Why pray? The power of love, hospitals and gifts.

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1 Peter 4:7-10 (NIV)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 

Are you stuck in a trying situation or have a problem for which there seems to be no imaginable solution?  Life is full of problems. No surprise for Jesus promised such tribulation, in case you thought something was amiss and there shouldn’t be all this pain.  (But He also encouraged us to cheer up because of what He would do on our behalf.- see John 16:33)

I like to commit Scripture to memory.  So I’ve been living with the Apostle Peter as I’ve made my way slowly through his first letter to scattered believers.  Memorizing the book, verse by verse, since January 2017, has provided me with rich meditation.

Recently a new insight in the above passage struck me.  ‘The end of all things is near.”  The straightforward plain reading of the text seems to be that Jesus will be back sooner than we think.  However, from our perspective (and if you think about the recipients of the letter 2 millennia earlier) the end is taking A LONG time in arriving!

Last week as I rehearsed what I ‘have’ inside of me from chapter 4, I saw something different in the above verses.  I thought about my friend Pat.  This pen-pal friend is in her late 60s and suffers from late-onset depression.  She was 60 before this darkness descended.  Meds appear to work for a while and then stop and her doctor tries out something else that might provide relief.   My new insight was this: what if God means, ‘the end of this particular trial that dominates her life right now’ is near?

If that’s the case and since God calls us to bear one another’s burdens, what can I, Maria, do to hasten Pat’s imminent relief from this disease?  Peter provides a prescription.  I’m to:

  • Be clear minded, or as another translation renders it sober up, that is ‘get a grip’ about what is important in the eternal scheme of things (and it’s not 75 % of what I churn about!)  Why?  So I can pray.  I’m to pray for my suffering sister.  We Christians are to corral and curate our thought life so we can pray for others.  Why?  Because God uses our prayers to bring an end to our brothers’ and sisters’ pains and trials.
  • Next, I’m to love this friend, that is to do what I can to make her life easier.  God gives us imaginations so we can put ourselves in someone else’s situation and understand what we would like in terms of relief and assistance.  Pat lives in Texas and I live in North Carolina.  So besides praying, I can keep in touch through mail, phone calls and texts.
  • Then what about the hospitality Peter mentions?  I love knowing that reaching out to those in need is also the origin of our centers for medical care – hospitals.  We are to be mini-hospitals to fellow members of God’s family.
  • Finally, we are to know that God specifically wired us and gifted us with the means to serve one another according to needs we find around us.  I have a friend who knits.  She works to hasten the trials of others by praying over shawls that she creates with love and care.  God did not endow me with that beautiful skill.

So you see, dear friends, God involves us in the very shortening of others’ trials.  But we have to get OUT of ourselves.  The call to pray, love, and provide healing service to those in need is a HIGH CALLING!

If you wonder what is the purpose of your life this day, then look no further.  God has equipped you and me to participate in a God-honoring and life-affirming way.  To Him be all the glory and to us be much joy.

How God changes people

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For 9 years I struggled with bulimia; 6 years before I married Mike, followed by 3 more years.  A favorite activity of ours as young lieutenants stationed in Germany was to explore the German countryside by means of a nearby ‘Volksmarch’.  These organized 3-4 hour walks through villages and wooded beauty gave us time to talk.  I would ask Mike each week while we traipsed, “What am I going to do?  How can I manage or handle this scourge of bulimia!!?”   Poor guy!  My supportive and loving husband probably felt frustrated as he offered his comfort and solutions time and time again.

In my mind, it was all up to me to find a solution AND the motivation to implement it.  The problem was, I couldn’t trust myself to follow through, no matter how sincere my intentions were.

We were new Christians and I prayed my heart out, week in and week out.  But God didn’t give me a way to free myself from this addiction to food.  Instead, he removed the burden himself, in a creative way.  I got pregnant.

With that dramatic change in circumstances, I had a new, compelling interest and desire.   Caring for this baby growing inside of me replaced the desire to binge and purge.  Up until now, I hadn’t felt enough self-love to take care of my body. But now, for the sake of this new life growing inside of me, I WANTED to nurture myself with good foods and healthy practices.

The 7 1/2 conscious months of carrying another human being turned out to be what I needed to break the binge and purge cycle.  God be praised!

God CAN and DOES change people and we know that.  If you are a Christian, there was a time when you weren’t. Maybe you can’t remember that period if you have loved Jesus from an early age.  But many of us do recall feeling either indifferent or luke-warm about God.  And then something happened.  All of a sudden we were interested in reading our Bibles.  The things of God drew us in.  We might have attributed that newfound growing fascination as something we did. But we would be incorrect. Dead men don’t make decisions!

Paul writes to the believers in Colosse: When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. (Col 2:13)

That means that any interest, any LOVE for Jesus comes from outside of us.  As Paul so bluntly argues in his letter to the Romans – ……God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Rom 5:5b)

Mike, too, has experienced this ‘from the outside to the inside change of heart’ regarding cars.  After those couple of years stationed in Germany, the land of VERY fast and powerful automobiles, Mike returned stateside with a growing, almost insatiable love for cars.  About 15 years ago Mike started noticing the decreasing pull of all things automotive.  During the span of 37+ years of marriage, we have bought, owned and sold 28 cars, not counting motorcycles.

But God!  Yes, God removed the interest, the mania, the seemingly insatiable desire for new wheels.  Mike didn’t set out to change.  In fact, he didn’t think he needed to change.  God has been working on Mike’s heart and shifting his values.

When we married at 22 (we’re now 60), we were not even believers.  Over the years, what has emerged as our favorite time of the day is something we would never have imagined in the first 25 years together.  The dinner-prep time, those 90 minutes when we’re in the kitchen fixing dinner and tomorrow’s breakfasts and lunches, we talk and listen to music.  Before we sit down to dine, we each get out our notebooks where we’ve observed and written down what we noticed in the day’s Scripture reading.  Inevitably Mike will have picked up something that passed me by and vice versa.  This in-depth exchange deepens our love and appreciation for God’s holiness and his Word. In our twenties and thirties, talking about God held no place in our daily exchanges.  God has planted and cultivated this now-cherished habit.

Last year I witnessed two other new desires that ‘came up out of nowhere’. (I’ve written previously about ‘dining with my school colleagues’ and ‘wanting to continue teaching and working on my craft of helping students with Second Language Acquisition’). What I love about God is how he surprises and delights me.   Maybe that’s what my family should etch on my tombstone, “Surprised by God!”

Recently, God did it again.  The change caught me unaware.  But this time, I connected it to a pattern.  (Why had no one comforted me with the FACT that change IS possible in God’s kingdom and that it is not all up to us!?)

Here’s what happened.  As I described above God rescued me from bulimia in my mid-twenties. Although the binge-purge pattern no longer ran my life, my obsession with eating and how I looked and felt about my body still plagued me.  The scales have been a powerful idol for decades.  Gradually God has weaned me mostly away from them.  But I still don’t trust myself to stick to any resolutions.

But God!  Yes, he has changed my desire.  Visiting with Shay and Graham over Christmas prompted an unexpected change.  They have been following a plant-based way of eating for 2 years.  Whereas I have always enjoyed the occasional vegetarian meal I considered it extreme to avoid all meat and dairy.  I like meat and dairy.  But watching the documentary Forks over Knives changed me.  I happened to ask Shay a question about the smoothie she was preparing.  It was Christmas Eve and we had a block of time before heading to church.  She asked me if I wanted to see for myself what caused them to switch.  I did and I was convinced.  Plant-based eating IS healthier and CAN minimize one’s risk for disease.  For me, it was a ‘no-brainer’.

And with that, I switched.  Mike, a very good-hearted, generous and supportive husband, agreed to drop his morning yogurt and share a smoothie with me. My lunches, breakfasts, and snacks are plant-based. And I agreed to prepare an ‘every-other-night’ entré of meat.    After all, Graham and Shay have adopted a ‘reasonable’ 80 %-of-the-time- vegan lifestyle.  This allows for eating what is served them by friends, or the occasional desire to sample something not plant-based.

A few weeks into this way of life, I recognized that I no longer care what the scale says.  What I value is eating healthy.  Surprise!  When we drove down to Tampa for Christmas, this new world of plant-based cooking was not on the radar.

So here is the principle.  Don’t angst about a change you can’t seem to make for the better.  Give it to God to bring about:

  • in his perfect way
  • in his perfect timing
  • to his glory and your blessing

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

PS:  I think the desires the Psalmist had in mind are not what WE think we want, but rather what God wants for us as his beloved children!

 

 

Why we can trust God!

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Romans 8:32 – Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? (NLT)

I read some GREAT news this morning!  And this GREAT news is the means to provide you and me and all believers with the reason why we can trust and rely on God’s promises written in the Bible.  If we have ANY love for the Biblical Jesus (that is NOT a Jesus we have made up to fit our pleasure and needs but as the Bible presents Him), then we have been born from above.  For without the Holy Spirit in us, we can’t see anything attractive in Jesus.

And once we know that we have been born from above, then we are entitled to:

  • the rest and relief that come from being sure…
  • that we belong to God…
  • and have a place in His forever Family…
  • with Jesus as our big brother and protector…
  • and the Supernatural Divine, Holy Spirit as our counselor, comforter, and explainer of God’s Word.

Now here comes what was new to me and very reassuring, clarifying WHY I can trust God to come through on His promises, as recorded in the Bible.

John Piper, in a book about justification as the apostle Paul lays it out in Romans 9, declares that God’s unconditional election of us IS the foundation of the fulfillment of His promises.

All of a sudden, I SAW why I can trust Him when He promises protection and guidance and provision.  It’s the argument from the greater to the lesser.  If He has already chosen me, then, of course, He WILL provide!

2 Cor 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him, the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (NIV)

Do we receive all of them now, in our current state?  No.  But we DO receive ‘a daily allowance ‘of what our good Father knows is necessary for us to live here and now before our Big Brother returns in glory for us.

So dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Don’t fear.  NONE of what God promises now and later is too good to be true.  Au contraire, our future life with God, our inheritance is far better than we can even imagine!

 

 

Functional Pauper

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Joshua 5:12: The manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.

The point of this verse is that God provided food each and every day, even AND MOST ESPECIALLY during the transition from a wandering tribe to a settling-down people.

If God so sustained the complaining, idolatrous, disbelieving Hebrews, will He not all the more provide for me, for whom He has already died?

You would think that I would understand the logic of this example.  I do, but I still don’t trust God.  Not really.

I’m a FIVE on the Enneagram.  I’ve written before how helpful I find this way of understanding oneself.  As a FIVE, I see life and live from out of the lens of scarcity; I hoard time above all.  I also hold tight to money.

God has recently convicted me of what this hoarding represents – the sin of UNBELIEF!  Operating out of insufficient resources is my day-to-day norm.  Whether at school (I don’t think I have enough time to get all this planning done) or in the evenings with the dinner prep (preparing whole foods takes time, and YES, I realize it’s a choice I make) or even on Sunday afternoons, the time I catch up with church committee work and a phone call to a friend or family member. Bottom line, I never feel/believe/trust God that He will provide enough time to get done all that I think is necessary.

Before you think I might simply need some lessons in time management, I want you to know that I have LEARNED to be content with the tasks that don’t get completed. I somehow am able to trust God’s plan for my day regarding what gets done.  The problem is this:  I can’t cast off that feeling of pressure.  I catch myself rushing, attempting to speed up my pace in order to shorten the overall time it takes for each task.  And I don’t LIKE that.

I know rushing is wrong.  I can FEEL it. I hate it. Yet, like Paul, I do the things I don’t want to do.  Even though I know the truth.  And just why can’t I LIVE what I believe? Why do I find it so hard to trust Jesus’ assurance that ‘If one knows the truth, it will set one free’? (John 8:32)

This unbelief spreads tangled roots that smooth the path for deceitful lying. Saturday, I found myself in dialogue with God, planning and carrying out something that would require deception on my part.  I returned a product to a grocery store that I had not purchased there, but one they carried. To make it even more shameful, it was a product I had ordered from Amazon. They had shipped the wrong product and refunded me the $5.76 and said I didn’t need to return the incorrect items.  Somehow I believed that gaining an EXTRA $5.76 would make a difference in my life.  I knew it was wrong.  And I did it anyway.  The self-justifying litany continued OUT of the store, money in hand, all the way to the car.  But then came the Lord’s Supper, yesterday, in church.  As I was contemplating Jesus dying for my sins, He kindly shone the spotlight on yesterday’s ‘LITTLE’ episode so I could confess it and come clean.

Not to drop the matter before He was sure I had internalized the lesson, this morning, Jesus returned to the subject by whispering in my mind’s ear: “You could have donated those two bags of dried black-eyed peas that you didn’t want.”  One of my ‘justifying’ excuses for my deceit had been, “What am I going to do with these legumes I don’t like and that I didn’t order?”

Mike left me an encouraging word this morning on our frig whiteboard.   He had remembered my discouragement last night about my lingering scarcity mindset.  He reminded me to pick a promise from God and then count on Him to fulfill it.

Sure enough, God brought just the appropriate Word during my quiet time: Psalm 23:1

  • The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall lack NOTHING.

What comfort!  What power!  The truth is this; I’m sure you can follow the logic:

  •       If God created all time and matter
  •       and If He has adopted me into His forever family
  •      Then, He will provide for me

He will provide THE precise quantity of time and money that HE knows is best, not what I think.

I’ll let Ken Boa have the last word.  I read in his latest Reflections something that is apparent but which I had never considered.  Quoting 1 Cor 6:19b-20a You were bought with a price; you are not your own, Boa wrote, “God has invested a lot in you already!

What a reassuring fact!  It follows from God’s investment of Jesus, the most valuable person in Eternity, that He is going to take GOOD care of me.

God help me to relax and just be a little lamb moving about and lying down at your direction.

My New Year’s Resolution in 2018

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Moses said, “Please show me your glory. – Exodus 33:18

We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2b

Verses like the above have always startled me and caused me to think that some Christians must be VERY different from me.  I don’t even understand what that hope looks like.  Just what is it about God’s glory that others find compelling?

This theme of God’s glory as being something to be VERY happy about has birthed a growing desire to understand just what this glory is.

What tipped this quest into the ‘gotta know NOW’ category was a recent Pastor John Piper’s meditation on glory. John Piper writes about God’s glory.

Reading that, I knew that the only New Year’s resolution I wanted to set for myself was to keep my eyes open as I journey through the Bible again this year, searching for all the mentions of God’s glory.  I mean to write them down in order to grow my understanding and (I hope!) appreciation of this gift our Father holds out to His adopted sons and daughters.

And if I need a compelling example of someone else on the hunt for this kind of intimacy with God, the apostle Paul comes to mind. Beyond question, this former Pharisee had re-oriented his life toward KNOWING God’s glory.  Just read how he encouraged believers in Philippi  (chapter 3, verse 14):

  • I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  

Just what did this formidable evangelist long for that he willfully embraced hardship to hold out this prize to many?  Nothing else but seeing God face to face and experiencing His essence as much as possible.

So what is God’s glory?  In one sentence, I would say that God’s glory is the visible, physical manifestation of His holiness.  It would be akin to describing patriotism as the love of country made manifest in military service, citizen action, political representation, etc.  We can apprehend something of God’s holiness through this observable and usually physical and emotionally OVERWHELMING experience of His glory.  Beyond that, I cannot say.

What am I hoping for?  That my love for the Triune God will warm up and that I’ll long for Him more, so that I can say with all sincerity, “Come Lord Jesus”.

 

A Biblical ‘Rule of Life’ for 2018

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1 John 3:23   And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

As Mike and I reach the end of another year’s journey through God’s Word, I marvel at the theme that reoccurs through many biblical exhortations: Trust God!

One strong message God has directed toward me since this past summer rings: Be still! Know that I am God (Ps 46:10).  To a fault, I de-FAULT to thinking (as opposed to feeling and doing).  As a result, not realizing I lack the necessary data, I run myself ragged like a caged rat wearing grooves on his treadmill.  Round and round I go, trying to think myself toward a solution.  Imploring God for an answer brings me His counter solution, “Give it up, Maria.  Stop!  Lay it aside.  What you need more than an answer is to know who I AM.  That is enough.”

Recognizing that I’m more prone to live inside of my head than to give to others, God is wooing me toward the joy of enjoying ‘doing’ or action.  I’m a reluctant and slow learner, but gradually I am experiencing that He truly knows what is best for me, what will give me authentic joy.

I’ve written about how 16 months ago I finally ‘succumbed’ to joining work colleagues at lunch, to fellowship while sharing our lives.  ‘One day a week I’ll give you, Lord!,’  I had conceded, begrudgingly and guilted by God into abandoning my ‘precious email surfing’  time alone in my room while munching away.  Not ever, ever imagining how much I’d grow to love that ‘lunch bunch’. Or how deprived I would feel on the rare occasion when everyone split off for teacher duties, meetings or one-off reasons.  “What? eat alone in my room?”  And that had been my hoarded and cultivated custom in the 24 previous years of teaching.

God is patient.  Far more so than we are with ourselves or with families and friends.  This past season He has led me deeper into stepping outside of my self-centered mindset to GIVE (His nature) to others.  For example, a new pattern has fallen into place – that of scheduling one Sunday afternoon catch-up phone call a week.

And I have learned to accept that if I don’t ‘GET to’ all my curated podcasts or reading I have chosen in a day, then what He allows for IS enough.  I’m just not wise enough to know what is best for me.  That is the relief of resting in God’s sovereignty.

So, what about 1 John 3:23?  The apostle John, through God’s divine Spirit, sums up what it is to abide in Christ.  I like it.  I can hold on to it.  And by God’s grace, I can start afresh each morning to practice it:

  • Trust Jesus:  what He has done for me through His blood, what He promises me in the future grace He purchased for me (thank you, Pastor John Piper!), and in the Life (that grace-filled, nourishing sap) with which He feeds me moment by moment as I consciously stay connected to Jesus.
  • Look outward and see who needs what, and after consulting with my special Advisor, move toward him/her/them to offer what I have.  That is called Love.

Pay off?  1 John 3:24 reassures me with this Word of Truth: Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. 

I get it!  And praise our good Father, He is growing IN me, slowly but surely, a desire both to trust Him with all my unresolved issues, problems, questions, and VERY messy situations, while I go about His business of loving others in the strength He supplies.

I never expected the simplicity and relief of this liberty.

 

Why I liked ‘Star Wars – the Last Jedi’

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Disclaimer – I don’t watch movies for the internal logic of the story.  I look for examples of God’s truth and common grace.

Mike and I kept to our tradition this week – a once-a-year excursion to view a movie in the theater.  Yes, it had been an entire year.  So we were not prepared for 2 facts:

  • People reserve a specific seat online
  • Lazy-boy style recliners are the norm!

We were graced to be let INTO the 1 pm showing when the ticket gal released 2 handicapped seats to us!

A student had given me a gift card to Regal as a Christmas gift.  It was a free date with my husband!  We don’t buy snacks and we took our lunch with us, enjoying some free coffee (Starbucks rewards) before the movie. We left the house in Balsam at 11:10 am and made it home from Asheville by 5 pm.  That’s basically an all-day field trip.  But all it cost us was time.  Definitely worth it.

I praise excellence where I find it.  And God has endowed Christians and non-Christians alike with many talents.  Here is what I found praise-worthy in this Star Wars episode:

  • Female leadership beautifully modeled.  Both General Organa (Princess Leia) at age 60 and her vice-admiral, another older actress showed strength and made decisions with kindness and directness.  Women can be equally effective as leaders of men and women AND do it in a beautiful way that highlights their strengths of compassion and love.  My oldest granddaughter, Chloe who is 8 1/2 continued her father-daughter tradition of attending certain movies on opening night (i.e VERY late on a school night).  I was glad she had seen strong but kind women model leadership.  And effective OLDER women being productive too.
  • The other female warriors, in particular, Rose, drew a distinction between selflessly choosing to sacrifice out of love and giving one’s all motivated by hate. Noteworthy and encouraging.
  • Among the many ‘The Force Be With You!’ greetings passed among Rebellion members, was one ‘Godspeed!‘.  Made me wonder if director Rion Johnson intentionally shifted ‘the Force’ to a personal God.
  • Sometimes we need the brash effrontery of a young raw but bold officer such as X-wing fighter pilot Poe.  He gambled and won the brass’ confidence to command. There is a fine line between insubordination and leadership.  Gauge incorrectly and you face sometimes-dire consequences for your brashness.
  • Failure as a positive lesson to harness emerged.  Luke Skywalker finally admits to Yoda his painful remorse at having failed his nephew Kylo Ren by not spotting his turn to the Dark Side.  Yoda disarms his self-flagellation by suggesting that failure is a good teacher.  In the end, we see Luke has internalized this new thought to make effective use of it in conflict.  That’s a lesson ALL of us need to acquire.  Shame would be waste of a good failure!
  • Hope as a tangible and necessary good recurs several times.  Without hope, we give up.  The Rebellion is small, a mere remnant, dispersed in the galaxy with some silent supporters.  But as long as they hold on to hope, they can survive to fight another day. So too with Christians.
  • Just as our God often appears to His people to be the ‘God of the very last moment’, so it is with Hope for the Rebellion.  When seemingly trapped and Princess Leia announces that Hope has run out, God (or the Force) seems to use human hubris in Kylo’s character AND the instinct for survival of the ice fox to buy time and furnish an escape for the Rebellion.
  • Finally, though insignificantly small in number, the Rebellion represents Good in this epic struggle of Good versus Evil.  That battle illustrates the struggle in our world.  Modern westerners don’t want to think about spiritual powers, let alone dark, evil forces.  But they are real.  Roiling with hate, they oppose God and those who belong to Him.  Star Wars illustrates that truth.

An excellent movie, worth seeing.  Paraphrasing Abraham Kuyper, ‘All truth is God’s truth.’

 

 

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