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!!!

More peace? Less anxiety?

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Would you like to FEEL at peace more and more each day?

Who wouldn’t!  Personal circumstances and problems as well as complex world situations seem to conspire to keep even the most placid in a state of agitation. Add to the warp and woof of 21st century life the seeming random as well as intentional violence! Just a glance at one’s iPhone in the morning is enough to draw up the covers and stay in bed!

stay in bed cat

Hear the promise of the Lord, however!

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

The last 2 days I have whiffed peace.  God has been working in me for years as I grow to understand and love the FACT that He is sovereign and in control of everything that happens to you and me.  Just that knowledge has eased my anxiety about:

  • traffic delays
  • alarm clock malfunctions
  • minor and major wounds from other people
  • accidents or chronic physical conditions (constipation that dogs me!)
  • the pain of my own chosen sin (‘there I go again, blurting out something hurtful’/ ‘there I go again, overeating’/ ‘there I go again, choosing to indulge in self-pity’ / ‘there I go again, lying to look good’ / ‘there I go again, divulging a confidence’ / ‘there I go again, saying something negative about a friend or family member AND enjoying it!’ )

Coupled with a deeper appreciation for what it means for God to ordain/plan/send/prescribe/allow every event has been a growing understanding of God’s will for the lives of His children.

And you know that I’m talking about our growth in holiness, also translated as ‘sanctification’.   1 Thess 4:3a – For it is God’s will that you should be holy:

A very precious friend has played a significant role in my spiritual maturing.  Last October, she mailed me William Gurnall’s 800-page book called The Christian in Complete Armour. Eleven months later I am on page 422 of collected sermons.  It’s so rich that when I dip into it on weekends, I chew slowly, sucking out this English pastor’s exposition of Ephesians 6.  His 17th-century perspective is refreshingly deep.

Across recent pages Gurnall has been talking about the benefits of holiness.  Today, I read this quote:

“….perfect rest depends on perfect holiness….”

Okay – we will NEVER attain to perfect holiness until we SEE Jesus face to face.  But don’t you think it follows from the above premise that:

As we grow in holiness, we grow in rest and peace

What I wrote in my journal this morning was that ‘I should seek holiness and be GRATEFUL for all the circumstances God has planned for me THIS DAY……

  • if it is true that God works all things for the GOOD of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes  (Romans 8:28)
  • if it is true that NO ‘GOOD’ thing does He withhold from those who are righteous  (Ps 84:11)
  • if it is true that God’s design to do us ‘good’ means to grow and shape us to think, act, react and feel more and more like His beloved Son’

If I take God at His Word, then it follows logically that I should see every event as bearing an opportunity for growth in my holiness or sanctification.  Yes, events can be evil and there is suffering and pain, but each circumstance is packed with holiness-making practical exercises.

And if the more I grow in holiness, the more PEACE I will feel, then why should I fear?  And if God allows/sends/ordains/plans good out of this next event then I SHOULD be able to relax, to rest if I truly trust Him.

Go back to that Isaiah quote and see for yourself.  The taking God at His word lies at the end of that promise…’because he trusts in You.’

Why is this a big deal for me?  Why do I care so much about growing my ability to rest and be at peace and be free from anxiety?  Because I live with fear – a lot of fear!

Some people fear the whole getting old and dying process.

Others fear not having enough money to take them through those final years on earth.

Existentially, I fear something happening to my kids and grandkids.  On a day-to-day basis, I fear not having enough time to get my work done (so I can READ and RELAX).  And in my profession, I fear that I won’t be able to be creative enough to sustain the interest of my students.

So, YES, I AM interested in TRUE and LASTING inner peace that doesn’t depend on circumstances.

And what the Holy Spirit is teaching me through His Word and writers like William Gurnall is that it is in my own personal best interests to see holiness.  I’ll close with a quote of his, taken from page 422:

“There is only perfect rest, because (of) perfect holiness.  Whence those frights and fears which make them a….terror about? (These) make men discontented in every condition.  They neither can relish the sweetness of their enjoyments, nor bear the bitter taste of their afflictions.”

What I am left with is this question:

Maria – why should you fear tomorrow if God promises to use every thing that happens in order to work MORE holiness in you, replacing what is unholy and selfish and destructive?

Just think!  If we could allow this thought to permeate our conscious, waking thoughts, maybe it would begin to seep down into the realm of the unconscious.

What do we have to lose?

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.

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?

Grace v Works – your choice

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Mike and I are down in Tampa with Graham, Shay, Chloe and her new baby sister Vera who was born last month.  Chloe and I were at the playground yesterday.  In between playing ‘Princess’ I was reading about a local doctor , 51 years young,  who has just been diagnosed with ALS.  He’s the kind of ‘good’ man who has given tirelessly of himself to pre-med students, medical students, fellow doctors and the community.  The tone of the article had a kind of Rabbi ‘Kushneresque’ feel.  Kushner is the one who wrote a book, attempting to answer the perennial question, “When bad things happen to good people.”   It seems ‘unfair’ of God that after serving others for years, this local Tampa man faces a painful death.  Don’t he ‘deserve’ better?

Our natural reaction, our sense of entitlement is prevalent among Christians and non-Christians alike.  We all can think of missionaries, pastors and other unselfish people who have suffered tremendously and/or died an untimely death. The world recoils.  But Christians should understand, after all, ‘they crucified Jesus’! Why should we expect any different?

I’ve been studying the Jerry Bridges book on grace (Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love).   What I am beginning to glimpse is that not only do we not deserve anything good, but when we think we are doing good and earning blessing points, we haven’t a clue.

Take the parable of the workers hired at different hours.  I totally understand the indignation of the ones who worked all day in the sun.  I would have reasoned like them and felt disappointed not to be paid more.  Even though my hope for at least ‘time and a half’ would have been based on wishes and not logic, I would have convinced myself that I ‘deserved’ more.

Jerry Bridges nails his point, though, when he illustrates this principle of faulty ‘I-deserve’ thinking with a story of a college course.  As a good student who did her work I pridefully enjoyed earning ‘A’s and teachers’ praise.  Unfortunately at an early age I was hooked on this performance drug.  So I ‘get it’ when the A students self-righteously protest the professor’s generosity at awarding the slackers the same A that THEY earned. Like the boss in Jesus’ parable, doesn’t the professor have the right to be generous?

Thankfully, I’m beginning to glimpse a different way to think about this.  My son Graham talks about ‘God- Math’.  That is now shorthand for me, reminding me how differently God thinks about things (Duh!!!  He even tells us that His ways are not our ways – Is 55:8).

Paraphrasing Jerry Bridges, he explains that the sins of the elect, those for whom Jesus died, required nothing short of ETERNAL DEATH as a penalty.  And Jesus’ work during those 3 hours on the cross, actually accomplished that.  Now contrast what I think I, Maria, might do in a lifetime to ‘earn’ God’s favor with those 3 hours of Jesus.  The notion not only staggers and sobers me, it is actually ridiculous.  Thankfully!

I don’t want to try to earn anything more. God’s ocean of grace is mine already since I am in Christ.  And I have access to that Grace right now, not just later in Heaven.  And the most that I will use on a daily basis is equivalent to what a small bird might drink in through her beak as she nears the mighty Columbia River.  This river discharges water at the rate of 265,000 cubic feet per second.  I’m not a math person, but that sounds like a lot. I asked Mike how to think through this number.  He walked me through the computation.  The flow of water when it empties into the Pacific Ocean is the equivalent of almost 2 million gallons per second.

Do you think that you or I could ever use up this grace? Could we out-ask what is available as beloved children of our Father?  Could all the birds in the world dry up the mighty Columbia River?  Not even imaginable.

So rest, cease striving and drink deeply and pray that God give us a grateful heart.  The aroma of entitlement not only stinks, but will always leave us dissatisfied.

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