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)

How God is changing my will

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Philippians 2:13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Lots of unholy churn and inward griping have colored my past 3 3/4 years teaching French to middle-schoolers.  I have prayed for God to open the door to other jobs that pay as much but

  • don’t include a commute of at least 1 hour 40 minutes on a traffic-free day
  • don’t place me in a sometimes hostile anti-Christian environment (secular school)
  • don’t require me to face the burdensome daily challenge of teaching French well and creatively to middle-schoolers

And in His good and wise providence, God has kept me in that job!  So I have prayed, very reluctantly, for Him to change my will, my desires.  Do you ever pray like this, a kind of ‘please God, but I’m not sure if I want you to‘ type request?  This is how I’ve been praying:

  • Father, if I have to continue to work THERE, then at least change my heart so that I more light-heartedly teach/work/serve at that school.  But, Father, I’m actually hesitant to ASK You to change my heart.  I don’t think I WANT to want that, to work contentedly there.  I just want OUT!

But God HAS changed my heart through a shift in my thinking that could ONLY have come about this way.

It was a combination of a Charles Spurgeon selection from his book Morning and Evening, a John Piper devotional one night, some scripture in a prayer I was praying through that my app Prayermate had fed me and a John Piper archived sermon the next morning.  All within about 11 hours.

One of my whiny refrains I kept replaying in my mind leading up to those 12 hours was, “My heart is just not in teaching French to middle-schoolers any more!  I’m tired of the burden. And besides, I’ll be 60 in a few months, maybe I don’t have what it takes to relate to them!”  I can get REAL good at excuse making.

By means of 3 verses, He had shifted my thoughts toward the end of the 11 hours (an evening, night and early morning), which gently but abruptly changed my desire:

  • Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
  • Ephesians 6:7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
  • Colossians 3:23 Whatever you are doing, let your hearts be in your work, as a thing done for the Lord and not for men.

And just like that, with the gentle Holy Spirit memory prompting, He brought those living facts and commands into my heart and mind and something occurred instantly.

In a flash, I saw how sinful AND LAME my whininess had been.  I pictured those sins as adding to the crushing weight of sin that Jesus willingly took on for me.

The next thought was:

  •  If I can’t teach whole-heartedly for THEM, those kids, I CAN do so for God.  By His power.
  •  In fact Maria, your Father created those works at this school right now for you to do as a new creation.  He has equipped and fitted you to do just that.  And that is why He has kept you there in that job.  It has been His intention all along.  He has purposes for you to serve Him in that environment.

That was a Wednesday.  I lived with new freedom and awareness throughout the day, actually enjoying myself.

Cautiously I embraced Thursday.  Same thought-altering feelings prevailed. And Friday as well.

It’s Spring Break this week.  The days are flying and soon Monday will come.  But I’m not dreading it.  With His help, I CAN do what He has willed for me, what He commands me to do.

Here’s the truth:  what God commands, He equips us to do and we have no reasonable defense to resist.  Thanks be to God!

God’s sense of humor – my lunch hours

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For 3 years I resisted.  Finally, BEGRUDGINGLY, I gave Him one lunchtime per week. After all, that Holy Spirit can be a pretty persistent Friend and Counselor.

As a busy teacher, I cherish my lunchtime to catch up on personal email when neither duties nor meetings take precedent.

Most of my fellow teachers share lunch and conversation in the foyer, eating and socializing at an oblong table.  I have KNOWN I should join in, especially if I want to develop relationships and be available for Gospel opportunities.  But I have selfishly hoarded lunchtime, justifying my choice by reasoning that I use those minutes to encourage friends via emails and catching up on reading some quality posts.  All true, but……as God teaches in Ecclesiastes 3:1 There’s a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun.

So under the gentle but persistent pressure of the Holy Spirit I yielded and agreed to dine with my fellow teachers once per week.  I even taped an index card on my desk to keep myself accountable, jotting down the date of my ‘ weekly sacrifice’.

To my surprise, I have found that I truly enjoy this social time with colleagues, even to the point of choosing more than once a week to join in the group.  God does have a sense of humor and doesn’t give up on stubborn daughters who think they know what is best for them.

Two benefits:

  • A tangible reminder that God changes our desires so we can find delight in obeying Him

Luke 11:28 – ……how blessed are those who hear God’s word and obey it!

  • I actually was given an opening to share why I am happy as a Christian and to explain the Gospel briefly at one of those lunchtime table talks.

May this experience make me more willing NEXT time to obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit!

 

Keep your roots in good soil

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tomato-in-soil  The zucchini failed, the cucumber baby plants did not thrive, but our container garden yielded tomatoes.

These tomato pots have shown me over the past 4 months that if the soil is good, and God provides adequate sun and water, that is still not enough to produce a crop.

All vegetation, if it is to yield fruit, must have its roots planted in the soil.  That is crucial. (yes, I have heard of hydroponic cultivation!)

Aren’t we Christians the same?  According to Jesus, we will grow naturally, without working at it, if we are immersed in His Word, sucking up nourishment because it satisfies like nothing else.

John 15:4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I recently noticed in this verse that the verb Jesus uses is to BEAR fruit. We don’t GROW the fruit ourselves.  We just let fruit sprout and flourish.

As the Holy Spirit gives growth, He causes our new nature to develop characteristics like joy and patience, gentle responses and kind actions, to name a few.  This Holy Spirit fruit in turn feeds and fertilizes us, resulting in deeper and sturdier roots and an ongoing yield.

I like how the inspired psalmist described the process in Psalm 92: 13-14: 

Planted in the house of the Lord,
They will flourish in the courts of our God.
[Growing in grace] they will still thrive and bear fruit and prosper in old age;
They will flourish and be vital and fresh [rich in trust and love and contentment]; (Amplified Bible)

I’ve noticed some dying leaves on my October container plants, but I’m still getting salad tomatoes. How encouraging for all of us in a Western society that abhors and tries to hide from aging.  Since we don’t have to rely on ourselves to ‘add value’ we can relax and allow God generate all and any good yield.

Will you be disappointed to know what God’s will is for your life?

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I’m ashamed to admit that in my early years as a Christian I used to brag about my UN-answered very ‘selfless-sounding’ prayer when Mike and I were in a career bind.  We were living in England and he was ‘stuck’ in a commission-only sales job and hated what the stress was doing to his body.  Nurtured by a small group from our church, we began to learn about God from the Bible.  Since we were in a bind about this job crisis, we crafted a spiritual request:

  • Father, just show us your will and we will do it!

No matter how much we pleaded with God, we didn’t receive any nudges or clues from God about what to do job-wise.  In the end, we stumbled our way through several dead ends and moved back to the States.  Even after we were finally settled into a new career path for Mike, I often shared the story of this ‘failed’ prayer request.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned what God’s will for my life was.   It’s the same as for your life, if you are a Christian. And it’s bigger than individual problems or unpleasant life circumstances.

It’s called RADICAL HOLINESS. 

radical

Before you flinch at either word, BREATHE!  We’ll look at each word and find some good news.

Let’s take up first the term, ‘holy’. It should come as no surprise that God wants us to be holy.  He started with Abraham and grew a separated people, the Hebrews, to BE holy. The OT is the story of how they, like us, kept failing at their calling.  Take a look at a few verses:

  • Be holy, as I am holy  (found in the OT, for example in Lev 20:26 as well as in the NT, for example in 1 Peter 1:16)
  • For it is God’s will that you should be holy (or sanctified) 1 Thess 4:3   holiness or sanctification is Hagiosmos in Greek  (we get the word hagiography, referring to stories about the saints, aka believers)

What about the first concept of ‘radical’?  Is that crazy-wild holiness like John the Baptist, complete with eating flying insects and getting stung gathering honey?

john the baptist

Not specifically. I don’t doubt that this forerunner committed his life to growing into God’s holiness.  But the TRUE meaning of radical is ROOT.  We are to be like God down to our very roots, not just LOOK holy to wow each other.

It’s the difference between eye-impressing pietistic outward behaviors and growing in godliness from the surface all the way to your core.

I have to admit that on the surface that might sound boring.  If so, then the fault lies in me and how I think about holiness. There’s also the very real problem that God is committed to transforming me closer to the image of Jesus, whether I find his goal for me exciting or not!  And he does this by…….

organizing one training exercise…… after another trial….. after some practice after..  every single day! (repeat until we graduate, aka go to be with him!)

I was reading a bit last night in John Piper’s book, Future Grace.  His premise is that all of God’s promises in the Bible are units of grace that are future to us. AND they are as sure as God himself is the following:

  • who he says he is (as written in His book, the Bible),
  • and who he has demonstrated himself to be (evidence from the past – both in others’ lives and ours).

Piper connects actually relying and believing God’s promises with growth in holiness.  Here’s his quote,

  • I pledge myself to a holy dissatisfaction until my thoughts and my words and my deeds express the radical holiness that comes from the wonderful, joyful freedom of living by faith in guaranteed future grace. (p. 108 of Chapter 7, original edition)

Piper takes as a key teaching about the assurance of God’s promises to us and for us these verses in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as recorded in 2 Cor 1:20-22 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

So how I summarized Piper’s thesis was this:

  • God calls/commands me to be holy.
  • I grow more holy as I soak in and move out, trusting the invisible but very real promised provision as detailed in his scripture promises.
  • When I pray to God I ask him to help me trust what he says. I need his help to stake my every-day moments on his word. So in my prayer I say Amen, aka Yes!, to God’s promises which are grounded in Christ and shored up by the permanent deposit of the Holy Spirit in me.

So, do you see?  Becoming more and more holy is actually a joy-producing adventure.  God doesn’t want us to worry and carry the burden of life on our shoulders.  But we won’t believe him that his way is the better and happier way.  So he orchestrates these tests, EVERY day, forcing us to exercise our spiritual muscles.

For me these tests seem to center around my perception of having too many tasks today and too little time AND have some time left over for me to relax by reading.

I’ve been meditating on Piper’s teachings the past few days.  This morning I woke up feeling anxious about ‘all I needed to get done’ today after church.  Then I remembered that I don’t HAVE to worry.  And in fact maybe, just maybe, God has piled all ‘all this stuff’ deliberately to crunch me and force me to take the practical exam of trusting his promised future grace. For that is how he is making me holy, right down to my core.

Question:  What’s your holiness training plan like?

God always has the better answer

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Blog - Scales

“To weigh or not to weigh?”

I didn’t for 2 mornings. Freedom.

Morning came. And the tempter had whispered right before bed: “What’s your reward for any restraint in the evening if not for the potential measure of success the next morning?”

Wish I hadn’t listened. Result? Self-absorbed.

Confessed to God. Repented.

Looked up at “Christ ..in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Col 2:3

Gave ‘it’ to God to tell me what to do.

The answer came via 16th century pastor William Gurnall. The Holy Spirit nailed me. Turns out I’m a liar! I had prayed this morning, “Your will be done in my life, Lord!”

And ignored that His will for my life is my sanctification, growing Jesus-like, not weighing X or Y.

One verse is enough!

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index card

I recently changed my workout system so that I no longer walk in the mornings. For years I had used that time to review/rehearse scripture from memory. Walking and talking come naturally to me. But concentrated breathing and floor exercises have prevented me from doing any more than focused movements and counting of reps!

So I had to come up with another way to chew on God’s word.

Thinking of my two busy daughters-in-law who don’t have the luxury of choosing how they want to meditate on passages of the Bible reminded me of the power of one single verse. With little children demanding mom’s immediate attention, these young parents need to be able to grab one verse, write it on a card and put it front and center so they can quickly return to this source of life after the interruption ceases.

So I decided to pick a verse a day, write it down and carry it with me wherever I go – at first on the 3×5 card and then quickly in my immediate memory. And when I arose the next day, I would select another spiritual morsel to munch on and not feel obligated to hold on to any previous ones by rehearsing them. Packing and carrying with me one verse a day would guarantee I’d have something the Holy Spirit could use to correct, encourage and guide me.

Lest you think that one verse is not very much, come with me and see for yourself how much one can squeeze out of a few living words. Here is one of my favorite promises and exhortations:

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

First – let’s look at the description of God as the ‘God of Hope’. What alternatives could there be, if our God were NOT a god of hope?   ‘Elpis’ or hope (Strong’s Greek 1680) means ‘joyful, confident expectation of never-ending safety with God’

Well – he could be a god of vengeance, a mean god, a god that is picky or incomprehensible or impersonal or …..you get the idea.

Second – Paul doesn’t just pray that we receive a bit of joy, or a taste of joy, but ALL joy. This term ‘all’ or ‘pas/3956’ means the highest degree or maximum amount.

Third – what kind of peace is this? Is it connected to our temporal (literally ‘secular’) earthly circumstances? No! The Blue Letter Bible website describes Christian peace (Greek ‘eirine’/1515) as the “tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ and so fearing nothing from God (is) content with its earthly lot…,”

Fourth – How do we actually receive this joy and peace? Instrumentally through/as we take God at His word, as we rely on Him, as we ‘put all our eggs in the God-basket’, so to speak. And what exactly are we relying on God for? For everything. For whatever we do or say in our daily life is only considered ‘good’ by God if it is done and said in faith, in dependence on Him. God does not want self-reliant children. Then He would get NO credit and we would implode. Humans are created to reflect God’s glory, not absorb glory. Lest we are tempted to think that relying on God is an action that we DO, to our credit, it really is just a matter of resting, of ceasing to strive via our own efforts. We get to rest and receive all we need from our Daddy just as a weaned baby snuggles safely next to mom.

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

Fifth – what is the outcome of trusting God in everything? We will overflow with cheerful expectation of a happy and good God-infused future. And that spill-over hope will refresh, entice, intrigue, annoy?, stimulate, confuse others so that some will be drawn to God.

Sixth – just to reinforce or remind us that the joy, peace and hope truly are not linked to anything WE actively do (besides ‘abide’), Paul reminds us that the outcome from reliance is achieved BY the Holy Spirit’s power and strength working in us. Because the HS has lived in each believer since their spiritual birth day, He is always present to strengthen the child of God with Christ’s power to do the daily works the Father has prepared for each of His sons and daughters.

So do you see, that just by taking each bit of God’s word and asking questions about what it means and what it DOESN’T mean we get rich spiritual food, enough to last an entire day?

Which of God’s promises is nourishing you these days?

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