Is some pain waking up your spirit?

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Firm roller I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for almost 3 months to help with severe pain in my left hip.  Four weeks ago, Dr Sarah suggested I use a hard, firm roller to ‘wake up my brain’, a technique designed to lessen the constant soreness in my glute.

“What do you mean, ‘wake up my brain’?” I asked Sarah.  She explained that by rolling sections of my legs, one at a time, with my full body weight pressing on this hard fat tube of cylindrical foam, those movements would send signals to the brain which would help alleviate pain in my hip! when I bend over to touch my toes or walk on the treadmill.

When one of the chiro tech gals showed me the movements, I learned what the IT Band was (“The ITB ,also called the iliotibial band or iliotibial tract, is a thick, fibrous tendon that runs along the outside of each leg “) and how working that tendon with the hard, firm roller would REALLY get my brain going and do something good.

Let me tell you what excruciating pain is like: rolling on my left outer leg with my full weight working the inflamed IT band ligament!!!!

This is supposed to help? Pain is going to stimulate my brain to send a message to my sore glute to calm down?

THAT didn’t make sense. Yet, I was committed to the healing process.  Pain is a great motivator. I also trusted Dr. Sarah.

But I have dreaded those 3-4 minutes each morning.  I know what is coming – the pain that ‘hurts like hell’!

But a month in, I am pleased to report that the pain on my IT band has subsided and I have increased the rolling time from maybe 20 seconds to 40 seconds, all without increasing the discomfort.  That means the inflammation is less.

Did you see my sentence above, ‘Pain is a great motivator’?

I see a parallel with the Covid-19 crisis.  Pain has grabbed our attention. All of us -believers, pagans and atheists alike.  When something hurts enough, we tend to reorder our priorities. Quickly.  Suddenly.

I faced such a crisis years ago in our marriage. We were approaching our 20th anniversary. (Now, we’re one week away from celebrating our 40th anniversary – Yay, God!!!) Mike told me he didn’t know if he loved me anymore.

That woke up my spirit AND my thinking for sure.  I dropped the ‘too many things’ I was doing like hot potatoes to focus on our marriage.  No praying about that.  No going through any decision analysis process. Values seismically sifted during an afternoon walk and talk.  By God’s grace and with much gladness, I can write today about that PAIN at the 20-year point of our marriage, attesting to His goodness and grace to us, a couple MORE in love with each other than we imagined standing at the altar in 1980.

I know what I'm doing, Mother! copy

Do you see what sickness, death and financial pain are accomplishing?  More people all over the world are reflecting on their mortality.  They are thinking about God, and about transcendent values. This is GOOD! If church-attenders who have long thought they were Christian turn to their Bibles to learn who the real Jesus is, that is good.  If complacent believers who function day to day like unbelievers turn back to the Lord, that is for their blessing. If those who have never considered Jesus start thinking about him, that is pure grace.

My meditations these days are not along the lines of:

  • when will this be over?
  • when will life return to normal?
  • when will we be able to travel and see our family?

I’m praying and pondering:

  • Father, may we learn your lessons for good!
  • Father, use this evil to bring many to eternal life!
  • Father, may more come to honor your name and love you through this suffering.

These sufferings are not new to humanity.  Just look in the Bible if you want clear examples.

Mike and I are journeying through the depressing book of Judges.  This year, the cycle of peace, complacency, turning to contemporary cultural idols, PAIN-producing subjugation and hardship, calling on Yahweh, rescue, thanksgiving, closeness to God ……with its numerous encores, FEEL REAL and close to home.

Here’s the most important question: Will Covid-19-produced suffering be enough this time to change our world once and for all?  That’s easy to answer – No!

Any serious Bible reader can you that.  But there is a world coming, Earth 2.0, when Jesus comes down with all the angels and those saints already with him. He has promised to redeem, restore and re-create His Bride and our Earth. And be with us forever.  So, take heart and let this pain, sovereignly planned and controlled by the one and only Living God, work its good in you. Let it awaken your spirit. Be bold. Share good news of great joy. Help whom you can. Pray and rejoice!

Rev 21:1-5

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.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

 

 

How the Lord changed my mind

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God still surprises me and I’ve VERY glad.  I am learning that He doesn’t tend to act in the same manner in similar sets of circumstances.  I should know that just through the two accounts of God’s instructions to Moses about how He, God, was going to provide water from the Rock to thirsty, wandering Israel in the wilderness:

In the first instance, Moses was to STRIKE the rock.

Ex 17:5-6 Then the Lord told Moses, “Go over in front of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.  I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock and water will come out of it, so the people can drink.” Moses did this in front of the elders of Israel.

But again, when the people had no water, God told Moses to TALK to the rock. Moses disobeyed.

Numbers 20:8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

The God who spoke our varied and intricate universe into existence IS creative and intent on teaching us obedience.

Now to my situation:

For almost two years I had been creating video content for my YouTube channel (videos and transcripts here)  to help English language learners acquire English through simple stories in slow English.  But as 2019 turned into 2020 I had been questioning whether I should continue.  The response and number of subscribers to the channel didn’t seem worth the time I was spending.  After much prayer and discussion with Mike, I decided to let my waning desire be my guide to a decision.  I stopped creating videos in early February 2020.  Relieved of that ‘task’ each week, I happily shifted more time to what was providing satisfaction:  acquiring Spanish!

This self-imposed lay-off coincided with the 5 weeks of work it took to move from a rental house here in Huntsville into a new house and get our household up and running.

To my surprise, God intervened about two weeks ago to direct my thoughts back to ‘English without Fear’.  Through Scripture, books on God and various prayers I read as well as devotions from my favorite teaching & praying pastors (John Piper, Scotty Smith, & Charles Spurgeon) God seemed to be saying that I had a duty to STEWARD my talents, gifts and experiences for the benefit of others.

I immediately thought about His gifts to me – the personal joy in learning and using French, German and Spanish as well as the ability to teach a second language.

“Huh,” I mused and pondered. “The Lord doesn’t seem to be working through my desires right now. He seems to be appealing to the responsibility I have to put to use for others more of my skills and experience.”  Since calling a halt to ‘English without Fear’ I’ve been using my growing, intermediate Spanish skills in my newish volunteer position as an intake counselor at our local pregnancy resource center.  Was God urging me NOW to add back into my week teaching English as a second language via my videos?

I pondered, reasoned, waited and prayed.  The message came again – “Maria, as a believer, you are called NOT to be idle nor hide your gifts, your light, under a bushel basket”

Maybe DESIRE alone should NOT be what determines how I spend my time. With that conclusion, I started back up creating content for ‘English without Fear’.

My resolve, for now, is to be faithful with what the Lord has given me. It matters not if few still watch.  If one or two are helped, then isn’t that enough? And if NO one watches right now, isn’t the bigger principle my obedience to Holy Spirit nudges?

Therefore, for the time being and with His grace, I will keep my hand to the plow, confident that He will signal me when and if it is time for a course change.

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Power to obey Jesus

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What is the most difficult command God has given you? And how did you respond?

The other night, right before turning out the light, I read a brief devotion about Peter’s cry for help as he was sinking amidst the stormy waves. Jesus chastises him with question, “Why did you doubt?”

I’m thinking, ‘Hello, Jesus! it’s not every day an ordinary man tries to walk on water. Can’t you give him a break? Can’t you give him an attaboy for attempting to do something no one else has?

Curious to see what more might be in the text, I looked up the passage in my bedside-table Bible.

Matt 14: 28 – 32 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Did you notice that Peter actually DID take some steps on the water without sinking?  How is that?  I think there are two conditions that he met:

– Jesus gave a command

–  Peter believed he could obey Jesus’ command

So, what happened?

Peter changed his belief.  At first he believed that just by the power of Jesus’ summons, he COULD do the beyond-ordinary feat. But all of a sudden, his fears and what he saw around him felt MORE real and true than Jesus’ word to him.

Let’s take Peter’s successful steps on top of the water and think more broadly. Does his experience mean that you and I CAN obey the commands God gives us? I think so. But the power is not in us. What I draw out of this scenario with Peter and Jesus is that:

  • Believers CAN obey (and are expected to obey their Lord)
  • But not without God’s power.

I’m reminded of Mike’s 2 favorite verses:

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING.

Phil 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Back to the other night. As I lay pondering these principles drawn from Peter’s experience, other commands came to mind:

  • Do not fear
  • Do not be anxious
  • Cast all your cares on me
  • Be holy
  • Love one another
  • Think about what is true, right, beautiful, praise-worthy, excellent etc

The list goes on and on. What’s new for me is the realization that we believers, grafted into Jesus, are not only expected to obey but we are to count on, depend on Jesus’s grace so that we CAN obey.

How does that help?

Practically, with my sinful default temptation of fearing the future and not trusting God!

The last couple of days each time I’ve been lured into sin, I’ve stopped and reminded myself of this FACT:  Maria, you CAN obey this command.  Not only CAN you, but Jesus expects you to given his promised grace. He provides the power and strength TO obey. No command of his goes out to the world without supernatural ability for believers to obey.

NEVER does our God envision us muscling through to obedience with our puny human strength.  That’s not only impossible, but absurd.  Rather, He expects us to rely on the fact that we are in union with Christ. We have access to His power. At least 80+ times the phrase ‘In Christ’ is written.  We are not alone.

So, brothers and sisters, be encouraged. And don’t forget that each time we disbelieve our Lord, we have been equipped to repent and receive immediate forgiveness. Obedience not only pleases our Holy, Triune God, it makes us happier.

 

 

What do you do with 30 seconds?

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Six of us sat at the table Wednesday night at church.  As those gathered to pray together, we had broken off into small groups.  One by one we shared what was weighing us down, what we were desperate to hand over to God through the prayers of our sisters.

One gal asked us to pray that she would put to better use those small pockets of time in her day. Her default response to 30 seconds here and 2 minutes there has been to pull out her phone and check social media while she is waiting – whether in line at the grocery store, or for the light to turn green.  She confessed to knowing full well that exchanging the ‘free’ moments for scanning her social media go-to spots does not give her LIFE!

This confession could have been all of ours’; in fact it is!  Who doesn’t turn to her phone for a quick dopamine hit? I know I do.

Our sister already knew a better use of those moments.  She suggested that she could read Scripture (also on her phone) and/or pray. Both options would clear her mind of fluff, re-center her and give her something edifying to share with the next person she meets.

We prayed. For her and for us.

That was Wednesday.  Yesterday, Saturday, Mike and I headed out in the car for some errands. As we were driving to the first place, I told Mike about our Wednesday night praying for redeeming those fleeting free moments. I mentioned that as an addicted feed-scroller, I prayed that for me as well.

Mike pulled in to his barbershop.  I stayed in the car while he dashed in to make an appointment for later in the week.  Without thinking, I pulled out my phone to check……..Instagram!

But the next second, before I could tap on the icon, my Friend and Counselor, the Holy Spirit said, “Wait a minute, what were you just telling Mike?”

Convicted! How quickly I had forgotten.

Thanks to God’s timely reminder, I put down my phone and picked up with a strategy to think about God.  I used the alphabet to enumerate some of the gifts He has already given me:

A – You made me ABLE to hear and believe your Word.

B – Your presence is always BESIDE me, BEFORE me, BEHIND me, and BETWEEN me and danger.

C – You CHOSE me before you created the heavens or the earth.

D – You are bearing my burdens this DAY.

E – You have EQUIPPED me for today’s duties.

F – You gave me saving FAITH to trust you and your word.

I think I reached the letter J by the time Mike returned to the car.

Using this alphabet structure to enumerate some of God’s gifts to me is easy.  Another use would be to name an attribute or quality of God for each letter. Or maybe using the letters to pray for a friend. A for Anne.

What was the result of how I spent these 3 minutes?  I felt calmer, cleaner, more relaxed. And I KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that this use of the time pleased my Father.

Do you have a way of thinking about God and His Word that is your practiced default for those sleepless periods in the night or the ‘in-between’ moments of the day?  Share with us.  And may the Lord be pleased and glorified by our thoughts.

Phil 4:8 (NLT) And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 

 

 

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.

How am I supposed to love Jesus?

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Matt 22:37  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Mike and I talk about this from time to time, how hard it is to love Jesus. What do I mean?

Mike will say, “How can I love someone I can’t touch or see or even talk with face to face?”

He’s right.  It IS hard.  It IS different from family love – love between husband and wife, love of a mom and a dad for their children. Even love for our companion dogs or cats.

Since we don’t experience the physical God, ‘all’ we can go on is what we read in the Bible ABOUT Him as mediated to us through God’s Spirit.

Those writings CAN be the start, the seed of a growing love.

Think of an arranged marriage between a bride and a groom who have yet to meet.  As believers we, the Church, ARE that bride being prepared for our groom Jesus who has put into writing His promise to come for us.  There IS a wedding date.  The God family knows it. We, the bride, are the only ones who don’t know the exact date. But the invitation has been printed and the wedding reception has been prepared since before the creation of the universe.

Let’s put this into life in 2020 where planned unions do take place.  So it is plausible that your parents have indeed arranged for you to marry someone on the other side of the globe. You’ve never met your intended. But there is a lot of information available about him.  In fact, he and his father have sent written accounts to you and your family of what he is like and what extremes he has already undertaken to secure the right to marry you.

There is even a courier, someone who knows your fiancé inside and out.  This internuncio or go-between is willing and available to explain in as much detail as you would like every heroic exploit your future husband has undertaken and how much he loves you. The stories are filled with longings of your bridegroom to be with you.  He writes of the joy he is anticipating being your husband and being with you.  At first his words stun you in their intensity and certitude.

Wouldn’t you be curious to know more? Wouldn’t it make sense to read over and over again these accounts about him and love notes from him?  Each time that his emissary would fill in some of the detail wouldn’t you appreciate more what he has gone through to secure your hand in marriage?  Wouldn’t your wonder grow deeper and form the basis of a love? Gradually as you came to understand the intricacies and details of your future husband’s plan to marry you, you might even start to question why YOU had been selected by his Father. This kind of love would strike you as a one-of-a-kind amazing love.  Learning about it would have to warm your heart gradually.

I’ve seen the pattern in my own life of not caring anything about a particular subject, say statistics. Yes, I once had to take such a class to get certified to teach French. What happened in that course was that AS I learned and got into the material, I grew interested.  This phenomenon of interest springing up from knowledge still happens in my life.

Until a couple of years ago, I never considered or even desired to learn Spanish. But one day I had a reason to learn, a planned trip for students to France & Spain. Just a few weeks into my relationship with this new language, I was hooked. My passion for ‘español’ took off.  From zero interest to love in a few weeks.

So it is with this arranged marriage.  I’m making the case that one CAN grow to love someone one has yet to see.  Through learning about that person.

Is it the same as seeing someone, hanging around someone physically, touching someone, hearing someone laugh and then look you straight in the eyes with tender affection?  No!!! But it’s something.

That’s how I view loving Jesus and reveling in the fact that He loves me. It’s NOT the same as my love for my sons and for Mike.  But it will be one day. From what my intended has written, my love FOR Him and my feeling loved BY Him will be categorically better.  I believe that, even if I can’t yet know it experientially as I long to.

 

Good News for Christmas Blahs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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