The solution to life’s problems

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Mike and I are journeying through the Bible again.  I think this is year 6 following the Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Each year we discover either new information (“I never saw THAT before!) and fresh insights.

Currently, we are clipping along through the book of Ezekiel at a pace of 3 chapters a day. The theme appears to be constant. Namely: everything that God does and commands Ezekiel to prophesy has ONE purpose, “Then they will know that I am the LORD!”

Whether Yahweh is bringing justifiable painful punishment on Judah’s enemies or whether He’s disciplining Judah and Israel or whether He announces wonder-filled future plans to restore Egypt, Judah, and Israel, the intention is the same:  that the entire world will know that He is the LORD.

Applying this theme to current events has created meaningful nightly discussions between Mike and me. Whether we are reflecting upon recent natural disasters or the threats of North Korean madman Kim Jong Un, it seems appropriate in 2017 to acknowledge God’s very same desire for us as in Ezekiel’s day.  After all, He doesn’t change.  He still wills that all peoples know Him.

Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God! applies not just to nations but to us as individuals.  Here is life-giving advice to combat daily worries and nighttime anxious thoughts.

This morning, however, the Holy Spirit illumined a new context in a devotional I read. Matthew 11: 27b – 28.no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

What is the answer for all of us who feel burdened with worries and responsibilities? Jesus says it is to KNOW God.

“….and just how, exactly, does knowing God help me when I have one or more crises on my hands?  Whether it’s

  • an impending storm
  • a dissolving marriage
  • a child’s life gone off the tracks
  • a stressful job that brings no joy
  • a decision to make with no clear way forward

That’s just the point.  Shifting our thoughts off of the looming or present circumstances onto our Creator and Sustainer DOES bring relief.  What can HE do?  Everything and anything.  For He alone is all-powerful, all-good, all-wise, all-loving, always present.  And He is carrying out His plan for His creation, which includes us and our situations.

Up until now, however, I had never understood how Jesus proposed to give me rest if I came to Him.  Reading Matthew 11 this morning, our twelfth consecutive day in Ezekiel, caused me to see God’s ‘way-out’ differently.  If I don’t have a solution to the immediate situation, reminding myself of God’s attributes, that is reflecting on and knowing Him will shift my focus OFF of what seems impossible onto the One who is ALL-possible. That’s how Jesus gives us rest.  Looking at the problem(s) and at the lack of resources/solutions causes the stress and burdens.

We’re blockheads if we don’t take His Rx for rest.  He even tells us what we’ll get for swapping our yokes:

Matthew 11: 29-30 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

PS:  God even makes provision for those of us who act as doltish sheep.  If we can’t even muster up the willingness to swap yokes, we can call out to Him for help!!!

One thing is necessary

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40. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations to be made. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha, the Lord replied, “you are worried and upset about many things. 42 But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”…  Luke 10: 40 – 42

A new school year started last week.  My anxieties came back to life after their sabbatical of 2 1/2 months.

What is at the root of these worries?  What I focus on during the school day.  Here’s my list of concerns – those situations where I lack confidence, occasions that intimidate me a bit:

  • Will I be able to capture and hold on to the attention of middle school kids?
  • Will I be able to create and carry out effective and engaging lessons, which actually result in them acquiring French?
  • Will I have sufficient time in my school day to complete teaching, planning, grading and handle all those extra duties teachers seem to have?
  • Will I feel free to spend time with my colleagues, listening and encouraging them, all the while accurately representing Christ?
  • Will I be able to grow the French program in the Middle School?

Those 5 matters I have turned into individual and multiple prayers that I send up to God frequently throughout the week.  Better to pray than to worry, right?

Yes and no.

Reading how Jesus corrected Martha and how He described her sister, Mary, caused me to think again.  Maybe I have miscalculated where I should invest the bulk of my energy. Rather than prioritizing and investing all my mental energy on ways to meet all these challenges, I should focus first on what actually might energize me and provide life.

Luke’s account of the two sisters who have just lost their dear brother Lazarus prompted me to imagine what Martha’s list might have looked like (had she written down what caused HER stress and anxiety:

  • Oh no!  Jesus just showed up and with his group of guys, too.  I’ve been feeding well-wishers and mourners for a week now.  What am I going to serve?
  • I’m exhausted!  Where am I going to find the strength and energy to fix more food. And who is going to butcher the lamb, now that our brother is gone?
  • I was going to send Mary around to the family that supplies our wine because we’re all out!  But look at her.  She just sat down with the men to listen to Jesus!  Where’s her head!  With all this work to do?  Doesn’t she care about me?  So this is the way it’s going to be now that Lazarus is gone. I should have figured!
  • Oh, my – Lazarus IS gone.  How are we ever going to make it, two women alone?

What is Jesus’ response, the God who knows all our thoughts and cares?   Read the 4 statements at the beginning of this post.   Freedom calls me with those enigmatic words of His: One thing is necessary.

What is Jesus NOT saying?  Does he tell Martha to skip all the food prep?  No!  Hospitality is a good thing.  But ultimately it doesn’t rank # 1.  We CAN live without food.

But we can’t live without Jesus.

So what did I see afresh in Luke’s account of a very familiar vignette?

It was how I evaluate a ‘good day’.  In past years, I’ve called it a ‘good day’ if I taught well. If I had a fruitful-for-the-kingdom conversation with someone.  If I completed my work.

But I can’t control any of those outcomes, hence my anxiety and uncertainty day to day.

So what IS necessary?  What is ‘the one thing’?

I can see more clearly how God has been moving me over the past 5 or 6 years to rely on Him throughout the day.  To look to and depend on His divine, supernatural Spirit for EVERY thought, word, action, and decision about the future.

Jesus and Paul challenged followers of Christ to stay ‘grafted in the Vine’, to ‘remain in union with Him’.  We actually are not meant to do anything apart from Jesus.  He even tells us we can’t.

  • 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.

So I have redefined what Maria calls a ‘good day’.  The one responsibility I have as Jesus’ lamb is to do all in His strength, aware of my position IN the Vine.

Teaching a ‘good’ lesson, completing my list, engaging in a fruitful conversation with a colleague – yes, these are important.  But I can’t control the outcomes.  Hence – perpetual anxiety.

But I CAN control my thoughts.  That ability is given to every Christian in whom lives God’s Spirit.

My goal and focus this school year is to rely on Jesus and seek to please Him that way. And when I forget my source for everything and start angsting about X, Y and Z, I can still please Jesus by repenting of sinful AND needless worry.  And call it a GOOD day!

Do you have to know how He’s going to work?

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Phil 4:6-7  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  and the peace of God, which SURPASSES all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

God had already prepared me last week by focusing my attention on His term ‘surpasses’.  I spent quite a bit of time nosing around Blue Letter Bible to see just what ‘hyper-echo’ revealed.  Paul uses it 3 times to mean:

  • is vastly superior
  • stands above

What struck me was what God promises – in return for handing over problems and worries.  He guarantees nothing short of supernatural peace – quite the opposite of what we’re feeling as beleaguered worriers.  Moreover, He asserts that this holy peace of His brings us life-giving energy.  In contrast, anxiously wanting to know HOW and WHEN He’s going to work out the issues SUCKS away life and joy.

But human as we are, we WANT to see the provision, the solutions. Our minds race ahead, exploring options and play-by-play ‘if THIS, then THAT’ scenarios.

Getting back to how God prepped me for a bigger problem by means of this command cum promise.  Going into Friday of last week,  I practiced meditating on Phil 4:6-7,  how His peace counts more than knowing how He was going to fix 2 problems that have dogged me this summer.  Each day I practiced restating out loud Paul’s advice like this:

“Your divine peace is worth more than seeing or knowing how you’re going to handle these 2 issues, so I choose to leave them with You!”

Silly me – I thought God had opened my eyes to the value of God-sized peace for THOSE two problems.  But now I see that the gift of His insight readied me for Friday’s ‘surprise’.

Year 26 of teaching French starts tomorrow, Monday.  Typically I spend the day before we have to report for teacher workdays organizing my room and taking stock of class rosters and supplies.  Friday morning I walked into school around 9 am, carrying two bags of this-and-that. On the way up the steps, my principal fell in beside me and broke the news that only 3 students had signed up for level 1 French class.  I had heard from one of the 2 Spanish teachers that this year’s entering 6th-grade class was small.  With that information in my mind, I had figured a class size of maybe 8-9 instead of 12-15 as in previous years.

The news stunned me.  Only THREE?  Really?  Throughout the day I kept turning over the implications of such a tiny group.  The Holy Spirit did prompt me to text 4 friends who understand what it’s like to teach a ‘minority’ language in America.  They started praying.  And I returned to worrying and casting on Him and feeling sad.

The dark gray cloud sunk deeper into my heart, despite repeating Paul’s promise.  Joy-smothering heaviness lingered.  It felt personal, for I had taught most of the rising 6th graders in an Intro to French last year.  Students in our lower school study Spanish from Kindergarten through 4th grade.  In 5th grade, one of the middle school Spanish teachers continues with a semester of Spanish and I offer them a taste of French.  The idea is they can better choose the language they like or value to continue in Middle School.

I shared the news with Mike when I got home.  The pall lingered through the evening and dogged me during the wakeful night. The next morning my loving husband handed me an essay about waiting on God.  The author wrote from painful personal experience how these situations are exactly the kind that produces the fruit of patience.  Hmm….I had forgotten that patience is one of those 9 traits of holiness cultivated by the Holy Spirit.

If we really trust God’s goodness, then we can rely on and WAIT for Him to act, exercising patience by means of the faith He gives us.

A few hours later Mike followed up with a written-out specific prayer for me, asking God to give me supernatural patience and peace.  And God DID!

This prayer has SUPER-NATURALLY helped me.  In a tangibly different way, I KNOW the power that a believing child of God can access through prayer and have sent by the Holy Spirit to someone else.  It’s not that I FEEL any different.  I have been enabled to believe that God WILL indeed take care of the situation.  I don’t need to know the HOW or the WHEN.

Within an hour of reading Mike’s prayer for me and after typing it up for myself, my spirits lightened.  I regained my ability to think about other things.  What other things?

To be frank, thinking about ME, my concerns or the future is boring and life-sucking. So what is there to think about?  I’m tired of rolling them around in my mind.

Uncle Paul wastes no time in helping us there.  As soon as he describes the gift of God’s peace for those who off-load their worries, he tells us just what remains to be done, one final thing:

Phil 4:8 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. (NLT)

Here’s what Blueletter Bible says about the Greek word Paul uses (dwell or fix your thoughts on) “This word deals with reality. If I reckon (logizomai) that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise, I am deceiving myself. This word refers more to fact than supposition or opinion.”

So, what about that small class? I’m going to wait and see what the Lord has in store for me and for the kids.  I don’t think this situation is something that He will resolve right away.  Lot’s of homework (i.e practice in relying on His Word and character rather than on circumstances I can see) and some pop quizzes are likely in store for me.  I know they are all part of God’s good plan to produce more fruit and Christ-like character traits in me.

I’m going to wait and see what the Lord has in store for me and for the kids.  I don’t think this situation is something that He will resolve right away.  Knowing God, He’s likely to have planned, just for me, lots of homework (i.e practice in relying on His Word and character rather than on circumstances I can see) and some pop quizzes. I know they are all part of God’s good plan to produce more fruit and Christ-like character traits in me.

But He is good and whatever He brings me is designed to ripen and multiply my fruitfulness, conforming me to Christ.

 

 

How you can help someone

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It started out as an ordinary church supper.  But two events transformed the occasion into a memorable one.

What do you take to a potluck?  For years I’ve relied on my standard, easy-to-assemble quiche.

  • Roll out a commercial pie crust into the plate
  • Add chopped cooked ham
  • Spread evenly 8 ounces of grated cheese (Swiss or Cheddar)
  • Beat up 3 eggs together with 2 cups of heavy cream (or 4 eggs and 1 1/2 cups of Sour Cream for less fat).  Pour on top of the ham and cheese
  • Bake at 400 for 50 minutes

There are rarely any leftovers, but the ingredients have grown pricey.  So I asked my ‘go-to source of practical wisdom, my hairdresser, for some fresh ideas.  What I wrote down was one of those Jiffy corn muffin mix-based dishes that also calls for an egg, sour cream, creamed corn, cheese and a stick of butter.

The little old ladies RAVED!  Not a finger-swipe remained in the 9×13 dish.  Note to self – keep making this for future potlucks.

The next surprise is weightier.  One of our elders shared a 20-minute message whereby he wove together and linked 30 or so Biblical promises from God to us, His people. This man’s goal was to encourage us to believe how much God loves us.  As I let wave after wave of strengthening truths bathe my heart, one couplet of verses startled me. Something new in Ephesians caught my attention, sparking some thoughts.

Whispering, I asked Mike to locate the passage on his phone’s ESV app.  I scanned the screen.  Sure enough, I noticed an anchor in Paul’s most famous prayer on behalf of this particular church.

Ephesians Chapter 3, verses 14-17 records the former legalist confidently asking God to grant the people strength to know His love so that they can be filled up with ALL of God. No new news there. But the structure of that clause-laden Greek invocation arrested me.  Here’s how I parsed it out looking at the Greek words on the Blue Letter Bible Website.

(Paul prays) I ask God to grant you all

  • to be strengthened with power
  • through the Spirit of God
  • by means of Christ dwelling in your heart by faith (both His presence and the gift of faith are permanent realities in the heart of believers)
  • whose presence makes it a given that you are rooted and grounded in LOVE and empowered with effective force
  • So that you all are enabled to seize and possess (meaning of  ‘to comprehend’) both the ‘physical dimensions’ of Christ’s love and the intimate knowing of Him that go way beyond knowledge
  • So that you all may be filled with the fullness (full measure of His grace and provisions) of God

What fascinated me was God’s supernatural interlinking of His Power with His Love. He then transmits to us intimate knowledge about Himself.  Thus, God’s power, love, and knowledge synergistically work, filling us up with Himself!

What a God! And what a prayer!  If you’re anything like me, you might be filled up with a churning mixture of anxieties, fear, doubt, pride with a touch of scorn for others tossed in to sour the pot.  Who would not rather be filled up with just God?

And just how do we replace the junk with the life-giving alternative?  By echoing Paul’s prayer for ourselves and then directing our thoughts to savor these God-given treasures that are rightfully ours.

Without a complete sifting through the Bible, these promises seem to constitute the most powerful prayer we can offer for others and ourselves.  And since I’ve been writing about power prayers, have you ever seriously thought about Jesus’ plea to His Father for us, His brothers and sisters?   Chew on this:

John 17:24 (NIV) “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”

Jesus is asking His and Our Father for transfer to heaven.  Do you think that the Father will deny His Son this request?

Why do we stiff-arm God?

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Why are we all so afraid of God?  We must be, for we hold back giving Him ALL of our hearts and All of our wills. How do I know this about you?  I know my own heart. And I consider myself a Christian!

Let’s imagine a happily married couple. They have learned to live secure and content in their relationship. They savor one another’s company.  People who know them observe how they exude mutual requited joy and trust.  The man and woman skillfully craft beautiful, creative works of art. They can work side by side for hours, marveling as beauty emerges from their able hands.

One day their thoughts turn to opening their home to children in order to include others in their happiness. Their motive?  Simply this: they understand the fundamental design of the universe, that a pleasure shared is a pleasure multiplied and intensified.  As they make plans to expand their family, their exuberance grows at the prospect of bringing new family members into their happy union.  They eagerly talk about the children on whom they will lavish love.  They discuss how they will expose them to Truth and Beauty.  They talk about training these little ones in the pursuit of Goodness and authentic creative happiness so they can share their parents’ joy.

Do they NEED these children?  No, for they lack nothing.  They aren’t looking for children…

  • to complete them
  • to work for them
  • to fulfill unmet dreams in their stead

Their exuberance just bubbles over.  Love abounds and seeks a recipient.  No strings attached.

The longer I read the Bible, the clearer grows my understanding of God.  We, humans, were created in the image of this happy, triune divine Creator and Lover. The perfect God already lives in relationship as Father, Son, and Divine Spirit.  He lacks nothing. He is the archetype of perfection.  By nature, Joy overflows.

Luke records my favorite passage in the Bible about the loving ‘Father-ness’ of our God.  “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

Why do we hold back from running to embrace Him? We have nothing to fear.  Taste and see that the Lord is good! Psalm 34:8

Entering a new decade with God

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Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

It was early fall; I shared lunch with a fellow teacher about 15 years older than me. “How did you cope with turning 40?” I asked.

Her response startled me: “Have you ever heard of Bible Study Fellowship?”

Intrigued, I joined as soon as I could.  And God changed my life.

At 50 I switched schools. Summit Christian Academy in Yorktown, Va hired me, a French teacher, to teach civics, US history and LOGIC!  My qualifications?  An initial BA in Foreign Affairs from UVA.

I had to google ‘Logic’.  And God changed my life.

Sweet 60 is my soon-to-be demographic.  A new decade.  I ponder this significant celebration. It feels different. I know God so much better now.

Over the past 20 years, He has taught me to live by some fundamental facts. (Does that make me a ‘fundamentalist’?)

  • He does all things well (Mark 7:37)
  • He is good
  • He is sovereign
  • I belong to Him, for He has given me His Spirit. (Romans 8:9)

Those truths settle me.  His holy gift of peace permeates.  Being one of His sheep is enough.

No, I don’t know what my Father has in store for me as this new decade dawns. But one thing I do know: I trust Him.  And He promises a happy future for every son and daughter, liberated by Christ. (Matt 25:34)

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Proverbs 4:18 (ESV)

A summer sabbath rest and fast

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“Indeed, my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Jeremiah 2:13

My thinking has always been:  Maybe THIS essay or article will contain that ONE nugget that will shift my perspective and change my life!  And so I consume, in hope, perpetually seeking, never satisfied.

In my pride I compulsively forward, post to Facebook or print out and snail-mail what I think YOU might benefit from.  And I write blogs, this one and my other at Surprised by Logic.  As though I have something unique or worth trading your free time reading.

Something I read over Memorial Day weekend stopped me in my tracks.

I realize that my motives tend not always to be pure in what I post on Facebook.  There’s a little ‘provocatrice’ in me that is neither necessary, winsome, nor gentle or humble. Furthermore, given that my goal IS to show Christ as all satisfying, then what I sometimes upload works against that goal. Why go out of my way to offend certain colleagues who happen to follow me on Facebook?

Furthermore, another book I’m reading and rereading has shown me to be always hungry and greedy for more input and never satisfied.  God showed me clearly on the same night as that first ‘stop you in your tracks’ insight that His Word more powerfully salsifies than anything else one of us might write.

So I am taking a fast from reading on-line essays and blog posts.  And I’ve deactivated my Facebook account and unsubscribed to nearly all feeds.

To go along with combatting this insatiable thirst that drives me to broken cisterns, I will spare you burden of ‘yet one more post to read’ by not blogging these summer months.  A gift to you!

So I invite you to join me in turning away from the ephemeral artificial cyber world in order to drink from, to feed on that which lasts and satisfies: God’s Book of Nature and His supernatural written Word.  Then each day, once we have filled up on what is eternal, pure, true and beautiful, let us spend time focused on people, God’s very own image bearers.

May Grace and Peace from God the Father, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be yours in abundance!

Maria

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