What Elijah and I have in common

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1 Kings 19: 3,4b, 5a –   Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.……….. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

I was having an Elijah day.  Tired.  Leg and foot cramps at night degrade my sleep. So when I hop out of bed more than the customary once per night, I feel FOGGY and handicapped the next day.

As you know fatigue is NOT conducive to feelings that represent reality.

I had gotten up at my customary time, knowing that I needed time with the Lord on my walk and at the kitchen counter reading my Bible and praying.  If I didn’t set TRUTH front and center in my life, I would not make it through the day teaching school and interacting with colleagues.

Even with the reminder of our unchanging God, it was still HARD.  The feelings, which seemed to originate from WITHIN me, kept up their assault:

  • I don’t really care about kids!
  • I’m too old to be teaching in a Middle School
  • But where am I going to find another job that pays this much and frees up my summer for family and friends?

Finally, I chose to ignore the feelings and NOT yield to the temptation to draw any conclusion.

I found refuge in this promise from God:  My grace IS sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect when combined with your weakness, Maria.  2 Cor 12:9 (includes my personalization!)

The next day, after a better sleep (Thank you, Jesus!) I thought of Elijah and his emotional outburst and wrong conclusions.

If you read the entire passage in 1 Kings 19, you can clearly see God’s tenderness.  He doesn’t rebuke Elijah, but causes him to sleep, then sends an angel to feed him and to invite him to sleep some more. Only then does God dialogue with Elijah and set him straight with truth – that Elijah is NOT the only believer left, but there are another 7000!

So dear friends, I am learning (and RE-learning) not to agree with or even fight feelings when I’m tired, but just to lay them in Jesus’ lap and take care of my body.  There’s plenty of time to figure things out WITH God knowing that He has promised to give me perfect power for my needs.

 

 

The cost of love

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‘Unused grace is like a fragrance capped in a bottle‘, so I read the other day in one of Charles Spurgeon’s devotions.

perfume bottle

Thinking about grace prompted me actually to list in my mind the 9 fruits of the Spirit, such as kindness, patience and self-control.   Those examples of God’s grace then reminded me of the qualities Paul exhorts the Colossian Church ‘to put on’ daily, such as compassion and humility.

Then God stopped me cold in my thoughts.  When do we act kind? or exercise patience? or control our emotions or show love?

Only in those situations that TRY our patience, with those people who are difficult to love, and when our feelings lure us to vaunt or to fall into self-pity.

Do I know what I’m asking God to do when I pray for Him to grow in me these qualities fitting for a child of God?

 

 

Provisions for the day

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Pill containers

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:19

Give us today our daily bread. – Luke 11:3  (Keep us alive with three square meals – The Message paraphrase)

I’m getting ready to take students to Québec for a French class ‘field trip’.  Planning ahead for the 6 day absence, I bought this pill container so I can leave Mike’s vitamins and meds for him clearly marked and safe from the cats.

Each color-coded plastic mini box will supply what he needs for a specific period of time. The clear markings and different colors broadcast sufficiency and timeliness. It would not make sense nor be healthy for my husband to take from other than the scheduled provision.

God provides the same way, by giving us enough grace (strength, wisdom, money, work, SLEEP, knowledge, whatever we need) for the moment. If I worry about ‘later’, I’m actually stealing from future stockpiled grace.  (Our cousin calls it – ‘stepping out of the circle of God’s grace.’) Just like I will set out pills for Mike before I depart, so God has furnished supplies for our future needs.  The verb to pro-vide, if you break it into component parts, means:

  • in advance
  • seeing

God sees what will sustain us, minute by minute, our entire life, that is –  in advance of NOW. And we know that our God is loving, good and personal.  So it’s not like He is going to peer into the future, observe our needs and then shrug, “Hope they can handle THAT event. Good luck to them!”

Here’s the point.  Just like Mike is going to trust me that I’ve pre-positioned the requisite pills he requires for the appropriate segment of the day, so too we Christians should trust our Father in heaven to do the same. In the 35 years of our marriage, Mike has learned to place his confidence in me, assured that I will do him good and not harm.  Can’t we at least trust God THAT much?

During the past 2 months of ‘health issues’ (2 unexceptional little words that pack a punch), we’ve seen God come through time and time again.  My daily mantra has become:  ‘Manna for the day; Grace for this moment’ and I’ve clung to Psalm 84:11 – ‘No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.’ 

I’m ashamed to admit, that for me, it is STILL a fight, to trust God in those scary moments when I SEE no provision.  It’s then, more than at any other time, that I have to speak Words of Truth to me!  So I recite out loud as many of His promises as I can, those assurances that He IS in fact caring for me and supplying what I need. I think it was Martin Luther who taught that we must daily preach the good news, the Gospel, first and foremost to ourselves!

As Jeremiah himself learned and then turned and comforted the exiled –

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”  Jeremiah 3:22-24

 

What do you brag about?

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Some women my age trot out pictures of their grandkids or others of their prized pooches.  Then there are those who boast about the good deals they secured on Black Friday or their completion of a holiday decorating schema for home and yard.

But Paul exhorts us to boast in our weaknesses.

  • “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor 12:9

I’d like to offer a case for broadening the term ‘weakness’ to mean any limitation or need that one cannot personally overcome or fulfill. Part of maturity is a coming to terms with the fact that, EVEN THOUGH THIS IS AMERICA, one CANNOT do anything one sets his or her mind to.

Adult to skinny child:  What are you going to be when you grow up, little boy?

skinny boy

 

Child: I’m going to be an NFL linebacker!

Linebacker

Dishonest Adult:  Good for you, little boy! You can achieve anything you set your mind to.

So how does getting real with our limitations apply to us, no matter our age?  And can that little boy truly grow up to be an NFL linebacker?

My husband and I have longings and unmet desires that we admit to one another once in a while.  They tend to be activities or situations we think would meet some deep needs of personal fulfillment.   One of those longings popped up last night. Mike was playing some hauntingly beautiful, classical choral music as part of his Christmas play list.  When Emma Kirkby, the British soprano, began her ‘Who may abide the day of His coming?’ solo, tears from that deep place in Mike’s soul welled up. He has sung that exact piece (it’s also written for baritone) with some fine choral groups.  God has given him both a voice for and love of good music. But by our moving to Western North Carolina to a gorgeous spot in the Smoky Mountains in the ‘boonies’ we have cut ourselves off from that kind of music, both by geography and our choice to join a Bible-teaching church.

The conversation then turned to a time we had lived in England for 18 months.  During the one Christmas season we celebrated, we had season tickets to a series of classical concerts in one of the Oxford college chapels. The acoustics of that ancient holy space and the men and boys’ choir were ethereal and soul-satisfying.

That remembrance of time past led me to think of the few times, now so long ago, when we lived in Europe.  And my yearnings for another occasion such as those, to plug into the life and community of a different culture and (if in France or Germany) to speak the local language flooded my heart.

Both intense feelings of longing are real AND they do not mean we are unhappy living here.  The desires are part of who God made us.  Mike is gifted musically and I’m gifted with a curiosity for different people and love of languages.

Yet….in our present circumstances, I don’t see how either can or could be fulfilled.

But here’s the more significant point.  We humans see XYZ as possible remedies or solutions or ways to meet a godly desire.  But God is the Infinite, Eternal One who created ALL there is, including us.  And as Isaiah reminds us:

  • “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Isaiah 55:8

So, let me remind both my heart and Mike’s heart: “Hearts, listen up! Don’t despair.  Yes, God has given you these gifts, desires, interests and longings.  And He WILL meet those yearnings. It probably won’t be in a way you can even picture.  But longings don’t go unfulfilled.  The satisfaction might come in this life or in the next, but it will come. Trust the one who says:

  • No good thing do I withhold from the one who walks blameless, in my path. (paraphrase of Psalm 84:11)”

So I will practice contentment like David models for us:

  • But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131: 2

Returning to my initial question about what you boast in, I started by proposing that these ‘current limitations’ or ‘needs’ are included in Paul’s description of ‘weaknesses’.  Could it be that God actually BLOCKS our way to fulfilling some of these desires ourselves?  Might He also use these unmet needs to teach us to be dependent on Him? And what about God employing them….

….also as a means for pointing the cynically jaded, bored, and despairing world to marvel at such a God as ours who does “EXCEEDINGLY ABUNDANTLY more than we can ask or imagine.” Ephesians 3:20?

I do believe God will satisfy those yearnings or He will replace them with something better.  Our challenge as God’s children is to show the world who our God is and why He is enough.  It is by our BOASTING in our inability to meet our own needs along with our reliance on the God who CAN be enough when we are weak and insufficient, that we show the unbelieving world the one and only path to abundant life. Be assured, the Christian is no fool. He trusts in the God who promises that ‘in His presence is fullness of joy and pleasures evermore’.  

Are you willing to be the arena for the tired world to see how wonder-filled our God is?

 

 

 

 

Why we run away from trials and suffering and why we shouldn’t

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I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Psalm 119:75

Seems that every other archived sermon I listen from my iTunes feed of daily John Piper ‘past sermons’ is about suffering and the benefits.  But he’s not the only one proclaiming that uncomfortable message.  Another pastor Mike and I follow has started a series on the Book of James, written by Jesus’ half-brother.  You know how he starts at the beginning of his letter, that invitation to join the ‘Pure Joy Club’?

Count it pure or all joy, my brothers when you fall into trials of many kinds….

And then there is my hero in the faith, George Mueller, the 19th century British pastor who prayed about the idea, then planned for and ran orphanages that eventually housed 3000 parent-less children over 40-50 years.  Not once did he publish outside of the handful of praying partners the financial needs to support what he undertook.  And God directed daily bread (literally and also metaphorically, referring to all their needs) Mueller’s way.

But it was not easy. Most often the forthcoming provision was obscured until the last minute.  After decades of practice at banking on the Father to meet all their needs, Mueller concluded that the good and ever-present God:

  • gives us problems and difficulties, so that we are led to exercise prayer and faith and grow stronger

Yet, we’re human.  It’s a no-brainer to choose comfort and ease and visible provision.  But could we be wrong in what we cherish, in what we think is due us, what we conclude will best serve us?

One doesn’t have to look far to see that whereas EVERYONE suffers in life, the pain and problems are disproportionately distributed. Does that seem fair to you?

No!, but…..caveat coming:  Pursuing that question of ‘rightness’, going down THAT path will NOT lead to any SATISFYING answer that quiets all our questions. Just ask Job.

So of course the uneven assigning of pain doesn’t seem fair.  But don’t let us therefore conclude that God is neither in charge NOR good.

Yes, the world is messed up.  And always has been since our primal parents opted for their own wisdom, rather than God’s.

But that doesn’t mean that suffering and problems are gratuitous.

Here’s what one language scholar from Blue Letter Bible wrote in explaining the word ‘afflicted’

  • Jehovah depressed/ consumed my strength that was in the way

Why would God do that?  Well, plenty of Bible contributors have explained that:

  • Before you made me suffer, I used to wander off, but now I hold on to your word. Ps 119:67
  • My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:6
  • God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

Looking at that last verse snippet, let’s ask this question: To whom does God give His supernatural power and wisdom and favor?  only to the humble.  How does God humble us?  Well, you tell me!

Okay, so this makes sense on paper.  What about LIFE?

In this current season in my late 50s, what I struggle with is still….. willling and eager worship of my self-created version of ‘feeling good’.

And it seems that the more lessons He plans for me, the worse my situation, my sin grows. It happens in 3 ways:

  • I understand more clearly the evil of idolatry
  • I feel more helpless to deal with it
  • I cling to it all the more

As Paul bluntly cried out to his scribe, (and I paraphrase) Miserable, self-absorbed wretch that I am, who can rescue me from this mess?  Romans 7:24

I know everyone can identify when they think of that one (at LEAST one) on-going, dogged sin that we both despise and cherish in some sick way because it’s familiar.

Permit me to share some hope that I recently received during an episode of God’s ‘attentiveness’:

  • First – from Blue Letter Bible, again about the term ‘affliction’

The simple basic verb ‘to be afflicted’ means ‘occupied with/ busied with.  So when we are blind-sided with suffering, whether brought on BY ourselves or BY another, God is at work in us, concentrating ON us.

So we can’t say, “Where is God???!!!!”  He absolutely IS with us, is busying Himself with us.

  • Second – in a sermon Pastor Steve Brown entitled, ‘Don’t Waste Your Sin’, I learned something new.  When Jesus died on the cross with our sins attributed to or assigned to Him, He paid for them, right?  A synonym for ‘paid for’ is ‘purchased’.  Jesus BOUGHT our sins for us, so in one sense, we ‘own’ them. Brown counsels us to put them (the cancelled sins) to constructive use.  What does he mean?  Think of the woman at the well who, once she was saved, happily and boldly proclaimed to her fellow villagers, “This man told me ALL about myself!”  And she was joyful.  She made GOOD use of her sins, that SHE committed, that she chose time and time again, but that Jesus had forgiven.

So, if I apply those ideas to myself, then each time (and there will be more, I don’t doubt) I struggle with investing importance in my particular ‘something’, which is created, rather than the creator I hope I remember:

God is doing something ON me for my good.

Jesus bought this sin, so how can I use it to bless someone else?

For starters, no point in covering it up!  May I boldly share how God never tires of restructuring the same ole’/same ole’ lesson to conform me to His Son. And if He keeps forgiving AND using even THIS stupid sin in my life, then He will do the same for you!

Does God need anything?

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Yes, He does. He needs our weakness!

Checkbook of Grace

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me2 Cor 12:9

What an amazing and imbalanced swap!  We give God our weaknesses and in exchange, He provides His unlimited power and strength.

In Paul’s case, God did not remove the illness or disease (that ambiguous thorn in his side), but gave Paul endurance not only to bear it but to rejoice in it.

I’ve been thinking about 3 things – ‘boasting in weakness’ as Paul puts it, God’s provisions and my needs.  John Piper writes in his book Faith in Future Grace that most of God’s word to us is in the form of promises.  It’s like God hands his redeemed kids an unlimited checkbook called Grace.   If grace is the set of all of God’s gifts to us, then within that purse or checking account or cupboard (whatever metaphor you prefer) are coins/checks/containers of different resources.

God's Grace Venn Diagram  You probably can’t read the small titles, but I think you’ll get the idea.  The big circle is all the grace available to us; the points are names of the forms of provision like:

  • mercy
  • strength
  • forgiveness
  • peace
  • financial resources
  • time
  • healing
  • patience
  • understanding
  • faith
  • rescue

The promises become precious to you and me only when we are desperate and bank our all on them, moving out of the paralysis of fear into the open space called ‘trusting God to do what He says’.  Hence the checkbook.  Some of us carry a checkbook around in a pocket or purse and when we need something and don’t have the money in hand, we write a check and count on both the merchant accepting it in lieu of cash and our bank honoring it.

It’d be stupid to continue to be needy all the while carrying a valid checkbook!  But that is how we act with God’s word.

Okay – so here is where this gets real for me.  What is my # 1 weakness?  It’s the continual fear that I won’t have ENOUGH TIME to do what I need to do for school and home AND……have some time left over for me to do what Maria wants.  Daily and hourly I face and fight that fear.  So God, in His kind design to wean me off my fear and grow my default mechanism to trust Him continually, SEEMS to give me more stuff to do than I can SEE time available to me.

I’m a slow learner.  But I’m getting better.  My thoughts are lining up more times than not (80%) with God’s word. My heart, however, still drags its feet.

To help both you and me, here are some encouraging words.  Take them as reasons to believe that these promises ARE indeed meant to be used.  The first one states the fact that we actually POSSESS these promises if we are indeed Children of God:

  • (Paul lists several promises and ends a chapter quoting a promise from the Old Testament in 2 Sam 7:14 ) “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (Paul then reasons…) Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends…... 2 Cor 6:18 – 7:1a   

  • But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus – Phil 4:19
  • For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength – Phil 4:13
  • I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth and I will fill it – Psalm 81:1

There are hundreds and hundreds of promises that will stun you if you will accept them as truthful words from a reliable source.

But how can we really know that God will come through and the check not bounce? I’ll leave you with two realities that reassure me:

  1. All I have to do is look back over my past (recent and long ago) and see the many ways He has come through when I both relied on Him and doubted Him. (call that “mercy and kindness added to provision”).
  2. The definition of God is composed of His attributes.  So when you consider just ONE characteristic –  ‘faithfulness to His word’, if anyone could top God then that person would be God.  The very definition of ‘God’ means that no thing or no one tops Him in  ANY and ALL of these qualities.  So we can reason and relax that when it comes to doing what He pronounces He will do, then He WILL do it!

So tell me, which promise of God is most precious to you?  What is your # 1 ‘go-to’ pronouncement of provision in this season of your life?  I’m composing my own ABC list of promises that I can have at my disposal and I’d love to be reminded of other treasures in the Bible.

Thanking God for a sleepless night

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Romans 8:28:  And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, that is for the good of those who are called according to His divine plan.

Sleepless

Like many of you, I don’t take a solid night’s sleep for granted.  Each morning when I arise after a night with only ONE visit to the bathroom, I consider that God has given me a gift.

But Monday night last week included 3 interruptions due to foot and leg cramps. As a result, I arose the next morning knowing I was going to be drawing on God’s energy for my commute to school. (I drive 50 minutes each way by interstate).

But two events occurred as a result of that sleepless night that have caused me to thank God FOR it.

I’ve been puzzling over how NOT to be anxious after praying for something I want to happen.  Here’s the situation.  My mother worried a lot about family when they travelled. Yes, she was a Christian, but old patterns of thought linger.  I absorbed her angst and it has fed these fears even to this day.  Last weekend, one son and his wife had been driving back from a late-night wedding and I had prayed for their safe arrival all day long. Even though I asked God to protect them, I still struggled with how to be free from anxiety after praying.

During my sleepless night when I was awake from 12:30 to 3:30 am lying in bed thinking about EVERYTHING, God brought Romans 8:28 to mind as the remedy for anxiety and fear once you’ve prayed.

Here’s how my mind processed this promise of future grace.  Yes, we are to pray for situations. Then we are to let them go and trust God when He vows emphatically to work ALL circumstances (even if the ‘worst’ outcome happens that I’m praying against) together for the good of ……. 

In the darkness of the night, God shone light on His Word and gave me relief.  It’s like He sprung me from my self-imposed prison cell of fear.  Yes, I want my kids to be safe and I will pray for that.  But I will let go and rely on God’s better promise to guide and direct even the ‘bad’ stuff for the good of my loved ones and for His glory.

That in itself was worth the sleepless night.

But then God answered another prayer of mine.  I’ve been having stomach problems and googling remedies for feeling bloated and nauseous each day. Here’s how God took care of that!  The evening after my sleepless night, after I had arrived safely home but foggy with fatigue, I was fixing Mike’s and my yogurt mixtures for the next day.  I put certain colon-friendly fruit in his and certain low-fiber fruit in mine.  Because I was ‘punchy’ with fatigue, I mistakenly switched the yogurts, leaving mine in the frig and putting his in my lunch box for the next day.

At 10 am the following morning when I opened up my snack, I spotted the ‘wrong’ Greek yogurt mixture.  Besides feeling bad for Mike, I was bummed that I had brought the high-fiber version.  I decided to put it back in our teachers’ frig and rummage for a Zone bar I could eat instead.  Not consuming that ‘dairy’ – well, you guessed it, eliminated my stomach problem for the day. Bingo!  All of a sudden it hit me that I might be dairy-intolerant.  Sure enough, a few days without the yogurt confirmed my hypothesis.

Dairy intolerance

Here’s the remarkable take away, though.  And this is HUGE for me.  It seems that God is sovereign even over OUR mistakes. Do you know how freeing that is?  Even when you mess up, God works all things for your good (if you are His son or daughter by the new birth).  Yes, we want to do what’s right, but we don’t live by karma. We live by grace and in a Kingdom ruled by a loving and good God who has ALL the power and ALL the wisdom and is ALL perfect and righteous.

So I’m saying to you and to me – give up the ball and chain of striving for perfectionism.  We are imperfect creations.  We are going to make many mistakes.  But mistakes are not sovereign.  God is.  We don’t have to carry the burden of being good, of being right. Jesus beckons us to trust Him and give up that yoke.

Matt 11:28 – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

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