No more hiding

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And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18 ESV

When Graham was a little boy, he loved playing with the Transformers, those action figure robots that could change shape. When he turned 5, Mike took him down to Oxford to the much-anticipated feature film. This was 1988. Graham was so excited that of course they just HAD to show up early. Sure enough they were the only ones in line for a while. Bubbling over with unrestrained excitement, I can still hear his little British accent singing: ‘Transformers, more than meets the eyes……robots in disguise…..’.

Unlike these autonomous figures, we created beings cannot transform what is most important in our lives.  Sure, we can change our eating and our exercise patterns and our physical body adjust.  But we can’t transform our hearts.  We can’t heal our emotions.  We can’t really change our desires. 

The good news, the glorious news, the news that lifts impossible burdens from us is that Jesus can change us and he does.

Recently, I re-read Paul’s encouragement to the wobbly church in Corinth. Before the verse cited above, he writes how the law had condemned people up until Jesus burst onto the scene. 

We all know the sad history of Israel. That the Hebrews could NOT change, no matter how many remorseful renewals of covenant faithfulness they pledged.

That’s my story as well.  I’m now aware of the decades I have lived with limiting beliefs that over time have calcified into patterns.  God has now brought them out into the light in such a way that I WANT to change. But I know myself.  I don’t put any hope in my sincere and firm resolve.

I’m not despairing.  On the contrary, this promise from God, recorded in 2 Corinthians offers concrete hope.

Not pie-in-the-sky hope.  Paul, probably from experience, knows that real change for most Christians happens gradually.  Bit by bit, baby step by baby step.  He’s communicating an attitude of patience as he alters our desires and that of others for whom we pray.  And you know yourself that sometimes we can’t perceive the micro adjustment that someone has made.  But one degree, or one percent for sure affects the eventual outcome!

Guaranteed change with just one condition. We are to come fully into the light. No covering up, no pretending. Just as we are.  Paul calls this having an ‘unveiled face’.

And we can do this without fear, because the Lord already knows us.  Don’t you want to stop hiding?

But now you know God, or better still, God knows you. How can you turn back and become the slaves of those weak and pitiful powers? Gal 4:9 CEV

How do you apply the Gospel to yourself?

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I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15 NLT

My first thought was, “I did not handle that situation well at all!” As I replayed the event with a close friend, I started to feel worse and worse. At the time, I had no idea that I had hurt her. But now it was too late.  Only in fiction do you find those choose-your-own-ending storybooks. Sadly, this was real life and my heart ached.

I slept little that first night as I ran through the events and what I could have done differently. I awoke still feeling sad and ashamed.

It took me until midafternoon to hear the Holy Spirit’s prompt.

I was driving to my exercise class when the Lord brought to mind: Maria, Jesus already died for this!

Then a small kernel of an idea grew: Maria, you have to apply the gospel to yourself.

How does one do that?  I’ve never even thought that through.  But it rang true.  Coupled with that counsel came the truth of God’s sovereignty.  I spoke this fact out loud so my soul could hear:

Satan meant this for evil, to harm your relationship with your friend, but God meant it for good!

Okay, what is the good that can emerge?  I need to look for that.

At the gym, I had about 25 minutes on a cardio machine. To distract my mind, I let it float among these new thoughts.  Almost staccato like, others arrived. As soon as I got into my car, I grabbed the yellow post-it notes and pen that I keep handy.  This is what I jotted down as I applied the gospel of God’s grace to my heart. His assurances included the following:

  • I have not ‘blown it’ irrevocably.  Our relationship may have taken a step backwards, but there’s still time to mend it and grow healthier as friends.  And if it never does heal, well then, one day ALL relationships will not only be restored, but made new and perfect.
  • The truth is, my friend doesn’t know the half of my dark heart.  I’m worse than she realizes AND far more loved than I can even imagine.  Yes, God’s love for me outweighs my sinful, impure motives.
  • Although it’s true that we’ve had issues before that I thought were behind us, apparently the scab had not totally healed. Her accusatory words, some true and others not, were like a severe bump that started the wound to bleed again.

Other counsel from the Holy Spirit included:

  • In this occasion, my assumptions that led to my hurtful action were not correct. Developing the habit of rechecking what I think to be true and running it by the other person could make a difference in future situations.

But what has healed me the most is the image of light. Our God is he who commanded light from the beginning of creation. Supernatural power and protection stream from God’s light. When men encounter Jesus in his luminous light, they fall down powerless. Recall the transfiguration and Paul’s encounter while traveling.

So, in order to stop replaying that scene with my friend over and over, I have flown to the light.  Jesus abides in a circle of light.  Where Jesus is, there is only truth.  All the whispered lies that feel like truth can’t stand the light of God. They only hide in the darkness of fear and shame.

When I’ve been tempted to beat myself up, I have drawn close to the light of Jesus. Several nights have passed and I’ve been able to sleep.

I’m now on a hunt for bible verses about God’s light, aka God’s truth. I NEED that salvific healing balm.

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. 1 Peter 2:9

The Spirit’s recent drumbeat – Truth & Trust

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Mike and I have almost reached the end of this year’s journey through the Bible.  Recently it feels as though the Spirit has been exhorting me to embrace ‘Trust and Truth’ toward the close of this year, 2020. Here are two of my daily ‘devotional bites’ that I’ve recently written.

I’m having fun with this self-assigned challenge to put clearly into creative, yet succinct words what Lord is teaching me through His word and daily experiences. We CAN hear from the Living Son, Jesus, through His spirit.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 ESV

…. he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion … Phil 1:6 ESV

Speaking Spanish the other day felt like ‘pulling teeth’.  Tere listened distractedly. Was my straining for words wearing on her? It can be painful when someone is communicating haltingly in another language.

Listening that night, Mike strongly countered my conclusion. Surprised, but grateful, I realized I hadn’t shared this discouragement with Jesus.

The next morning unloading ALL my feelings on paper, I asked Him: ‘What do you think about this? What should I do?’

Silence.

So, I moved on to the day’s Bible reading, knowing He would respond in some way. Sure enough, the Holy Spirit brought the Psalmist’s above exhortation to mind, reminding me that all good desires are God-given. I didn’t seek out Spanish.  God planted that seed in me and birthed a new passion.

And Phil 1:6 seems a logical and reassuring conclusion, don’t you think?

***

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. Psalm 16:5 ESV

If you study people, you can spot what they treasure. Our unrehearsed, spontaneous words provide evidence. How we spend time and money also signal the truth.

The Bible teaches that God has deliberately picked out each of our permanent riches, that is our inheritances. Down to the last detail, such as its purse or container (cup), our Father keeps all safe until the right time.

Observing me, what would you conclude is MY treasure, what I value most? I spend a lot of time taking care of my temporary body: food prep, exercise, medical care, sleep, hair and nail appointments, clothing.  Not to mention time spent on maintaining our interim house!

My prayers tend more to the temporary as well. I am learning, though, to plead more spiritual transformation that short-term needs indicate.

But hearts don’t lie.

Jesus, help me to remember and apply your teaching:  Your heart will always be where your treasure is. Matthew 6:21 CEV

Functional Pauper

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Joshua 5:12: The manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.

The point of this verse is that God provided food each and every day, even AND MOST ESPECIALLY during the transition from a wandering tribe to a settling-down people.

If God so sustained the complaining, idolatrous, disbelieving Hebrews, will He not all the more provide for me, for whom He has already died?

You would think that I would understand the logic of this example.  I do, but I still don’t trust God.  Not really.

I’m a FIVE on the Enneagram.  I’ve written before how helpful I find this way of understanding oneself.  As a FIVE, I see life and live from out of the lens of scarcity; I hoard time above all.  I also hold tight to money.

God has recently convicted me of what this hoarding represents – the sin of UNBELIEF!  Operating out of insufficient resources is my day-to-day norm.  Whether at school (I don’t think I have enough time to get all this planning done) or in the evenings with the dinner prep (preparing whole foods takes time, and YES, I realize it’s a choice I make) or even on Sunday afternoons, the time I catch up with church committee work and a phone call to a friend or family member. Bottom line, I never feel/believe/trust God that He will provide enough time to get done all that I think is necessary.

Before you think I might simply need some lessons in time management, I want you to know that I have LEARNED to be content with the tasks that don’t get completed. I somehow am able to trust God’s plan for my day regarding what gets done.  The problem is this:  I can’t cast off that feeling of pressure.  I catch myself rushing, attempting to speed up my pace in order to shorten the overall time it takes for each task.  And I don’t LIKE that.

I know rushing is wrong.  I can FEEL it. I hate it. Yet, like Paul, I do the things I don’t want to do.  Even though I know the truth.  And just why can’t I LIVE what I believe? Why do I find it so hard to trust Jesus’ assurance that ‘If one knows the truth, it will set one free’? (John 8:32)

This unbelief spreads tangled roots that smooth the path for deceitful lying. Saturday, I found myself in dialogue with God, planning and carrying out something that would require deception on my part.  I returned a product to a grocery store that I had not purchased there, but one they carried. To make it even more shameful, it was a product I had ordered from Amazon. They had shipped the wrong product and refunded me the $5.76 and said I didn’t need to return the incorrect items.  Somehow I believed that gaining an EXTRA $5.76 would make a difference in my life.  I knew it was wrong.  And I did it anyway.  The self-justifying litany continued OUT of the store, money in hand, all the way to the car.  But then came the Lord’s Supper, yesterday, in church.  As I was contemplating Jesus dying for my sins, He kindly shone the spotlight on yesterday’s ‘LITTLE’ episode so I could confess it and come clean.

Not to drop the matter before He was sure I had internalized the lesson, this morning, Jesus returned to the subject by whispering in my mind’s ear: “You could have donated those two bags of dried black-eyed peas that you didn’t want.”  One of my ‘justifying’ excuses for my deceit had been, “What am I going to do with these legumes I don’t like and that I didn’t order?”

Mike left me an encouraging word this morning on our frig whiteboard.   He had remembered my discouragement last night about my lingering scarcity mindset.  He reminded me to pick a promise from God and then count on Him to fulfill it.

Sure enough, God brought just the appropriate Word during my quiet time: Psalm 23:1

  • The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall lack NOTHING.

What comfort!  What power!  The truth is this; I’m sure you can follow the logic:

  •       If God created all time and matter
  •       and If He has adopted me into His forever family
  •      Then, He will provide for me

He will provide THE precise quantity of time and money that HE knows is best, not what I think.

I’ll let Ken Boa have the last word.  I read in his latest Reflections something that is apparent but which I had never considered.  Quoting 1 Cor 6:19b-20a You were bought with a price; you are not your own, Boa wrote, “God has invested a lot in you already!

What a reassuring fact!  It follows from God’s investment of Jesus, the most valuable person in Eternity, that He is going to take GOOD care of me.

God help me to relax and just be a little lamb moving about and lying down at your direction.

Why I liked ‘Star Wars – the Last Jedi’

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Disclaimer – I don’t watch movies for the internal logic of the story.  I look for examples of God’s truth and common grace.

Mike and I kept to our tradition this week – a once-a-year excursion to view a movie in the theater.  Yes, it had been an entire year.  So we were not prepared for 2 facts:

  • People reserve a specific seat online
  • Lazy-boy style recliners are the norm!

We were graced to be let INTO the 1 pm showing when the ticket gal released 2 handicapped seats to us!

A student had given me a gift card to Regal as a Christmas gift.  It was a free date with my husband!  We don’t buy snacks and we took our lunch with us, enjoying some free coffee (Starbucks rewards) before the movie. We left the house in Balsam at 11:10 am and made it home from Asheville by 5 pm.  That’s basically an all-day field trip.  But all it cost us was time.  Definitely worth it.

I praise excellence where I find it.  And God has endowed Christians and non-Christians alike with many talents.  Here is what I found praise-worthy in this Star Wars episode:

  • Female leadership beautifully modeled.  Both General Organa (Princess Leia) at age 60 and her vice-admiral, another older actress showed strength and made decisions with kindness and directness.  Women can be equally effective as leaders of men and women AND do it in a beautiful way that highlights their strengths of compassion and love.  My oldest granddaughter, Chloe who is 8 1/2 continued her father-daughter tradition of attending certain movies on opening night (i.e VERY late on a school night).  I was glad she had seen strong but kind women model leadership.  And effective OLDER women being productive too.
  • The other female warriors, in particular, Rose, drew a distinction between selflessly choosing to sacrifice out of love and giving one’s all motivated by hate. Noteworthy and encouraging.
  • Among the many ‘The Force Be With You!’ greetings passed among Rebellion members, was one ‘Godspeed!‘.  Made me wonder if director Rion Johnson intentionally shifted ‘the Force’ to a personal God.
  • Sometimes we need the brash effrontery of a young raw but bold officer such as X-wing fighter pilot Poe.  He gambled and won the brass’ confidence to command. There is a fine line between insubordination and leadership.  Gauge incorrectly and you face sometimes-dire consequences for your brashness.
  • Failure as a positive lesson to harness emerged.  Luke Skywalker finally admits to Yoda his painful remorse at having failed his nephew Kylo Ren by not spotting his turn to the Dark Side.  Yoda disarms his self-flagellation by suggesting that failure is a good teacher.  In the end, we see Luke has internalized this new thought to make effective use of it in conflict.  That’s a lesson ALL of us need to acquire.  Shame would be waste of a good failure!
  • Hope as a tangible and necessary good recurs several times.  Without hope, we give up.  The Rebellion is small, a mere remnant, dispersed in the galaxy with some silent supporters.  But as long as they hold on to hope, they can survive to fight another day. So too with Christians.
  • Just as our God often appears to His people to be the ‘God of the very last moment’, so it is with Hope for the Rebellion.  When seemingly trapped and Princess Leia announces that Hope has run out, God (or the Force) seems to use human hubris in Kylo’s character AND the instinct for survival of the ice fox to buy time and furnish an escape for the Rebellion.
  • Finally, though insignificantly small in number, the Rebellion represents Good in this epic struggle of Good versus Evil.  That battle illustrates the struggle in our world.  Modern westerners don’t want to think about spiritual powers, let alone dark, evil forces.  But they are real.  Roiling with hate, they oppose God and those who belong to Him.  Star Wars illustrates that truth.

An excellent movie, worth seeing.  Paraphrasing Abraham Kuyper, ‘All truth is God’s truth.’

 

 

One anothering – don’t stop

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Christian friends are invaluable.  We encourage one another by listening well. We pray for each other.  We redirect sisters and brothers back to God.  We focus on firm Truth in light of scary, wobbly circumstances. We offer our presence, sometimes just simple shoulder rubs and tissues.

And we never know what will help. But we stumble ahead and give what we have. Because God is in the business of using us to comfort others.

The other day, I was still mucking around in my latest pit-version of a long-term struggle with sin. Midday, Mike threw me what turned out to be a lifeline. He emailed Psalm 37 to me at work. At least once a week he shares a reading from his daily devotional.  Nice. Familiar.  Comforting.  Insightful as to what strikes him.  But THIS TIME what he forwarded seismically changed my thinking.  As RC Sproul says, ‘Ideas have consequences.’

God used one verse, a promise, to lift me out of the mud and set me on high ground.  I was stunned by this concrete, tangible proof that…….

……the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

God’s pledge, known and divinely written by David in Psalm 37:5 launched me into new space – a kind of freedom.  Here is how God’s promise goes:  Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him and He will do it!

Immediately I saw my sin AND the path to rescue and freedom!

For years, I have struggled with ‘how to eat’ so as to ‘feel good about my body’.  The battle came from wanting to eat as much as I want, without limits, AND wanting to feel happy in my body. Nine years of bulimia, stopped by God’s mercy due to my first pregnancy, preceded the past 35 years of overeating and agonizing.  I have learned to control, sort of, my ‘habit’ of the overeating. Yet I still obsess.

For 37 years Mike has walked with me in this struggle.  Recently his God-inspired wisdom jolted me in a healthy way.  First came his observation that perhaps God has ordained this ‘design flaw’ or THORN in the flesh to be His means to draw me to Him. New thought!

Gently he pointed out that I’ve been asking God for a way to manage or control my sin. He offered that maybe God in His goodness has NOT given me a manageable way to eat or exercise.

All along I have labeled the OVEReating as ‘THE SIN’.  I never considered that my desire to CONTROL could perhaps be sinful.

Further light opened my cage door wider.  Paraphrasing 17th century English pastor William Gurnall: When you pray to God, add a vow.  But make sure there is no hidden sin in your heart. Gurnall then cited one of David’s prayers to the effect, ‘God, grant me _________, so that I may praise you.’

Stunned into pondering how I might EVEN word a prayer request to God about this eating/control issue, I realized that any petition would basically be asking God to give me a way to control my sin.  Furthermore, the idea of adding a VOW stopped me cold.  I saw clearly for the first time that there was nothing holy in my request.

Into that void, Mike’s email sharing Psalm 37 arrived.  Again verse 5 brought light that gave me power-filled hope, what I call ‘crunchy’ or substantial.

Commit your way to the LORD

Trust also in Him 

and He will act

What I saw for the first time was this:

  • I’m to give this ENTIRE thing to Him, the triune God.  It’s not my problem or issue.
  • I’m to place all my confidence in Him, not me
  • And most importantly, HE is the one who will act

Could things be any clearer?  All along I’ve been wanting to control this problem so I could feel good about myself.  But seeing that there was nothing praise-worthy in God answering my prayer the way I have so desperately sought startled me.

Do I know what to do?  Not if I mean, do I have a new plan.

But do I know the purpose of food and the body?

Yes!  Food is to fuel my body and to enjoy.  The body I inhabit temporarily is so I can serve others and God.  The end or purpose of all I do is to glorify God.  Beyond that, I don’t need to go.

I’m still chewing on the simplicity and the power in this promise.  It FEELS to good to be true – simply to hand over a burden and trust God to act.  But I do feel free!

Conclusion?  Don’t stop offering God’s Word to others.  You don’t know ahead of time what God will use to heal someone.

 

What I munch on when bad stuff happens

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Two truths are keeping me together, are feeding me these days:

Mark 7:37 – …..He does everything well! (ISV)

Ps 84:11 – …..No good thing does He withhold.(NIV)

When something ‘bad’ happens, I find myself talking to Jesus – You do EVERYTHING well!  No GOOD thing do you withhold from me!”  These two truths act as the sandwich bread bracketing/holding each particular set of circumstances.  Only with the bread in place, is it safe to draw any conclusion from the ‘bad stuff’ of suffering or evil.

This week, someone dear to me received news that she wasn’t expecting.  I know that she considers Jesus her treasure, that she is a believer.  So I know that the Psalm 84 promise belongs to her.  As I have fought back sinful worry on her behalf, I have reminded myself of these 2 promises.  And that helps me continue to pray for her, but without the worry or anxiety.

Pain and suffering are not ruled out in this fallen world.  We all know that. But they knock the wind out of us at times.  What helps me is intentionally to recall, that God has a purpose, and a good one. And reminding myself that He administers the circumstances ‘just so’, tailored for each one of His children helps dispel the fear.  The suffering and sorrow can still linger, but the fear and anxiety don’t.

  • ‘Come on, Maria, be realistic!  Do these truths work for the really awful stuff – the Sarin attacks that burn Syrian children, old grandmothers and young men alike? How can that be a ‘good’ type of suffering?’

Friends, if Christianity can’t address the toughest questions, then how is it any better than other explanations?

Here’s what I DO know.  Every worldview has to explain suffering and evil.  It’s not a solo burden meant only for Christianity.

But there are many ways to draw false conclusions about God, so we have to be careful. If we start from ourselves with what WE deem good, reasonable or right, then we have already derailed and are headed away from Truth.  The only safe and right place to start is with God.  The times I head away from God, I thank the Holy Spirit who brings back to Him (the Spirit’s job, per Jesus, is to guide us in ALL Truth – John 16:13) . Here is what grounds me in the Truth:

  • God alone created us, therefore He has every right to do what He wants with His creation.
  • God is GOOD and I can trust Him.
  • Just because I can’t see the good in this particular suffering doesn’t mean God isn’t working out good purposes.  Perhaps, one day having completed my earthly trek, I may learn what those good purposes were.
  • As a Christian, I am called to mourn with those who suffer and do all that is within my power as a fellow human indwelt by the Spirit of the all-powerful and loving God.

Coming back down from the mega-worldview to my little corner, I settle back and quiet my soul and munch on my ‘sandwich’:  ‘You do all things well and no good thing do You withhold’.  This is where I live.  This food is sweeter than honey and leaves no bitter aftertaste.

Psalm 131:2 – But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. (NIV)

 

 

The cost of trusting God

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Charles Spurgeon: “(do) You want to see….how (affliction) can bring good to the soul; you must believe it.  Honor God by trusting him.” (as tweeted by Randy Alcorn, 20 Mar 2017)

So many friends waiting, waiting, waiting.

There’s D, whose husband got let go from his job at age 61.  It’s been 3 months and he’s gone through two REALLY promising and lengthy job interviews.  Only to hear back in emails, ‘Thank you for your interest, but we’ve decided to go with someone else.”

In addition to my friend D, several other friends pray for, search and await jobs.

And then there is J who holds on for a solution to a leak in her roof.  It’s not like she and her husband have oodles of money in savings, available to try first one remedy or another. That’s part of the problem.  The house has turned into a money pit, drawing from their retirement funds. They believe they should sell it to protect their savings.  But they can’t list the house until the leak is repaired.  Biding their time, they communicate, encourage and remind contractors, hopeful that each successive remedy will be THE one.

My other friend has endured countless medical procedures and tests and been the subject of panels of medical boards convening to seek the best way forward for an aggressive cancer.  Chosen routes have revealed dead ends.  Patience, while suffering, is her familiar journey partner.

Trying, painful situations hit believers and non-believers alike. We could despair, were it not for knowing the Truth.  For as Jesus teaches, “…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32  

What is that truth that blocks our natural response to fall into a gloomy permanent pit? That God loves us and that the suffering has a good purpose!  That He has planned each trial to conform us to our older brother, Jesus.  To avail ourselves of that truth, God has given us FAITH to believe the manifold and rich promises that are the rightful property or resource of all who ‘love God and are called by Him, according to His purposeful plan.’ (Romans 8:28)

Just as we have been given physical muscles to exercise in daily life, so too have Christians been given the spiritual muscle of faith.  But the gift of believing God comes with a concomitant responsibility.  We have to use faith, to move out, do what is good in the moment, depending on the invisible but real promises that God will come through just as His word says. We have to exercise or actively depend on God’s written pledge to provide, protect, guide, comfort us.

How do we do that?  By deciding to ‘believe (sight unseen) every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matt 4:4).  And that FEELS costly and painful at times.

Who doesn’t suffer the pains of temptation to despair over circumstances that seem to be perpetual?  Yet God commands us to not look at the way things appear, but to see through the circumstances to the God who promises good to those who believe Him and cling to the truth of His promises.

The other night as we were discussing the day’s Bible readings, Mike and I pondered the the connection between trusting…..believing…..expecting…..waiting ….hoping…exercising patience……  All these actions sparkle as many sides of the one diamond called FAITH in God.  But what do those actions LOOK like?  How do you DO expecting, waiting, hoping….?

An insight has recently enriched my mind, an answer to a dilemma. I’ve often struggled to grasp how to live out Jesus’ command, in a self-deflecting, God-glorifying way: “…. let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Matt 5:16    I’ve gotten hung up on the concept, ‘your light’.  How can I have any light in myself?  The answer: this ‘light’ is the gift God has given me to BELIEVE Him.  My responsibility is to show the world in a visible way (light) how much I treasure this invisible but precious reality of relying on and belonging to Jesus. God calls that way ‘patience’ or ‘trust in God’.

Given that He commands me to make visible this divine, inner light, I pray daily to WANT to do just that (and follow through) a – to live in such a way that the world (my colleagues, family and friends) sees my Godward trust, hope-filled expectations, and patient waiting and be STUNNED and chalk it up to God!  (that Maria is so patient during suffering.  She must REALLY love her God and be satisfied by Him!!!)

Patience is a virtue recognized in the western world.  Yet most joke about it and cavalierly let themselves off the hook by admitting they have little.

When I feel strong, I affirm this fact:  God is kind to give me multiple occasions to practice and improve this muscle of contented waiting on Him.  Yet, I seem often to succumb to despair, sometimes multiple times in a week.

But what other choice do you and I have? We can either face the sufferings in life kicking and screaming, or we can submit to the wise and loving hand of the potter who keeps us on His wheel and won’t stop until we are beautifully fashioned into the family likeness.

Potters' Hands

This last truth stunned me this morning when I heard it again: Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. Isaiah 64:4

What is love?

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Nestor Haddaway’s run-away hit posed the question in the ’90s. But it was ‘the head-bobbing, nightclubbing-addicted Butabi brothers’ that popularized the single on Saturday Night Live and later in the film Night at the Roxbury.

Love as a right, concept, ideal, and standard gets a lot of play in culture these days and it always has.  Just consider one of William Shakespeare’s many lines:

  • “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind” from A Midsummer Night’s dream.

Today, however, one seems to assume the liberty to define love any ‘ole way.  But does that make it right? And speaking of rights, who gets to define such weighty matters, anyway?

Listen in on a conversation between an imaginary Cultural Cathy and me:

Cultural Cathy – I have the right to define love as I see it

Me – Really? well how do you define love? and whose standards are you using?

CC – You must not have heard me, it’s up to me.  Right now, I feel a strong bond with Denise.  What we have is the ‘real thing’.  And it feels right.  So it is right for me. I feel loved and so does Denise.

Me – But you call yourself a Christian.  Don’t you have to submit to what the Bible teaches on love?

CC – But I AM following the Bible.  It says all over the Bible that  ‘God is love’.  And I actually can quote a verse, 1 John 4:7.  It goes like this: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Me – Good for you for knowing Scripture.  But we have to use God’s definition if we invoke His Truth.  Furthermore, it’s never enough to find and isolate one verse.  We have to see what the Author meant by looking at the context and other written evidence of what He thinks.   In this case, the Bible also teaches that God is Truth.  Do you remember how Jesus went around saying that He was the truth?  It follows then that Jesus is the standard of the truth.  And if you and I consider ourselves to be Christ-followers or Christian that implies that we stay to stay within the boundaries that Christ set.

CC – what’s truth have to do with love?

Me – good question.  Since you quoted John’s first letter – let’s just turn back a few pages to chapter 3, verse 18.  He writes: Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

CC – hmmm, so your point is??

Me – the deed part is the point.When we ‘love in deed and in truth’ we actually put God’s propositional truth (what He says and teaches, as the Bible documents) into action.  We DON’T get to choose or decide on the propositional truth that suits our temperaments.

David teaches us in one of his Psalms: Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;  Psalm 86:11

**

I don’t know what a Cultural Cathy would say in my fantasy conversation.  If we’re having this exchange at all, she likely would find a way to discount my points.

But we Christians need to know how God defines truth and love.  They are NOT relative. The world may claim authorship rights in determining definitions, but if someone calls himself a Christian, then we should at least be willing to engage with knowledge.  But as Peter exhorts us…with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

What’s the point of praying?

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ER  Two visits this week to the ER, one around 4:45 am and the other around 6 :00 am (earlier time gets you more attention) have made this week difficult to say the least.  What began with tooth issues and extreme pain for my husband in mid-November kicked off an occasional inability to sleep. Occasional turned into more the norm. Struggling to breathe due to heart palpitations sent Mike to Urgent Care during the day on Monday and then to ER at night the other times.

Several EKGs, X-rays, lab work and data from a 24-hour heart monitor have ruled out heart damage.  And we thank God for that.  But the inability to sleep remains and that affects his outlook.

So what about prayer?  I texted many praying friends Friday morning when we arrived for the 2nd time at the hospital.  And what I found was this.  As I affirmed God’s sovereign and loving control in this frightening situation I felt protected by God. Composing messages to these dear prayer warriors asking for their prayers of mercy for Mike, I wrote that God allows/sends trials for our ultimate good, to strengthen our faith. And God’s presence steadied me and calmed my fears.

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:25

Each time I spoke/wrote words of truth, echoing the Spirit-powered promises that God has given us, a settled peace steadied me.

One of my close friends, texted back those encouraging verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians where he describes the God of all comfort who comforts us in our troubles so we can later reach out and help others. These truths expand our view to see the long-term purpose in suffering. We are not alone.  We belong to a community.

Yet, what startled me was that as helpful a reminder as her words were, my faith was not strengthened nearly as much as when I prayed through writing.

Here’s my application:

If you’re on Facebook or you hear in an email or phone call about a need, don’t just write: “Praying!”  Pray!

Take the time yourself to compose a specific prayer that links a quality of God with a specific request to Him to DO something specific and measurable in this situation.

Here’s an example.  Let’s imagine your friend Susie who is nervous about surgery tomorrow and has asked you to pray. You decide to pray on the spot.

  • Open or start your prayer by addressing God and mentioning the attribute you are depending on:

Father, You who created our bodies and sustain us through your power each moment of our lives, 

  • Ask specifically what you want God to do for this person:

grant Susie Your supernatural peace.  Remind her that You are in control of the medical team’s competency, attention and wisdom as well as her body’s recovery.  Take away her anxiety and replace it with the truth that You have given her the Holy Spirit who is a spirit of LOVE and not one of FEAR.  That this very Holy Spirit who is in her is also one of POWER and SOUNDNESS OF MIND.

  • Now tell God WHY you are asking Him to do this:

I ask You this for Susie’s sake and also for the fame of your name, so many will come to know what a great God You are.

  • Close your prayer by reminding God why You are privileged to ask Him for anything:

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen 

What I find now is that by taking the time to write or pray out loud on the spot, my reliance on God grows.  And having prayed specifically and tied it to God’s character that doesn’t change and His reputation, my faith multiplies as I see Him come through time and time again.

Vague prayers, while better than nothing (we are told that the Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t), don’t allow us to see specific answers. When we pray, Dear God, please bless Susie!”, how do we know when He has answered that prayer?

My point is that WE benefit the most by praying. Paul paraphrases Jesus when he reminds us that we get MORE blessed/happy when we give than when we receive. (Acts 20:35)

And if you want some practice, please pray for us!  That we find a solution for Mike’s palpitation-induced sleeplessness AND that God would grow our faith so we have strength for future trials and give comfort to others.

 

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