Spiritual attack and renewal

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Before we moved to Asheville I wasn’t aware of being under spiritual attack.  As a lover of God’s Word, I should have been!

1 Peter 5:8

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

My first years at my school in Asheville his weapon of choice took the form of parental complaints to the principal. This year, he dialed up the discouragement knob.  I’ve been aware for the past 3 years that complaining, gratitude and contentment are connected. When I complain, I invite unhappiness.  So recognizing the grumbles and replacing them by cataloging blessings has been the approach I’ve PRAYED to employ. Intuitively I knew that gratitude could defend me when mildly demoralized.

The enemy turned subtle; however, the attacks intensified.  He selected a foreign language departmental meeting to resurrect a familiar conflict between those who employ a grammar-based approach to teaching and those (me) who advocate a comprehensible-input method.  I felt like giving up.  The effort to advocate for proficiency over accuracy loomed exhausting.  And I fell into low-level depression.

But God….had sovereignly scheduled a fully-funded conference for me and 7 other colleagues to attend.  Zip enthusiasm. Nada!  I was seriously contemplating giving up teaching after this year.  Two nights before my scheduled departure, the demons descended in force. Could have been just one, but it sure felt like a host of them!

The effect?  I stayed awake most of the night, feeling the energy for any of my roles drain away. Whether managing the day-to-day family budget, facilitating a monthly women’s group at church, writing blogs, or especially my job. Fear filled me and sleep was alien.

But God….revealed the next morning during my time with Him that this was a new form of spiritual attack. That startling insight alone made the difference and carried me through the day.  My resolve to FIGHT grew back.  By the next night I actually felt some enthusiasm growing for the trip.  Then insight.  I could see that God had ordained this conference IN ORDER to refresh and energize me for the next phase of life.  And in order to remind me to depend on Him.

And energize me He did.  I sought out workshops led by advocates of the comprehensible input way of teaching foreign languages. The old mojo flooded back.

That vicious and evil feline tried once more that night of conference day 1. I awoke at 2 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. He repeated his destructive sword parry the following night as well. OVER-WHELM-ING did everything loom. All the changes to shift my lesson focus back on a proficiency track seemed impossible GIVEN the obstacles I played over and over in my mind’s eye.

But God….countered with Truth.  He reminded me that if He planned this trip and allowed me to undergo the attacks to toughen me up, then He will lead me each day as I create and plan new lessons.  I don’t have to have all the answers or specifics in place for the rest of the year.  He is enough.  After all He is my ever-present Provider.  So I do what any of us must do in this world, as temporary New Creation sojourners in a yet-to-be redeemed world:

  • we walk WITH Him, hand in hand, keeping our eyes on the One who creates and sustains

Whew!  Glad I’m not in charge.

Deut 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 

 

Are you discouraged by the times?

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Many Christians grow more alarmed, daily. Violence at home and abroad, coupled with upside-down moral values in government and society, create fear and anxiety. I am not immune. But God’s Word gives me hope. We are most definitely NOT the first body of believers to have been marginalized or persecuted.  Nevertheless, I think some of us ‘moderns’ FEEL caught by surprise by the times.

For months, I have tried to imagine the conversations among the faithful German remnant of believing Christians who must have prayed unceasingly during the Hitler years. How did they fight the darkness of monstrous and barbaric Nazi rule? What were their heart to hearts with God like?

  • “God – what is up with this on-going nightmare? How long, O Lord, must we endure this evil Führer and his henchmen? Why are you allowing Hitler to live? Why have you not permitted the assassination attempts to succeed?  Can’t you see that we’d be better off without him?  Do you realize what has happened to your church here in Germany?”

And what is God’s word throughout every generation, to peoples swept up in the plots of vile men?

  • Psalm 37:1 Fret not because of those who are evil…
  • Psalm 49: 5 – Why should I fear when evil comes, when enemies surround me? And verse 15 – But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.

Clearly, for German Christians to keep happy in God, they had to preach truth to themselves. Truth about what God promised to do and be for His children.

But theirs was not the only horrific era. Jewish believers during the rule of King Manasseh (he lived from 709 to 642 BC) had 55 years to hang on to God’s promises by faith. This descendent of David was the most evil and long-lasting King of Judah. How did those faithful, God-following men, women and children cope? What did they talk about when news from the royal court included reports of the King sacrificing his own sons to false gods? And when prophets like Isaiah emboldened by God to preach Truth were murdered, how must they have feared and cried out to God!

I am learning to think biblically and that keeps the despair away. Nowhere in the Bible does God guarantee his children physical safety or a type of heaven on earth. ‘Au contraire!’ – what he does promise is that those who put their whole trust in him will have their souls saved. Maybe our bodies will be sawn in half or burned in a fiery furnace like what was intended for Meschach, Shadrach and Abednego. But for eternity, we will be with God in physically resurrected bodies. Jesus said so. And he came back and showed his followers proof – himself.

Even Job knew this and declared as reported in Job 13:15 – Even though he kills me, I’ll continue to hope in him. At least I’ll be able to argue my case to his face!

So, physical deliverance is not something I can count on, but that does not mean I should not petition God, asking him to be a refuge, to bring me out to an open space, to rescue me. Furthermore, I together with all of you, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, need to PRAY for our church to grow more holy.

I used to think that if the Church were purified, then we as a body might have a salvific effect on society.  But I’m beginning to see otherwise.

Pastor John Piper mentioned in a sermon, posted on his website that, “we must be very careful not to assume that the degeneration of culture at the end of the age is owing to the failure of the church to be holy. There is no promise in the Bible that the holiness of the church will guarantee the transformation of culture.

That startled me!

So why be holy?  Why work to purify the church?  I think it’s so that we, the faithful, may see Christ more clearly.

That’s it?

Seeing Christ more clearly sounds so….lame!

Not so.  We are not to despise the little things.  Seeing Jesus as he is, now that is the very source of our happiness and our strength.

If we don’t keep our eyes on God, His promises, His past actions and the unchanging character of the Holy and Happy Triune God, we will look at circumstances, society, ourselves and be depressed.  And impotent.

May we follow the example and join the ranks of our believing Fathers and Mothers, hanging on to God by faith and with tenacity, good cheer and solid hope through however many dark days He has ordained is best.

What makes you happy is a clue to who you are

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Matthew 16:26 – What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

“I need to get an A on my Psych test this week!”

  • Why?

“It’ll make me happy!”

  • Why?

“If I do well in my major, then I can get into a good grad program.”

  • Why do you want that?

“So I can have a career as a clinical psychologist”

  • Why?

“I think I’ll be happy in that profession and find it rewarding!”

  • Why?

“When I was a child, my family and I were greatly helped through some sessions with a counselor.  I think that I’d be happy assisting people the same way.”

The pastor who shared this scenario did not go any deeper with his questioning of the college student.  But had he probed closer, a possible subsequent question might have been:

  • Why does it make you happy to help people?

I think the truthful answer to that question is key to revealing the source of our hope, joy, value, identity, purpose – in a word, our VERY essence.

Here is why it matters.  If our hope, our happiness-source is anything but Jesus, we have engaged in a DOOMED quest for 2 reasons:

1) we’ll never be satisfied the way we are wired to be

2) we can lose THAT which we might gain

This reality came to a head for me on Friday.  I started my day at 4:20 am with my ritual worship at the alter of MY WEIGHT, aka the bathroom scale.  Talk about God’s sovereignty – He controls my body to such a degree for His good purposes, that just like previous days and weeks, I was stuck 5 pounds higher than I want to be…..a fact painful to me since November when I realized that I had added to Maria’s substance.

I KNEW that this moment was crucial, that I was battling idolatry and who and what was most important in my life.  I wrestled with this truth on my morning walk, recognizing the approaching ‘line in the sand’.

Line in the sand

Was I going to worship MY happiness or submit to God as Lord of my life?

So once again, I decided to abandon this morning ritual. (I don’t need the scales to help me eat in the manner that provides me with the most energy – we’re talking about something SICK in my soul, an obsession with the scales and a numeral!)  This time, I pray, the decision stays final.  (cynics or realists might rightly ask, “Where have I heard THAT resolve before?!”

Listening to John Piper’s sermon in the car on the way to school and applying his line of probative questions to what I describe as that which makes me happy, I saw the foolishness and futility of imbuing 5 pounds with THAT much power over me.

For MY bottom line with the weight idol is this: If I weigh X lbs, I’ll be happy.

That’s stupid!  Our lives are just a vapor,

As James says in chapter 4, verse 4- ….You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Why should you or I allocate that many resources of mind, heart and strength to the shell, the temporary? Where is my concern with the main part of me that will last eon upon eon of time?  And if, as the Bible teaches, we are going to be completely changed upon seeing Jesus face to face, why am I angsting over what will drop off and decay?

As our pastor Patrick quipped this morning: When we die, the nut that we were leaves behind the withered shell of our body. (That got me pondering: Am I a peanut, a chestnut, a walnut, a pistachio????)   I’m 57 years old.  This weight issue is OH,SO temporary and 40 years from now I won’t be even thinking about it.  So why waste my earthly energy TODAY worshipping the outer casing that is going to disintegrate?

Back to the title of this reflection:

Who are you?  Who am I?  Are we our own god?  or are we worshippers and lovers of the only true and living God?  Truth is – we have souls. We were created and wired only to be satisfied by the best – God, Himself.  Why waste our happiness on junk when we can experience a partial joy NOW learning about and savoring God, all along knowing that ‘fullness of joy‘ awaits us. (Psalm 16:11)

PS:  One final thought about the student who might have answered that her idea of happiness was helping others.  If we help others to FEEL good about ourselves, that is sin.  If we help others to PLEASE our heavenly Father and do that work in His strength, honoring Him in the process, that is what the Bible calls ‘good’.  Inner motivation DOES matter. The Pharisees sought man’s approval and esteem through outward ‘righteous’ behavior.  (Read again Jesus’ words in Luke 18:9-14)

 

Lies that fuel worry

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Sleepless in Balsam

Sleepless

That was me – Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights.  Couldn’t turn off my mind from pursuing one thought after another.

Nothing bad, just the possibility of another job for next year.

And it wasn’t a sense of joyful anticipation that fueled my thoughts, but a chewing on the pros and cons.

Relief finally came via reminders of Truth.

  • When I woke up Saturday morning REALLY tired despite lying in bed for 8 hours, the Holy Spirit gently chided me that I had failed to take advantage of Almighty God’s loving command to cast all my cares on Him.
  • Christian Community provided more light on what was True.

Anne and Wes were here for the weekend.  Listening to Anne describe her thought process on one of her issues (and what turned out to be a lie she had swallowed) helped me see some presuppositions I, myself, had accepted as Truth.  As it happened for Anne, finally admitting to a trusted Christian friend one of her ‘facts’ (aka –  an unsubstantiated belief), she was able to see, in the light of day, what her friend was able gently but rationally to point out.  Her account of thinking incorrectly helped me to look at what I had accepted as fact.

Here are were a few of my irrational thoughts mixed in with half-truths:

  • Those who are good teachers LOVE the field of education and teaching
  • I don’t love teaching but I enjoy some aspects of it
  • Therefore, I must be a fraud
  • Furthermore, I should not, AT MY AGE, attempt to move into a new educational opportunity
  • Something new might involve MORE work and a greater time commitment
  • I’m basically lazy anyway
  • Therefore, I would again be FAKING energy and interest that I don’t have in an interview

Listening to Anne gave me pause.  Maybe not ALL of my assumptions are true!  Maybe it’s irrational to compare myself to the best in my field.  Maybe my ‘good enough’ is sufficient for God’s purposes where I am.  Maybe where I am has less to do with teaching/educational work, than with being present for my ‘neighbors’ in my daily community.

Good Enough

One new thought prompted another as Anne shared from her life.  Maybe Satan is the source of some of these assumptions in order to discourage me from investing energy in my work life.  Hm – that hadn’t occurred to me. I default to believing that my thoughts have their origin in me.

And maybe it’s not about being good enough, or the best or wildly enthusiastic.  Maybe it’s about being faithful today, where I am, with what I’ve been given to do.  And to do IT with His power and wisdom and energy.

A comforting image came to me as I laid down for a nap on Saturday afternoon.  It was of the relief and ordinariness of just being a sheep in the Father’s fold.  Just a good sheep.  Voilà – my new ambition.  “Maria – just be a good little sheep!”

sheep So that is what I aspire to, this day.  Not to invent/create/or pursue my own goals, but to follow my all-sufficient Shepherd.  After all, He promises that as one of His sheep:

  • I will lack nothing
  • I will receive sufficient rest, energy and strength for the day
  • I will be directed, not for my sake, but for the honor of His name and character as the Good Shepherd
  • I will feast on royal food and be anointed with family oil reminding me of whose I am EVEN in the midst of enemies

Finally, to ensure that I clearly understood my Father in this matter yesterday, the Holy Spirit guided my podcast listening to a sermon in which the pastor taught from Romans 8.  The verse that was for me was verse 14:

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God”

Working backwards, I reasoned thus: Since I know that I have been adopted into God’s family and am a co-heir with Jesus, my brother, then ipso facto, the Spirit DOES lead me.  The Greek word is ‘ago’ (Strongs # 71) and it can mean COMPEL, DRIVE, BRING.  Much stronger words, then ‘lead’, wouldn’t you say?

If God is sovereign, then I can trust Him to drive me or keep me where He wants me.  And concerning this other job possibility I WILL turn over the next card and do what is at hand, this day, but I will pray to remember NOT to pre-occupy myself with the future.

Can anyone relate?

Expect opposition if you are in God’s will

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Opposition - chess pieces

 

 

 

Saul had just been anointed Israel’s first King as recounted in the book, 1 Samuel, chapter 10.

24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “ Long live the king!”……
(25b)….  and Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his house. 26 Saul also went to his house at Gibeah; and the valiant men whose hearts God had touched went with him. 27 But certain worthless men said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent.

I am learning that you can be in God’s will and right where He wants you to be AND there will be push back and opposition.  The question then emerges: Why are we surprised?

Here are 3 facts:

1) Trials are intended to grow our patient trust (called steadfastness) in God.  They are necessary for us to be complete.  They are required if we are to be fully equipped, lacking nothing.

  • James 1: 2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

2) God uses every aspect of these trials, aka painful circumstances & suffering, to bring about our maturity, training and equipping.

  • Romans 8:28  And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose

3) Sometimes the secondary cause, the deliverer of the suffering/trial/hardship, is via spiritual forces of wickedness.  God, the first-cause, allows these attacks for His own good and loving reasons.

One of those ‘good’ reasons is so we will KNOW how real and safe God’s Word is.  Last week, I re-learned that lesson.

I had gone about 6 weeks with no parent complaints in this my first year in a new school.

No complaints since

 

 

 

 

I really didn’t see this one coming.  And when the complaint filtered down to me via my principal (I explicitly excluded a disruptive child when I passed out mini marshmallows for good participation in class), I was emotionally drained.  My confidence and enjoyment of the students had been growing since the nadir in January.   But this episode set me back.

My tête-à-tête with my principal happened on a Thursday.  And the following Monday I felt even lower.  It was like I had lost all sense of purpose in life. I seriously considered how much money I could make cleaning homes as an alternative to THIS!!!

My poor husband didn’t know how to react to his normally optimistic, perky wife.  But he defaulted to the most effective use of his time and words.   He prayed fervently most of the evening, unlike Job’s friends.

And praise be to God, the next morning, something that Tullian Tchividjian said in a podcast brought relief.  He was recounting his ‘year from Hell’, his first year as senior pastor of  Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft Lauderdale.  And MY thought was this: “I bet Tullian seriously considered resigning and going to work at Lowe’s to support his family!”   My next thought tumbled out: “Wow!  Then we would have been deprived of his ministry of grace, his books and the Liberate Conferences!  I bet this was spiritual attack by those who were bent on stopping any advance in the Kingdom!”

Spir Warfare - the lion

 

 

 

And just with that thought, I was ‘right-side-up’ again with purpose and renewed resolve NOT to let the enemy defeat me.  It might be that God’s will for me at that school is just for this year.  That decision is in His hands.  But for now, I will fight on, determined to reach out to my students and colleagues and be available to them.  I am learning the absolute reality and security of God’s word.  As my cousin Terry reminded me:

No wpn formed against you

 

 

 

 

 

And thank you, Michael, for your prayers.  As James points out, “the fervent prayers of a man who is in right-standing with God make A LOT of power available!” (James 5:16)

Pity, Pride and Promises

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Several of my dear friends have been struggling with the very real and insidious satanic snare of: 

  • self pity – look at how terrible my circumstances are!
  • pride – these circumstances should not be happening to me!

The trick of Satan is to mask his role in promoting these depressing and self-righteous feelings!  Instead, we think they are OUR true assessment of reality.

One friend is struggling with her marriage and wishing it were otherwise.

The other friend is struggling with his vocation and wishing it were otherwise.

Who can rescue them (and us when we are so attacked) from this downward spiral that seems unending?

One version of an endless cycle

Thank God that He exists and has come that we might have life.

The other day I, TOO, felt that descent into murky grayness as I was meditating on some difficult circumstances. But before I hit dark despair, the Holy Spirit brought to mind God’s promise in Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Then I recalled

  • the FACT that God is sovereignly controlling all my circumstances
  • the FACT that God is always doing 10,000 plus things in every circumstance that touches me
  • the FACT that God predestined me to work, to help, to pray, to give, to worship, to trust in activities and projects of His own choosing
  • the FACT that God chose to give me life today for His purposes
  • the FACT that I can trust God of all ‘people’ to be consistent and true to His Word

All those thoughts got my mind OFF of my circumstance and reversed the trend of my feelings.

So dear friends, I am praying that the Holy Spirit will remind you hourly:

  • that you can trust God
  • that God is close to the broken-hearted
  • that He is allowing this circumstance, at the moment, because He has good in mind for you, for those involved and others about whose situation you might not know

So……relax, trust and remember how He has come through in the past and what He promises for your future.

1 Cor 2:9

Fatal False Guilt

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You might be a fellow member of the False Guilt Club.  I actually don’t remember being invited to join.  I think I just woke up one day and realized I was already a practicing adherent.

I spend SO much of my mental energy feeling guilty for not living up to the expectations and thoughts I imagine others have about me.

How do you know if you’re a member?

You’re a member if  SHOULD is an active part of your self-talk.

“I know I should……. (but I don’t want to)”

  • call my family members & friends more often
  • go back to church for the evening service
  • join a small group
  • attend more student extra-curricular functions at school
  • share more  time and life with neighbors
  • engage with my students in the hallway more
  • be a better wife to my husband in ways I think he must want
  • plan more creatively for holidays, birthdays…..

I spend so much energy and a good portion of my thought life dialoguing back and forth with ME about how I’m not the kind of person that I think others would like me to be,  and about how I don’t measure up to their expectations.

I’ve been asking God to help me get a handle on this, because it drives me nuts and depresses me.  I used to engage in this a lot as a parent.  That’s why I never wanted to read parenting books – they were fodder for more guilt.  Now that guilt-ridden self- talk has been renewed since I have become a grandparent.  I don’t measure up to my peers who are already grandparents.  I don’t sew clothes, Skype frequently, spend a lot of time helping the parents (our kids) out.

As I have prayed through this and thought about what the Bible has to say about guilt, I am exploring the difference between conviction of sin (result of Godly guilt) and misplaced fear of man.  This wrong ‘fear’ of man instead of  the healthy ‘fear/respect/awe of God’ is a plot straight from the pit of Hell.  Satan loves to get us so knotted up, focused MORE on us and less on God.

God speaks through Paul when He assures us that as adopted members of His family,

  • ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are united to Christ by faith’ (Romans 8:1).  With that GREAT news as a foundational truth, we are ready to hear more from God.  Through Peter, God instructs us
  • to…… put away …. all deceit and hypocrisy and envy.” (1 Pet 2:1)  The Message refers to deceit & hypocrisy as pretense.

It IS pretense when I DO something in order NOT to feel guilty for NOT doing it.  When I pretend that I want to do what I THINK you want me to do that’s just plain false.  My sole motivation is to avoid guilt and to project a certain image so you’ll approve of me and  think well of me.

Isn’t it better to be honest in a tactful and loving way and ask God to give us the desire to do what HE wants us to do?  Maybe there’s a Holy Spirit reason we gravitate towards some activities and not others.

Last year I was asked to substitute in the nursery at church for a friend.  I’m glad I didn’t have much time to angst about it. I said straight away, “Sorry, I don’t like serving in the nursery. I’ll gladly sub for you in MS or HS Sunday School, or in the kitchen or even cleaning bathrooms at church!” I know she was shocked by my confession of not really being into babies. ( I loved MINE and I’m prejudiced toward our grandkids, even if I don’t think I’m as good a grandparent as everyone else.  And there’s a reason why I teach kids aged 11 on up!)

How do you handle the imagined ‘shoulds’ in your life?  Have you come across any Biblical references to this kind of emotional turmoil?

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