Can’t you see the water?

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A certain young man whom I dearly love is struggling with fear, anxiety and worry. He has recently been moved into a position with more responsibility and fewer resources that he can see. Knowing himself well, he has rightly concluded: I don’t have what it takes to succeed in this job!

Night and day, he has fallen into obsessing about failure. He feels stuck in the position because it appears to be one that will last until June 2021. He confessed to me last week that he sometimes daydreams of working an 8 to 5 at Walmart!

Haven’t we all been there!

Yes, he is a believer and knows Scripture well enough to realize that all this pressure is from God. He should also know that as a born-again child of God, he has been given solid promises that are his to use and to cling to.

So, when I read Jeremiah’s description of the ever-green leafy tree, I immediately applied it to his pressure-cooker of a job.

God’s sovereign governing of all that concerns his children includes where He ‘plants’ us. The Holy Spirit, through Jeremiah, is reminding us of the following:

  • wherever the Lord ‘plants’ those who TRUST HIM, that place is always VERY near a nourishing, life-giving stream. What does the stream represent? Something that is invisible at first to our eyes. Do you remember when the Exodus crowd were parched and out of strength in the desert? God instructed Moses to strike the Rock (Jesus per 1 Cor 10:4). Water gushed out in abundance. That MASS of people were enLIVEned, refreshed, encouraged and energized. Never would they have imagined water coming from a boulder.
  • the one who is confident in God’s WILL and ABILITY to provide draws near to the LORD, the only constant and dependable supply. Jeremiah is given a vision of the tree moving her roots TOWARD the water. Why would a tree bother to spread out her roots? Because there is no rainwater. But having sensed water and its life-giving relief, she moves toward it.
  • when troubles come, like NO RAIN, the tree keeps her roots IN the water. She does not say once she is satisfied: “Thank you, stream, that will do me just fine. Have a nice day!” No! That would be stupid. Since she has received, she stays connected to the Source.
  • what is the happy result? She doesn’t suffer the natural consequences of rain-deprived trees. She has a secret supply of what she needs. The effect of being so nourished is evident to all – GREEN leaves amidst dying, dried-up trees.
  • furthermore, do you notice the impact of HER leaves staying green all through the drought? She produces fruit. Do trees need their own fruit? No! Fruit is for others, whether the next generation of little trees, for squirrels, birds or humans!

So, sweet friend of mine. This is for you. I believe the Lord has planted you in a desert where you are withering. But take heart. There is a river nearer than you think. God’s never-ending Supplier, His divine Spirit, the Helper, is not just NEAR you, He is in you.

But yes, He is invisible as are His supplies. Yes, depending on your abilities alone scares you. It should! God means you to be overwhelmed if you’re looking at just you and all that is on your plate. But God, rich in mercy, has not planted you NEAR a stream. He has planted the stream IN you!

John 7:37-38 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Sticking to my word is costly

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But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes ‘ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. Matthew 5:37 (NASB)

I bet you’d agree with me, that it’s easy to fall into trouble through what comes out of our own mouths.

Just a couple days ago I had one of those pop quizzes from God. It wasn’t new material; in fact it was a review of a character trait that he is working to form in me – that of being true to my word. Apparently, I still need the reinforcement!

I have a cousin in another state. Let’s call her ‘Sue’. Sue and her husband ‘Pete’ and I usually check in with each other by phone once every couple of months. She works during the day, so our catch-up calls are in the evening. The least convenient time for me.

When Mike gets home from work, I focus on him during our ‘sacred’ happy hour/dinner prep/sharing prayers and dining part of the evening. Then when the dishes are done, I enjoy sipping my tea, nibbling on my 100 % cacao dark chocolate and reading – ‘Maria Time’.

I knew that Pete’s oldest grandson was to start college this fall, so while I was cooking blackened salmon on Monday night, I texted Pete and asked for an update. He immediately called back, but I didn’t answer because it was time to flip the blackened salmon in my cast iron pan. Once safely searing on the other side I texted back: ‘Can’t talk now, I’m cooking salmon!’

He texted back: Call us when you finish dinner and I’ll tell you about the grandkids.

I inwardly grimaced and said, ‘How about tomorrow night!’ And so, it was settled.

The next day, my selfishness started kicking in. The urge to postpone grew stronger and stronger. Finally, I decided to ‘just be honest’ and propose a different time, maybe during the day (when it isn’t so costly to me to spend time with someone on the phone). But if it were during the day, I knew it would have to be a chat just with Pete who is retired, because Sue works full time still.

After dinner I texted Pete with that proposal. We ate dinner. I was relieved that I had been forthcoming with Pete, sharing that the reason I wanted to reschedule the chat to a day time was because I focused on my husband during the evenings, (leaving out the ‘Maria Time’ part of the truth).

But God began to chide me! I was not at peace.

Ignoring the lack of peace while we cleaned up the kitchen, I made some tea, sat down to check my texts and emails before settling in to read. I saw a response from Pete.

He simply had texted back: “Call Sue’s cell, mine is dying.”

There it was…foiled by God! Cornered into keeping my original word to Pete.

So, I called Sue’s cell. The three of us chatted, catching up. Toward the end of our call Sue asked me to pray about an important meeting happening the next day. I realize that had I allowed my selfishness to rule, I would have missed knowing about Sue and her need. I even took the opportunity DURING our chat to pray out loud for her.

When she wrote me after her meeting, she thanked me and reported that knowing that I was praying for her had kept her calm and at peace. Pinged!!!

Had it NOT been for the persistent nagging of the Holy Spirit I would not have kept my word. Thank you, Father!! I think I understand why keeping one’s word is important.

But I don’t think the Father believed I had REALLY learned my lesson. Two days later, He gave me another opportunity to practice faithfulness to what I had assured a friend I would do. She had asked me to listen to one of her pastor’s sermons. I replied that I would the next time I was on the treadmill.

I did set my iPhone to the podcast and started to listen to the 40-minute sermon once I hopped on the treadmill. But halfway through Satan ganged up against me WITH my natural selfish bent and whispered: ‘You can stop now, halfway through and shift to what you rather listen to. As long as you are honest and tell your friend that you listened to a good chunk of the sermon…..’

My response THIS time was immediate. I spoke back: ‘But I TOLD her, my words were explicit, that I would listen to the sermon during my treadmill time!’

This time it felt good to stick to my word, the FULL intent of my word. And you know what? I finished the sermon and STILL had time to listen to the podcast I wanted to hear.

God is SO good and gentle. And I am SO selfish, but…..I take comfort in his promise in Phil 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in ME will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

I hate tech issues!

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Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully. 1 Peter 5:7 Amplified Bible

Okay, I teach languages on line. I tutor students individually and in groups as well as create content YouTube videos where I tell stories in simple, slow English with lots of images. Each time I upload a video to my channel I create a WordPress post at www.englishwithoutfear.com

Well, yesterday something went wrong, I couldn’t insert the video into the post in the usual way. I spent about an extra 20 minutes trying this or that, to no avail. Then I had to leave it because something was more pressing.

This morning, in my little old school ‘To Do’ flip notebook, I wrote down as # 2 priority: Try again to insert video into post.

It didn’t work. Again, I had to put it aside for my 1 pm tutoring session with Veronika. It’s 8 pm in Moscow when this 10-year-old girl and her mom meet with me on Zoom for a weekly English lesson.

Lesson over, the tech issue with WordPress still loomed. Do I tackle it now or wait until tomorrow?

If I can’t get it to work, then I’ll have to find some contact or help number and hope to get a live person whom I can understand! As I was pondering the situation, ALL OF A SUDDEN (but not out of the blue!) came this thought……………..Problems are the prelude to praise.

I don’t think I’ve read that recently, it just popped into my mind. ‘How perfectly true!’ I responded. Then smiled. Okay…I WON’T put it off until tomorrow. Let me sit down and see if I can find a contact number and talk to someone.

Searching the WordPress site, I noticed the indicator of 10 new plugin updates. I usually ignore those. But this time I said to myself: ‘What the heck, I might as well…….’ There were some other feature updates that I took care of, too.

‘Huh’, I wondered, ‘what if by doing all these updates the site would work as it was supposed to, allowing me to insert my video into the post? Wouldn’t that just be like the Lord!’

I prayed. I went to the bathroom. Got some water. Then tried again. It worked!!!!

And I praised Him. Problems ARE the prelude to praise. What else but problems force us to depend on God? But it’s not like I DON’T ask His help each time I’m about to tutor a student or plan a lesson or conduct a difficult conversation. “Father, I need you!” frequently comes out of my mouth as I acknowledge my inability to do X without God’s help.

But it’s those dreaded inopportune problems, the painful situations, and the decisions with no apparent good options that cause me to cling all the more to Jesus. The tech issue of today was just another pop quiz GIFT sent my way, reminding me of my helplessness and lack of control over any outcome.

Thank you, Father, that this was a gentle reminder. Your mercies never cease, they are fresh every dawn, ready and waiting. (Lam 3:23)

The sovereign Father and the persistent momma bird!

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Momma Bird's Nest Yes, it’s a dying petunia we have hanging up over our back patio.

A dried up, intentionally left plant that reminds me of God’s sovereign timing and the trust of a little ordinary sparrow.

Mike and I love birds and as soon as we moved into this house in March, we hung up our bird feeders. Our new house backs up onto a disc golf park and greenway.  Big shady trees housing many birds hang over our postage-sized back yard, satisfying us with a feeling of the spacious outdoors.

But not one bird came to the ‘table’.  Maybe that’s how Jesus felt when his banquet invitees provided excuses for why were choosing not to attend the readied feast!

Mike and I asked God daily to direct his birds to our feeders.  I even enjoined my friend Jill in the UK to pray !  FINALLY…..they flocked.  We rejoiced, thanking God for the gift of observing and savoring these happy feathered members of creation.

So….. you would think, that when a momma bird chose my hanging petunia to construct her nest, I would have felt proud to aid the cause of providing for the next generation of birds.

Sadly for momma bird, my miserly side dominated.

By July in Alabama, the plants we had first put out in late April had withered with the heat.  So I replaced some of my flowering hanging baskets mid July. Now here was this bird choosing one of the new pots to feather her nest.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to water the petunia any more, I removed her construction work, throwing it away.

Two days later when I set the hanging basket down to water, I saw the new nest.  I tossed it in the trash as well, reasoning that this bird would soon get the message and build her nest somewhere else.

I was not counting on her determination to stay put.

She built a 3rd nest. It, too, went the way of the others.

And then God! Immediately I thought: ‘I bet this bird SENSES her body about to lay those eggs! She must feel desperate to have a safe place for them, one where she and they can be out of sight and protected. AND I HAVE INTERVENED 3 TIMES, to the potential possible murder of baby birds!

I repented and prayed that she would persevere yet again.

And praise Jesus, who loves his creation, she did build yet another nest, a FOURTH time.  I was so relieved.

She was just in time, for the very next day, she lay her eggs.  Whew!

All I could think about was how much stress I must have caused that little bird just because I wanted to save $12.99!

But God rewarded my repentance with some valuable, illustrated lessons, such as:

  • His control of all events including when the Holy Spirit pinged me, bringing forth my repentance IN TIME for that momma bird to lay her eggs
  • The example of perseverance in the cause of life, the next generation of baby birds
  • The reality that being in God’s will does not block hardship.  That bird was doing what He created her to do – prepare for and care for family.  Despite huge obstacles and persecution – ME!!!

Momma Bird is still there; the babies haven’t hatched yet.  Even when they grow strong enough to fly off, I might keep that dead petunia on my back patio as a reminder.  Our LORD and Savior doesn’t waste a thing.  Definitely worth the $12.99

Luke 12:24 Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds!

Matthew 10:31 Fear not therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.

Last week’s birthday present from God

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Last Thursday was my birthday and it ranks the best I’ve celebrated in a long while.   One I won’t forget, for sure.

What made it so meaningful? Was it the fact that when I walked into my Orange Theory fitness class, the manager had written a ‘Happy Birthday, Maria!’ message on the tripod chalk board?  What a way to kick off and energize MY day. I felt special, being made much of by the staff

Was it that I got to tutor a 10-year old Russian gal in English and we had a breakthrough in how best to learn English?  No…although that was very satisfying.

Could it be that my husband Mike planned, shopped for, prepared, and plated a delicious steak dinner for me? A first in our 40 years together? We WILL be calling this a new tradition, adding it to our treasure chest of cherished rituals.  I ABSOLUTELY loved this gift, because Mike had announced to me more than 2 weeks prior just what was in the works.  The anticipation of my meal gave me great joy as ‘my day’ approached.

All the above delightful activities marked my celebration.  But the ‘highlight’ was how my heavenly Father humbled and rebuked, via my hairdresser.

Every 8 weeks I sit for 2+ hours in Shannon’s chair.  She ‘refreshes’ my color, washes, conditions and trims my hair.

The salon had rescheduled last week’s original appointment two times. They didn’t check with me first to verify that the new times would work with my calendar.  They just shifted them, notifying me by text.  The new time of 10 am left me with little margin to eat lunch and tutor the Russian gal.  This TIME boundary directed my thoughts and words.  Once the receptionist verified my normal temperature, my first words to Shannon attacked:

” I have to be out of here by 11:45 at the latest because I have another appointment…AND…. (intended to punctuate my seriousness) YOU ALL moved my time twice, putting me in this position!”

Shannon shot back, “Well, THAT’s aggressive!”

Bulls eye!  Her rebuke penetrated my heart. The LORD got me! The Holy Spirit convicted me in meteor-like speed.

Shame filled me!  She was right.  I hadn’t even greeted her with a friendly, “Hi, Shannon. How are you doing?”

Had I treated Mike that way….. launching into a blame-wrapped demand for something from him…….well, I like to think I wouldn’t have.

Yet, here I was entering Shannon’s salon and treating her like a machine, not another human being.

Profuse apologies poured from my mouth as I told her that I was SO sorry and that she was SO right to call me on that.  I knew this was from the Lord.  What kind of ambassador for Christ am I with that kind of interacting?

So, what I did next, was to ask her: “Shannon, can we rewind the scene and start over?”

Desire granted.  I backed up 5-6 feet and walked up to her with a smile: “Hi, Shannon, how are you? Thanks for fitting me in, today.  I know scheduling with Covid restraints is a challenge.”  She played the part with warmth and proceeded to seat me in her chair.

What a gift from my heavenly Father, to see how my self-preoccupation led me to sin. Human beings are all image bearers of Almighty God, worthy of respect and kindness.

I will not forget THAT reminder.  On my birthday, too.  Conviction and the ability to ask pardon and receive forgiveness from the offended, hurt person is a gift.

Oh, Father, take not thy Holy Spirit from me! Thank you that You forgive me when I sin. Because of Jesus. Keep me meditating on your kindness, rather than my schedule.

Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man You discipline, O LORD, and teach from Your law,

 

 

 

Do you use reason to strengthen your faith? God does!

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Isaiah 1:18-20 Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

As the plane rumbled through the sky, I asked myself: Why did you EVER want to come and do this crazy thing, Maria!!!!

Helmet on, hooked up, ‘trapped’ in a shuffling line of other scared young men and women moving toward the open backside of the C-130 military cargo plane, I was about to step out into the air from 1500 feet above the ground.  Trusting that the parachute would open.

Tears stained my sweaty cheeks, but no one saw. I didn’t care, anyway.  I had to make a decision. And I did.

By force of will, I shifted my thoughts AWAY from the terror of stepping out into nothingness and focused on facts:

  • Most people DON’T die when jumping out of planes
  • This is a static line jump; my chute WILL open.  I don’t have to deploy it.

And you know what?  I made it!  The next 4 jumps that week were not nearly as scary. I successfully completed the Army’s Airborne School at Ft Benning, Georgia earning my Parachutist Badge.

I was thinking about that first jump last night when I couldn’t sleep. How I had to simply stop looking at my fears and focus on statistics, on facts.  Immediately I saw the connection to the life of faith over sight.

God teaches us throughout his word to focus on TRUTH, that is ‘divine facts’, to reason FROM them to more truth. To move logically from the following two categories of truth:

  • Who he is, his unchanging characteristics or attributes
  • His promises, bought for Christians by Jesus

Plus, a third and growing category of unshakeable evidence:

  • God’s ‘record’ of coming through for me, in answer to prayer, time and time again.

How long have these 3 categories been my source of strength?

I believe that God swapped out my old heart for a new heart warm toward him when I was 24.  I didn’t grow much until I was 40 and started studying my Bible in Bible Study Fellowship.  I turn 63 next week.  Therefore, my Christian experience was Bible-bereft for 16 years, but now has been Bible-enriched for 23 years. These past 23 years have built my confidence in both our Triune God AND his word.

Even before I was a believer, I knew God answered prayer.  In that very same 3-week Airborne School experience, I called on God to help me. It was Day 1 and we had to run 5 miles and then pass a physical fitness test.  I failed the pull-ups. The next morning, an ‘airborne sergeant’ retested me and gave the green light.  I had been praying fervently.  God came through.  I wasn’t even a believer.  But I have never forgotten God’s goodness to this unrepentant sinner. It was the first time I had prayed a specific, measurable prayer and God came through, immediately, undeniably.

If I add the fears of these Covid times together with ‘normal’ fears, I am getting plenty of practice in CHOOSING to shift my focus from current circumstances to God-facts. I am obeying God’s inviting command to reason prayer-ful-ly with HIM and refocus my view of circumstances through the lens of Ultimate Reality and not through the looking glass of my fears.

This is the only AND sure way I find inner peace:  when I shift my thoughts upward.

 

Can we be content ALL the time?

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Have you ever looked at and analyzed those ‘Blessed are the….’ in Matthew 5?  You know, that famous hillside occasion when Jesus preached to many?

They seem to promise complete, 100 % satisfaction ONE DAY.  In the future.  Not now.  For instance, Jesus mentions:

  • A future Kingdom
  • Seeing God
  • Acknowledgement as sons of God
  • Mercy
  • Possession of the entire earth
  • Comfort

He teaches that the desperately needy, hurting, sad CAN BE those who GET what they crave.  He calls them ‘blessed’ because, the relief of the need is guaranteed. One day.

Some of the verbs Jesus uses in that discourse mention longings:

  • mourning
  • desiring an inheritance
  • craving mercy
  • wanting persecution to stop
  • needing one’s name to be cleared
  • hoping for peace amidst all current rancor and bitterness

I’ve been thinking about contentment a lot these days.  Lots of ‘my wants’ continue to be BLOCKED.  These desires tend to be short-term longings.  I’d like to see family and friends. I’d like to travel.  I’d REALLY like this time of anxiety-riddle uncertainty to end.

What do I tend to do with my anxious thoughts?  Journal about them, read my Bible and see how God corrects my thinking.  Here’s what happened Friday morning that prompted me to slow down and think:

  • God has given me confidence (faith) that he is who the Bible says he is.
  • Therefore, I start from the presupposition that the Bible is God’s true word to me.  His promises and his characteristics are FACTS.  They won’t go away. They won’t change because of WHO God is PLUS his nature and his commitment to honor his word.  He IS his word.
  • I can’t read the Bible knowing that God is God and NOT do what he tells me.

So, what I wrote in my journal on Friday was that reasoning with faith produces actions, which in turn produce FEELINGS! (I had gotten this from John Piper several years ago)

Then it dawned on me!  I wrote: “The only real and worthwhile category of contentment is BEING CONTENT IN YOU, because OF YOU!”

I sat back, wondering at the simplicity of all this.  If I want permanent contentment, then I need to be glad about EVERY thing God has done for me and ALL that he promises to continue to do unceasingly.

Three gifts immediately flew into my mind:

  • You opened my eyes to KNOW what kind of person I am and who YOU are: Holy God = knowledge and faith
  • Through Jesus’ life and death on my behalf, I now have a permanent relationship of favor WITH you = repentance and forgiveness
  • Your holy, supernatural, perfect spirit is IN me, permanently = matchLESS companion and counselor

Then this morning while thinking about what Jesus promises us, his sisters and brothers, brought this clarity:

  • God created us with real desires and longings
  • They WILL be perfectly fulfilled…… one day!
  • Nothing here on what I call Earth1.0 can ever meet ALL of them or any of them in a satisfying way that leads to contentment

When I brought my thinking to a close (it was time to get ready for church) I summarized in my journal:

“The only way to have genuine contentment right now in this broken, fallen world is to be content with who God is and what awaits me from his hand.  Those without Jesus as their savior and friend have no hope of real or permanent contentment.”

Okay….so with whom can I share these thoughts? Thankfully you! – who spend a few moments scanning or reading these posts.  So my question to you is this: How do you see and seek contentment? Do you keep struggling to BE content or SEEK contentment? Has what makes you content changed over time?

Matt 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 

 

 

Why do they hate that I love Jesus’ words?

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I live my days partially immersed in the Spanish-speaking world. Desiring to become proficient in the language, I spend 3 hours most days listening to podcasts, reading my Bible and novels, watching news in Spanish on YouTube and speaking with local Spanish-speaking natives. During the past two years I have come to understand more about the lives of many immigrants in our country.  Our pastor’s sermon yesterday morning caused me to see a similarity between ‘outsiders’ seeking a new home in America and those of us who are Christian, who are also ‘others’ and temporary residents in this world.

Joe’s text was Ezra 4. Returning Jews from 70 years of Babylonian exile had laid the foundation to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But the pluralistic, syncretistic locals did not like these new developments.

What did they do? First, they offered to help out with the reconstruction, hoping to redirect it to their ends. Rebuffed and rejected, they then turned their energies into “discouraging the people of Judah and making them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans (during) the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia down to the reign of Darius king of Persia(Ezra 4: 4-5). That’s a LONG time.  Years of persecution, harassment and hatred.  In a word – afflictions meant to derail the Lord’s work.

With a change in leadership in Persia, these persistent enemies of the Jews then wrote flagrant lies about the returnees convincing the King Artaxerxes to mandate a halt to all building in Jerusalem.

Joe used this section of God’s word to emphasize that Christians, those who love Jesus and follow him, will ALWAYS be hated and persecuted.

Why? Because we actually believe what Jesus says, what the Bible teaches, like:

  • There is only one way to be saved from hell and eternal separation from God – through Jesus.
  • There is only one true and living God, the God of the Bible.
  • Sexual unions other than what the Bible teaches are sinful. (Marriage between one man and one woman for life)
  • Complementarian roles for men and women are God’s plan for mankind.
  • Humans are created male and female.

Just to name a few biggies.

Since March 2020, when Covid19 brought an end to ‘normal’, I and most everyone have longed to return to the way things were.  In a similar way, I think American Christians have been looking back over their shoulders wishing that life would do a reboot to 30-40 years ago when being a Christian was ‘acceptable’ and even commendable.

Joe’s sermon confirmed in my heart that ‘normal’ is NOT what I think it is.  Normal IS persecution.  I’ve just been living in a bubble.

Back to my Hispanic friends and my growing empathy for ‘aliens’ and recent arrivals to the States. Many don’t feel as though they belong, whether they are documented or not. What does ‘not belonging’ look like?  Degrees of persecution are routine experiences just because they are Hispanic. Like what?

  • The mildest poor treatment is indifference. Ignoring those who are not like the majority happens even in moms’ morning-out groups at a church.
  • The sting of jokes and epithets
  • Language barriers that hinder immigrants from finding community resources.

Exclusion hurts!

Then there are those in detention camps, waiting and hoping, living in difficult conditions, in a kind of limbo between appointments with lawyers and court dates, at the mercy of any kindness.

Thoughts during the sermon made me realize:

  • How I and other believing Christians need to accept that WE, Jesus’ followers, are the aliens, the unwanted and unwelcome in many parts of our country. Often scorned, mocked and intimidated into being quiet.

Somehow knowing this and embracing this REALITY cheered me as a tonic to my soul. Coming to terms with the ‘logic’ of persecution allowed me to shed that, “I just want things to go back to normal, when being a Christian was accepted.”

What a pipe dream. Let’s get real: the ruling majority KILLED Jesus. Furthermore, this Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity taught: Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)

Don’t you think it’s easier to live with the truth? Do we really want a return to ‘normal’?

At this point in my life, I now know that I want to complete my work and my training here as an exile. ‘Graduating’ to REAL LIFE in the presence of Jesus seems more appealing. AND I trust God’s timetable for me.

As our Sunday school teacher mentioned after the sermon: ‘The Good News is not that things are going to get better but that Jesus died once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.” (1 Peter 3:18). That was good news for the persecuted church in Peter’s day and it is just as true and meaningful today.

 

 

 

 

I’m still scared of God

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It was that silent part in today’s service, the private confession, where we are encouraged to share unconfessed sins with our Father, counting on the safety of His promise to forgive us because of Jesus. Something from this morning sprang to mind, surprising me.

Earlier, sitting outside with my coffee and the birds, I enjoyed a time of study and prayer. At some point, I started reflecting and then savoring right now, this particularly SWEET time in my life, in OUR lives. God has answered MAJOR prayers, some going back decades.  What kind? Here are the biggies:

  • Repeated cries for healing from work-induced anxiety for Mike that has affected his body 28 of our 40 years together.
  • Prayers for healing and freedom for me regarding eating, fitness and body weight.
  • Pleas for job contentment for Mike.
  • Repeated requests for release from my difficult job situation.

I can’t recall a time in my life that has been this restful, this satisfying. Ever.

So, what is the problem? What did I confess this morning?

That I am afraid.

That I am afraid that the Lord will remove these gifts that mean so much, that are so wonderful and refreshing. That they won’t last.

Why would He take them away?

  • He has every right to for two reasons: He created us and He redeemed us. We are His possession.
  • I know from Scripture that our Father has committed Himself to sanctifying me, to making me holy like Jesus.  In His wisdom, He might take these gifts away. To deepen and strengthen my faith, testing (for my benefit) just exactly where my happiness is rooted.  In the gifts, or in Him.

So, during the service, those 45 seconds or so, I confessed that irrational fear to my Father.  I called it what it is. Sin. A slap in the face of the One whom I should trust most. (Am I listening to Satan’s lies, I wondered? With malicious reason that enemy of God doesn’t want me to trust the Father’s love for me.) And I asked for supernatural, divine help.  Wordlessly, I off-loaded this weight in those silent few moments:

  • Father, I am so ashamed to tell You that I don’t trust You. That I’m clinging to these gifts that You have given us, not You.  I see now that I fear losing THEM more than I fear displeasing and dishonoring You. Forgive me. You’ve got to help me, though. Help me to trust You. To trust that You are good. That all that You have planned for Mike and for me IS for our ultimate happiness. It’s just hard. And this time You’ve granted us is SO restful. Soothing balm after many years of pain.

After that confession, I didn’t sense any response from Him. But now, as I write, I see how His Spirit is working. Prompting me to use this ‘shalom’ as a springboard to proclaim to others what my Father, the One and Only Living God, the Lord and Giver of Life has done.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

I don’t have to fear what He will do.

‘Satan – depart from me. I reject your suggestions. I know that Christ’s Spirit is in me and He is truth and light and He is more powerful than you.  I will not listen to you anymore!’

Here is what I commit to, with help! Instead of meditating on the ‘what ifs’ of circumstances, may I keep declaring my Father’s works to everyone I meet. May I honor His holy name in my prayers, my words and my actions. By faith, I will rely on the strength that He provides to bless Him.

Father, thank You for your promised grace: strength to direct my thoughts and words.

Psalm 126:3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

What are you most afraid of?

I am Jacob’s evil sons

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In recent years better biblical teaching has reframed how I see accounts in the Bible. Sunday school teachers in the past (and probably some now) present stories like David and Goliath in a way that children long to take on the giants in their lives. Or teachers inspire their students to ‘dare to be a Daniel’. The truth is all Bible men and women were sinful failures who, if they did do something valiant and praiseworthy, performed it only through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit’s enabling power.

These days I see how the Boazes, the Esthers, the Jonahs and the Jospehs foreshadow the perfect hero who will one day defeat ALL enemies of God – Jesus.

I can now spot when the Scriptures point forward from the weaker, sinful man or woman to the original ‘archtype’ or prototype who is Jesus.

Here’s a current example.

Last week while reading Charles Spurgeon’s reflections on Titus 3:4 ‘The goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior”  my thoughts turned to Pharaoh’s righthand man during the famine, Joseph. Spurgeon references Joseph’s abundant granaries, bursting to overflowing, as an example of God’s grace to sinners.

Joseph displays this grace to his evil brothers who thought they had gotten rid of him 20 years earlier. We read about their speechless shock and horror upon discovering that not only is Jospeh alive and well, but that he is the one in charge of famine food sales. After the big reveal, this assistant to Pharaoh showers the 10 evil brothers with kindness, seeing to the transportation and permanent settling of the entire family in the choice Goshen perfect for flocks and herds.

Picturing that initial encounter through the eyes of the brothers birthed the sudden realization that I am like the brothers. I had to acknowledge this Holy Spirit ‘reveal’. How similar I am to those men, the ones who:

  • hated their brother
  • who enjoyed mocking him out of jealousy
  • allowed evil to drive them to thoughts of murder
  • then settled for making some money off of him

Not to mention the lying cover-up they maintained for 20 years, causing on-going grief for their dad and youngest brother, Ben.

From my early years in the Episcopal church I recall the Good Friday ritual of reading chorally parts of the mock trial drama of Jesus where we, the congregants, shout out loud: ‘Crucify Him!’

King David’s adultery and murder episode is another scene I think we could all play with a good degree of authenticity. With us reading role of David during the time of his infidelity and deception. If we haven’t betrayed a spouse or murdered a friend, we certainly have been disloyal and lied toward and about someone close to us.

But in THIS instance, by grace, the Holy Spirit revealed to me how much my heart is like those brothers arriving in Egypt. I felt their shame AND their fear about getting what they deserved from Joseph – from the super powerful and authoritative hand of the # 2 regent of the Egyptian empire!

But then, with kindness, the Holy Spirit carried me on to the best part of the story: ……….seeing and beginning to understand the marvel of UNREASONABLE, BOUNTIFUL, unmerited ASSURANCE of forever provision and loving care.  Grace suddenly took on texture and dimensions. Euphoria is what I sensed, theirs and then mine.

That response should be mine ALL the time when I think of Jesus’ gift to us. The fact that I don’t stagger with overflowing joy highlights my pathetic and uncaring imagination. Not that I have to pretend or make up this generous Jesus. We have his very character and actions on full display in God’s Word, in black and white and digitally for all time.

I believe! Help my unbelief, dear Father.

 

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