Shutting doors on lesser things

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Journeying through Genesis again, I’ve seen how God closes and opens wombs.  Wombs are a sort of door, a door to fruitfulness. When Abraham passed off his wife Sarah as his sister (for the second time!), Abimelech took her into his harem.  Immediately, we learn in Genesis 20:17-18, that God afflicted Abimelech, his wife, and his slave girls so they could not have any children.  God took away their fruitfulness.

Catching my attention after this account were the words: Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised.  Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Gen 21: 1-2

God opened a door; he made Sarah fruitful.  Yes, Sarah and Abraham came together as husband and wife so a baby could be conceived.  But the conception and subsequent birth were entirely OF the Lord!

God has been shutting doors in our lives, specifically in Mike’s life.  We finally have seen and come to the decision to go in the direction God is leading. We don’t yet know the where or the when.  That is up to God.  However, we are doing what he gives us to do: apply for jobs, list our house.

The Holy Spirit has yet to close any doors at this point in my life.  Instead, He has recently shown me a door I am to close.  As an act of worship.

Those who know me well, put up kindly with my seeming insatiable quest for information.  Over the past 7 months, I have binged on podcasts and books about Keto.  Keto is a health-promoting low-carb, high-fat way of eating.  Mike and I switched to this protocol for brain health and disease prevention.

Keto is what I talk about.  Constantly.  My computer password has included a reference to Keto.  I have listened to at least one Keto podcast a day on my long commute to and from school.

Two days ago, God opened my eyes to this idolatry.  Painfully, and in a way that fit me.

  • My weight climbed, something that always ‘sends’ me into self-preoccupation and temporary depression.

How did He connect that with my idol worship?  That very first morning of weight gain something came up in one of my prayers. Scotty Smith, a PCA pastor who writes daily prayers, had used the example of  Betsy Ten Boom urging her sister Corrie to thank God for the fleas in their Nazi concentration camp barracks.

Convicted, I thanked God for the weight gain, not an easy thing for a weight-obsessed Maria to do.  During this same morning time with the Lord, I read another prayer and wrote this down: “Whatever we treasure in our hearts will be reflected in the stream of our words.”

Ouch!  What a closeup snapshot of me!  Almost daily I have flooded poor Mike with what I have newly absorbed in a Keto podcast.  A clear illustration of the principle:  what you dwell on and talk about reflect what is important to you.

The final gentle but firm push from the Holy Spirit was something Charles Spurgeon had written this week, based on a text from Psalm 109:4 ……but I give myself to prayer.  At the time I read it, I had said to myself:  I am a woman who gives herself to prayer.

Two days later, I saw that my conclusion was NOT true.  I had become a woman who gave herself to Keto (the latest in a long string of a ‘passion of the month/year’).

I knew what I had to do. Unsubscribe from the podcasts and the email newsletters.  Go back to podcasts about God. Change my password.

During our nightly prayer check-in, where Mike and I open our hearts to one another and write down what we need God to do for us, I confessed my sin and how the Holy Spirit had revealed it to me.  He prayed for me.

This morning, God has kept up the training.  I wrote in my journal:

  • Maria, repent when you are more interested in a created thing than in the Creator!

God then directed my mind to this exhortation from Isaiah 55:2:

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

To eat what is good, I have to stop putting garbage into my mouth.

I almost fell into temptation this morning. There remained ONE Keto podcast I had not unsubscribed from.  I started to justify, “Surely ONE podcast a week won’t hurt me…..”

(the Serpent’s lies feel so palate-pleasing and harmless!)

I unsubscribed.

My conclusion?  In this case, God did not shut the door for me, He instead urged me to shut the door myself.

I now understand that giving up this lesser thing IS a sacrifice He calls me to make.  Worship is about sacrificing the best-created thing to show yourself, God, maybe some of the watching world, and all of the invisible world, that our triune God is worth MOST OF ALL!  Sacrifice and worship are not about earning God’s favor.  His children already HAVE received His grace and can’t lose that.  But we need a constant reminder of Who is supreme.  The world, the flesh and the devil all can look mighty satisfying.  All a lie.

Eating what is good trains our palate for the Holy.

I wonder what other doors He will reveal.  More doors to close?  Or maybe new doors to fruitfulness.  Eat up, Maria!  But only what is good.

Those big mountains!

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He moves mountains without their knowing it.  Job 9:5

 

mountain for faith blog - 6 jan 2019

Reading through the book of Job, I stopped on Job’s assertion about God and lingered.  But of course, our God moves mountains!  He created them, in the first place.  Out of nothing.  What’s the big deal about moving mountains?

Well, having a few figurative mountains in our own lives, my mind instantly recalled some of Jesus’ teachings about mountains.  I googled ‘Jesus and mountains’.

Mark 11:22-24 topped the entries. I reread the verses about Jesus and his guys walking back into Jerusalem for the Passover, having spent the night outside of the city in Bethany. That morning making his way toward the temple courts, Jesus had been hungry. En route he spotted a fig tree but upon finding no hint of emerging figs, he cursed it.

Now at the end of a long day, on the way back out of the city, the disciples noticed this very same fig tree. Totally withered, due to Jesus’ words 12 or so hours earlier. In response to their surprise, he announced:

“Have faith in God…..I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Mark 11: 22-24

Reading Job’s reminder to his three friends that God moves mountains, then juxtaposing these words of Jesus that tie prayerful faith and trust in God to moving mountains, I saw something NEW and empowering.

Mike and I are working and praying about some challenges that LOOM gigantic.  You know those kinds.  They look, feel, and frankly seem….. IMPOSSIBLE! To us.

The only reason I can come up with for why these obstacles appear immovable is that I don’t SEE mountain-moving bulldozers on the scene. All I see are the problems.

But if God is in the business of creating and moving mountains, then I should be able to trust him to move MY mountains.

Jesus says it is SOLELY a matter of asking God and then trusting that he can and will move the mountain.

Can it be that simple?  That straightforward?

You might as well ask me, “Maria, do you believe what the Bible teaches about God is true?”

That’s a yes/no question. I either do believe God’s truthfulness or I don’t.  If I don’t, then I need to repent. And ask for Holy Spirit help to believe, trust and rely on Jesus and his promises.

After all, if I trust God for the safe-keeping of my eternal soul, what’s a mere earthly mountain?

What if I don’t FEEL any joy?

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Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Romans 12:12

We’re a feeling culture. We don’t ‘think’ anymore.

I often hear people say things like:

  • I feel that we must accept everyone’s religion as being equally valid.
  • I don’t feel like we’re going to make it to the end of the month!
  • I feel that if she made an effort to understand me, then our marriage would have a chance!

The above statements are not feelings; they are beliefs or thoughts.  Since it appears that we don’t even know how to frame our thoughts accurately, then should it surprise us when we struggle to understand feelings?

I came upon Paul’s exhortation above in a collection of R.C. Sproul’s sermons on Romans.  This is what he wrote regarding Romans 12:12 (page 424 of St Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, published by Crossway):

  • ….faith looks forward and finds its anchor for the soul in the future promises of God.  That is the foundation for our joy.

That reassured me that Biblical joy is based on facts.  Promises made by our God and recorded by the prophets for us.

You probably know from past essays that my natural bent is NOT first toward feeling something.  I have to think, ponder and work out thoughts and notions in my mind before I feel.  The feelings do follow I have observed.

Most of the time I don’t FEEL joy in God.  But that doesn’t bother me.  When I substitute the words:  “I’m glad that” for ‘I feel joy in’, then I understand the command to rejoice.  I THINK joy.

I am VERY glad that God’s promises are true and reliable.

I know that I am entitled to them as a follower of Christ.  For Christians are those folks for whom Jesus lived, died and was raised from the dead.  They know what Jesus and the Godhead did for them, OUT OF LOVE, and are VERY glad.  And that being VERY glad begins a deep, lasting and ongoing transformation into the likeness of this very God who has demonstrated His love for us.

So, what makes me glad each day?  That I have Jesus, that I am wedded to Him as part of the Bride.  And as Paul wrote, ….. all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ. 2 Cor 1:20a

My response?  a grateful glad and hearty And so through Him, our “Amen” is spoken to the glory of God. 2 Cor 1:20b

My hero and role model has feet of clay

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Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,  as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  1 Peter 3:3-6

I love this report about Sarah. I find her refreshing.  I am relieved that it is her Peter exhorts us to copy.  Yet I know the full story of Sarah.  I know that Peter, guided by God’s Spirit,  has selected the characteristics of Sarah WHEN SHE WAS AT HER BEST!  Yes, Moses wrote the unvarnished account of this matriarch who didn’t trust God all the time.  She is the one who thought she knew best how they could ‘get a baby’.  So she made her personal servant sleep with an old, old man.  And then she treated Hagar shamefully.

(One sin I think we women all share is that we, too, think we know best – pretty arrogant for a finite creature, don’t you think?_

Yet God holds her up as a role model. For me, for you (even if you are a man)

This time in life when our future feels as uncertain as that of Abraham and Sarah’s, I draw comfort from the realism-laced prescription that Peter writes.  I (and Mike as well)  am to cultivate a gentle and quiet disposition or attitude.  None of the crazed, “But what are we going to do!!!”  No need for that stress and unrest if we trust God!  We don’t HAVE to know today what we will do next week.

No, I am to be like Sarah and the other ‘holy women’ of the Bible ‘who hoped in God’.  That is they trusted, believed, counted on God to do and be what He said he would do.

But what sells me on wanting to be like my mother, or older sister Sarah is how Peter writes, “She didn’t fear what was frightening!”

We live in a scary world.  And it’s always been that way since the Fall.  That’s reality.  Yet because we have the happy, sovereign, good and all-wise triune God, we are NOT to fear.

So, do I know what will happen, what our future holds?  No.  But I am growing more able to rest and feel assured that God does know and is sovereignly working out the details.  We are to rest, trust, watch and be ready to move out.  To travel light.

Sarah left her home and friends behind in Ur. No mention is made of her pining away about what she left behind.  She moved and tented wherever her husband led.  Trusting and submitting to this fallible husband BECAUSE she trusted God.  And she was at rest.

I bet she didn’t have a worry line in her old face!

The shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do we help our suffering friends?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Worry – futile and evil

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Luke 12: 22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “And so I tell you not to worry about the food you need to stay alive or about the clothes you need for your body.” (GNT)

Christians know they are commanded NOT to worry.  And some of us do worry from time to time.  This is an account of when I recently succumbed to worry. We had been in Seattle for our mom’s 90th birthday.  And I was NOT at peace about some of the return trip details.

We were due to land in Charlotte, a 3-hour drive from our house in the Smokey Mountains.  On this late November Friday it would be dark when we landed at 7:30 pm.  I brooded about 2 significant details:

  • What about dinner?  First off, we wouldn’t want to spend time at a restaurant, which would only delay our arrival home.  But where would we buy low-carb food that time of night, once we left the airport?  Should we stop at a food place in the airport before claiming our bags?  The problem was that our bodies were operating on Seattle time (4:30 pm) and wouldn’t be hungry.
  • More troublesome than that was my imagined ‘what-if’:  What if there is a tree down across the gravel road leading up to our isolated house?  I didn’t want to imagine Mike, stopping and getting out his chainsaw and in the dark cutting, and removing a tree.  We would be exhausted from the plane ride and the drive and the general stress of air travel at Thanksgiving.

I had been churning over these 2 situations during our trip to Seattle.  And hadn’t come to any resolution.

Here is how God reminded me, yet again, of the futility of worry:

  • Our take-off was delayed by 2 hours (we sat on the plane, having taxied back for a mechanical problem.)
  • Realizing we probably wouldn’t arrive in Charlotte until 9:30 pm, Mike and I chatted and decided it would be wise to get a hotel near the airport.  Because we were on the plane and back at the gate, I could use my phone. I booked us a room.
  • Now, what about food?  Maybe we’d just skip dinner and eat almonds which I always carry in my purse…..fasting wouldn’t hurt us.
  • Here’s how God answered that need.  We arrived at the Charlotte airport hotel at 10:10 pm.  There was a bar in the lobby.  They stopped serving food at 10:30. We checked in, left our luggage in the car, sat down and ordered bunless burgers, a salad and something to drink.

God came through, providing our low-carb dinner AND arranging our drive home for the next day.  We slept soundly, felt rested and made our way home under sunny skies.  And there were no trees down in the cove.

Once again, I saw how pointless it is to worry and ponder imaginary ‘what-ifs’.

Yes, worry is futile.  But how is it evil?

Hebrews 5:13-14 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

These verses above pinged me last week when I read them in a prayer.  Here are my conclusions:

  • Milk and solid food refer to 2 levels of Biblical teaching – the first is basic familiarization for new believers. The latter – a deeper study for mature believers.
  • The Bible teaches God’s standard of righteousness or holiness.
  • We grow more holy as we learn to distinguish good from evil.
  • God is the One and only who has authority to define evil and good.

Here are two examples of God explicitly describing evil.

  •  Jer 2:13 ….my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
  • Another example of how God defines evil is idolatry or serving something created, rather than the Creator.  Gal 2:20 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.

My conclusion from these and other verses? That doing anything not from faith in or grateful reliance on God is sin, aka evil – Romans 14:23 For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Father, PLEASE help me, by your Holy and supernatural Spirit, not only to recognize when I’m straying into worry but to choose NOT to indulge in this futile, evil pattern. Amen.

 

Putting God’s peace on the shelf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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