Trying to get back to ‘pleasant’ or ‘normal’?

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 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved. 2 Cor 2:15

Where do we get the idea that problems and crises are NOT the norm?  That when they occur, top priority is solving them, getting through them, so we can ‘get back to normal’? What IS normal? And why do we view life without suffering and hardship as the norm?

I grew up believing that ‘a pleasant, mostly problem-free live IS natural, to be expected‘. That ‘fact’ formed part of the bedrock of my heart. Ever since my early teens,  I have been pushing back against all those OBTRUSIVE trials and painful interruptions and sufferings as though they were something to get through, to get solved, to get over with SO THAT life can ‘get back to normal’.

The other morning as I was reflecting and journaling,  John Piper’s advice to adopt a ‘war-time mentality’ popped into my head.  The ”war’ he refers to is the one against the very real and vicious, dark, murderous, evil spiritual forces operating in our fallen world.

The reference to war brought to mind an historical novel I read last month about French resistance workers during WW2.  The main character risked her life, time and time again. Even when she was hurt and wounded, she still carried out dangerous missions.

Up until now,  I have applied Piper’s message to how I view money, how I think about and allocate disposable time, and how I pray.  But yesterday the image of this courageous young woman began to guide my understanding of our present ‘wartime’. As I was praying through some current suffering affecting Mike and me, I began to realize, that being wounded oneself doesn’t mean I can’t serve as God’s covert worker behind ‘enemy lines’.

In fact, I started realizing that suffering is part of the war in this ‘present darkness’ on our post-Edenic planet.  Physical and metaphorical bombs befall us; we step on ‘landmines’ that rain pain and destruction; snipers take aim at our loved ones.  None of this trouble is outside of God’s sovereign reign.  All of these events are part and parcel of the trouble that Jesus announced we would encounter in this world.  Our enemy MEANS them to destroy us, but God MEANS them for our good and the good of others.

But THE question for me, what has stayed with me this week is this:

Maria, YOUR sufferings and those inflicting your family and friends, must they hinder you from giving aid and encouragement to fellow, but wounded image bearers?

Hearkening back to the dangerous work of resistance workers in Nazi-occupied France, I ask myself, can I not offer material and spiritual bread and water to the hurt?  Even as one of the wounded, can I still GIVE in the midst of this war?

Yes!

  • whether I am operating on little sleep,
  • whether I, myself, am crippled by my own sin or suffering,
  • whether my heart sorrows over the many cares of those I love,

Yes, I CAN be a giver of comfort, of encouragement.

Spies in EVERY war have carefully learned how to maneuver around and through enemy forces.  Now is no different. Warfare IS normal life, here on earth.  The good news is that there is a definite endpoint when the war will be past. Final victory has been legally declared by Jesus, the ‘Lamb who was Slain before the Creation of the World’ and He is coming back to claim His own.

In the meantime, as a crushed servant in the Lord’s Good News army, let me be a giver of cheer and comfort and leave a fragrant, lingering aroma of a Christ-filled servant.

 

 

 

The solution to life’s problems

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Mike and I are journeying through the Bible again.  I think this is year 6 following the Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Each year we discover either new information (“I never saw THAT before!) and fresh insights.

Currently, we are clipping along through the book of Ezekiel at a pace of 3 chapters a day. The theme appears to be constant. Namely: everything that God does and commands Ezekiel to prophesy has ONE purpose, “Then they will know that I am the LORD!”

Whether Yahweh is bringing justifiable painful punishment on Judah’s enemies or whether He’s disciplining Judah and Israel or whether He announces wonder-filled future plans to restore Egypt, Judah, and Israel, the intention is the same:  that the entire world will know that He is the LORD.

Applying this theme to current events has created meaningful nightly discussions between Mike and me. Whether we are reflecting upon recent natural disasters or the threats of North Korean madman Kim Jong Un, it seems appropriate in 2017 to acknowledge God’s very same desire for us as in Ezekiel’s day.  After all, He doesn’t change.  He still wills that all peoples know Him.

Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God! applies not just to nations but to us as individuals.  Here is life-giving advice to combat daily worries and nighttime anxious thoughts.

This morning, however, the Holy Spirit illumined a new context in a devotional I read. Matthew 11: 27b – 28.no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

What is the answer for all of us who feel burdened with worries and responsibilities? Jesus says it is to KNOW God.

“….and just how, exactly, does knowing God help me when I have one or more crises on my hands?  Whether it’s

  • an impending storm
  • a dissolving marriage
  • a child’s life gone off the tracks
  • a stressful job that brings no joy
  • a decision to make with no clear way forward

That’s just the point.  Shifting our thoughts off of the looming or present circumstances onto our Creator and Sustainer DOES bring relief.  What can HE do?  Everything and anything.  For He alone is all-powerful, all-good, all-wise, all-loving, always present.  And He is carrying out His plan for His creation, which includes us and our situations.

Up until now, however, I had never understood how Jesus proposed to give me rest if I came to Him.  Reading Matthew 11 this morning, our twelfth consecutive day in Ezekiel, caused me to see God’s ‘way-out’ differently.  If I don’t have a solution to the immediate situation, reminding myself of God’s attributes, that is reflecting on and knowing Him will shift my focus OFF of what seems impossible onto the One who is ALL-possible. That’s how Jesus gives us rest.  Looking at the problem(s) and at the lack of resources/solutions causes the stress and burdens.

We’re blockheads if we don’t take His Rx for rest.  He even tells us what we’ll get for swapping our yokes:

Matthew 11: 29-30 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

PS:  God even makes provision for those of us who act as doltish sheep.  If we can’t even muster up the willingness to swap yokes, we can call out to Him for help!!!

Fruit of NOT worrying

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Gentleness

 

Because my tendency to worry is one of my on-going battles with sin,  I’m drawn to pray and read God’s Word in hopes that I will be courageous enough to kill off this habit.  My last few posts have chronicled explorations in living ‘WORRY-FREE’, even if only for short periods of time.

Recently I was surprised when I was re-reading the famous passage in Philippians 4 where God says through Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What struck me this time was how GENTLENESS was set up in contrast to ANXIETY, aka WORRY.

It seems that God is saying that when we are NOT worried, then we can afford to be gentle with others, with ourselves, and all the potential annoying impediments to ‘our agenda’.

But under what kinds of circumstances could anyone NOT be worried?  Is it when we actually ARE care-free?  By all means NO.  If that were the case, then a life without worry would seem like ‘pie in the sky, by and by’!

No, a worry-free life FILLED with stress is what is described here, I think. Remember, this is Paul, the sometime on-the-run church planter and traveling pastor and inveterate writer. The one who was whipped, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, imprisoned and finally murdered.  He learned, practiced and encouraged fellow Christians by his example.

When we actually believe God and trust Him enough to hand over each and every (big and little) concern/worry/problem/situation/stress (whatever we euphemistically use to call that which consumes our thoughts and drives our negative feelings), we are beginning to learn how not to be anxious.

Casting Cares and Worries

 

Being gentle is the byproduct of entrusting God with all of our circumstances and ‘situations’.  It’s also a blatant statement of our belief in the sovereign control of God over every single circumstance.

I’m reading Elizabeth Elliot’s 1976 book entitled: Let Me Be a Woman.  It’s a collection of letters of advice to her one and only daughter who is on the verge of marriage.  In chapter/letter/essay 33 she proclaims this fact:

‘What a relief it is to know that there is a divine design.  This knowledge is the secret of serenity. Jesus is the perfect example of a human life lived in serenity and obedience to the Father’s will.  He moved through the events of His life without fuss or hurry. He met men and women with grace.  He was able to say, “I do always those things that please the Father”……’

That whiff of a life lived gently, without anxiety or rush, doesn’t that appeal to you?  But does it sound TOO good to be true?  Did it only work for Jesus because He was God’s son?  Did it only work for Paul because he was super-apostle?

I’m sensing an actual growing excitement that this way of living could actually be true.  But if I can’t turn to my every day ordinary mess and apply God’s command ‘cum’ promise, then it doesn’t apply anywhere and it’s a patent lie.

The way I figure it, I have nothing to lose. I’m banking on God’s character, that every word He has uttered is true because HE is truth.

So:

  • problemsome 6th grade boys
  • bouts of constipation (just being real!)
  • potential of not meeting my principal’s expectations
  • a busy last week in September that might eat into ‘Maria Time’

all these I’m casting, casting….. hourly throughout each day ……on God for He IS the one who IS taking care of me.

 

If you’re going to dwell on something….

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If you’re anything like me, you might get caught up in ‘do-loops’ from time to time.  That’s when you can’t stop thinking about a problem or difficult situation and you go ’round and ’round, without getting anywhere.

Fast Merry Go Rounds on a playground

 

 

 

I have let myself get mired down in a situation like that – even though I have a teaching contract for next year, I keep thinking about other job possibilities.  The problem is – no doors have opened and few suitable situations loom – at least THAT I CAN SEE!

But what happens when you think about a problem?  You FEEL weighted down and depressed.  Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian speaker, has some advice:

Stop Thinking about a problem

 

 

 

 

 

But does that go far enough?  No!  If we don’t replace the now-forbidden topic with something else to think about, we’ll just go back to worrying about the same old problem!

The solution is to fix our gaze (our mind’s eye) on something else beside the problem.  This is what the Hebrew people experienced early in their desert wanderings with Moses.  In Numbers 21 the Jews complained about the food and water situation.  That was their problem.  And in their bitter recriminations –  a blatant slap in the face to God who had sprung them from Egyptian slavery, they looked at their lacks.

So God sent a worse problem – lethal biting snakes and many died.  But along with this punishment, God provided a way out for those who would alter the direction of their gaze.  Moses was instructed to cast a snake replica and fix it on top of a pole and hold it up.  Those who TRUSTED God’s instructions did what they were bidden, looked up at something other than their circumstances and were healed.

Moses and serpent on a pole

  •  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.  Numbers 21: 7 to 9

 

So, too, with us – if we want healing, we have to think about something else.

This account in Numbers is actually a picture of the Gospel in the Old Testament.  Just like those ‘wandering Jews’, we 21st century men and women are also practiced complainers against God.  And because of this inexcusable disobedience against our Maker, we are headed toward everlasting death.  But God has sent a remedy.  If we look up at Jesus and forsake our own attempts to save ourselves,  we can be healed.  The Son of God took the punishment we deserved by submitting to death on a cross.  His murder and resurrection produced 2 gifts for us:

One……

  • His death is both proof that the Father deemed the payment for OUR sins sufficient
  • Our trust in that ‘fait accompli’ means the payment applies to us

Two….

  • His resurrection to new life is proof that we too will also be raised
  • Our first-step trust** means we are now included IN Christ and are guaranteed to be raised to the New Heavens as well

(**Jesus’ death in our place only counts for us if we TRUST what God says about our dire condition and His Son’s work FOR us and if we STOP trying to save ourselves through what WE do)

Given all that (and that’s a lot), Paul tells us how to live in this sorrow-filled world:

  1. Rejoice in what the triune God (Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit) has done for you
  2. Give God all your problems
  3. Don’t think any more about those problems but INSTEAD about what is…true, noble, right and just, pure, lovely, acceptable, excellent and praiseworthy

The bottom line is this:  We become what we behold.

Become what you behold

Who wants to look like one of his or her problems!!!!

 

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