Are you always working? What does that say about your God?

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Ezekiel 20:12 And I gave them my Sabbath days of rest as a sign between them and me. It was to remind them that I am the LORD, who had set them apart to be holy.

Last week, as August turned into September, we read God’s words to the Hebrew captives in Babylonia. For the first time, I saw the irony: teaching about Sabbath rest right before the Labor Day weekend.

Here’s a question for you: How would you describe Americans? What 3 adjectives would you use?

If you mention – workaholics, then we’re on the same wave-length. Americans BRAG about working long hours. It’s a virtue to be trumpeted, a boy scout merit badge to be admired by others. In culture at large and IN the church! How did this backward way of viewing life and organizing our seasons come about?

It certainly wasn’t the goal of government, which over decades enacted saner labor laws. NOR did technological innovators foresee work slavery as an unintended consequence. The 40-hour work week and inventions for both home and shop were meant to give us leisure. This slower pace would provide more time to connect and enjoy family, friends and neighbors. Evenings and weekends were margin we needed to rest and re-create. A time to STOP, look upward to God and outward to people. Yet culture did little to change our views of work and rest.Yet culture did little to change our views of work and rest. With the ‘freed up time’ we just did more stuff, more busy-ness.

What about Christians, those in the church? We’re no different than pagan culture. American seminaries even in the early part of the 20th century began straying from taking God’s Word as true, good and authoritative. Evangelical Christians today look, by and large, indistinguishable from their unbelieving colleagues.

Results? Pure insanity. ‘I’m so busy‘ has become a badge of honor.

Let’s look at the time of our agricultural and biblical ancestors, the Hebrews. When God gave His Law to Moses and the redeemed former ‘slaves’, everyone worked 7 days a week. Being commanded to keep the Sabbath would have been a crazy idea. Especially during the different harvest seasons. Unfavorable weather and natural enemies such as blight or pests were feared.

Trusting God enough to ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it holy’ proved impossible to obey. Generations as well as current cultural norms taught that your crops and your livestock were your financial security.

Like us today, it was easier to live by sight than by faith in the unseen God.

God’s 4th commandment and call to rest (He knows what our bodies need!) one day out of seven along with the holy days set aside to worship God cost the Hebrews a lot. Obeying them meant living by faith in the God who had covenanted with them and who promised to provide. They had to walk by faith and NOT by sight. They had to rely on God and NOT on what they and others had done for hundreds of years (i.e. use common sense) as Proverbs 3:5 commands:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

In our assigned reading this week, we read the LORD’s explanation to His people through the prophet Ezekiel. God patiently pointed out two purposes for His good gift of the Sabbath:

  • to remind them that the One they were called to trust at all times, especially on those Sabbaths that fell on sunny, dry days right in the middle of a harvest was the One who created the universe. He had covenanted to take care of them. In other words, He was ABLE and GOOD.
  • to remind them that they had been INTENTIONALLY separated and made different from their pagan neighbors…..they belonged to the LORD for HIS purposes, which were larger than their immediate need to get the harvest in before the weather changed.

So, back to the stereotypical workaholic American. What new thought did the Holy Spirit give me when I arrived at Ezekiel 20:12? Just this:

When we continue to work longer than we HAVE to, to get our work done, then we are acting like pagans, like those who have NO living God to depend on .

The workaholic Christian, whether a mom at home with kids or dad at work in an office or two breadwinners managing both work and kids – they broadcast to their watching neighbors/co-workers that ALL depends on THEIR efforts.

I know. Because I used to be that kind of teacher, one who believed IT was all up to me. Over the years, as the Lord pried my fingers off of ‘my free time’ on weekends to do lesson plans, He surprised me by showing me ways to be more effective with the time DURING the school week. Sundays DID evolve into days with more rest.

And by grace He has continued to deepen my trust in Him, to accomplish each day only what is ordained. I’m able to stop work and leave the undone things to His holy keeping for the morrow.

As I have pondered this reminder about the seriousness of Sabbath keeping, I’ve been asking myself: What does Sabbath look like for New Testament Christians? Here are my thoughts:

  • Are we called to live the entire Sabbath day (24 hours) differently from the other 6 days?
  • Alternatively, is it possible to have Sabbath rest 1/7th of each day, during the waking hours? What would that look like? Given that I fence off 8 hours a night for sleep, what is 1/7 of the remaining 16 hours? (2.3 hours a day.) So, what would qualify as Sabbath rest for those 2.3 hours or 2 hours and 17 minutes? (thus, is birthed a legalist Sabbath worshipper……)
  • OR…..is Sabbath rest for Christians more a posture, a heart leaning? Recall Paul’s guidance in 2 Cor 9:6-7 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Let’s look back at the text in Ezekiel. God gave the people the Sabbath to REMIND them of two facts: Who He is and Who THEY are.

Thinking through work and rest and discussing it with Mike yesterday on our Saturday hike, (thank you, Sweetheart, for pointing out the danger of falling into legalism!), leads me to place this question in the category of issues best left up to the individual conscience, as informed by God’s Word.

But working more than is necessary for an honest day’s labor does not build our case for the Good News of a kind Father who provides what we need, including rest.

As you enjoy your Monday holy-day, leave a few minutes to sit outside, soaking in beauty and maybe meditate on tangible ways you could implement to show the world something True, Beautiful and Good about our God.

I’m still scared of God

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It was that silent part in today’s service, the private confession, where we are encouraged to share unconfessed sins with our Father, counting on the safety of His promise to forgive us because of Jesus. Something from this morning sprang to mind, surprising me.

Earlier, sitting outside with my coffee and the birds, I enjoyed a time of study and prayer. At some point, I started reflecting and then savoring right now, this particularly SWEET time in my life, in OUR lives. God has answered MAJOR prayers, some going back decades.  What kind? Here are the biggies:

  • Repeated cries for healing from work-induced anxiety for Mike that has affected his body 28 of our 40 years together.
  • Prayers for healing and freedom for me regarding eating, fitness and body weight.
  • Pleas for job contentment for Mike.
  • Repeated requests for release from my difficult job situation.

I can’t recall a time in my life that has been this restful, this satisfying. Ever.

So, what is the problem? What did I confess this morning?

That I am afraid.

That I am afraid that the Lord will remove these gifts that mean so much, that are so wonderful and refreshing. That they won’t last.

Why would He take them away?

  • He has every right to for two reasons: He created us and He redeemed us. We are His possession.
  • I know from Scripture that our Father has committed Himself to sanctifying me, to making me holy like Jesus.  In His wisdom, He might take these gifts away. To deepen and strengthen my faith, testing (for my benefit) just exactly where my happiness is rooted.  In the gifts, or in Him.

So, during the service, those 45 seconds or so, I confessed that irrational fear to my Father.  I called it what it is. Sin. A slap in the face of the One whom I should trust most. (Am I listening to Satan’s lies, I wondered? With malicious reason that enemy of God doesn’t want me to trust the Father’s love for me.) And I asked for supernatural, divine help.  Wordlessly, I off-loaded this weight in those silent few moments:

  • Father, I am so ashamed to tell You that I don’t trust You. That I’m clinging to these gifts that You have given us, not You.  I see now that I fear losing THEM more than I fear displeasing and dishonoring You. Forgive me. You’ve got to help me, though. Help me to trust You. To trust that You are good. That all that You have planned for Mike and for me IS for our ultimate happiness. It’s just hard. And this time You’ve granted us is SO restful. Soothing balm after many years of pain.

After that confession, I didn’t sense any response from Him. But now, as I write, I see how His Spirit is working. Prompting me to use this ‘shalom’ as a springboard to proclaim to others what my Father, the One and Only Living God, the Lord and Giver of Life has done.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

I don’t have to fear what He will do.

‘Satan – depart from me. I reject your suggestions. I know that Christ’s Spirit is in me and He is truth and light and He is more powerful than you.  I will not listen to you anymore!’

Here is what I commit to, with help! Instead of meditating on the ‘what ifs’ of circumstances, may I keep declaring my Father’s works to everyone I meet. May I honor His holy name in my prayers, my words and my actions. By faith, I will rely on the strength that He provides to bless Him.

Father, thank You for your promised grace: strength to direct my thoughts and words.

Psalm 126:3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

What are you most afraid of?

Is God behind all this global suffering?

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News agencies world wide report droughts, floods, murders, homelessness, job loss, disease and more.

Christian organizations such as Open Doors post pleas for prayer:

  • Unprotected, Christians murdered in Nigeria
  • West Africans suffering from Fulani, sickness and little food
  • Locusts in East Africa destroy crops
  • Daily assaults on Christians in Asian country

Is all this suffering from God’s hand?

I am a Christian who believes that the Bible is the true word of God. I thus accept as fact what God teaches, that nothing happens outside His sovereign will. (some thoughts about ‘two wills’ of God)

Isaiah 46:9-10  I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.

I am thinking, thinking a lot these days and reasoning from what I know, from what God says in His Word. He doesn’t answer all my questions, but there is enough truth for me to ponder and think clearly.  He expects me, as one of His, to apply my mind. ‘Think on these things’, Paul exhorts in Phil 4:8.

I know that all that has befallen me in my 6 decades: the bad, the painful, the shameful, the sicknesses, the sin, the blessings, the rescues, the deliverances, the joys, the ‘pleasants’….all have been planned for my good, to bring me to Jesus (rescuing me from the right judgement of my guilt and fair eternal penalty) and to make me holy like Him.  If God is God and if He is good, wise, all-powerful, faithful and loving, then He has good reason, good purposes for what He does.  Whether I see His reasons. Whether I agree with them or not.

I don’t struggle with that anymore IN MY OWN LIFE. 

But recently I’ve been thinking those who are REALLY suffering in the world, in what we call the 3rd-world areas. (Is there a ‘second-world’ label??)

My pain and struggles have been those of an advantaged American born in the second half of the 20th century.  Past and present – far more people have been and are overcome by poverty, hopelessness, violence, hunger, sickness, disastrous weather and terrorism.  Does God work all those imagination-defying ‘awfuls’ to bring SOME to Christ and make THEM more like Jesus? Are these conditions His tailored will for their lives, just as my circumstances are for me?

That is what I have been wondering.  And it’s a new idea for me.

Not for a moment do I think this is merely an intellectual exercise, that God intends for me just to ponder logically when I read of 3rd-world suffering.   Why not? Because all through the Bible, God’s people are commanded to take care of and provide for the down-and-out in our reach.

  • Deut 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land; that is why I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.

In just the week that this topic has been on my mind, my conclusion is that somehow, in God’s wisdom, those who are His, those whom He is calling from each people group, He has placed in the designed location, time and circumstances best suited for their hearing and responding to the Gospel.  No, He doesn’t condone violence and oppression of the poor. But He does ordain what is at the ‘moment’ an evil for a greater good since He KNOWS has PLANNED and will bring about the eventual outcome. All through the Bible we read that His hand is behind droughts (think Naomi and Ruth), slavery (Joseph to Egypt) leprosy (Naaman), murder plots (Esther and the Jews), imprisonment (Paul and the Philippian jailor).

I choose to hold fast to what I know is true about our God.  I have learned that He is trustworthy.  I don’t have to understand or see His reasons to accept that what breaks my heart will one day be the cause of my praise for the resulting beauty of his Grace revealed.

In the meantime, may He keep my heart soft both to call on Him for justice and relief and to be part of His provision.

How the Lord changed my mind

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God still surprises me and I’ve VERY glad.  I am learning that He doesn’t tend to act in the same manner in similar sets of circumstances.  I should know that just through the two accounts of God’s instructions to Moses about how He, God, was going to provide water from the Rock to thirsty, wandering Israel in the wilderness:

In the first instance, Moses was to STRIKE the rock.

Ex 17:5-6 Then the Lord told Moses, “Go over in front of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.  I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock and water will come out of it, so the people can drink.” Moses did this in front of the elders of Israel.

But again, when the people had no water, God told Moses to TALK to the rock. Moses disobeyed.

Numbers 20:8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

The God who spoke our varied and intricate universe into existence IS creative and intent on teaching us obedience.

Now to my situation:

For almost two years I had been creating video content for my YouTube channel (videos and transcripts here)  to help English language learners acquire English through simple stories in slow English.  But as 2019 turned into 2020 I had been questioning whether I should continue.  The response and number of subscribers to the channel didn’t seem worth the time I was spending.  After much prayer and discussion with Mike, I decided to let my waning desire be my guide to a decision.  I stopped creating videos in early February 2020.  Relieved of that ‘task’ each week, I happily shifted more time to what was providing satisfaction:  acquiring Spanish!

This self-imposed lay-off coincided with the 5 weeks of work it took to move from a rental house here in Huntsville into a new house and get our household up and running.

To my surprise, God intervened about two weeks ago to direct my thoughts back to ‘English without Fear’.  Through Scripture, books on God and various prayers I read as well as devotions from my favorite teaching & praying pastors (John Piper, Scotty Smith, & Charles Spurgeon) God seemed to be saying that I had a duty to STEWARD my talents, gifts and experiences for the benefit of others.

I immediately thought about His gifts to me – the personal joy in learning and using French, German and Spanish as well as the ability to teach a second language.

“Huh,” I mused and pondered. “The Lord doesn’t seem to be working through my desires right now. He seems to be appealing to the responsibility I have to put to use for others more of my skills and experience.”  Since calling a halt to ‘English without Fear’ I’ve been using my growing, intermediate Spanish skills in my newish volunteer position as an intake counselor at our local pregnancy resource center.  Was God urging me NOW to add back into my week teaching English as a second language via my videos?

I pondered, reasoned, waited and prayed.  The message came again – “Maria, as a believer, you are called NOT to be idle nor hide your gifts, your light, under a bushel basket”

Maybe DESIRE alone should NOT be what determines how I spend my time. With that conclusion, I started back up creating content for ‘English without Fear’.

My resolve, for now, is to be faithful with what the Lord has given me. It matters not if few still watch.  If one or two are helped, then isn’t that enough? And if NO one watches right now, isn’t the bigger principle my obedience to Holy Spirit nudges?

Therefore, for the time being and with His grace, I will keep my hand to the plow, confident that He will signal me when and if it is time for a course change.

 

Does God care about the little things?

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“Oh, He is too busy running the world to care about this little issue of mine!”

Have you ever been politely put off by someone pretending to be humble?

Here’s the Truth – our God LOVES to take care of ALL our issues, cares, problems, burdens.  “Cast ALL of your cares on Him, for He cares for you!”  1 Peter 5:7

I’ll tell you a story about one of those ‘little things’ that my Father took care of yesterday and the bigger take-away.

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  We’re living in a rental house with a small frig. Family arrive next week to share the holiday.  I had been fretting on my inability to do any food prep and baking ahead of time due to the size of our freezer section.  Mike to rescue! He seconded my suggestion about buying a chest freezer NOW (instead of waiting until we move into our new house).  Relief!

Home Depot here in Huntsville had a sale. The freezer fit in the back of the Subaru. Mike set it up and turned it on. Monday, I happily purchased the $40 frozen organic turkey, along with some wild-caught Sockeye on sale, also frozen.  Placed them and some bacon in the new freezer.

But the next morning after working out in the garage, Mike reported that the turkey felt soft when he checked it.  Oh, no!  It had been solid as a rock when I purchased it the day before.  My mind flashed to all the rigamarole it would cause us, especially Mike, to have to load the freezer in the car, take it BACK to Home Depot…..et cetera. And when would he have the time to do that?

By God’s grace, I knew immediately what to do:  I handed the entire mess over to the Lord.

“Father, you tell us to cast ALL our burdens on you.  Handle this, please. You know I just spent a bunch of money and that I need a freezer. And how I had planned to do some baking this afternoon.  Help!”

Finishing my quiet time, I bundled up for my walk and prayed on and off during the 30 minutes. I continued to have a steady confidence that this was one of those tests and that the Lord would come through.  Entering the house, I hung up my jacket and took out my phone.  Following Nehemiah’s example, I formulated another quick prayer as I punched in the number for Home Depot, asking God that the manager would be in the store this early (8 am).

He was!  But first I had to go through customer service.  I really hadn’t wanted to explain the situation to the gal on phone duty, but she asked before connecting me to the manager.  Her empathetic response reassured me, “Oh, how awful! Of course, I’ll put you through right away to Drew.”

Drew grasped my situation immediately.  Asking a few questions, he assured me that he would send a replacement over as soon as possible.  By 9 am, I had a new freezer humming in the garage.  And praise be to the Lord!  Per Google, my turkey which had been kept cool over the past 18 hours but not frozen in the defective appliance, could be safely refrozen, if within 3 days.

With joy, I texted Mike to share the good news of how quickly God had worked. Furthermore, by 3 pm I had placed one baked item in my new and fully functioning freezer.

What about that corollary or bigger take-away from this on-time grace?

It’s this:  like all of you, Mike and I have a BIG need that we have committed to God.  We pray every day, asking for a resolution as well as the strength to endure and trust him in the meantime.  And our Father has seen fit to tarry.  Frankly, some days it’s a real struggle to hold on by faith to his promises as well as to remind ourselves of all his past answers.  We intentionally rehearse his goodness as we read about him in his Word and see hourly and daily evidence of his love.

So, in his very rapid handling of our freezer problem, I see reassurance from a loving and kind Father that he really does care about us. Through this quick supply of grace, it is as though he is reassuring us that he IS indeed at work in our big need. But that in his perfect wisdom, he has planned a wait.  So, we await HIS timing and continue to pray.  But not frantically, not desperately.

Oh, by the way, the next time someone thinks to put me off with a quip about God having more important things to do than handle a problem like a defective freezer, I’ll confidently say:

The one and only true, living and loving God cares about ALL that concerns me, AND you, AND the nations at war, AND the environment, etc. And compared to his GREATNESS, and from his point of view, all these problems are little items!

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.

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