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.

 

 

 

One of God’s gifts I was ignoring

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For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

Driving my granddaughters to school through Tampa rush-hour traffic this week has made me extra cautious.  Plus, I’m driving my son’s new car and I don’t want to damage it. En route to school yesterday morning, my speed just happened to be under the 70 mph limit on Interstate 275-S where the traffic was flowing before all the congestion hit. As a police car passed me on the left, I remarked to 10-year-old Chloe, “Obedience brings blessings.  You don’t have to worry about being pulled over if you obey the speed limit!”

I didn’t share the REAL reason I was traveling a bit slower.  It had nothing to do with avoiding a ticket and unnecessary stress. Nevertheless, I put in a general plug for obeying God.  The REAL reason to heed this traffic law is that I’ve been thinking differently about obeying God in the past 2 days. I’m starting to wonder that maybe our Father’s commands are actually a GIFT, a BLESSING, as opposed to a restriction God has imposed.

As I grow older and my cohort of friends is  aging; as I have grown children in their 30s with their own children; as the Holy Spirit shaves off some of my self-centeredness, sensitizing me to the pain and suffering of those around me, I find myself caring and praying A LOT.

But as God has grown my desire to pray for more people, a concomitant self-imposed burden has emerged.

Years in Bible Study Fellowship back in Virginia taught me to pray for specific needs in a way that is measurable.  Instead of asking God to ‘bless John’s work’, I’ve learned to detail just what John’s tangible need is and name it, asking God’s help WITH the ‘it’.

My prayers now look like this: Father, please guide John to soften his tone with his co-workers so that they and he cooperate better and carry out the assigned task at hand.

Why all the detail?  So, I can know when God comes through and then have the specifics to thank Him!

What then is the burden?  Just that I have fallen into thinking that if I don’t pray specifically WITH all the pertinent details, then my prayer is less effective.

I know what you’re thinking!  Am I not forgetting the comforting promise about the Holy Spirit’s help?

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Now that I have given you background, I want to share how marvelously the Spirit came to my rescue yesterday!  There’s a situation in our life that feels complex and overwhelming. Monday evening our granddaughters were in dance class.  While I waited for them Mike and I chatted briefly. He shared a setback over the phone.  After we hung up, a wave of dismay rolled over me as I tried to place this news into the context of God’s promises.

Thank you, Father, for the time TO think, to know where to hang this new piece of data according to what is TRUE about You!

Here is what the Lord did. He gave me insight having to do with obedience!

My obedience is not something I think about much. But on this occasion the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ many teachings NOT to worry.  The Spirit then brought​ to mind​ divine commands​ penned ​by Paul & Pete​​r​,​ reenforce​ing the Lord’s lessons::

Cast ALL your cares on Him, for He cares for you! 1 Peter 5:7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6

Here then is how my mind worked to bring me back out of this tight spot after hearing Mike’s report.

“Oh, I am supposed to OBEY my heavenly Father.  And He tells me to hand over every single care TO Him. What a relief!  Here you go, dear Father, take this new development in this season of painful suffering and do what is best.  Amen”

Simple and easy.  I picked up my Kindle book, reading while I waited for the girls to finish. Each time my mind drifted back to the dark, tight spot it’s like I shook it off and reminded myself: “My Father is handling this.  I am to obey Him and leave it in His hands.”

The night that followed, I woke up a couple of times to gray mist seeping into my thoughts. But by the power and reminder from God’s Spirit, I quickly swept them away with this assertion: “I’m obeying my Father, so I am not going to think about IT!”

Just as with any new habit, this change in reflex will take practice over time.

But already, I FEEL the lightness. The bottom line is that I am to obey my Father. Yes, I will continue to pray daily with thanksgiving. Once. And then obey Him by leaving the matter with Him.​

I wonder what other commands our Father has given that might actually be blessings!

 

How to offer specific hope to someone today

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Something Caleb Kaltenbach wrote a while back for Christianity Today came up in my prayer feed yesterday morning.  Mike and I use Prayermate to collect and ‘feed’ us prayers each day.  I had cobbled together some of Kaltenbach’s thoughts on the futility and sin of worry and composed them into a prayer for myself.  What caught my attention yesterday morning, praying again through these truths was the possibility of offering REAL hope to someone I might encounter in the next few hours.

Kaltenbach wrote: “What is the hope I can offer a fellow believer?”

He then answered: “God has already created and planned tomorrow…… “

Now that is real hope.  No matter how fraught with problems tomorrow turns out to be, knowing that God has planned every event of the day IS a relief.

But we need more.  The thought of something awful can still be fear-inducing, even if it IS part of God’s plan.

Here is the ‘more’ I must have to let go of fear. Caleb finishes his thought: “…..and He will walk with you into it.”  God promises to be present in the perplexing, the unexpected, the difficult, and yes, the AWFUL.

“Okay, ” you or the  recipient of this encouragement might respond, “Where can I go in God’s Word to SEE that this is so, that God actually teaches both His sovereign control AND His presence?”

I had to know for myself what foundation had already been laid for this claim.  With a few minutes of reflection, this is what came to mind. One of my favorite promises is from Psalm 31:15: My times are in your hands….

You know me well enough by now, if you’ve read this blog, that I love looking up the Hebrew/Greek or Aramaic meaning of our English translations.

From BlueLetterBible.com the English term TIMES is translated from the Hebrew ETH.  However, in Hebrew ETH means so much more:

  • events, ‘nows’, experiences, happy and calamitous seasons

Conclusion?  EVERY occurrence is in God’s hands.  THAT fact is enough for the Psalmist to continue:

Psalm 31:15: My times are in your hands, (so) deliver me from the hands of my enemies and those who persecute me.

I wrote that down and continued looking for more Biblical support.

A few moments later, I ran across 2 Cor 3:5 where Paul writes: My sufficiency is from God. 

Right before that verse Paul pens, “We have confidence through Christ toward God”.

What was the basis of Paul’s confidence? A phrase from his first letter to believers in Corinth points to the reason for Paul’s happy reliance on God: “but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor 15:10)

So, pulling this together for myself and because I want to be ready to offer it as an encouragement to someone else, here is how I am tucking Caleb’s exhortation into my mind for ready access:

Let’s suppose we listen to a co-worker or talk with a friend today and they have a heavy heart. We can listen and then say:

This is what helps me in times of suffering or difficulty:

  1. God has already planned your tomorrow and He will be walking WITH you through it.
  2. He promises that all your times and events are in His hands, not necessarily to prevent a suffering but to rescue and deliver you IN each situation.
  3. You don’t need to look at your insufficiency and feel afraid because, as Paul learned, Christ’s grace toward us IS sufficient for the day.

Sounds VERY good, but does it ‘work’?  Does this offer true encouragement, a life-line when discouragement hits?

I soon found out.  I left this blog post to sit until today, Sunday, when I planned to edit it.

And yesterday afternoon, the disabling spirit of discouragement attacked.  After wallowing a bit, I remembered ‘how to offer some one HOPE’!!!!

It turns out that the first person God planned for me to encourage was me.  I lay in bed talking to myself last night and was able to fall asleep.  Then, this morning, even though I woke up feeling VERY unspiritual, I again talked to myself and turned to the reading for today and prayed:

Holy Spirit, this is Your word. It is alive and full of power.  Feed me. Encourage me.  Let me see marvel-worthy things.

And He did. By grace.

The hope we offer others, I’m seeing, is best tested on ourselves.  I know intellectually that one reason we suffer is to be able to hold out God’s comfort to others, that comfort that we receive from Him.  I tend to be able to see God’s good hand AFTERwards. Hindsight IS valuable if we remember it.

 

 

 

Drivenness is dangerous

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Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Graham reminded me of this truth yesterday as I was catching up with him. I had just face-timed my granddaughters as they were en route home from school. After chatting with them Graham and I talked.  This older son of ours has been an inspirer, sounding board, tech resource and overall great listener as I have fleshed out a ‘business’ called English without Fear.

In 2018, having taught French for years, I started to help second language learners acquire English the same way I teach French, through listening with understanding. What I call ‘Mommy Talk’ as opposed to left-brained, rule-based learning.  It works.  Many, many students can attest to the joy and confidence they have received in my classroom because of this method.  I personally know this is the optimal way to teach and pick up a language because I am acquiring Spanish that way.

Three months after thinking and praying about this new venture, I settled on a target market or niche –  those wanting to learn English as a second language. I learned to write, record and upload story videos in slow English with lots of images. I set up a YouTube channel and some tech support sites.  My idea was to eventually bring in some income that would supplement our retirement, post classroom.

But ‘retirement’ came sooner than later.  Seven months ago, God opened the door for Mike to step back into full-time work and we moved here to Huntsville, Alabama.  I left the schoolhouse after 27 years, not even finishing out the spring semester.

Suddenly, my identity was no longer ‘French teacher’.

Mike’s new job generously would provide enough income so I knew that I wouldn’t be looking for another job teaching French.  I recognized that God was gifting me with time and flexibility to spend with our far-flung family.   I would also be the support at home for Mike so he could focus on this new challenge of re-entering the workforce.  We were swapping roles, in essence. He had come from 6 years doing some part-time work at home in North Carolina while managing the house.

What I didn’t anticipate was how challenging it would be for me to move into this new role.  Only once in my life had I stayed home and that was when Wes, our second son, was born. And then for only 2 years.

I now see, though, that since the end of March, I haven’t let myself rest in God, allowing Him to lead me.  I don’t think I even ASKED Him through prayer about what kind of life He wanted for me in this new season, in this new place.

As I had done (and later recognized with repentance) in previous years, I just announced my plan and prayed for Him to bless it.  Blind to my folly.

Bereft of my ‘uniform’ of working woman, French teacher, I dressed myself in new clothes.  My new identity? Content creator for a digital product.  Without a pause, as a stay-at-home wife, I set up a daily schedule.  Discipline comes easily.  (‘she said smugly: Doesn’t it for all people?’)

Long story short, I have now become my own slave driver, but with tears.  No one has done this to me.  Deep grooves of habitual self-drivenness: I start something – and I’m all in.  Zeal and ambition are not, in themselves bad.  But when they become part of one’s identity, they can be deadly.

But God!

His gentle and persistent grace have caused me to blink twice and clear my eyes.  I realize, now with alarming clarity, that I myself had shackled Maria.  My body knew it, though, and my husband.  He’s skilled at reading body language.  He is also a good listener.  Empathetic.

What alerted me? tears, dread of having to do something with this ‘business’, and 2 days with Regina.  This friend of 13 years met me last week, half way between her home in South Carolina and my house here in Alabama.  We spent 18 hours catching up.

While describing how pleasant Huntsville is, I realized how I don’t ‘let’ myself just take an afternoon and wander, explore, go for a walk.  Why not?  ‘I have work to do.’  My boss/dictator has been telling me every day that I need to make this English without Fear endeavor into a successful business.

But why? To what end?  We don’t need the money.

Here’s my reasoning for undertaking this project:  I have experience, aptitude, some gifts and a sense of what is needed in the Second Language Acquisition space (encouragement for teachers who feel overwhelmed, as well as learners of English).  There is a need!  I can help.

But what was missing? Wherefore the dread and tears?

I lacked the desire.

Yesterday, in the car driving home from an ‘intercambio’ with a Columbian gal where we spent 30 minutes in English followed by time for me in Spanish, I was thinking about ‘what I had to do’ the rest of the day for ‘my business’.  And I dreaded the plans.

I turned off the podcast I was listening to in the car.  To think. What is it I REALLY want to do, where I don’t feel driven? That’s easy.!  I really want to speak Spanish easily. I already spend time each day with Spanish content.  And I look forward to it.  NO DREAD!

Aha!  DESIRE!!!

That is what has been missing all along in this business.

So yesterday when Graham reminded me of Paul’s word to the Galatians, I knew he was speaking Truth. Direct from my good and loving Father.

I don’t have to pursue English without Fear as a business.  God has given me space and time to slow down. To enjoy life. To savor NOT rushing.

But what about…..

I don’t know. But, here’s a thought: I could just keep creating English without Fear videos as a ministry.  No schedule.  Nothing to prove.  Just as a service.

I already have the identity Christ bought for me – ‘chosen, redeemed, beloved daughter and little sister in Christ’.  I already have a purpose for living – to glorify God by enjoying Him THIS day.

Phil 4:5 says – Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

Please forgive me, ALL of you who have graciously put up with and borne my grim, head-down, no-time-for-play presence.

I’ve been living contrary to God’s Word, by letting my DRIVENNESS be known to everyone.

Which Maria do you think will refresh others?

 

 

 

 

Laying my burdens down

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My Friday morning Bible study is studying the book of Hebrews this year.  Last week’s discussion focused on God’s warning about NOT mixing faith with God’s facts.

I’ve known for a while that my ‘unbelief’ is the root of ALL my sin.  That each time I’m worrying about something like Mike’s health or ‘am I staying in contact enough with my kids and grandkids?’ (one of my besetting fears because I am so selfish!)

But by grace, my heart is drawn to return often to the comforting Rx of Philippians 4:4-7.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Here is what I have seen this week:

  • The key and power for a peace-filled, worry-free day is OBEDIENCE to His command of being glad in Jesus and all that He is, has done and promises.  The strength FOR this kind of peace is not in me and what I can ‘gin’ up by forced grit.  And a superficial summarizing feeling of Jesus’ work for me won’t cut it.  Actually naming, calling out all that His blood purchased for me, is what will build up the spiritual strength to hand over my worries.
  • Supernatural strength will then permit me to obey God and his second command – to be gentle or reasonable with those I live, work, worship and fellowship.  Gentleness means going along with what pleases these neighbors/brothers in all the discretionary matters of personal preference.
  • But what assures me that MY needs will be met if I do seek to fit in with others?  The next FACT – the Lord is near or at hand.
  • Whew, okay, since He is near and at hand, I can and SHOULD hand over all my anxiety-producing needs & desires.  In fact, as I read somewhere this week: God won’t pick up your burdens UNTIL you lay them down!
  • Continuing on from there, do you notice that little 2-word exhortation from Paul who never has ‘throw-away words’?  ‘WITH thanksgiving’.  No begrudging my having to obey Him.  Just a glad handing over.
  • Payoff for all this obedience? Out-of-this world PEACE to barricade my mind against those pesky and sinful worries.  The ‘Sanballats‘ of my life is what I now call those worries that plague me if I don’t draw on God’s strength in Jesus.

“Remember, my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and also the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.” Nehemiah 6:14.  These were false prophets who wanted to HALT Nehemiah and the Judeans who were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.

I now see that the battle against the sin and danger of worry is never-ending in this life.  So….I desperately need to hear the good news of what Jesus has done.  Over and over again.

And I need to be reminded that handing over these concerns is a command I am to obey.

A final thought that bolsters this case for NOT worrying comes from Jesus’ exhortation to take up our cross and follow Him.

Matt 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

If I am to take up His cross, then I have to lay down my burdens that I’ve been holding onto tightly.  It only makes sense.  Reminding myself of WHY I can trust Jesus is my daily discipline to access His power to obey Him and receive His peace.

 

 

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