Was it a good day? How do you know?

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Isaiah 43:6-7  I will say to the north, ‘Give up’,
    and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
 everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.’

How do you evaluate your day?  How do you determine if it was a GOOD day?  Is it based on your To-Do list, how much you cross off?  Or do you call it ‘good’ if no problems surface, if the kids go to bed and stay asleep, if you have enough energy to meet everyone’s needs?  Maybe it’s a good day if you don’t binge or fall back into a harmful habit you’re trying to shake.

I’ve fallen prey to many false and harmful frameworks for looking at the hours the LORD gives me.  From the get-go, if I go down the path of viewing the day as MY day, MY time, I’ve walked away from how my Father views the time He allots.  For years I was wrong. I wore ‘glasses’ that saw standards such as:

  • productivity,
  • not overeating or
  • having my students respond favorably to my teaching
  • problem-free relationships

Those turned out to be self-shackling measurements.  I felt great on the days I ‘succeeded’ and somewhere between SAD and DEPRESSED on the days when I felt short of my expectations.

By God’s grace, in the past 2-3 years I’ve been allowing His Word, His truths to shape how I think about each day.  Change comes slowly, but I FEEL less stuck in unhealthy patterns of thinking. This past week I caught a powerful glimpse of what I believe is more in line and more FREEING to me of how God measures the daily hours given me.  The relief came from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Question # 1 goes like this:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

If I understand what this question and answer teach about my life’s purpose, then I will set my focus and invest my energy to that end.   What exactly does glorifying God mean?  Since God is the most important person in the universe and the most praiseworthy, then He deserves my ongoing happy attention, my grateful praise, and relieved reliance on His promised provision.  My thoughts, my words, my posture, my choices and my hourly interactions with Him and others should highlight His kindness toward those who belong to Him.  With these two Meta Purposes for my life which focus more on the MANNER of living each day, I am free to do what is at hand without giving the way I complete it such POWER to make or break my day.

If it were you who was explaining all the above, I’d likely ask: But what does that LOOK like across your various actions/activities? It sounds lofty, but can you bring it down to the man in the street level?

That’s what the 2nd part of the answer provides.  People can recognize our high esteem and praise of God primarily in our visible, sincere satisfaction, relief and gladness in being a covenant member of His family – that is, ‘a son or a daughter,’ as the text from Isaiah describes family members.

If I trust God and rely on His promises, then I should have a relaxed, peace-filled, gentle demeanor.  Paul explains in his letter to the Philippians (4:4-8) that he learned to hand over his problems (aka:  how to be content) to the Lord:

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. 

So, I take it that my body language and tone of voice should visibly show this peace and contentment with all that the Lord is for me. I think that is what ‘enjoying the Lord’ looks like in Christians.

I am now trying out this simple way of looking at my spent day. It goes like this.  “Maria, how did you do today in:

  • showcasing God’s goodness in your life?
  • heaving and leaving all your cares with Him because you believe Him when He promises to take care of them?
  • thinking about and savoring your adoption as His beloved daughter?

Realistically, I know that this will be a practice that grows more natural over time.  There’s no A or F for the day.  The Father loves me SO much, that He is pleased at my toddler-like stumbling to be more like His daughter.  Repentance with His promised forgiveness takes away my fear of being honest.

The other freeing aspect of this evaluative framework is that it suits ALL of our conscious days we live in our current body. It’s appropriate for our ‘prime times’ and it works for the periods of life when our health is poor and we are physically in decline.

What do you think?  What’s your journey been like in how you deem a day ‘good’ or ‘eh’ or ‘bad’?

I could still be completely wrong in my thinking – maybe He doesn’t want me to evaluate the day at all!  I’m open to having Him align my seeing with His.

Are you as close to God as your underwear is to you?

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I almost missed it!  Mike and I were sharing our ‘take-aways’ from the day’s Bible reading when I realized I had stopped short and not read Jeremiah 13.  So, after dinner I sat down outside with Mike while he worked on his nightly NY Times crossword puzzle. Bible and notebook in hand I caught up.  Boy, did I get an ‘eye-fill’. Chapter 13 portrays a startling view of intimacy our Father desires with us.

Like my dear friend Regina, I visualize much of what I read in God’s Word. Just ‘look’ at what God proclaims to His prophet:

Jeremiah 13:11 For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen. (ESV)

Okay, let’s think about underwear, about loincloths.  Various translators have used other English words such as “belt” or “waistband” to render this Hebrew word less earthy.  But the sense of the Hebrew is ‘that which covers one’s intimate private parts‘.

With THAT in your mind’s eye, reread the verse.  What is God saying to us?

WE are to CLING to the LORD as closely as underpants cling to our private parts. That’s pretty darn intimate, wouldn’t you say?  (as Mike just chuckled to me: “No boxer shorts here! Nothing unmanly about wearing ‘whitey-tighties’ “)

Since the LORD is the One saying this, we have to go by His words and the plain meaning of the text. But why would He use this word picture?

In some way I don’t quite understand but I accept as true, the Bible affirms over and over that when we move closer to our God, our clinging to Him showcases His perfection, love, goodness, power, and holiness.  Those parts of our body that we cover and whose odors we try to mask are not shameful to our Creator.

I mean, husbands and wives can be intimate and feel secure about their bodies when they enjoy a safe relationship. But even though Mike and I are blessed with that kind of  GOOD marriage, I still don’t want him smelling my underpants!

But our God is different. This means that NOTHING about us, in our personality or experiences or in our frail humanity, nothing makes us repugnant to our Father.  Maybe we can think of it more easily when we recall how it’s no big deal to change our own babies’ diapers, however stinky and explosive they are! After all they are our kids.  We love them completely. So it is with our Holy and earthy Father.

Something else in Jeremiah’s account of loincloths spoke to me of how God and I are different – how we react to clinginess.

I don’t like clingy love.  My instinct is to draw back a bit.  I felt great guilt about this as a teenager because my mom and grandmother were affectionate in that clingy sort of way.  I don’t know why their spontaneous display of love bothered me, but I could not bring myself to respond in kind.

But our God is not like that!  He doesn’t say:

  • You gotta stand on your own two feet
  • Okay, that’s enough.  I have work to do
  • Stop hanging around! Give me some space

Au contraire – our Father DESIRES that we:

  • get and stay as close to Him as we can
  • not be ashamed at all of that which makes us smelly and soiled
  • depend on Him 100 %
  • obey Him because we love Him and need Him
  • KNOW that He will never grow tired of us

And if this gentle, wooing, loving posture of God toward us is not enough to make us want to be close to Him, then we need to consider God’s evaluation of us if we DON’T cling intimately to Him. For in that case, we will be as the loincloth Jeremiah removed from his body and buried near the Euphrates:

Jer 13:7 Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; IT WAS GOOD FOR NOTHING.

The only conclusion that makes sense to me is that we were meant to stay that close to God all the time, as close as our underwear is to our body. If not, then we are ‘as good as nothing.’

 

Feelings and facts – right ordering

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A new friend from our new church gave me a journal for my birthday.  She didn’t know, but gifts are my love language:) Really!

This morning, I inaugurated this beautifully-bound book with its inviting lined pages of such a quality that they will absorb the black ink of my favorite pen. Since it was Sunday, I had plenty of time early this morning.  I’m reading a book about Martyn Lloyd-Jones about how and why he taught doctrine as essential fuel for living the Christian life.  In a paragraph that grabbed my attention, he explained that if we want to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, we don’t focus on this third member of the Trinity.  Instead we look to Jesus and what He has done.  The more we study and meditate on our Savior, the more power we will experience.  Here is the money sentence:

  • The joy of the Spirit is the joy we FEEL from the promises of Christ.

That thought resonated deeply with me, so I decided to use my new journal to write down one promise at a time and then analyze it, suck on it, pull it apart, think about it to get as much as I can out of it.

The one I chose had nothing to do with today’s reading in the plan we follow (Nahum 1-3) but I think from now on, I’ll keep an eye out for promises in each day’s reading.  I didn’t go back to scan Nahum because a promise popped into my mind. It was Jesus’ last words to his disciples (and hence to us)

  • ….and surely I am with you always to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20

I looked at each word in this verse and thought, pulling out a few implications, such as:

  • He IS with me now, not he will be with me
  • No need to doubt to his intention to keep his promise: “most assuredly/for sure”
  • Never is there a time when he is not with me in this life/age
  • Jesus announced this FACT after giving his disciples and me an ‘impossible mission’
  • True – he is not physically present with me so I can touch him or hear his voice through sound waves, but scripture affirms that he is with me via his Spirit. (John 16:7 ……it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.)
  • From the previous fact, his presence through the Helper implies that he knows what I am going through and he won’t stand by idly. Why else would he be called the helper?

The last take-away or derivative benefit from Jesus’ presence that I jotted down is:

  • the more I talk with him and think about him the more I’ll be like him.  For we become like whom we hang around, for better or for worse.

After this leisurely time in my new journal, I pondered the relationship between feelings and facts, gospel facts.

With those thoughts swirling in my mind we headed off to church where our senior pastor, Joe, taught, explained and exhorted from Colossians 2:13-15.  Communion followed the sermon and somewhere in his instructions and encouragement Joe mentioned that we can’t use our feelings to determine facts.  We need to put Gospel facts at the top, first and foremost and THEN draw out conclusions and inferences from Truth.  He mentioned that we often (or for some of us all the time) DON’T feel saved, DON’T feel forgiven, or at peace with the Father, and probably not at all cherished by him.  Joe explained that this was an easy pit to fall into. Furthermore, since it was Communion Sunday, he also cautioned us NOT to expect to feel different when partaking in the elements. That was REALLY helpful to hear from a pastor!

But where do feelings fit in?  After all, the Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote at the top of this post said that we will FEEL joy as we think about Jesus’ promises.

There’s the key, the way to order feelings and facts/promises.  Feelings ARE important.  (Think about all the times we are told: Be glad!  Rejoice! Exult in! Have compassion for! Be tender-hearted!)

Here is the key:  If we are saved and are one of God’s children, then ALL the promises of God belong to us in Jesus.  Feelings flow from what we believe to be true.  The Word of God IS true!  So if we reason from Gospel fact, we can trust our feelings.

  • 2 Cor 1:20 For all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him, our “Amen” is spoken to the glory of God. (Berean Study Bible)

The big ‘IF’ is, are we saved?  Just what is the grounds for being one of God’s kids?  Simply this: IF we have believed that Jesus lived and died in our place, with all our sins transferred to him and his righteous deeds accounted to us, and that we bring NOTHING, NADA, RIEN, ZIP to the judicial trial before God, then we are forgiven, loved, restored to a right relationship with the Father forever. We need to ACCEPT these truths as fact, as accomplished.

Meditating on those truths – who God is and what he and the other members of the Trinity have done on our behalf WILL produce correct feelings we can trust. They in turn will rightly, naturally motivate and fuel our deeds, the good works God has planned for us.

Yet, you and I know that we have an enemy.  We need to arm ourselves with truth to block his lies. Although thoroughly defeated and ‘pulverized’ as Joe said today in his sermon, Satan will STILL speak and breathe noxious, vile lies to us to discourage and destroy us.  His words, if we believe them, can cause us to FEEL guilty, FEEL burdened, heavy hearted, troubled, fearful, ashamed, etc.

So, how do we order feelings and facts?  They are both important. God created us in his image with a mind, a heart and a will.  Living whole-heartedly in union with Christ is our mandate and our privilege.  Our hearts are entitled to peace and joy and relief and rest.  But this kind of glad happiness has to be based on gospel facts.

What’s going to be YOUR promise to feed on this day?  Start with one.  Chew on it, share it with others, write it to a friend, look it up in another language you know or a different English translation.  Work it deep into your tissues. And let THAT be the medicine you take this and every day.

 

When fear is unreasonable

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“It is sheer unreasonableness for men created by a loving God and redeemed by a loving Savior to fear any man or anything that may happen. Richard Wurmbrand

What do you fear? What scares you?

I fear harm to my children and my grandchildren.  Thinking about my death or that of my husband doesn’t weigh heavy on me. I think the idea of my kids and their families suffering loss or injury is more about the imagined pain to ME.  When I love someone like I love my boys and their wives, then THEIR pain is my pain.  I bet you can identify. Haven’t we all said, ‘I wish I were the one sick or suffering and not YOU!’  I think it’s because we feel helpless to relieve the pain of the other person. Maybe that helplessness hurts more than what we think is their pain.

Scripture talks about how Satan has us chained by all kinds fear as well as fear of death:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Heb 2:14-15

Rereading this scriptural truth makes me think if perhaps ALL my fears are actually a product of Satan’s subtle suggestions and running commentary to the 24/7 information stream we take in.  Worldwide info-tainment feeds our dramatic and sometimes perverse interest in learning about the disasters others undergo.

And when we take in all this bad news (without remembering God who is sovereign), we are more susceptible to lose our confidence in Him. One byproduct of Satan’s fear mongering is discouragement. Last week, it occurred to me that one reason I find the Christian life SO hard is because of the Devil.  He is EVIL and he has a whole army of spirits at his beck and call whom he dispatches for his deadly work.  His goal?  To kill Christians, frighten and silence them or at the least render us ineffective and discouraged. But we are God’s greatly loved and redeemed children!  We mustn’t forget.

You don’t believe our anxiety and heavy hearts might be the work of the devil?  Tell me then, why do we forget God’s truths over night?  Why do we have to read His promises each day, building back and restoring our faith to yesterday’s level of restful reliance on Him. Why is that?  Wouldn’t you think we’d remember?  I mean, I don’t forget recipes that I make frequently.  I don’t forget my French and other languages I have.  But I forget how good our God is.  I forget that He has given me a stunning cosmic identity and eternal purpose through Christ who redeemed me.

What else is all this daily discouragement but the death of certainty?

Even though discouragement creeps in daily, recognizing who is at the source of my negative fearful feelings helps me a lot.

Knowing that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with ME is a relief.  Just living aware that Satan’s tactical goal is to get me to disbelieve my good Father EACH and EVERY moment increases my resolve to believe God and His Word all the more.

Drawing these thoughts to a close, if we are not to fear death or harm, is there anything we SHOULD fear? For as Richard Wurmbrand from Voice of the Martyrs commented, it is unreasonable to fear any created being or situation, whether Satan or man. Yes, there is One whom we are to fear.  We are commanded and commended to respect, be in awe of, to exercise a holy, righteous fear of the Lord.  Him alone.  This fear won’t send us cowering. This fear purifies and strengthens us.

Psalm 33:8

Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.

Job 4:6 Is not your fear of God your confidence?

Psalm 112:1 Praise the LORD! How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who greatly delights in His commandments.

A writer for Christianity Today puts fearing God into a helpful context:

Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary. When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal …. As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me. He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free. He casts me down, only to lift me up again. He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.

 

How the Lord guides us

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Isaiah 30:20-21 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

Direction, wisdom, guidance from God – don’t we believers all CRAVE certainty from Him!

That’s why these verses in Isaiah linger in my thoughts; I keep coming back to them.  Turning them over this way and that way, pressing them to tell me more. How will we see our Teacher? What form will He take? Why does the voice come from behind?  Why does the pilgrim hear the voice either AS he makes a choice of which way to go or right after?  Is God influencing his opting for one over the other?  Or would either have been God’s will?

I don’t have anything specific at the moment for which I am undecided or at a loss about direction.  But the teaching here FEELS weighty and timeless.

Facts:

  1. Hard times come from God. That’s explicit in verse 20.  Makes sense, since God sovereignly creates, sustains and directs every molecule.  I’ve heard RC Sproul quoted multiple times: ‘There are no maverick molecules!’
  2. As Isaiah records, times occur when we FEEL as God is hiding. We experience darkness and confusion.  But those are periods of time that He purposes. They have a start and an end point.  Often we don’t know the reason for the hard time. I’m learning that likely my Father has LOTS of purposes for the shadow times when I don’t understand. BUT the good news is, there is an appointed end.  Whether we are Jonah, Job or Jesus.
  3. Seeing our Teacher, maybe that refers to seeing something in Scripture that pops out at us, seemingly personalized.  But what shapes me more than that idea is the encouragement to LOOK for my Teacher, rather than focusing on the problem OR the confusion. So how do I look for my Teacher who is Spirit?  With eyes of faith.  This morning I bathed in the balm of Psalm 23:6For sure! goodness (towb) and mercy (chesed) are pursuing me today and every day of my days on earth.  That’s how I see God – I think about what He is like, what God has promised in His Word.
  4. Staying with Psalm 23:6, I see a theme that repeats, God behind me….chasing me down, on my heels, just like in Isaiah.  I have to trust that the crossroads are not a problem for God.  Whether I go right or choose the left path, He works with that and brings me to His desired destination.

Finally, does EVERYone of us believers SEE the Teacher or experience the reassurance from Him about the chosen path? I don’t think so.  For just 6 verses prior to 21 is another landmark promise from God:  Isaiah 30:15 For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling.

O Comforting Holy Spirit of God –  Keep bringing me to repentance. I don’t want to wander away from You, away from Your reassuring voice.  I want YOUR rest and quiet, YOUR strength and salvation. I want to know that You alone make my path straight.  Amen!

 

 

Not my strength, but His

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I was thinking of my dad this morning while reading Isaiah 12.  Pop used to say as he was aging, “Maria, come lend me your eyes!” or “You’ve got young eyes, you be my eyes right now.”

That memory produced a new insight, a helpful distinction as I pondered verse 2:

Isaiah boldly proclaims some faith-building personal commitments. He reprises Moses’ words from Exodus 15:2 and announces joyfully for all to hear: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” (Is 12:2)

The Spirit rotated the kaleidoscope of my understanding just a click through the memory of Pop’s words. Previously I have asked for and expected that the Lord GIVES strength. I’ve begged for me or loved ones to be delivered out of narrow dark places that shout NO EXIT!

But Isaiah and Moses don’t say that.  They announce that HE IS what they need. If that is the case, then they did not need to become strong themselves. They did not need to create their own song of acclaim and accomplishments.  They didn’t need to effect their own rescue.

That implies and means that normal is: 

  • Maria being weak, broken, tired and sometimes ill
  • Maria having no record of notable, distinctive accomplishments, but living an ‘ordinary’ life
  • Maria falling into pits, facing danger, getting stuck, wandering toward harm

I don’t have to TRY to be UN-ordinary. I just have to hang on to my Savior and stay in His arms.

Whew! Of course, in one sense, I already knew this.  Jesus says throughout the Gospels: I am the truth, I am the light, I am the life, I am bread…….not that He supplies them but that He IS them.

Reading God’s word and thinking about it day after day is what drives it deeper into our hearts.

Repetitio est mater studiorum. Repetition is the mother of learning.

When your ‘nothing, except for’ is enough!

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2 Kings 4: 1-2

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.

I love this account.  We don’t know anything else about this widow except she is VERY needy and she has neighbors with empty jars. She takes her problem to Elisha, fully expecting his help.  He comes through with a God-given recipe:

Step 1: Elisha tells her to go and round up from all her neighbors as many empty jars as they have.

Step 2: Next she is to go into her house, shut the door and follow the prophet’s direct but simple instruction to the T.  She takes her one little jar of olive oil and ladles the oil into each of the empties until there are no more empties.

Step 3: Finally, she is to sell her jars of oil and pay off the creditors, thus safeguarding her sons whom SHE needs for her future well-being.

Did Elisha’s remedy work?  YES!  Is that all?  No – our Father is the ‘much more’ Provider.

Not only does God ,who is rich in loving kindness, guide Elisha to the solution for her financial and family emergency, He also provides a nest egg for the future.  There are MORE than enough jars of oil left over after her husband’s debts are paid.  She will be able to sell the jars of oil to buy what her family needs in the future.

Reading again of this miraculous account, I saw direct application for my teaching ESL (English as a second language) venture. I’ve been recording simple, illustrated stories for my YouTube channel English without Fear.  But the viewership and number of subscribers is still small.  Yet, SO many people all over the world struggle to learn to speak English well. What mitigates against these learners’ success is the false, but ubiquitous idea that grammar and vocabulary instruction will produce competent English language communicators.  NOT TRUE!

Common sense AND research show that the most effective way to learn a language is through listening with understanding. ‘Mommy Talk’ is what I call it.  I know this approach works.  I used it for the last 19 years of my 27 years teaching French.  I’m having success with it now in one-on-one English tutoring and I’m acquiring Spanish myself through listening to lots of Spanish on podcasts and in videos.

In the past couple of months, I have fought back discouragement due to my still-limited impact on English language teachers and students.  But this story reminded me again to ‘keep asking neighbors for empty containers’ and filling them with the oil that God has given me.  He is the one who will multiply my impact, in His time.

So YOU, my neighbor, if you know of someone struggling to learn English as a second language or a teacher who helps learners acquire ESL, would you forward on the link to my YouTube channel (above) or my website?

As the prophet Zechariah exhorted in 4:10 of his writings:  “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin!”

 

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