Glad to be dependent on God

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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  2 Cor 12:9

I recognize that I am needy.  I experience my inadequacy most often as a teacher.  There never FEELS like enough time to get my plans done.  And to think on my feet and change gears to meet the interest and energy level of my middle-schoolers stresses me.

So DAILY I ask God for His help.  And He comes through.  Always.  As He has done for the past 27 years of teaching.

So what’s the problem? Plain and simple, I just don’t like having to depend on God day after day.  That’s the truth of the matter.  This past Monday, God enabled me to be sharp, to sparkle, and to adjust rapidly to my students.  It was a packed day, but because of the grace He supplied, I made it successfully to the end.  My heart response after thanking Him was pathetic and belied my spoken gratitude:  “Oh no, now I have to depend on Him all over again. Tomorrow!”

Then by God’s kind providence, on my drive home I listened to a John Piper sermon.  Piper was preaching on the duty and joy of delighting in God, his favorite topic.  IN PASSING, he spoke of Paul’s personal reaction to being needy.  Linking to some recent teaching by Nancy Guthrie, I recalled how she pointed out the POWER Paul describes as a benefit to neediness. (See above verse clause highlighted in red).

I also remember previously looking up the Greek word for ‘boast’ because that English translation didn’t seem to fit the context Paul was describing.  Why use a word that means to vaunt or strut?

The Greek word is kauchaomai and it means to glory in, to take joy in, to be glad about.

There you go! Paul is glad about being needy because God’s power episkēnoō or ABIDES WITH him. 

Do you see it? Not only is it NOT a bad thing to be needy and dependent on God, but it is a gift, a BLESSING. After our salvation, awareness of our state of neediness is another advantage or aspect of our divine endowment. How so?  Our weakness or ‘poverty’ keeps us calling on Him, keeps us close by, in His shelter.  This is how we have ‘communion with God’.  Do you recall how David says, It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. (Psalm 119:71 KJV)

When we rely on God for everything, instead of depending on our ‘gifting’ or strengths,  we receive Christ’s supernatural power.  He ‘tents’ over us, descending and RESTING on us.

Just picturing God’s power hovering over me prompts connections to other facts.  For instance, James (1:2-4) exhorts us to…. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

This morning I affirmed how good my Father is to create me to be needy, for then I cling to him.  And that is the conduit for communion with Him and power from Jesus, via the Holy Spirit.

Father, please remove that deep groove of wrong thinking that values ‘IN-dependence’ over neediness.  Carve a new and permanent default pathway in my thinking, through constant gratitude for such a mighty God like you!

 

 

The shadows

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 ‘Once, for sure, you belonged to the shadows, but now, by means of your union with the Lord, you belong to the light. ‘  translation of Ephesians 5:8 from the French  ‘Bible du Semeur’ –  (Autrefois, certes, vous apparteniez aux ténèbres, mais à présent, par votre union avec le Seigneur, vous appartenez à la lumière.)

I’ve been praying for and encouraging a good friend as he has sojourned amongst the shadows this year.  Depression is hard.  Hard on the one afflicted and painful also for those who love the sufferer.  How to encourage, support, and pray for such a one in a dark time requires listening well and prayerful dependence on God

So yesterday, while studying Ephesians, I read the verse at the top of this post with fresh eyes, aware of my friend who has been dwelling “….in this parched and weary land where there is no water” – Psalm 63:1 (NLT)

Here are the Gospel facts the Holy Spirit impressed on me:  Believers who have been adopted by God used to be subject to the king of darkness, Satan.  No more.  We are now subject to King Jesus.  Colossians 1:12-13 states – giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

So how can it be that believers might walk in and out of the shadows, or feel trapped in dry and dark pits?

I don’t know.  There are many reasons.  Some chemical, some temperamental and some the result of a piling on of one blow after another.  Aka, suffering.

Why God allows or orders these circumstances is not as important as what He has to say about His rescue plans.

So how do we help our suffering friends?

  • First and foremost, keep praying Scripture OVER them.  Don’t cease.  Maybe in their presence, but mostly when we are alone with God.
  • When appropriate, we can gently point them to one Truth from God’s word to cling to.  A short promise or fact.  Like, ” You belong to the Light of the World who is Jesus.”  or…”there is an appointed end to this trial” or “Jesus is our Rescuer, always!”

Much more can be said, but here is an image that helps me. I pray that God will show me a time when my friend might be receptive to this idea.  It’s this:

Jesus has placed an open door directly in front of us.  We don’t have to hunt for it, like the holy grail or the fountain of youth.

What open door is that?  The one Jesus mentions to the church in Philadelphia:

Rev 3:8  I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

There are several possible interpretations of this open door.  Commentaries I checked mentioned:

  • a way to take the Gospel to those who have yet to hear the good news of Christ the Savior.
  • access to spiritual resources to help in persecution.
  • close proximity to those in need.

But I like yet another way of looking at the ‘Open Door’ Jesus has placed prominently before our eyes.  I read this in a French devotional yesterday, called La Bonne Semance.

Here is the translation:  “Jesus is also the open door to depart from our personal thoughts, our failures, our past……” 

Jesus places the Open Door wherever believers are, to include in those depressing, demoralizing, energy-sapping dry places in the shadows. By God’s powerful Spirit working in His children, the depressed believer CAN leave behind the cheerless gloom and step through the door into the ‘Marvelous Light’ (1 Peter 2:9).  By God’s grace.

Let us remind our dear friends AND us, whether in the shadows or simply engaged in fighting sin, about Jesus’ open door policy!

And for you who faithfully accompany your struggling friend, here’s a strong promise of future Rescue:

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Zech 9:11

 

Putting God’s peace on the shelf

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Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (NIV)

What strikes me from the three promises above is that God’s providential peace and God’s providential trouble form the ‘normal’ for the Child of God. (Those outside of God’s family face the suffering without the grace of His peace)

The supernatural spiritual peace we have received is a GIFT.  Yet when I think of all the gifts I have been given by friends and family, I shudder at how I have disposed of them.

Some intrigued me for a while and I used them, a lot.  But then I either put them aside and forgot about them or threw them away. Some I didn’t know what to do with, like the rubber tube about an inch or so in diameter open on both ends.  When I finally took it to my daughter-in-law to ask her ‘What in the heck is this for?’, I laughed to find out it was a garlic skin remover.  Others I regifted, immediately.  A few I even returned for the cash!

Similarly, I have treated God’s gift of peace, without the awe and gratitude it deserves.  Thankfully, a prayer I read this morning reminded me NOT to fear present or future suffering but to cling to the peace that is part of my inheritance from God.

So…. YES, trials ARE ordained for us, for our sanctification.  But God has given us His peace, which surrounds us on all sides.  This beyond-words peace (“….God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand – Phil 4:7 NLT) IS larger than our troubles and suffering.  The gift has been given.  Let us not put this beautiful provision out of sight, on the shelf.

But instead may we fix our gaze, that is, the eyes of our heart, on our costly birthright purchased for us by Jesus at the Cross.

 

Jesus’ 4 invitations

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A French devotional I read each morning gave me the gift of noticing 4 invitations in the Gospel of Matthew.  Each offer Jesus extended to His hearers began with the verb, “Come!”

I looked up the four verses, spotted a progression and jotted down what I noticed.

So ‘come’ ponder and reflect with me.  Then evaluate which invitations you have already accepted and which ones remain unanswered.

# 1 Come, follow me, ”Jesus said, – Matt 4:19a

This seems to be the starting point of the Christian life.  Jesus invites us to move toward Him, stay close and watch what He does.  But notice:  He is not stationary but on the move. We have to keep up with Him if we are to see what He is doing.

When did this invitation penetrate my consciousness?  One Sunday evening when I was about 24.  It was…..

  • after I HEARD for the first time that I was a rebel, devoid of any self-directed means to make things right between me and God, the Father….
  • after I gratefully accepted the Father’s pardon, based on Jesus willingly being punished for me

it was THEN that I took hold of the invitation to follow Him, gratefully acknowledging my new clothes of His righteousness to cover my sinful nature.

What changed for me outwardly? I would say it was …….opening the Bible and understanding for the first time the truth of who God is.

That phase lasted a LONG time.  Numerous distractions interfered.  My obsession with overeating and body image…..family worries…..work stuff.  We all have our version of worldly idols.

Eventually, my ears noticed a new message on God’s frequency:

# 2 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt 11:28-29

I like to dial down, translate or re-word verses for me.  So I saw Jesus’ invitation like this:  Come and off-load your burdensome agenda and priorities. Notice that you are harnessed WITH me.  With freed-up shoulders, take up and share MY much lighter burden and My plan for your and My life together. (I’ll handle your issues and preoccupations.)  Move along WITH me, at MY pace…as you still complete your tasks and fulfilling your obligations.

Every day I have to pause and ask myself, “Maria, can you even take in this amazing offer?  to actually work with Jesus, to share His heart?  to offer encouragement and comfort and a pair of hands to hurting neighbors and enemies?”  What I find is this –  that often when I’m not even thinking of Jesus, I discover, AFTER the fact, that He has guided my words, my hands, my presence for His purposes.

As for the next call of Jesus, I’m JUST beginning to hear and respond, intrigued, captivated by His words:

# 3 “Come to the wedding feast.” Matt 22:4  Right now?  in this body, on this earth?  I thought the wedding feast was in the world to come!  Yes and no.  It appears that the festal preparatory celebrations have already started.  Now. For those who are IN Christ.

My re-worded, dialed-down-for-Maria version is this:  The wedding party for My Son has already begun. And you, Maria, one of my elect, have been invited.  You already have your wedding clothes on.  I recognize My Son’s style of dress.  Life here on this earth is NOT all suffering and work. There is joy to be had NOW! 

I am slowly noticing the connection between LEARNING to experience the many moments of joy and pleasure He gives and the final invitation that is assured me.

# 4 Then the king will say to those on His right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. Matt 25:34

Jesus tells His followers that one day soon, on the other side of this life on this earth, we WILL hear this last invitation.  If we have accepted the first invitation, then even if we miss numbers 2 and 3, we are still guaranteed this culminating honor and gift.

The way I think of it is this:  Psalm 16:11 gives us a hint of the future by mentioning total joy and limitless pleasures. ‘In Your presence is fullness of JOY and pleasures evermore’  

The joy and pleasures I experience now are minuscule tastes and weak sips of what is to come. But they are REAL.

Your most intense joy is probably different from mine.  Without a doubt, my top earthly joy are those moments of reconciliation with Mike after a painful misunderstanding.  When I experience peace, oneness and total love for and from him.  I KNOW this savoring of intense joy is a glimpse and guarantee of the joy to come.  And in the future world with God, it won’t be an occasional moment, here and then.  But FULLNESS of joy. Really!  God promises.

Pleasures?  There are too many and I can’t rank order them.  Some are: that intense sexual moment with my long-time dear husband, a satisfying shared meal, drinking in outdoor beauty, whether the Smoky mountains or a rose or the salty smell of the sea, reading something well written when I’m fully alert, emptied healthy bowels, 8 hours of solid sleep, speaking FRENCH with someone, seeing something new in God’s Word, connecting with a friend in a CS Lewis sort of way, ‘You, too?’ and that happy tired feeling after a hike.

Again, these are tokens of the pleasures that await.  The future pleasures will not be fleeting and they will last forever.  A happy challenge to my imagination.

So, dear reader, which invitations have you accepted?  And how are you using your creative mind to build up your anticipation for what awaits?  Why else do you think the good Father gave us the skill of picturing something not yet?  To worry and angst about circumstances in the here and now?  Not!!

 

 

Why pray? The power of love, hospitals and gifts.

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1 Peter 4:7-10 (NIV)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 

Are you stuck in a trying situation or have a problem for which there seems to be no imaginable solution?  Life is full of problems. No surprise for Jesus promised such tribulation, in case you thought something was amiss and there shouldn’t be all this pain.  (But He also encouraged us to cheer up because of what He would do on our behalf.- see John 16:33)

I like to commit Scripture to memory.  So I’ve been living with the Apostle Peter as I’ve made my way slowly through his first letter to scattered believers.  Memorizing the book, verse by verse, since January 2017, has provided me with rich meditation.

Recently a new insight in the above passage struck me.  ‘The end of all things is near.”  The straightforward plain reading of the text seems to be that Jesus will be back sooner than we think.  However, from our perspective (and if you think about the recipients of the letter 2 millennia earlier) the end is taking A LONG time in arriving!

Last week as I rehearsed what I ‘have’ inside of me from chapter 4, I saw something different in the above verses.  I thought about my friend Pat.  This pen-pal friend is in her late 60s and suffers from late-onset depression.  She was 60 before this darkness descended.  Meds appear to work for a while and then stop and her doctor tries out something else that might provide relief.   My new insight was this: what if God means, ‘the end of this particular trial that dominates her life right now’ is near?

If that’s the case and since God calls us to bear one another’s burdens, what can I, Maria, do to hasten Pat’s imminent relief from this disease?  Peter provides a prescription.  I’m to:

  • Be clear minded, or as another translation renders it sober up, that is ‘get a grip’ about what is important in the eternal scheme of things (and it’s not 75 % of what I churn about!)  Why?  So I can pray.  I’m to pray for my suffering sister.  We Christians are to corral and curate our thought life so we can pray for others.  Why?  Because God uses our prayers to bring an end to our brothers’ and sisters’ pains and trials.
  • Next, I’m to love this friend, that is to do what I can to make her life easier.  God gives us imaginations so we can put ourselves in someone else’s situation and understand what we would like in terms of relief and assistance.  Pat lives in Texas and I live in North Carolina.  So besides praying, I can keep in touch through mail, phone calls and texts.
  • Then what about the hospitality Peter mentions?  I love knowing that reaching out to those in need is also the origin of our centers for medical care – hospitals.  We are to be mini-hospitals to fellow members of God’s family.
  • Finally, we are to know that God specifically wired us and gifted us with the means to serve one another according to needs we find around us.  I have a friend who knits.  She works to hasten the trials of others by praying over shawls that she creates with love and care.  God did not endow me with that beautiful skill.

So you see, dear friends, God involves us in the very shortening of others’ trials.  But we have to get OUT of ourselves.  The call to pray, love, and provide healing service to those in need is a HIGH CALLING!

If you wonder what is the purpose of your life this day, then look no further.  God has equipped you and me to participate in a God-honoring and life-affirming way.  To Him be all the glory and to us be much joy.

Unfulfilled longings

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When was the last time excitement and happy anticipation filled all your waking thoughts about the future?  Like you were on the cusp of a grand adventure?

I have 3 such vivid memories.

The first was when I was 8.  It was summer.  Mom woke me up to the day of our trip to Europe.  With a rush of happiness I dove into my clothes.  We probably spent a couple of months in Europe that summer.  But I remember no details of that trip, just those few moments waking up and knowing something good was about to happen.

The next such memory was the summer before college.  My parents, my grandmother and I took off on a cross-country road trip from Hampton, Virginia with the goal of sampling the rich variety of America.  I don’t remember any place we visited.  Just the intense longing and excitement for the début of my college experience.  That 3rd week of August could not come fast enough!

The last thrill-providing time, flavored also with a touch of carefreeness, was when Mike and I were in between Army assignments.  We had officially ‘signed out’ of our duty stations in Germany and had NO responsibilities.  We leisurely spent 10 days, all expenses paid, staying in a cute German hotel, while we completed the out-processing steps typical of a bureaucracy.  Ahead of us were 30 days of visiting family, traveling coast to coast while angling south to our next assignment at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.  We also were expecting our first child and toyed with the idea of buying our first home.  The future glittered bright.

Since then?  It sounds sad, but I can’t recall anything else that has filled me with such pure joy, as intense as that very first morning.  But I keep longing for that something.

The other night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I wallowed in some self-pity and dread about work on the morrow.  Once again, I found myself tugging at God’s shirtsleeve and pleading for a new job to replace the one He has given me.  Yes, I am grateful for the income, but I long for something different.  Yet I fear more often than not that He only gives what is ‘hard’ and a ‘pain’ because through suffering we learn how to lean into Him. And I don’t give up asking and praying.

This morning I had my thinking tweaked in a helpful manner by John Piper.  His sermon about our inheritance as children, heirs and fellow sufferers with Christ reminded me that the way God has created this world is NOT for us to find ultimate satisfaction in earthly pleasures.

Yet He has wired us to WANT to be satisfied, to be thrilled, to be delighted and excited about the future.  So what’s up with that?  Is God a ‘cosmic kill-joy’?

May it never be thought so!  CS Lewis wrote once about unfulfilled desires when he penned:

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

So, what I concluded last night was this:  My longing for a job or SOMETHING that will thrill me is not wrong.  God put that ache in me by design.  But He never intended me to seek to satisfy it HERE on Earth with activities like: hot cars, extreme sports, binge shopping, or completing one’s bucket list.

He has told us in His Word that we ARE to stoke up our desire and longings, but not for what this world offers.  Rather we are to focus our yearnings on what He has promised and prepared for those who belong to Him.

“and we have a priceless inheritance–an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” 1 Peter 1:4

Just knowing and meditating on the FACT that ONE DAY all those hungers will be über-fulfilled IS enough for today.  In fact, each day I live brings me one day closer to my inheritance and that forever life WITH our happy, triune God.

“….in Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11

 

Communion – an engagement promise reminder

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engagement-ring  I’ve struggled for years to grasp the spiritual richness of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist.

Many Catholics and Episcopalians regard this sacrament as the highlight of their weekly worship experience.  I know.  I’ve talked with them, trying to glimpse and sense what it is that nourishes them so richly.

It’s NOT like I don’t make an effort to meditate on what Jesus suffered for me personally by going to the cross. It’s just that I feel enriched more through the sermon and corporate prayer.  And because some of my friends and family wax on about the centrality of the Eucharist to their worship experience, I keep feeling like I must be missing something.

Reading  Ann Voskamp’s  recent book  the-broken-way The Broken Way, I grasped a fresh understanding of what this sacramental liturgy might represent.

Voskamp reminds her readers that what Jesus performed during that last meal with his friends was a covenant, similar to a wedding vow.  Think about Hebrew culture two millennia ago and and how couples were first betrothed and then married. You’ll recall that the engagement itself bestowed legal status and rights. The initial commitment was the BIG DEAL.

When God births us the first time, we receive the spirit of life. When He births us the second time, He gives us His very own Holy Spirit.  Paul teaches in his letter to the Ephesians at 1:14 – The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.

So you could call the indwelling Spirit of God Jesus’ engagement ring – a very real promissory note whose presence we are meant to sense intimately and enjoy.

But knowing that we humans NEED tangible concrete reminders, Jesus instructed His Bride (us, the Church) to reenact often the engagement ceremony.   Re-reading the account of His vows would be a start, but incomplete.  Jesus put into place a practice of sharing a scaled-down version of the original covenant meal, meant to be enjoyed with re-awakened awe among fellow members of Jesus’ Bride.

Each time we eat and drink tokens from that historic and singular Covenant, we recall what Jesus performed FOR US in order to ‘win’ our hand. A few of those ‘challenges’ He embraced ‘for the joy set before Him’ (Hebrews 12:2)included these deeds:

  • He temporarily emptied Himself of His divine status and privileges and happy community
  • He accepted the weaknesses and degradations of Hebrew poverty under cruel Roman rule
  • He endured hateful and murderous scorn from family, neighbors, church leaders
  • He suffered abuse and murder due to false charges
  • He showed the entire Creation a righteous life, down to the last jot and tittle of the Law’s requirements.  He even exercised complete patience and strength to withstand every temptation Satan could throw at Him.
  • He took on to His perfect body and life all the sins of His Bride and paid off the debt she had accrued.

The New Covenant ceremony Jesus enacted was His announcement of His coming marriage to US!!!! And until the wedding date, He promised a Helper who would be the deposit guaranteeing this promised union and subsequent inheritance.  During the Covenant Supper He described the home He was going off to make ready for His Bride. And He told His Bride not only to ponder the reality of her new status as legally betrothed bride, but also to cash in the promises and call on her bridegroom’s Father who would now be her Father, too!

Can you catch a glimpse of the rich layers of this Covenant Reenactment and how much we need it?  

I frequently forget that you and I are legally engaged to Jesus.  With rights and privileges that make a difference in this life.  And although our Bridegroom has gone ahead to make our home ready, He has not left us alone.  He has given the Church His best friend who is His stand-in until He comes for us.  This supernatural Helper is the same as Jesus; only He is inside of each born-from-above believer, whereas Jesus in His resurrected flesh is with the Father. For the time being!

Ann Voskamp’s lavish unpacking of ‘Communion’ has made me very glad that our church holds to a regular reenactment of the engagement covenant.  I easily forget.  

Thank you, Jesus, that You have commanded that we DO this to remember You.

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