Who or what dominates your thinking?

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Is it just me, or do you find that living by faith and not by sight grows HARDER and HARDER as the years go by?  The ‘pop quizzes’ that used to land on me every few weeks now seem to show up every couple of days.

Not one to spot my unbelief right away, I sense God gently but firmly taking my face between his hands (so to speak!) to make me look at my unbelief. My pride recoils at yet more evidence for my lack of trust in the Lord as Good Father, Faithful Shepherd, Wise Counselor.

This past week has been that kind of personal attention or ‘handling’.  I have struggled to let go of persistent worry. It’s not that I have been anxious about anything, rather I have OBSESSIVELY ‘angsted’.  My personalized version of Phil 4:6 is now “Do not OBSESS over anything!” rather than the tame ‘do not be anxious’.

I KNOW what I’m supposed to do and I do try!

  • Daily I hand over my needs à la ‘Cast your cares on Him….’
  • Hourly I pray with much fervor à la ‘The fervent prayers of a righteous man…..’
  • I recollect many blessings, the good things about God, who He is and what He has done and the promises laid up for me……

Yet, I feel bound up in worry.

So, it was no surprise to me that the Sovereign Lord, the One who reigns over all creation, used a portion of yesterday’s assigned Scripture from 2 Sam 19: 1-8 to show me exactly what happens when I make a created thing PRE-EMINENT in my life.

Just so you’ll know how I recognize something as being preeminent in my life, it’s those occasions when my thoughts ‘glom’ onto a created thing like sewing pins sticking to a magnet.

Here’s a synopsis of events 2 Samuel 19:

  • King David’s rebel son Absalom has been killed by David’s men and the coup squelched.  David acts ‘un-kingly’ as he indulges his natural grief in an unceasing, over-the-top inconsolable fashion.
  • He does not publicly thank the valiant ones who risked their lives and their homes to flee Jerusalem and side with him.  He does not acknowledge the cost to his loyal citizens who probably fought against some family members supportive of Absalom.
  • He obsessively wails to such an extent, to such a danger point that General Joab, his chief of the army, has to shock him into acting like a king.  Joab point blank tells him that if he doesn’t stop crying about his son and get back to doing his job as God’s anointed king, then he’ll find himself at the end of EVERYONE’s spear.

That’s the narrative in a nutshell. In what way did I see this biblical example as a gentle rebuke from God to abandon my anxious obsession?  Reading this account revealed the evil of disobedience. God had appointed David to shepherd God’s people for Him. David courted danger, almost to the point of no return, when he inverted God’s priorities. This observation is what convicted me.

The king harmed good people when he made his son more valuable, more meaningful than the welfare of those in his care.

I do the same when I place a created thing over the Creator.

Our pastor’s sermons on the preeminence of Christ have bathed my thoughts over the past several weeks (when I wasn’t anxiously obsessing!) The Greek word for preeminence ‘proteuo’ is described in two ways:

  • Ranking first
  • Exercising the most influence

So even as I have struggled with handing over a particular problem to God and then taking it back, I’ve been asking myself:

Maria, who or what is preeminent in your life?”

It’s a piercing question that demands honesty.  I have felt bound up in the time I’ve invested in trying to ‘solve this suffering’ of a loved one.  And God keeps throwing me reminders to ‘JUST STOP IT!’ (you’ll smile if you’re old enough to remember TV actor Bob Newhart as the UN-empathetic counselor). Our good Father gave me the very same counsel but from a different source.

Margin

Dr. Richard Swenson, an author whose book about regaining margin I’m re-reading, penned this arresting statement

The purpose of life is not to solve suffering but righteousness.

Bolstering that truth has been the realization that EVERY single human being on earth in every epoch has lived or is experiencing now a life of suffering.  The purpose of life cannot then be to ‘solve’ suffering.  I have known this but now I KNOW it more deeply. My purpose, your purpose if you belong to Christ, is to be content in Him, to enjoy Him, to seek to please Him, to sing new songs of who He is and what He has done.  In the midst of suffering.

I think we can fall into the trap of making an idol out of a problem-free life, a life without suffering.  At least I am beginning to see that about me. And if that is my or your goal, then we are setting ourselves up for misery.

May God help us all to be joyful obedient servants of our loving God.

 

 

 

I am Mephibosheth, sort of

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The news stunned him. Acid began contorting his stomach into a paroxysmal attack.  Ziba had just come back from the palace, dropping this bombshell, one he had been fearing ever since his dad and grandpa had been killed in battle.

Now that Israel’s true hero David, the one who had slain Goliath without hesitation, reigned in King Saul’s place, Mephibosheth had known this day would arrive.  He had expected it weeks, even months ago.  Everyone knew that new kings wiped out any and all people connected with previous rulers. The only explanation for his delayed execution was that David had more pressing enemies.

“Defeating the Philistines is keeping the new king busy.  Maybe he’ll….forget about me?  After all, what threat do I, a man who can’t even walk, pose.  It’s humiliating enough that my steward Ziba assigns men to carry me from my bed to the bathroom to the table to the veranda.  There is no way I could stage an overthrow to take back what is rightfully mine.”

Yes, Mephibosheth was the rightful heir to Saul’s throne as the only surviving male in the dynasty.  But his dad Jonathan had in effect given up the right to succeed Saul when he took off his ‘heir apparent’ cloak and placed it on his most trusted, beloved friend and comrade, David.  Jonathan had announced to Mephibosheth and little grandson Mica that David would be the next king, not he. Never had Mephibosheth pictured that his dad and his uncles would die in battle WITH the king.  He had trusted Jonathan’s friendship with David.  But all changed when Dad died.

Resigning himself to the inevitable execution in the next week days, Mephibosheth prepared his heart. If this summons meant an audience first with the King before dying, then he knew in what manner he would face David.

Little did he know David’s true intent:

2 Samuel 9:1: David asked,”Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Someone recalled Ziba, chief over all the attendants serving Saul’s household and family. Messengers located Ziba and then escorted him to the palace in Jerusalem.  From Ziba David learned that Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, survived.  Apparently, Mephibosheth maintained what he thought was a low profile up north in Makir’s house.  Ziba directed his men to transport this crippled former heir to dead King Saul.

Let’s pick up with the dramatic tête-à-tête:

2 Sam 9:6  When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. 

David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“Your servant,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him,”for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.  I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Mephibosheth bowed down and said,”What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?

Reading Mephibosheth’s response stunned me. His self-description ‘dead dog like me’ accurately reflected his status.  He was dead meat, for sure, no better than a ‘dog’. Contemporary culture at the time despised canines, often categorizing their heathen enemies as dogs.

So, what was it that startled me enough to think deeply about this vignette in David’s life?

I am Mephibosheth….in some ways.  Seeing Mephibosheth’s self-assessment reflects my true status. What is that? Simply that apart from God’s grace toward me, I remain an enemy by nature and deserving execution.  Like Jonathan’s son,  I am also a cripple, incapable and resistant to being in the King’s presence.

But here is how we differ:

  • I don’t REALLY believe that I am like a dead dog, and all that expression carried back then.
  • Therefore, I am unconscious most of the time of what my life would look like were it not for God’s grace.

Here’s my question for myself:

“If this news stunned the humble and honest Mephibosheth, what will it take for you, Maria, to SEE the unimaginable kindness of King Jesus toward you? Why don’t you wake up every morning, pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming, that your new status as friend of the King is REAL and SECURE ?  Where is your daily mirth, your transparent joy?  Does your face or any words or actions even hint at the enormity of this life-altering gift?”

I have no answer or excuse.  But I thank God for gently shining His light through His Word on my unholy responses to Him.

 

When a gift from God looks like a disaster

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You all know the story of Uzzah, the son of Abinadab, whom God killed when he touched the ark being transported to the City of David.

The ark had rested in Abinadab’s house for a good while after the Philistines gave it back, having captured it from the startled Hebrews in battle.  1 Samuel 7:1 – So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the LORD. They took it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the LORD.

Now comes the drama. King David is ruling and wants to bring the ark into his city, Jerusalem. The leaders of Israel all agree that this is a good idea. But there is the problem.

As I read in my study-bible’s notes this morning, the manner in which the Hebrews organized the transport of this ark of the Lord’s covenant showed a decisive Philistine influence on their thinking.  A generation earlier, when the Philistine cart pulled by 2 momma cows transported the resting ark back to Hebrew territory, that picture must have erased their understanding and memory of how the Lord decreed the ark should be moved.

Those from Abinadab’s house apparently do not check with God or consult the law. Instead they organize a Philistine-style movement plan.  At one point the oxen pulling the cart carrying the ark stumble.  Uzzah reaches for the ark and God kills him immediately.

‘Whoa!’ exclaims a startled King David who suddenly flushes with shame, rage and fear, all at once.  He makes the command decision:  “We’re NOT going any further.”  1 Chron 13:12-13 records his decision:

David was afraid of God that day and asked, “How can I ever bring the ark of God to me?”  He did not take the ark to be with him in the City of David.  Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom, the Gittite.

Okay, put yourself in the shoes of Mr & Mrs Obed-Edom, their relatives and all their servants.  How would you have reacted?  I can image the terror when the King pronounces this decision.  Did some of these fears blitz through their minds?

  • If Uzzah, a son of the family which had successfully housed the ark for about 40 years, died from a seeming good motive (to keep the ark from falling) what is going to happen to us?
  • We don’t know anything about tending the ark?  What….how…..who?
  • We’re doomed!  We’re all gonna die!

But look at what the text says after David changes the ark’s travel destination:

1 Chron 13:14 . The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house for three months, and the Lord blessed his household and everything he had.

What the Obed-Edom family and household did NOT expect was God’s blessing.  But look at what the Lord did!  We read that nothing BUT good things occurred to all the people and every THING Mr. Obed-Edom owned.

I hope that fact encourages you as it did me.  What looks like a sudden disaster turned out to be a gift from God, beyond anything ANYONE in the family and household could have predicted or even prayed for.

So what has God ‘gifted’ you with recently that seems like suffering or a problem?  Draw encouragement this day from the goodness and wisdom of our Father.

I’ll close with this paraphrase of something I read by Tim Keller referring to the insanity of worry:  I’m not wise enough to know what is best for me.

God’s protective glasses enhance sight

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I’ve never been tempted to glance or gaze at an eclipse.  But were I to, I’d be sure to use protective glasses. As dangerous as a solar event might be, gazing at the world with the naked eye is far more so.  Especially perilous is this unfiltered sight during our current upside-down times when the majority of institutions consider ‘good’ what God calls ‘evil’. (see Isaiah 5:20)

Solar Eclipse glasses

Yet often I unwittingly and quite stupidly look at the world around me without protective glasses.

I’m talking about spiritual glasses, God-glasses:

  • Psalm 16:18 – 19  I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.

What can we draw out of King David’s example and implicit counsel? Much!

Keeping our two eyes on God at all times:

  • requires looking toward God no matter what is going on in the world.
  • implies that ‘shaking’ or troubling instability is normal.
  • enjoins agreement between the eyes to look primarily and firstly at God.
  • assumes glasses are meant to assist BOTH eyes to see the same thing, equally well.
  • indicates seeing God PLUS! Since there is no mention of stumbling or blockage of visibility, looking at God is a kind of looking through or by means of God, but safely and accurately to where one is going. It includes a correct understanding and truthful contextualization or framing of what is going on around. In the natural world, people use the sun for this purpose. Other than those special eclipse-viewing occasions, one doesn’t just gaze AT the Sun.  We see BY means of the Sun.
  • results in a glad heart, a rejoicing self, a peaceful body.  Viewing the world THROUGH the filtering knowledge of God is mental and emotional sanity and physical health.

What alternatives are there for understanding all things, if you reject God-glasses?  Without access to the Creator’s view of the world, one is left to take in and make sense of everything through unprotected eyes.  Jesus diagnosed this condition and warned, “But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness..” Matt 6:23a

  1. resulting in harm
  2. resulting in poor vision and no sense of location OR direction
  3. resulting in fear and depression, due to unfiltered content
  4. resulting in confusion in moral issues
  5. resulting in suspicion of others, isolation during this life, and loneliness
  6. resulting in resignation because of ignorance of Holy Spirit power and other resources available to the spirit-born Christian
  7. resulting in cynicism when unable to glimpse reflections of God’s goodness and glory
  8. resulting in forever death with concomitant permanent isolation

So why doesn’t everyone take advantage of these glasses?  Is it because it’s difficult or costly to secure a pair?

Not difficult for those empty or poor people, the ones who know their vision is lacking or harmed.

But if you think you don’t need any glasses to see fine….

eyeglasses

And you’re more concerned by how you might look goofy in the world’s estimation wearing God-Glasses…..

At the least it’ll cost you your pride, your already-mapped out plan for your life and your reputation.  At the most, it could cost you your pilgrim life.

Question: How badly do you want to see correctly?  How badly do you want true and lasting health and happiness?

What is your ‘One Thing’?

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You’ve heard of Double A batteries?  How about Double C Idols?

That would be the twin gods of comfort and certainty.  I was stopped short in my thoughts the other day by a quote attributed to Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  Quoted in the excerpt at the bottom of this essay* she asks her listeners to, “Finish what King David wrote by filling in YOUR one thing: ‘One thing I have asked of the Lord, this one thing I seek_____________________’.”  (Psalm 27:4)

Pausing to reflect, I had to confess that I couldn’t even narrow down all my prayer requests and heart longings to ONE THING. But I remember saying to myself, ‘what a great idea!’

Pretty soon, in less than 24 hours, I realized that ALL my prayers pretty much center around wanting MY comfort and certainty in the details of my life and the lives of those I care about.

In other words it’s all about me. Yet…that is not wrong in and of itself.  God KNOWS that we operate in our own best interests. He wired us that way.  He just KNOWS that which is in our best interests – a life fed, fueled, and instructed by Him.

Even yesterday on our hike up the Art Loeb Trail to Ivestor Gap,

Art Loeb Trail plaque and Mike - 31 Aug

I saw how much we crave certainty. Mike was navigating by topographical map. He is a typical mission-oriented male, just the way God made men to be.  He had scoped out a hike and this was our 3rd attempt to complete it.  The first Saturday, because we weren’t used to how long it takes to hike this kind of hilly terrain, we had taken a wrong turn.  Then last Saturday, I casually mentioned that 4 hours of hiking was probably what I had in mind for a typical Saturday field trip.  That information, shared with my husband for the first time, caused him to change our day’s goals.  We successfully completed half of his planned hike. Yesterday our goal was to finish it.

As we ran into those inevitable decision points (how come THIS trail fork isn’t showing up on the map?), I realized how much we CRAVE certainty and how it eludes our grasp most of the time.  What a futile passion, then, to want to KNOW that things will turn out the way we imagine them in the beginning.  What a waste of emotional energy to angst, to stress, to push to ENSURE those pictured circumstances turn out ‘our way’!

God doesn’t promise us THAT KIND of assurance.  (He DOES assure us of our salvation, if we have trusted in His forgiveness applied to us based on Christ’s work.)

Back to David and Psalm 27: As we hiked in the lush hills of Western NC, I meditated on my ONE THING while…

·         passing locals gathering  blueberries

·         smiling at families tenting for the weekend

·         chatting with a young couple & their daughter the age of our grandson. They were hiking up and down the hills, acclimating her to their lifestyle.

Art Loeb Trail from FR 816

By the time we reached our parked car, I had formulated what I am NOW going to pray to God about and continue to order my life around;

·         that I may KNOW moment by moment  that I ‘live and move and have my being’  (Acts 17:28) IN Christ

·         that I RE-MEMBER that I have a new ontology, a new nature thanks to the Holy Spirit in me

Why that request?

·         I forget….daily..hourly

But if I can stay aware that ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me..’(Gal 2:20), then why stress over ANYthing?  Logic and common sense say that if I don’t have a crystal ball, if I don’t control the universe, than I cannot possibly know exactly what IS BEST for me or my loved ones.  But the One who created the universe and all that is in it DOES know.  And united to Him is the safest place to be.

What is your One Thing?

*

How would you finish [this] sentence?  “One thing have I desired of the Lord; that will I seek after _________.”  What is the greatest desire and longing of your heart? In the answer to that question lies the explanation for much of what we do – our choices, our priorities, our use of time, the way we spend money, the way we respond to pressure, whom or what we love. [King] David’s answer (see Psm. 27:4) reveals why God could say, “This man’s heart beats like mine.”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss  (30 Aug 2013 Quote of the Day, Grace Tabernacle Church

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