital?’

Again, by faith I reminded myself of who God was, meditating on His command:  Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)   Whew! Once down the hill, I thanked our good God.

We arrived at the hospital on time at 7:15.  All went well.  The staff was friendly and competent.  The doctor poked his head into the prep room to greet both of us.  The procedure went well from my point of view.  Quicker than both Mike and I expected I was wheeled back into the prep room.

Then the ‘bombshell’.   “You weren’t cleaned out enough.  I could not complete the scope.  I’m afraid we’ll have to reschedule you. Soon.”

Rats and double rats!  That’s putting it mildly.  I responded to the gastrointestinal expert with something a little more reflective of how I actually felt.  I had not anticipated this possibility.  In fact, I had not even WORRIED through this scenario.

As Mike and I were driving back up the mountain lane to our house, I contemplated yet another round of this ‘hardship’. Suddenly I saw the absolute futility of worrying about possible negative outcomes.  A chuckle escaped.  Mike looked over at me in the passenger seat, eyebrows raised.  I explained:

“Michael, you and I worry about different things.  But worry is worry, no matter what flavor.  I suddenly see that I wasted energy angsting over what might occur to cause me to have to go through that awful prep, all over again.  I think God is showing me that I cannot predict anything, so why should I bother mucking around in possible negative futures?  He’s sovereign, one way or another.  Better just to relax and trust Him.  Usually what I worry about never even comes to pass.  And if He has an event planned for me, then He will provide the grace to enable me to live through it.  Today, apparently, was more TRAINING that I needed.  He’s trying to teach me NOT to worry, but to rely on Him.”

Mike nodded in agreement.  He recognizes that each day contains these kinds of lesson plans. Part of God’s daily spiritual ‘workouts’ to make us more like our Big Brother, Jesus.

But do you know what?  There’s a happy corollary to this pattern of God’s, His unpredictability in some things.  He has unimaginably good and joyful plans for us, too:

1 Cor 2:9 (NLT) That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

So….what did I learn from this to-be-repeated unpleasantness?  Simply that there is absolutely NO good reason to worry.  May God help me remember that!

 

 

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