A Rule of Life

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I feel blah, relishing nothing in the future.  It’s a Friday night, on the cusp of summer and 9 weeks off from school.  My mind thinks about upcoming trips.  I should be excited.  I’ll be with family; there’s even a 5-day cruise in my future.  But nothing stirs.

I finish dinner.  It tasted good! But it’s over.  I briefly ponder the merits of having some chocolate with me tea.  Maybe that’ll make my unhappiness and blah-ness go away.

But I don’t indulge and the next morning I’m glad.  The dessert would not have made me content in the long run.

I go to bed before too long, for even my book doesn’t satisfy.  My husband checks in with me a couple of times, ‘You okay?’  He cares, but I rather not go into it then.  After all, he has his ‘Ecclesiastes Moments’ too, when, as penned by Solomon, nothing under the sun satisfies any more.

The next morning, Saturday, I start my morning with a John Piper archived sermon.  He’s preaching from Isaiah 58: 8-11 about how a certain kind of fasting brightens your day.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawnand your healing shall spring up speedily; if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

That’s the kind of light and satisfaction I yearn for!

There’s time for one more sermon as I exercise and I listen to John Piper in a current commencement address at Boyce college talk about ‘Sacred Schizophrenia.  Truth marinates as I finish up my exercise routine.  I settle in with a cup of hot coffee and open up God’s Word to read today’s assigned chapters according to the Chronological Reading Plan Mike and I follow.   

One foray into Scripture leads to another and I come upon Jesus’ harsh words to Peter that seem to reinforce Piper’s call to deal harshly with the unholy self (one of the two selves living in a kind of schizo struggle).  He corrects his outspoken disciple, Peter, admonishing him to move his mind OFF of man-centered priorities and onto what matters to God.  Matthew records what follows like this: 

Then Jesus told his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16: 24-25

I’ve always shied away from the idea of denying myself.  After all, I’m an arch hoarder of time, of energy.

But I’m feeling empty….maybe that’s where fencing off daily time and space for myself has gotten me. Bankrupt and unsatisfied.

Turning 60 this year has stimulated a lot of this kind of self-reflection.  In my 20s, 30s and early 40s, I was busy with children and work.  And then our sons left home for college, work and marriage and I had time to think.  A lot.  Mike has gone through this soul reflection as well.  The kind of wondering ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’.  Looking at others rushing to and fro and asking: ‘What is any of this for, any way?’

But this morning, I see a glimmer.  Piper says that once we have been born again, we have a new self.  But the facts are like this:  our old man is continually at war with our new man until the day we die.  This old man is a liar, as are Satan and the world.  But God doesn’t leave us clueless and alone.  Thankfully, He points us to what will TRULY satisfy, every time.  Speaking through the prophet Isaiah and then in Jesus’ words to His disciples, He instructs:

Only by putting to death the desires prompted by the old man and giving to those who are hungry and oppressed and naked will we find a life, daily, which satisfies.

So what does that look like, practically, when I’m on the cruise this summer, at my mother-in-law’s for a week, at home this summer, in my classroom?

Solomon has the last word and I find the peace that I need from Eccl 2: 24-26

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,

From Matthew and Isaiah I have already seen what pleases God:  

  • when someone hungry crosses my path, I can offer food in the form of a listening, sympathetic ear, some of God’s Word and a prayer right then and there when appropriate

But it starts with a daily re-commitment to suffer with Christ as necessary, to deny my old worldly self that hoards time and energy and a willingness to travel this day WITH Jesus, depending on Him to guide and supply and protect me.

And that’s not all.  God intends for me to also enjoy the simple pleasures of every day life, eating, drinking and working.  These are, indeed, gifts from God TO me.  When I do them acknowledging His goodness, I bring glory to God.

Later on during the day while we hike, I share with Mike what He has revealed. Already light has dawned.  I HAVE a mandate of how to live, a new rule of life.  I know what to do at each stage, whether now, almost 60 or at age 93 and in assisted living!  The burden and gloom have lifted. I revel in the beauty of the day and how good it feels to move my body and be with the man whom I love.

Sarah, Sex and the Hall of Fame

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Sarah and Abraham have a baby

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

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

  •  Which is sufficient for justification –  faith or deeds?

How is that?  Consider…..

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

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

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

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

**

Impossible situations

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

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

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

God commands us to**:

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

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

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

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

 

What if?

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The Lord is my light and my salvation—
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the refuge and fortress of my life—
Whom shall I dread?

Though an army encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
Even in this I am confident. (Psalm 27: 1, 3)

“But Daughter, what if the men forget?” the anxious and elderly man conjectured, rubbing his hands as he rocked back and forth.

“Father, I have their assurance. We mustn’t be fearful.  They will come through.  After all, I did not let them down when they were being sought by the King’s men,” Rahab spoke quietly with calm assurance as she rubbed his shoulders.

The old man seemed to soak in her words for a few minutes, but then another thought assailed him.  “What if they can’t find our house in all the confusion of the attack?”

Tenderly, Rahab reminded him, “But I have fastened the scarlet cord to the window ledge, just as they instructed me.  They will see it.”

One last time, her dad fished for another possible mishap, “Yes, but what if they are killed by the King’s soldiers before they can save us?”

Rahab’s words silenced his doubts, for a while. “Father, I trust the God of the Hebrews. He is not like any other god. We know how He rescued His people from the Egyptians and led them through the desert.  He is trustworthy.  He always does what He says.  We will put our faith in Him, not the spies or fortuitous circumstances, but in this Rock.”

Rahab

Like Rahab, I have moved beyond my known world of visible help out into the wilderness where many of God’s people have journeyed.   About two weeks ago heart palpitations invaded Mike’s heart. Uninvited, they immediately set about to mess with his pumping chambers, adding extra beats in an intermittent pattern that disrupted his sleep in a debilitating way. What brought them on? Apparently a series of seemingly random events such as dental pain and a bad cold and a reaction to Sudafed are the precipitating causes we think. But ultimately God, the originator and sustainer of the universe, is the First Cause of all that happens to us.  Permitting these little messengers of Satan to plague Mike, God has gently and lovingly overseen my husband’s battle with fear and anxiety at night.  ‘What-if’ scenarios have especially been hard: apprehension that the heart meds won’t work and worry that sleep will evade him.

What God has shown me as I’ve battled with Mike, mining God’s word for strength and assurance, is this:

Every hero of faith has been led out to the very same desert, alone except for God, and beyond sight of provision, to confront and battle the fear of the ‘What-Ifs’.  Similar to how American Indian young men endured solitary testing for their manhood initiation rite, believers have been dragged or led into an arena to do spiritual warfare.  Equipped only with God’s word, (His promises, His past provisions, and knowledge of His character) this fiery trial has provided them the opportunity and gift to prove decisively to themselves whether God is true and faithful. Just look at a few of our Biblical ancestors:

  • Rahab had to trust the spies’ promise of rescue when Joshua and the tribes surrounded and attacked Jericho
  • Abraham had to hold on to God’s promise that heirs as numerous as the stars would come through his son Isaac who lay bound on the wood, about to be sacrificed
  • Esther had to entrust her life to God as she courageously broke the king’s law and approached him unbidden, risking death
  • Mary faced possible death and certain public humiliation by explaining to Joseph and accepting the circumstances of her imminent pregnancy
  • Paul’s friends in Rome brought food and supplies to him in prison, courting possible imprisonment by association

Many weak, frightened and flawed men and women have encountered that ultimate, often unsought moment.  They have had to answer once and for all the only question that matters.

  • Can I trust God?  Do I believe what He says in the Bible?  Will He actually come through?

With no more visible proof than what each of us has already learned about Him experientially, and/or by reputation per other believers’ accounts and in His Word, we come to the edge, alone.

  • Do I step into the chasm, trusting in the evidence provided?
  • Will He catch me?

Many of you have already endured this refining, this baptism of fire meant to bless you, not to harm you. Sure, we can orient our life in the direction of banking all on God, preemptively before God brings on a trial of trust. But sometimes our good Father accelerates the timetable or the intensity of the ‘Faith Course’.

Mike and I didn’t consciously enroll in this particular curriculum.  But obviously God thought it was necessary to strengthen our faith, to test it so WE would know how real and valuable the gift of faith is that Christ purchased for us. We needed a push, apparently!

Daily the homework and pop quizzes confront us, but I know that all who stick it out in God’s school make it to the end, fully qualified.  And what is reassuring is that He doesn’t enroll anyone who is not going to graduate and be purified.  In fact, we have the personal attention and daily assistance of the Remedial Counselor.  We can’t help but pass.

As I reminded Mike this morning, we WALK through the valley of the shadow of death. We haven’t moved in, to settle down.  Yes, it is dark and scary and over the past few weeks we have not KNOWN what to do.  We feel like Hezekiah who prayed publicly in front of his people,

“….we have no might to stand against this great company that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” 2 Chronicles 2:12

In our need, the road has seemed starless and confusing with no signposts directing us where to go or what to do. But our good Shepherd IS leading the way, HIS way, along ‘paths of righteousness for His name’s sake’.  He will bring us out into green pastures.  The end is sure.  I can see it, with my eyes of faith.

 

 

Stay in your boundary!

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A night at Cousin Terry’s home gifted us with more than good fellowship and food. We were also blessed with a powerful word-picture or image to remind us of how to live the Christian life, with peace and rest.  The picture below is what I’m calling a ‘boundary circle.’  I’ll explain in a few.

Heart Shaped boundary

 

 

 

 

Christians, by definition, are new creations.  They have been rescued from the futile, darkened kingdom of self & death (run by the Father of Lies) and transferred into the Kingdom of Light & Life, where the Triune God reigns.

Paul explains this to the believers in Colossae,

  • For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son (Col 1:13)

As freed prisoners, now owing our allegiance to our Rescuer, everything is different:

  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Although a Christian for the past 33 years, I’m a slow learner.  What I’ve found to be true in my life, and it probably is so with you, is this: to the extent that we take in knowledge about God, we grow more like Jesus.  If we don’t EAT spiritual food, we imbibe worldly food. Think Junk Food, ‘and there is no health in us’ as the Book of Common Prayer says in a morning confession.

From the moment of ‘transfer’ new believers belong to God as His adopted children, with full rights and privileges, to include a future, guaranteed inheritance. However, I’ve learned that unless I call myself back to present reality, I can revert back to that former, but still very comfortable way of thinking, that of a ‘slave to sin’.

Slavery

 

 

Here’s the rub.  Life is hard, whether you’re a ‘Christ-ling’ or a ‘World-ling’.  But as an adopted child of God, an heir with Christ, I have full access to the love, the power and the promises of God.  I’m not meant to live, dependent on my own resources.  I am a new creation: ‘Christus-Maria’ 

All that being said, despite having been a Christian since the age of 24, I still battle unbelief.  I find myself frequently imagining, worrying and fearing this or that. Our cousin Terry is a mature and wise Christian woman who has learned to trust God by trial and error (aka falling into sin and then repenting) through prayer and nourishment from God’s word.  She is also very real, the kind of Christian with whom you can feel SAFE in admitting your struggles.

So when I shared with her, during our overnight the content of the worries and fears that plague me, she passed on the advice gleaned from a wise Christian man who lovingly admonishes his fearful wife each time she shares a worry:

‘Honey, you’ve stepped out of the boundary of grace for the moment, for the day!  There’s no grace NOW for where you’re hanging out – the future. There’s only grace for the present. Get back inside the boundary!’

So back to the protective circle of love at the top of this post.  I picture myself yoked with Christ, WITHIN THAT CIRCLE OF LOVE.  As long as I keep step with Him, then all is well.  The strength and direction come easily as I walk, moment by moment, in conscious communion WITH Him.  It’s only when I run ahead in my thoughts to the future hypothetical ‘what-ifs’, that I find myself in the scary ‘badlands’ of possible dangers, outside of my boundary of love.

Yoked

 

 

How senseless to run on ahead, alone, as a weak and defenseless little donkey, leaving behind my supernatural Older Brother and Redeemer!

I find comfort in this image of a protective circle of love and grace surrounding the new me, harnessed to a comfortable restraint permanently linking me with Jesus. More and more, I am learning to ‘harness’ my thoughts, to rein them in, back to the HERE and NOW where Grace is King.

Question: Where are you running ahead of your provision?

 

What’s the rush? You’re not going to miss your ultimate appointment!

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“There are two days in my calendar: This day and that Day.” – Martin Luther

Martin Luther

 

 

 

 

 

I like Martin Luther’s earthiness for he was not afraid to enjoy life boldly and speak the truth with fresh vigor.

But what arrested me recently was his peculiar time-management system, at least as far as I can surmise from how he kept his calendar!

What about you and me?  For all the tech devices we employ, meant to make life easier, we seem to be burdened and tied down to what was designed to free us.

I’ve pondered schedules and the existence of RUSHING as a lifestyle this summer.  With 6 of my 9 weeks off as a teacher now a pleasant memory, I’ve been thinking a lot about TIME as I have crossed off summer chores and tackled ‘meaty’ books.  Can you believe that a couple of days I even ‘stressed’ at all I had to/wanted to do?

But is that the way a Christian who trusts God is supposed to live his life?  Does the Bible counsel rushing? By no means!  God WANTS us to develop patience, that is the qualities of endurance and steadfastness (Greek 5281 – hypomone). To prove my point, I’ve pulled out a few snippets of God’s will for us:

  • ..run with patience/endurance -Hebr 12:1  (‘feels’ like a contradiction, but not according to God)
  • …Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him – Gen 5:24 (God’s schedule, not ours) 
  • ….those who wait upon the Lord will ….run – Is 40:31 (have to keep our eyes on Him to catch His signal that NOW is the time to run using His holy petrol) 
  • …But if we hope for what we do not see, with patience/ perseverance we wait eagerly for it – Rom 8:25
  • Now may the God who gives patience/ perseverance and encouragement …. Rom 15:5 (a gift) 
  • And let patience/endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing – James 1:4  (patience aka learning to wait is God’s goal and desire for us!) 
  • For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10 (If God has these divine appointments and purposes planned, let us not fret about our time which is ALSO purposed and planned)

But how are we to gain this patience? Do you know ANYONE who is naturally patient? I don’t!

Here’s the truth: Patience is a gift from God.  But He doesn’t just imbue us with this attribute; He cultivates it IN us by means of the trials, struggles and problems He walks us through.  Do you get that? Suffering has a purpose when we consecrate it to God, when we trust our good Father in the midst of our hardships.  And knowing that there are reasons, even if we can’t see them, is far better than thinking that this painful stuff is just randomly occurring to us!  Chalking problems up to bad luck or fate produces NO endurance or patience – for what’s the point of bearing up well, if there’s NO POINT at all!

*

So what about those days when we don’t get done what we had planned?  The good news is – it doesn’t matter! God IS sovereign over our time because it’s not OUR time, but His!  He can chop it short or stretch it out.  And if the only day that really counts is when we meet Him face to face, then why stress?

Here’s a fact, both for the pagan unbeliever who is hostile to God AND for the child of the King who loves God. There IS a day appointed and fixed for each of us.  That is Martin Luther’s red-letter day.  You can be sure that you won’t miss that rendez-vous when each of us will meet Jesus face to face.  You can’t rush that meeting nor delay it.

Jesus holding girl

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