Do you ask questions of a verse?

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Isaiah 43:20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland

And just how do animals honor God?

I must have ‘run through’ this verse numerous times without ever stopping to consider, to ponder, to PICTURE just what animals do with the water. Just how DO they drink, so that the Lord calls it honoring to Him?

The wilderness is not a place known for abundance of water. That animals and people alike all need water to live is a given. We can’t create water OR food for that matter out of nothing. Only God can.

So, what is the big deal about this particular verse that the Holy Spirit directed Isaiah to pen? It’s that I paused long enough to ask a second question. What kind of animal would balk at drinking water if he were thirsty? None.

When the Lord provides what the animals need, He is pleased when they USE His gifts. That’s what He wants. This is how they glorify Him, how they give Him honor (giving ‘kabod’ in the Hebrew) for His provision.

What about us, what about ME? Do I always honor God for His provision? Well, when I don’t use His gifts for their purpose, I can see that I DIS-honor Him. Not submitting to His wise gifts, ignoring them is a way of denying God’s provision. It’s a withholding ‘the glory due His name’ Psalm 29:2 Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

Last Sunday was one of those days when I flatly ignored God’s provision. And He, my good Father, let me ‘thirst’. I was working on a blog post, something I have tended to do on Sundays. But I was craving rest. All I really wanted to do was SIT DOWN and read. But I kept pushing, pushing to edit well and ‘cross the Ts and jot the Is’. You know, those final details that go with uploading a post.

Standing at my computer elevated on a high table in the kitchen area, I realized I had to stop. The time had come for our beloved evening ritual of talking over the day, discussing what we had read while I prepare dinner for us. I tried to gather 5 more minutes for the post, by asking Mike to empty the dishwasher. When he moved on to fixing me a drink, I knew I had to close my laptop. I finished after dinner.

But I was all out of sorts. My mood plummeted. ALL was wrong. That night I lay in bed creating imaginary scenarios, all because I had not allowed myself to rest. My mood poisoned Monday, made worse by the restless night.

Finally it hit me…..as much as I ENJOY writing, it is still work. And I ‘work’ the other 6 days of the week, whether it’s my language tutoring, volunteer gig, household chores, cooking, keeping up with friends who need a word of encouragement or even going to the gym. NONE of it is restorative. I enjoy those activities. But they aren’t rest.

Lightbulb moment! That’s it, I needed a day of rest! Not just one day, but weekly, as something to look forward to.

And He has already given it to me. That is what I saw this morning, reading about the very smart wild animals who make use of the provision that God supplies. Our Creator KNOWS just what we lack. We honor Him by taking up His gifts and enjoying them. By drinking deep. By resting.

So, today is Saturday. If I finish this post, great. If not, it can wait until Monday. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, to my Sabbath rest. Just thinking about sitting out back and reading makes me happy!

I hate tech issues!

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Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully. 1 Peter 5:7 Amplified Bible

Okay, I teach languages on line. I tutor students individually and in groups as well as create content YouTube videos where I tell stories in simple, slow English with lots of images. Each time I upload a video to my channel I create a WordPress post at www.englishwithoutfear.com

Well, yesterday something went wrong, I couldn’t insert the video into the post in the usual way. I spent about an extra 20 minutes trying this or that, to no avail. Then I had to leave it because something was more pressing.

This morning, in my little old school ‘To Do’ flip notebook, I wrote down as # 2 priority: Try again to insert video into post.

It didn’t work. Again, I had to put it aside for my 1 pm tutoring session with Veronika. It’s 8 pm in Moscow when this 10-year-old girl and her mom meet with me on Zoom for a weekly English lesson.

Lesson over, the tech issue with WordPress still loomed. Do I tackle it now or wait until tomorrow?

If I can’t get it to work, then I’ll have to find some contact or help number and hope to get a live person whom I can understand! As I was pondering the situation, ALL OF A SUDDEN (but not out of the blue!) came this thought……………..Problems are the prelude to praise.

I don’t think I’ve read that recently, it just popped into my mind. ‘How perfectly true!’ I responded. Then smiled. Okay…I WON’T put it off until tomorrow. Let me sit down and see if I can find a contact number and talk to someone.

Searching the WordPress site, I noticed the indicator of 10 new plugin updates. I usually ignore those. But this time I said to myself: ‘What the heck, I might as well…….’ There were some other feature updates that I took care of, too.

‘Huh’, I wondered, ‘what if by doing all these updates the site would work as it was supposed to, allowing me to insert my video into the post? Wouldn’t that just be like the Lord!’

I prayed. I went to the bathroom. Got some water. Then tried again. It worked!!!!

And I praised Him. Problems ARE the prelude to praise. What else but problems force us to depend on God? But it’s not like I DON’T ask His help each time I’m about to tutor a student or plan a lesson or conduct a difficult conversation. “Father, I need you!” frequently comes out of my mouth as I acknowledge my inability to do X without God’s help.

But it’s those dreaded inopportune problems, the painful situations, and the decisions with no apparent good options that cause me to cling all the more to Jesus. The tech issue of today was just another pop quiz GIFT sent my way, reminding me of my helplessness and lack of control over any outcome.

Thank you, Father, that this was a gentle reminder. Your mercies never cease, they are fresh every dawn, ready and waiting. (Lam 3:23)

Last week’s birthday present from God

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Last Thursday was my birthday and it ranks the best I’ve celebrated in a long while.   One I won’t forget, for sure.

What made it so meaningful? Was it the fact that when I walked into my Orange Theory fitness class, the manager had written a ‘Happy Birthday, Maria!’ message on the tripod chalk board?  What a way to kick off and energize MY day. I felt special, being made much of by the staff

Was it that I got to tutor a 10-year old Russian gal in English and we had a breakthrough in how best to learn English?  No…although that was very satisfying.

Could it be that my husband Mike planned, shopped for, prepared, and plated a delicious steak dinner for me? A first in our 40 years together? We WILL be calling this a new tradition, adding it to our treasure chest of cherished rituals.  I ABSOLUTELY loved this gift, because Mike had announced to me more than 2 weeks prior just what was in the works.  The anticipation of my meal gave me great joy as ‘my day’ approached.

All the above delightful activities marked my celebration.  But the ‘highlight’ was how my heavenly Father humbled and rebuked, via my hairdresser.

Every 8 weeks I sit for 2+ hours in Shannon’s chair.  She ‘refreshes’ my color, washes, conditions and trims my hair.

The salon had rescheduled last week’s original appointment two times. They didn’t check with me first to verify that the new times would work with my calendar.  They just shifted them, notifying me by text.  The new time of 10 am left me with little margin to eat lunch and tutor the Russian gal.  This TIME boundary directed my thoughts and words.  Once the receptionist verified my normal temperature, my first words to Shannon attacked:

” I have to be out of here by 11:45 at the latest because I have another appointment…AND…. (intended to punctuate my seriousness) YOU ALL moved my time twice, putting me in this position!”

Shannon shot back, “Well, THAT’s aggressive!”

Bulls eye!  Her rebuke penetrated my heart. The LORD got me! The Holy Spirit convicted me in meteor-like speed.

Shame filled me!  She was right.  I hadn’t even greeted her with a friendly, “Hi, Shannon. How are you doing?”

Had I treated Mike that way….. launching into a blame-wrapped demand for something from him…….well, I like to think I wouldn’t have.

Yet, here I was entering Shannon’s salon and treating her like a machine, not another human being.

Profuse apologies poured from my mouth as I told her that I was SO sorry and that she was SO right to call me on that.  I knew this was from the Lord.  What kind of ambassador for Christ am I with that kind of interacting?

So, what I did next, was to ask her: “Shannon, can we rewind the scene and start over?”

Desire granted.  I backed up 5-6 feet and walked up to her with a smile: “Hi, Shannon, how are you? Thanks for fitting me in, today.  I know scheduling with Covid restraints is a challenge.”  She played the part with warmth and proceeded to seat me in her chair.

What a gift from my heavenly Father, to see how my self-preoccupation led me to sin. Human beings are all image bearers of Almighty God, worthy of respect and kindness.

I will not forget THAT reminder.  On my birthday, too.  Conviction and the ability to ask pardon and receive forgiveness from the offended, hurt person is a gift.

Oh, Father, take not thy Holy Spirit from me! Thank you that You forgive me when I sin. Because of Jesus. Keep me meditating on your kindness, rather than my schedule.

Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man You discipline, O LORD, and teach from Your law,

 

 

 

Do you use reason to strengthen your faith? God does!

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Isaiah 1:18-20 Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

As the plane rumbled through the sky, I asked myself: Why did you EVER want to come and do this crazy thing, Maria!!!!

Helmet on, hooked up, ‘trapped’ in a shuffling line of other scared young men and women moving toward the open backside of the C-130 military cargo plane, I was about to step out into the air from 1500 feet above the ground.  Trusting that the parachute would open.

Tears stained my sweaty cheeks, but no one saw. I didn’t care, anyway.  I had to make a decision. And I did.

By force of will, I shifted my thoughts AWAY from the terror of stepping out into nothingness and focused on facts:

  • Most people DON’T die when jumping out of planes
  • This is a static line jump; my chute WILL open.  I don’t have to deploy it.

And you know what?  I made it!  The next 4 jumps that week were not nearly as scary. I successfully completed the Army’s Airborne School at Ft Benning, Georgia earning my Parachutist Badge.

I was thinking about that first jump last night when I couldn’t sleep. How I had to simply stop looking at my fears and focus on statistics, on facts.  Immediately I saw the connection to the life of faith over sight.

God teaches us throughout his word to focus on TRUTH, that is ‘divine facts’, to reason FROM them to more truth. To move logically from the following two categories of truth:

  • Who he is, his unchanging characteristics or attributes
  • His promises, bought for Christians by Jesus

Plus, a third and growing category of unshakeable evidence:

  • God’s ‘record’ of coming through for me, in answer to prayer, time and time again.

How long have these 3 categories been my source of strength?

I believe that God swapped out my old heart for a new heart warm toward him when I was 24.  I didn’t grow much until I was 40 and started studying my Bible in Bible Study Fellowship.  I turn 63 next week.  Therefore, my Christian experience was Bible-bereft for 16 years, but now has been Bible-enriched for 23 years. These past 23 years have built my confidence in both our Triune God AND his word.

Even before I was a believer, I knew God answered prayer.  In that very same 3-week Airborne School experience, I called on God to help me. It was Day 1 and we had to run 5 miles and then pass a physical fitness test.  I failed the pull-ups. The next morning, an ‘airborne sergeant’ retested me and gave the green light.  I had been praying fervently.  God came through.  I wasn’t even a believer.  But I have never forgotten God’s goodness to this unrepentant sinner. It was the first time I had prayed a specific, measurable prayer and God came through, immediately, undeniably.

If I add the fears of these Covid times together with ‘normal’ fears, I am getting plenty of practice in CHOOSING to shift my focus from current circumstances to God-facts. I am obeying God’s inviting command to reason prayer-ful-ly with HIM and refocus my view of circumstances through the lens of Ultimate Reality and not through the looking glass of my fears.

This is the only AND sure way I find inner peace:  when I shift my thoughts upward.

 

The promise of beauty deceived me

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Decrepit tulips

The tulips never even opened.  Instead, they started to decay from the moment I placed them in water. The promise of their beauty on display at Target deceived me

I keep flowers all around the house.  This vase is sitting on my bathroom sink. Nearby on Mike’s sink, in contrast, sit some lovely Alstroemeria boasting in their fairness. But somehow the ugliness of the tulips speaks a louder message of truth and I am loathe to toss them.

I sense that I need to embrace the reality that these flowers represent.  This world, this Earth 1.0, IS decrepit, a crumbling place.  No amount of make-up or human enhancements can change this reality.  There IS a curse.

It’s always winter in Narnia – the power of the White Witch reigns. A fact, akin to my decaying tulips.

But just as C.S. Lewis penned, there IS a stronger Truth, an ultimate Power that is at work.  Aslan is coming and a warming, colorful spring heralds this Hope.

Resurrection Sunday, Easter, signals the same for us. A forever summer is drawing nearer. It’s different from summers we have known. Given our few senses, is it even a wonder that we CAN’T imagine a SUPERIOR-summer?

John, guided by the Spirit of God wrote in Revelation 21: 1-4: 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

This renovated, remodeled, new and best of all possible Earths will be Beauty par excellence because the King of Beauty, the LORD Himself will be present with us forever to enjoy.

Since mid-February I have begun to daydream more about this promised future.  I’m beginning to look forward to it.

In the meantime, I thank God for glimpses of beauty, for tastes of goodness here on Earth 1.0. They DO cheer me and lift my spirits. No denying that.  Still, I am sobered by dying reality. A reality that hints at an everlasting Beauty but a reality that cannot hide decay.  Like make-up on a cadaver being prepared for a funeral home viewing.  I’m not fooled. No one is, if they are honest with themselves.

So, this past week, I have learned much from my aborted tulips.  By grace, because of the gift of God’s Word, I know Truth. Jesus.  Though appearing ‘ugly as sin’ because He was MADE to be sin, He was and is and will always Beautiful.

And we believers who, along with my tulips, are decaying, will one day change out our outer layer for new bodies, a final and permanent version 2.0, supernaturally perfect and perpetual.

Aren’t you glad that the best is yet to be?

 

 

 

 

 

Minority report – what Caleb and Joshua concluded

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Once again Mike and I have been ‘walking with the Hebrews’, so to speak, during their 40 years of enforced wandering in the wilderness. I think this is the 9th year that we have read through the Bible in a year, together.  Each studied passage seems to yield new insights about God and his people.

We reached Numbers 13 on 28 Feb of this year, 2020.  The contrast among reports from the 12 scouts regarding the Promised Land struck me like never before.  All twelve scouts saw the same landscape, with its abundant produce during harvest time, noticed the unprotected villages among the fields as well as took note of the scary fortified walled towns. But the conclusions they drew varied, like night and day.

The majority concluded:

We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are……..The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.  And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them. Numbers 13:31-33

But Caleb & Joshua argued for a different conclusion:

The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.  Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them. Numbers 14:7-9

What made the difference? Did the minority reporters NOT see what the other 10 observed?

I’m sure you know the difference.  Caleb & Joshua agreed: “Yes, the men ARE bigger and stronger, but we have YAHWEH on our side!”  God ALWAYS makes the difference.

This Corona Virus is just another example illustrating the folly and danger of reasoning without God. What I call viewing the circumstances ‘naked‘, without God. Most of the non-Christian world, as well as fellow believers, are leaving God out of this global affliction.  As though God had nothing to do with it OR could do nothing about it.

When Christians succumb to panic, our functional ‘gods’ are made visible, what we count on day to day to give us confidence.  Truth is, they won’t hold up for us. Nothing but God can sustain us.  Created props crumble.

We are not truth deniers. We just bring in ALL truth to bear. We ARE realistic when describing the circumstances, but Christians MUST reason to conclusions in a different manner.

In other words, how does belonging to Christ make a difference? (Is Jesus even a factor  is probably the first question to ask oneself.).

Caleb and Joshua did not disagree with their fellow scouts about the strong, numerous big men and the war-readied cities. What allowed these two men to decide a different course of action was their trained reflex to bring God into the equation.

So, too, we who call ourselves believers must steady ourselves with what we know to be true about God. In the past have SEEN him come through……… to rescue, help, guide, heal and protect us…….. numerous times. Furthermore, we have the HOLY Bible to teach us about God. We have His promises.  We have each other. Why should we fear like others who have no hope?

I’ll leave you with God’s personal offer to his people, from Isaiah 1:18: Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD.

 

 

What are YOU gathering?

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Exodus 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.”

Do you collect anything? My cousin Darby for a while collected all things turtle.  My mom collected blue glass. I tend to collect quotes and interesting words. What that means for all of us collectors is that we keep our eyes open for what we value.  We’re always on the hunt.

No doubt you’ve heard the term ‘hunter-gatherers’. It’s a very logical title, isn’t.  We can only gather what we spot, what we notice.  Hunting, searching out something, is the precursor of gathering.

Last week I fed deeply at a conference for my denomination called ‘Refreshed – help and hope for those who are suffering.‘  My major take-away centered on how to pray more biblically for myself and others IN suffering.  (the key? – pray for what God promises to give us in suffering).  Beyond the main theme there was a side ‘nugget’ I picked up that intrigued me, and that was about gathering.

The wandering Hebrews in the above passage learned to hunt for the manna that they were to gather.  Their new habit collecting the white flakey substance lying about in the early morning depended on them looking for it.  Think of an Easter egg hunt.  When their sack was filled with the food substance, they took it back to their tents to bake or boil.

Constrained supernaturally to pick up ONLY enough for the day (and double the amount the morning before the Sabbath), God trained the entire population to depend on Him day by day for their life’s substance, for their food.

God provided, but they had to look for it.

That picture or example transfers so well to the fact of God’s promised daily mercies.  How so? Like the manna, God’s provision or mercies…..

  • are fresh and waiting for us in the morning.
  • and God requires us to scout them out, intentionally.
  • are waiting for us TODAY.
  • We can’t live without them.

How do I gather God’s mercies, His provision for the day?  First off, I trust Him when He says He WILL provide.  After all, He provided yesterday.

I search the Scriptures in my morning quiet time for mercies, through His word.  I DO look forward to my quiet time each morning because I feel so empty.  I long to feel satisfied by what I read in my Bible.  If the assigned portion of Scripture doesn’t meet that hunger, then I know that in my prayers or in Tabletalk, a devotional I read daily or in my current spiritual/ theological book, there will be something that is meant for the day.  Right now, I’m reading a Thomas Watson book on Romans 8:28, a gift from Regina!

In addition to God’s word, I have my eyes peeled for provision, for mercies sent to me through people or circumstances.  Our God is immensely creative.  I’ve made mention of this before, but once I really needed more time one particular school day. I was behind with planning or grading and from looking at my schedule, there was not enough space in the day to meet the need.  God provided by causing a hoax bomb threat call to my school. And after evacuating everyone safely, we all got to go home.  And I had enough time to finish the tasks.  THAT taught me the futility of worrying!

To close, think of Jesus’ prayer that He gave His disciples:  Give us our bread for the day –  a clear parallel to Israel in the wilderness who were given manna for the day.

Back to the title of this post, what are YOU gathering?  What are you hunting for each hour?  Or if you’re not, why is that?

 

 

 

 

 

Do you cringe when you are asked? “Give us your testimony?”

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Last week I attended a volunteer orientation at our local crisis pregnancy center here in Huntsville. Part of the training to be an intake counselor includes how to share God’s good news, the Gospel, using videos from Evantell.org I like their approach because the focus is not on me, but on God.  It’s about sharing good news of what Christ has done.

However, at last week’s briefing, the CPC director encouraged us to think about our own personal testimony and be prepared to share it.

I tend to feel reluctant when I think about how knowing Jesus has changed me. After all, I still sin, A LOT!  My default supposition is:

  • If I had more faith, I would not worry, fear, envy, vaunt myself.

In other words, Maria is NOT a good example of how Jesus makes a difference in someone’s life.

But then something I read gave me hope that perhaps I CAN articulate how knowing Jesus, how BEING ADOPTED by the Father have made a qualitative difference in my life.

It didn’t take long to come up with a few that make a difference each day:

  • I have faith to trust God, a gift.
  • I am far more content in each day’s circumstances because I understand, I know that God is sovereignly directing every molecule in the universe. This God is good, wise, powerful and loving. Even when His plan for me includes trials and suffering.
  • Knowing what life is all about and the purpose of life greatly stabilizes me.  Understanding the BIG PICTURE in other words.  God tells us in His word that He created all things to glorify Him. We, His image-bearers, though sinners, do this more fully because those He predestined to be saved, to be part of His forever family, spotlight His underserved kindness and mercy.
  • I am forgiven of ALL my sins – past, present, future since Jesus was punished in my place.
  • Jesus’ perfect obedience record, that is His righteousness, has been extended to me guaranteeing free access to God, the Father.
  • I am fully known by God, since He created me.
  • I am greatly and maximally loved.
  • I have a new identity. My past or my current behavior doesn’t define me.
  • I have a life purpose that is GREATER than me, one that includes an assigned role in God’s cosmic drama.  As the director and screencaster He planned the location and  timing of my role, my bit part.  I don’t have to know the details of how it’s all working out, for I already know this Story’s happy ending.
  • I have a future with God that is categorically better than this phase on earth.
  • I have guaranteed constant, on-going access (prayer) to the best Counselor who also provides strength, comfort and fellowship with God’s Holy Spirit.
  • I have God’s Word back to me.  The Bible is about God, written by God and daily tailored to my needs when I read and meditate on it. When He woke me up to His presence, He also birthed my desire to read the Bible. This has never left me, but only grows stronger over the years.
  • I have family members where ever I go – that is fellow believers.
  • I have perfect (sufficient) provision for my daily needs.
  • I have protection and rescue from evil.

This then is my testimony.

When is the appropriate time to share my story, how being in Christ, knowing the Lord makes a daily difference in my life now?  After someone has heard who God is and what He has done through Jesus Christ.

Would I share EVERY item? No, just maybe 1 or 2 that would connect best.  Do I have any favorites? I’d say knowing about God’s providential sovereignty over ALL matter together with knowing the Big Picture and my purpose.  Both of these, fueled by the Bible, are causing me to grow in contentment with His rule over my life.

What about you?  Do you have a testimony?

Isaiah 43:6b-7

Bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the ends of the earth—

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.

 

You never gave me a young goat!

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About that goat reference in this post’s title, can you identify whose complaint that was?  If you guessed ‘the Older Brother’, you know your Bible!  Luke records that complaint from Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:29, to be exact.

Mike has been reading G.K.Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy out loud to us in the evenings.  Chesterton takes some time getting used to; I have to concentrate more and think through his prose, almost sentence by sentence.  In our current chapter the author is addressing fairy tales and what they teach us about reality.  Chesterton points out that main characters tend to complain about limitations imposed on them when they should be in awe, marveling over what they actually have been granted.

For example, when Cinderella challenges her fairy godmother about why she has to leave the party before the clock strikes midnight, she should really be captivated by the sheer improbability of EVEN going to the ball!  Where’s her question about that turn of events?  Did she ever imagine she would dance with the Prince, let alone be magically attired in elegance with a chic hairdo to boot? So improbable was that scenario, especially since she had been forced to sew for her step-sisters after cleaning house all day.

How like us humans, to complain.  If we are alive, it is SHEER gift. If we are believers, then we have hit the jackpot of God’s purposeful favor.  The guarantee of everlasting life WITH God is the only true ‘happily ever after’ fairy-tale ending we all long for. Yet, we seem to have eyes for what we lack, what we haven’t been given.

I know this well.  Though I rarely complain out loud, were my inner chatter publicized, I would feel great shame. The time I spend envying, longing, wishing silently…that’s PURE complaining. Whom do I envy?  Those who SEEM to be doing and enjoying what I think would satisfy me.  Like traveling, living overseas.  (I’m a linguaphile.)

Is there hope for envy-addicts? Yes!  And I am experiencing it.  It’s called God’s School of Contentment. I’ve been a student in this training academy for decades, now.

The point is that this addiction has deep roots, so it FEELS like I haven’t made much progress.  My Father gently AND frequently hands me a new lesson. Like this week.

Today in the notes of my Spanish study Bible (one of my tools for acquiring Spanish!) the writers noted that ‘obeying the Lord tends to mean leaving off one thing in order to receive something better.‘  The passage in question was Abram’s leaving Ur, his extended family, the land and even the familiar pagan gods to go where THE one and only God was guiding him, to receive new land and descendants.

How did the Lord use that explanation in my holiness training? Immediately I saw that I am to LEAVE OFF the sinful, evil pleasure of envy, in order to bolster contentment with my lot, the circumstances which He has granted me.  (A corollary evil pleasure of mine is worrying, but that’s another post!)

Those Bible notes were anchored a few minutes later by a verse that ‘popped up’ in my Prayermate app – 1 Tim 6:6 Godliness with Contentment is GREAT gain.

And just how does God define the concept of contentment?  The Greek word is ‘autarkaa’ meaning ‘sufficiency’. Blue Letter Bible describes it like this: ‘A mind that looks at one’s lot and says: IT IS ENOUGH, what You’ve given me IS SUFFICIENT.’

Following that description I read one final thought that deepened my desire to practice this trait:

  • without this contentment I will do today’s deeds NOT as an expression of Christ’s all-sufficiency but in order to make up for some deficiency I feel.

So, same message from a couple of different sources.  To top it off, Regina, my spiritual reading buddy, sent me a Luther quote earlier this week. Scrolling through her texts I found it again: “To obey is better than……. miracles.”

Isn’t our Father good!  He doesn’t give up. He keeps after us to make us ultimately happier through holiness.  The obedience in view here, this day, is thanking God for my boundaries, my lot. Being satisfied, being content with what He deems best for me is part of that holiness training.

Good News for Christmas Blahs

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When did Christmas last feel magical to you? I can’t put a picture to that feeling.  I don’t know where I was living or how old I was, but I KNOW the feeling. The awe, the bigger-than-life impending, wonder-filled reality.  Grownups have a word for that – transcendence.

Sadly, my transcendent experience had nothing to do with the sublime Creator God.  My mom wasn’t a believer then.  She was a single parent raising me with the help of her mother. We three lived together in ‘old-lady’ apartments. (poor me!)  She worked a part-time job and Mimi had some money; I think.

But I remember the pleasure of anticipation, at least one year.  Something mysteriously big was imminent.  And my desire for it mounted.

That vivid memory-moment returns annually this time of year, not to cheer me, but as a sobering reminder.  Seasons leading up to Christmas have never come close to matching that intense joy-filled awareness.

I thought about this last week. It was a Wednesday.  Returning home from sharing a lunch out with a Columbian friend, I walked into the house feeling blah. Nothing to look forward to, was how I felt.  Nothing interested me at that moment. I had no real plans.  Oh, I did have some work I wanted to complete. Another video for my English without Fear channel. But nothing new or exciting waiting for me around the corner.

It was then that a cheerful thought showed up.  A premise of C.S. Lewis. Lewis wrote that if we have a longing (Sehnsucht in German) or a craving that nothing in this life seems to satisfy, it’s because we were made for a different world. A place where there IS a matching fulfillment for each and every yearning.

That God-sent truth rejuvenated me with fresh energy.  King Solomon wrote an entire book about unmet longings. Read all of Ecclesiastes in one setting. It’s short.  This wealthiest and wisest monarch at the time tried EVERY experience under the sun.  And was bored by all.

Nothing at all thrilled him?  Nope! That’s because our hearts are made to be satisfied ALONE by God. Only God is big enough to enrapture us forever. Psalm 16:11 …in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Once God reminded me of how He fashioned me, my blahs disappeared. New energy arrived.  I bargained with myself to work for an hour on my video and then I would sit down and read the newspaper.

Since that change in mood, I’ve been able to apply the same truth to Christmas.  Especially in the realm of gift giving.

We all want to give a brief transcendent moment to those we love. Parents delight in doing this for their young children.  But have you looked at the ideas presented in the TV and newspaper ads?  Can a piece of jewelry do that for a woman?  Or a new wallet for a man?

My hairdresser recounted a recent errand she ran with her husband to Lowe’s.  Walking down one aisle, he stopped by one of those metal-finding tools people use at the beach to hunt for ‘treasure’.  He mentioned that he had always wanted one.  So, they bought it right then and there. She’s going to wrap it up for him and put it under the tree!  How’s that for transcendence!

The point is, NO thing here on earth can or should satisfy.  My early magical feeling of excitement is simply proof that I was made for something BIG, LASTING and not fully comprehensible – in other words something BOREDOM-PROOF.

For Christians, we have a guarantee of just such a world.  Waiting for us.  As Paul says, nothing here on earth is, (Romans 8:18)  …..worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Why? How?  (1 Cor 2:9) But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, …..God has prepared for those who love him.

Comfort yourself, friend.  It’s okay that the traditions and rituals of the season no longer move you.  They are but shadows of the real thing. Immerse yourself in the facts. The real Christmas is coming. Christ with us and we with Christ. A forever joy, excitement and über-satisfaction that will grow in its power to thrill us.

 

 

 

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