One thing is necessary

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40. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations to be made. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha, the Lord replied, “you are worried and upset about many things. 42 But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”…  Luke 10: 40 – 42

A new school year started last week.  My anxieties came back to life after their sabbatical of 2 1/2 months.

What is at the root of these worries?  What I focus on during the school day.  Here’s my list of concerns – those situations where I lack confidence, occasions that intimidate me a bit:

  • Will I be able to capture and hold on to the attention of middle school kids?
  • Will I be able to create and carry out effective and engaging lessons, which actually result in them acquiring French?
  • Will I have sufficient time in my school day to complete teaching, planning, grading and handle all those extra duties teachers seem to have?
  • Will I feel free to spend time with my colleagues, listening and encouraging them, all the while accurately representing Christ?
  • Will I be able to grow the French program in the Middle School?

Those 5 matters I have turned into individual and multiple prayers that I send up to God frequently throughout the week.  Better to pray than to worry, right?

Yes and no.

Reading how Jesus corrected Martha and how He described her sister, Mary, caused me to think again.  Maybe I have miscalculated where I should invest the bulk of my energy. Rather than prioritizing and investing all my mental energy on ways to meet all these challenges, I should focus first on what actually might energize me and provide life.

Luke’s account of the two sisters who have just lost their dear brother Lazarus prompted me to imagine what Martha’s list might have looked like (had she written down what caused HER stress and anxiety:

  • Oh no!  Jesus just showed up and with his group of guys, too.  I’ve been feeding well-wishers and mourners for a week now.  What am I going to serve?
  • I’m exhausted!  Where am I going to find the strength and energy to fix more food. And who is going to butcher the lamb, now that our brother is gone?
  • I was going to send Mary around to the family that supplies our wine because we’re all out!  But look at her.  She just sat down with the men to listen to Jesus!  Where’s her head!  With all this work to do?  Doesn’t she care about me?  So this is the way it’s going to be now that Lazarus is gone. I should have figured!
  • Oh, my – Lazarus IS gone.  How are we ever going to make it, two women alone?

What is Jesus’ response, the God who knows all our thoughts and cares?   Read the 4 statements at the beginning of this post.   Freedom calls me with those enigmatic words of His: One thing is necessary.

What is Jesus NOT saying?  Does he tell Martha to skip all the food prep?  No!  Hospitality is a good thing.  But ultimately it doesn’t rank # 1.  We CAN live without food.

But we can’t live without Jesus.

So what did I see afresh in Luke’s account of a very familiar vignette?

It was how I evaluate a ‘good day’.  In past years, I’ve called it a ‘good day’ if I taught well. If I had a fruitful-for-the-kingdom conversation with someone.  If I completed my work.

But I can’t control any of those outcomes, hence my anxiety and uncertainty day to day.

So what IS necessary?  What is ‘the one thing’?

I can see more clearly how God has been moving me over the past 5 or 6 years to rely on Him throughout the day.  To look to and depend on His divine, supernatural Spirit for EVERY thought, word, action, and decision about the future.

Jesus and Paul challenged followers of Christ to stay ‘grafted in the Vine’, to ‘remain in union with Him’.  We actually are not meant to do anything apart from Jesus.  He even tells us we can’t.

  • John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.

So I have redefined what Maria calls a ‘good day’.  The one responsibility I have as Jesus’ lamb is to do all in His strength, aware of my position IN the Vine.

Teaching a ‘good’ lesson, completing my list, engaging in a fruitful conversation with a colleague – yes, these are important.  But I can’t control the outcomes.  Hence – perpetual anxiety.

But I CAN control my thoughts.  That ability is given to every Christian in whom lives God’s Spirit.

My goal and focus this school year is to rely on Jesus and seek to please Him that way. And when I forget my source for everything and start angsting about X, Y and Z, I can still please Jesus by repenting of sinful AND needless worry.  And call it a GOOD day!

One-year anniversary of freedom

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Scales in bathroom

It was a year ago today, 5 December 2015 that I walked away from my self-imposed dungeon sentence of measuring my worth by what I weigh.  I had lived in that dark and despair-filled place since my junior year in high school. And I’m almost 60!

But after MANY years of pain and many attempts to free myself, God gave me the courage to let the scales and a number go.

I have felt SO free this year.  No more early morning self-condemnation.

Instead, I TRY to measure my day by pleasing Him.  How?

  • by relying on His Spirit to do every task in the day.

Do I forget?  Yes, but encouragement from other Christians retools my focus. Just last week a gal wrote about battling unbelief.  The takeaway for me from her article was this:

Each hour I DON’T pray, I’m saying to God:  “I got this next hour, God.  I don’t need your help!”

John 8:36 – So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free

Truth ‘trumps’ fear

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No, I don’t mean Donald.

Truth, God’s truth, is the only remedy against fear and foreboding.

Truth by TK

2 Cor 5:7    For we live by believing and not by seeing

Hebrews 11:13  All these people died having faith

A dear friend in his late 50s struggles with the reality of sharing life with an aging church family, many of whom daily face diminishing health and abilities.  Yes, he IS a believer and he DOES rely on the FACT of his salvation. He DOES depend on the GRACE of God throughout the day and he most definitely DOES exercise faith by asking God for what he and others need. Yet, he is afraid of his own physical and mental decline and eventual death.  He views his life here on earth as DECLINE.  And ‘heaven’ is nebulous.

I have NOT responded well.  Nearing 60 myself, I lack skill in showing empathy.

At one end of my response spectrum, I shine at’ arguing logically’ WHY people should not think or feel a certain way. I am practiced at exhorting friends and family to view X situation in the light of T, that is God’s Truth.

And I do know how to offer sympathy – sort of.

But empathy?  What’s that?

Thanks to our guidance counselor at my secular middle school (God’s common grace!), I’m learning this different response that actually spreads balm.  EMPATHY offers this to a hurting soul:

  • That must feel frightening (frustrating, draining….) or THAT must be a relief (a welcome response, a comfort…).

Empathy does nothing more; it simply holds out a non-judgmental and safe space for someone to communicate just how they feel.  And often, THAT is the best gift you can give to a friend.

And if the friend WANTS or ASKS for help, only then should you offer a suggestion.

But….next time if my dear friend asks me, as a Christian,  how I handle the prospect of physical and perhaps cognitive decline followed by death,  here is what I might say:

Me: You believe God saved you, right?  How do you know?

Friend: I know because I believe the Bible passages that lay out the requirements for salvation, specifically Ephesians 2:8 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Me: Good!  And how do you handle the daily challenges and needs of life?

Friend:  I pray and ask God for His help.

Me: And well you should.  How about applying that same act to THIS situation, THIS fear. Exercise the faith that God has given you and turn to Him for His help.  For here is the TRUTH about God:

Psalm 68:19 –  Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

Since that is true, then we should…..

Psalm 55:22 – Cast on the LORD whatever he sends your way, and he will sustain you.

And since we know THAT fact, we then can turn to another promise….

Isaiah 46:4a – Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you

Therefore, we can confidently obey God when He commands:

Isaiah 41:10 – Do not fear [anything], for I am with youDo not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you; I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation]. (Amplified)

So, if we go back to the 2 promises at the start of this post about how we live and how we die, we are told and shown that ALL of life, breath to breath is by faith.

I know you would agree that we DON’T live by seeing the provision and direction ahead of time, but we trust by faith that the God of the Bible WILL come through and do what He promises to do.  That has GOT to be enough.

Sleepless nights – when are they a good thing?

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Restless and troubled by this persistent dream, she could not sleep.  Foreboding thoughts and feelings flitted along the edges of her semi-conscious mind. What did her dream mean? Why was THAT man even in her husband’s presence? Pontius had not mentioned last night at dinner that he was holding in the dungeons this Rabbi and Healer, the talk of all Jerusalem.

Pontius Pilate's wife

She fell back to sleep and the dark drama continued. She watched with horror as the man called ‘The Christ’ silently endured beatings and taunting.  The soldiers who jeered, smirked and spat on the suffering, compliant victim were HER husband’s men. Her heart felt like it was about to leap out of her chest, her mouth ready to shriek in protest.

In her dream, compelled forward to watch the horror of merciless mocking and abuse, she had pressed around her imposing husband’s back. But this stocky man, transfixed and silent, would not let her edge around him to see.  Blocked then, she nonetheless heard the snapping whips, thudding and biting torn flesh. She recoiled as each whistling lash found its mark.

She had woken with a start, shivering in a cold sweat. What was she to make of this dream?  Resolve forming, she called her maidservants to fetch water to wash and dress for the day.  Maybe she could stop from happening that which no earthly person in the palace had told her about.

*

It is vain for you to rise early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of anxious labors—
For He gives [blessings] to His beloved, even in his, sleep.  Psalm 127:2

What keeps you awake at night?  I remember reading about Andrée Seu Peterson years ago and how for about 18 months, God kept her from sleep-filled nights.  What I recall is that she eventually accepted this suffering as a gift from God and used it to pray and read her Bible. Then, all of a sudden, God restored her sleep.

Then there are those Bible characters whose sleep is interrupted by Divine dreams. Heroes of faith like the two Josephs: Jacob’s son from Genesis and the much later legal dad of Jesus – THAT Joseph.  There were also those traveling sages from the East who were warned in a dream NOT to report back to Herod.  And you remember Paul who recounted in Acts 16:9 about when he received specific guidance – “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Not only God’s people, but major players in history have puzzled over dreams like Egypt’s Pharaoh with the fat cows and lean cows (as well as the baker and the wine steward sharing a prison cell with Joseph, Bar Jacob). King Nebuchadnezzar also suffered nightmares that no one but Daniel could interpret, thanks to God’s wisdom.

Divine dreams that communicate a message are positive, GOOD reasons for sleeplessness. But I know you are probably as familiar as I am with the negative and sinful impediments to a rest-filled night.  Yes, I’m talking about not being able to sleep due to the anxieties of the previous 24 hours or of the morning soon to break.

Sometimes, my mind races with too many thoughts and I can’t settle it.  Not that I am worried……but I can’t shut it off.  Is that sinful?

The other night I didn’t get home until 13 +hours after I had descended our Smoky Mountain cove en route to Asheville.  Then, after school, I had headed to an evening meeting, eventually walking into our home a little before 8 pm.  I go to bed fairly early on school nights, so there was little decompress time – especially since I shared with Mike about the day (I had been professionally reviewed by my principal) as well as the meeting later on.

My mind was running at an RPM speed normal for my active day.  The thoughts continued as I settled into bed a little after 9 pm. I know we are commanded to count on (trust) Jesus and hand over ALL of our cares, for He promises to take them on.  I wasn’t ‘worried’, nonetheless the grey cells labored on.

Eventually I fell into a deep sleep, but awoke exhausted the next day.  Was it my fault? Could I have handled the night differently?   My first defense was: “I couldn’t help it!” Normally I DO slow down after dinner; the conversation is less intellectually engaging, I read the paper and then a book to prevent electronic stimulation.

But saying ‘it’s not my fault’ is irrelevant and doesn’t help.  Our good Father actually gives us tools to use.  Thinking about this kind of night since then I’ve come up with a plan.  I’m going to do what Christ exhorts us through Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ………And the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:8, 9b

I want that kind of peace at night, don’t you?  But what assurance do you and I have that we’ll be able to KEEP our thoughts fixed on the above worthy topics? Just the fact that what God commands us to do, He gives us His strength to do. (I’m encouraged by Paul’s teaching in the same letter: “…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  Phil 2:13)

And just which topics are true, noble, right,…..?  We can start with recalling truths about God – who He is, what He has done and what He promises those who call Him Father.

PS:  Back to the story at the beginning of this post – what do you think?  Will we encounter Mrs. Pontius in heaven?  What about her husband?

Sarah, Sex and the Hall of Fame

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Sarah and Abraham have a baby

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Hebrews 11:11

The above verse resolves the perennial debate between those who pit James against Paul in this tricky question of doctrine:

  •  Which is sufficient for justification –  faith or deeds?

How is that?  Consider…..

Sarah was long past the age of childbearing and her husband was no longer virile when she overheard the angels assuring Abraham that in a year’s time she would give birth to a baby.

Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”…Genesis 18:12-14

So what happened?  Did Abraham and Sarah trust God’s message to them?  His word certainly affirms that they did.

Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3b repeating Genesis 15:6)

**

Impossible situations

What struck me the other day is that both Paul and James are correct.  Abraham and Sarah DID trust as fact the unbelievable news that they would be able carry out the physical sex act together AND conceive AND give birth to a baby. And based on their counting as true God’s promise, they physically came together in a sexual union and the aging body parts worked and…voilà…9 months later, Isaac was born.

Do you see how considering God’s word as good as reality the foundation for the actions that follow? It’s not an either faith/or action but a both/and way to live!

Let’s bring the Sarah and Abraham illustration into our lives. Where are you facing something too unimaginable for you to believe God could or would actually do the ‘impossible’?  Have you sensed God directing you to take a step of faith and trust Him to work through you, accomplishing something that common sense, or intuition or worldly wisdom say COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE DONE?

God commands us to**:

  • confess our unbelief and admit we need help to trust Him
  • believe him and roll each and every heavy, worrying situation onto Him.  Next we are to…
  • pull out one of God’s promises of future grace and relying on that,  we are to…..
  • move out and take the action, step by step as He shows us.  Finally, we are to…
  • give Him thanks and praise when He has done the ‘impossible’ through us and in our situation

(**the above formula comes from Pastor John Piper in his acronym APTAT – admit, pray, trust, act, thank)

What helps me is to rest in the assurance that if God commands this kind of obedience, then He will help me each step along what appears to be an obscured road.  Reassuring to me is the FACT that His word promises light for the next segment of the journey and at the right moment.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

 

God sees ahead and provides for our every day needs – getting real

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el roi

Let’s look at the mom who bore Abraham’s first son.  You remember Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave?   Recall also God’s promise to make Abraham the father of multitudes. Ten long years of trusting and following normal reproductive practices had not produced a child for Abraham and Sarah. A bitter wife decided to initiate her own Plan B and foisted Hagar on Abraham.   And voilà – Hagar conceived.  And gloated. And Sarah couldn’t stand it.  She vented her pain of broken dreams and resentment on her slave and Hagar fled into the wilderness.

There by a stream the angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar, asking the rhetorical question about what she was doing. After an honest reply: ‘the angel of the LORD said to her,
“Behold, you are pregnant
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael
because the LORD has listened to your affliction.”  Gen 16:11

I want us to look at this mom’s response to an unimaginable pronouncement of blessing:

She gave this name (El Roi) to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

If you’ve been reading your Bible for a while, you know that the names of God are actually attributes or characteristics of God. The good news about that fact is that since God never changes and is 100 % trustworthy (or He wouldn’t be God), we can count on these qualities.  Looking at the name El Roi, we know that El means God.  What’s most fascinating for me is that:

El Roi is not 2 words, but literally 3 words – (the) seeing God who sees.

And if God SEES ahead then He will not leave it at that, He also is the God who provides what we need IN those future circumstances.

Just look at the word ‘provide’: It comes from the Latin

provide (v.) 
early 15c., from Latin providere “look ahead, prepare, supply, act with foresight,” from pro- “ahead” (see pro-) + videre “to see” (see vision). 

So the seeing God who sees is by definition the God who supplies our needs.

This aspect of God, for both Mike and me, is growing more and more central to our lives.  Maybe what I mean is that we are growing stronger in our commitment and ability to take Him at His word and trust Him.

This past week we had some medical issues where God gifted us with some practical exercises (homework?).  The choice was clear, A or B:

A – give in to the sin of unbelief, that is the temptation to worry or

B – cast each of these cares and their component parts on the One who promises to provide our EVERY need.

I’ve been experiencing a swollen lip and uncommonly chapped lips for 4 weeks and no home remedy worked. Mike continued to urge me to see a doctor.  It’s a pain when you’re a teacher and live 45 minutes away from your doctor.  And besides, I felt stupid.

But Thursday night as I was in bed, I resolved to call the next day and SEE if just maybe I could schedule an appointment for the following Tuesday after school, the earliest that school commitments would allow. This time, I uncommonly, but deliberately chose to take God at His Word and give this coordinating detail over to Him. I slept peacefully.

When I called, I actually found out that my doctor had a cancellation at 3:45 pm THAT VERY day, Friday.  Without knowing how THAT slot would work out since I was scheduled to be with students on a tour of facilities for the homeless of Asheville, I said ‘yes’.  Step 1 had fallen into place in an unanticipated way.  Next was to figure out how I could drive away from the city by 3 pm to arrive in my hometown by 3:45.  I ‘rolled’ THOSE details onto my Provider and He came through:

  • I arranged to follow the bus to where the kids were going to be dropped off.  Found parking.  The bus returned in time to collect them and thanks to Miss GPS, I navigated from the unfamiliar location onto my interstate.  My handing over to the ruler of the universe the unpredictability of Friday afternoon traffic amid harried, tired drivers bore fruit and I arrived on time to my appointment.  The doctor prescribed an Rx and I headed to the pharmacy.
  • But the pharmacy never received the Rx sent via the computer.  A bonus extra credit opportunity from God.  I texted my doctor for the first time, not sure the number would work.  It did.  He did what he had to and later that night the pharmacy texted that the Rx could be picked up on the morrow.
  • And as frosting on the cake, the lost time after school on Friday that I normally spend inputting grades and readying for Monday, God gave me Friday morning in some unusual circumstances.  I hadn’t even WORRIED or ASKED Him about that need!

Our good God beautifully handled LOTS of details of this current problem. (God is good all the time, the horror of the evil terrorist attacks in Paris, notwithstanding).

Although maybe minor in the life of other believers, this growth in turning over to God a problem in lieu of clinging and worrying and imagining all the ‘what-ifs’ IS a major step for me.  Listening daily to John Piper sermons, his teaching that the sin of unbelief IS the root sin of all other sins has penetrated my mind and heart in a tangible way.  The drip method works!

Even Jesus taught this lesson in His instructions of the ideal prayer: in essence we plead, “Keep us from succumbing to temptations and deliver us from this and all evil!”

Unbelief IS evil in face of God’s commands to:

  • fear not
  • worry not
  • trust on
  • turn over all concerns
  • dwell on His faithfulness

What I’m learning is that I have to catch the first signs of unbelief as new thoughts of possible (bad) future scenarios spring up in my imagination. Stopping those ponderings and substituting TRUTHS about God IS the fight against unbelief.  Our baseless but SEEMINGLY real conclusions have to be weeded out ruthlessly as part of our ongoing preventative maintenance of the life of faith.  If allowed to take root, musings quickly grow into debilitating feelings.

To cement this new growth in trusting God, both Mike and I were handed our next challenge; an excruciating toothache that kept him slumber-less on that Friday night.

toothache

I quickly spotted the follow-on challenge to this week’s homework.  I handed over to my good Provider the problem of getting in to see the dentist on Saturday. And pulled up each thought/fear weed contrary to God’s word.  Result?

  • Mike’s dentist returned my cell-phone emergency message I left at 7:30 am
  • He spoke with Mike about 8:30 am
  • He told him to come by for Rxs for a painkiller and antibiotic before noon
  • When we stopped by, he actually took Mike back and looked at the crown job completed earlier in the week and is referring him to the endodontist.
  • When the pain killer didn’t seem to last long and Mike thought about the article deadline looming where he had to think clearly, write and submit his defense piece to his editor Sunday night, we together stared down the temptation to doubt. We encouraged each other to trust the ‘seeing God who sees’ ahead and supplies the need at the perfect moment.  We have learned by now that God who is intent on growing our trust won’t furnish resources AHEAD of time.

It’s now 5 pm.  Mike has finished his writing; the painkiller he took at 10 am seems to have worked well enough to keep the pain down.

We are geared up for the next need we are handing over to El Roi, that of getting in to see the endodontist SOON.  Pray with us that we won’t falter and succumb to this temptation. Satan loves to blow on any crabgrass of disbelief like he did with Eve in the garden.

Didn’t you know that weeding gloves are an indispensable part of the armor of God!

weedking gloves

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