What God means to do in your life

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I’ve been memorizing the first chapter of 1 Peter.

What I like about memorizing Scripture is that it causes me to think through and meditate on the words as I try to lock them down in my brain.  I started to memorize Bible verses when I was 48 years old. Wes, our youngest son, was a senior in high school.

One fall Sunday, a layman’s sermon delivered (not read) and peppered with Bible verses he clearly knew from heart wowed us both.  As head of the finance committee, he had been invited to the pulpit that morning to share with us the joy and experience of giving sacrificially.  After the service we both approached him to ask how he had managed to recite all that Scripture – a true feat! He told us about the Topical Memory System from the Navigators.  Wes and I were immediately sold and committed ourselves to memorizing and being able to recite all 60 key verses before he left home in June for West Point.

Since then, I have worked through entire SHORT books like Colossians and whole chapters.  I don’t work to retain these long chunks forever, for that would take constant practice and my practice sessions would expand as the months passed by.  But for the duration of the ‘work’, I am chewing on some portion of Scripture every day, often throughout the day.

The payoff is rich.

Which brings me to this morning’s ‘aha!’ moment from verse 2 of 1 Peter 1:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
I’ve put the ‘chunks’ I was meditating on in different colors.  What HIT me this morning during my walk was the ‘sanctifying WORK’ of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s how my thoughts took off:
  • Maria, the Holy Spirit is working in you ON PURPOSE.
  • His work actually probably overrides MY plans as He directs my circumstances,
  • These circumstances of my life are part of His plan to sanctify me.
  • I wouldn’t choose MOST of these ‘detours’ if I were in control of my days, months and years.
  • No wonder these trials are painful at times!!!

A few significant activities of my life FEEL HARD these days:

  • Morning exercise is HARD and I have to fight my natural feelings of reluctance and dread when I get out of bed and lace up my shoes.
  • Losing these 6 pounds is HARD.  It’s taken me 6 weeks so far to lose 2.
  • Teaching school is HARD.  It takes effort and I fight laziness and just wanting to stay home with NO expectations hanging on me.
  • Practicing NOT worrying, but entrusting family needs to God is hard.  When you love someone and they suffer, you suffer too!

What helps counter all those energy-depleting concerns that tend to occupy large parts of my mental and emotional life is the idea that these details are very much intentionally part of the Holy Spirit’s plan to sanctify.  Random suffering drains, discourages and disheartens.  Knowing that God has planned and intends ALL this for my good strengthens me to endure.

I don’t think I’ve grown enough to rejoice in the trials, yet, but I know that I need to reach that point.  As I walk these days in fellowship with the Spirit of Christ, I am learning His methods.  EVERYthing He does is for my good, to sanctify me.  I can trust Him.  I MUST trust Him, if I am to flee from fear and discouragement and enlarge my capacity to enjoy God.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matt 5:8

 

Freedom from…….

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Acts 3:12 And when Peter saw it (the crowd’s amazement) he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?

Peter and John encountered a crippled man hanging outside the temple in Jerusalem as they were entering to pray with other Jews. Reduced to begging so he could buy his daily bread, this man probably did not expect a physical healing that day.

But Peter’s response to the uplifted face changed this man’s status:

  • But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!

More surprising than the healing miracle was what followed. The crowd turned to adulate Peter and John. Peter immediately deflected the praise in a way that I find LIBERATING!

Think about what Peter announced in verse 12 above. Neither human power nor man-practiced piety (habits of prayer, Bible study and charitable giving) was the source of the healing. He & John were simply conduits for God’s power. They were using derivative power. People are but like the moon whose light is a reflection of the sun’s radiance. The source of the apostles’ miracle was God alone.

Therefore, the credit goes to God alone. Were Peter to claim otherwise, it would be as silly as a gas grill taking credit for the ribs or steak that a man barbecues. The grill is the tool. So, too, are we tools and vessels in God’s hands. Any skill, strength, idea, or desire we display comes from God.

man grilling

 

 

As I pondered this account and applied it, I started to feel LESS special. But then I realized that if I don’t receive the credit, than I ALSO don’t bear the burden for the results.

God alone is responsible; so the outcome belongs to Him. I’m off the hook! I just have to be willing to be used by God, to offer back to Him for His use all that He has given me.

This shift in job description means in effect: No credit and no blame or condemnation from the One who counts. (That’s not to say that other people won’t feel free to criticize, but they’re just ‘fellow grills, or sauté pans’ or other tools in the hands of the King of Kings)

As soon as I started to breathe in this freedom and release some burdens, the Holy Spirit gently reminded me of all the attributes I claim as MINE. I knew immediately that He was directing my attention to those qualities I like to think make me unique, the ones I tend to boast in, to take credit for:

  • Time management skills
  • Fitness and eating routines
  • French and cooking talents
  • Desires to read and learn
  • ‘Natural’ abilities to initiate conversations with strangers and draw them out

But why do I think any of those desires and habits find their origin in me?

Hmm, definitely food for more thought. If I’m going to be free from the ultimate responsibility as a derivative created child of God, then I am also going to have to give up any thought of being exceptional BECAUSE of all that stuff.

Prayer: Father, help me! MAKE me glad to be Your ordinary utensil. Give me the desire and inclination to boast happily only in You.

 

Tents, grime and life – all are temporary

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I think a lot about sin each time I get into the shower.

The original whiteness of the grout between the tiles has turned yellow or gray.

Grimy tiles

Our house is 3 years old and already shows wear.  I take a scrubby sponge and rub hard, leaving the narrow 2 inches of grout a bit brighter.  But it doesn’t last. And that’s only ONE spot.  Other pencil lines mock me.  There’s no way to clean it all up and make it last.

Just like the sin in my life.  There’s more sin than I can possibly eliminate. Not that I was ever sinless.  I know that this parallel, comparing my life to household dirt, breaks down in the very fact that NEVER are humans pristine, even as newborns. Especially not as a newborn, as any set of young parents affirm.

So do you know what I conclude, every morning in the shower?  That there’s no point getting worked up over how the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics affects my house. (Think: entropy, running down, getting dirtier, wearing out…….)

And if my mountain cabin which once LOOKED perfect isn’t going to last, then neither is my body. We are born to die.  It’s pure illusionary to think as a baby grows and develops that he is getting better and that his upward trajectory will continue.  But try convincing a teen or young adult of THAT truth!

As ‘wiser adults’ we should apply some of these life lessons to ourselves.  Instead of fighting the inevitable by combing our hair to mask baldness or spending money on face lifts or indulging in any of the fountain-of-youth-like gimmicks, let’s accept the reality of the average life span ordained by God.

Cosmetic Surgery

Here’s how embracing this time limit can actually liberate us.  Take Peter, for example, that bold and outspoken disciple and later church leader. In his second letter, he announces to the church that he is not going to be around much longer.

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 2 Peter 1:13-14

What struck me when I read his words was how much stupid energy I invest in ANGSTing over my body, my tent.  Tents are not meant to last long; no one views them as permanent structures.

Have you ever witnessed someone decorating their tent? or worrying because it was stretched a bit too much here, or missing a grommet there or ripped on the edges on this side? That would be silly!

Peter’s acknowledgement that his very real flesh and blood would soon cease to function, his declaration that HE, PETER, was living IN a tent, that is a temporary shelter, struck a chord with me. In which way? First….

  • that he was separate from his body

And second….

  • that his body was not going to last

Too often I think:  “I am my body!”  which means, if my body is lean (per the scales), I feel good and all is right with the world.

Scales in bathroom

But when I step on the scales and see that the number shows a gain of even  .2 or .8 lbs, I LET a symbol kill my joy.

 

 

So it was a gift, when a glimmer of light pierced my prison cell on Saturday.  I was reading Peter’s encouragement to his people when I came across his description of the ‘tent’ that he was using temporarily.  A freeing question scattered the gloom, “Why spend so much emotional energy and time beating myself up over something that is soon to be replaced?”

So yesterday, I did not step on to that ‘daily determiner of my mood’.  Nor did I today, although it was a real fight.  I craved confirmation that I was good/okay, that I was “…..’better’ than the average bear!”

Yogi Bear

This is not NEWS to me – my attempt to save, prove or justify myself.  In fact I have been praying for over a year, that I would step OFF of the ‘measurement’ treadmill and step INTO the light of grace.  I obviously still struggle with that perverse streak in me.  That’s the one that is in all of us – causing us to want to earn our ‘okayness’.

 

 

But given this insight about tents and the folly of investing much energy in one’s temporary shelter, I am hopeful that I may soon be free of this way of thinking. After all, God himself declares that NOTHING is impossible with God.

So pray with me, dear sisters and brothers in Christ – May we find our safety and REST in God’s delight and purpose for us.  May we not get deceived into pursuing our own ‘okayness’, when we already have been gifted with God’s approval and love.

Tent with a hole

Question: in what way are you a prisoner to measuring yourself?

 

 

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