My first duty of the day – to make myself happy in God

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My hero in the faith is George Mueller, the 19th-century British pastor who together with his wife established and ran orphanages for four to five decades.  He intentionally journaled throughout those years in order to encourage the ordinary Christian to live and work by simple but powerful faith.  He wanted the average Christian to KNOW that learning to pray in reliance on Jesus was a tool and blessing that all could learn to do, with powerful results.

One of his personal resolutions that he followed to the benefit of thousands goes like this:

“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.

Life may be falling down around us, but to be a Christian means to be the possessor of the most precious and lasting treasures imaginable.

It’s probably like this for you, but when that morning alarm breaks into my oblivion, it’s like I have forgotten all that is true and unchanging.  What hits me is the immediacy of the day’s circumstances.  And given this suffering and corrupted world, many days seem to loom difficult and heavy-laden when I get up.   If I let my feelings take their cue from those first thoughts, I will stay depressed throughout the day.  Or I will use something created to distract myself, what God calls an idol. (food, email, escape reading)

God offers an alternative if we but follow it.  Christian are called to rejoice always (1 Thess 5:16). Therefore, Mueller’s advice is not optional if we are to obey our Father in heaven.

I don’t intend to talk about how I go about making myself happy in God.  What I rather mention is why God wants his children to be happy they belong to him.  I’m learning the reason God commands me to exult in him is because joy in God is key to loving others.

Listening the other day to a sermon by John Piper I actually felt capable for the first time of LOVING OTHERS.  You remember how Jesus summed up the Law in Matthew 22:40 by saying in effect:

  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

Because I seem to be wired more as a rational person than a loving, emotional person, I’ve struggled with what love looks like according to God.  I often feel guilty that I don’t FEEL love towards my neighbors.

But the way John Piper explained love, it sounded doable for a Christian empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Piper explained what God means by love like this: “Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others”

Given THAT definition, making myself happy in God each morning is not only life-preserving to me, but equally necessary for those around me.  When I have re-established and reconnected with WHY I can be happy no matter how crummy the day’s circumstances may be, then I have strength and energy to move out of myself toward others.  That is the ONLY way to love others.

Have you ever had someone do something for you out of duty?  How does that feel?

It’s like when we tell a child, “Tell Sammy that you are sorry!”

and the child’s “Sorry” doesn’t satisfy at all.  It’s not from the heart.

Same with our deeds done to meet a neighbor’s needs.  If we help out of obligation, it’s not the same as initiating something out of the energy and God-given strength borne of joy in Him.

Joy in God is a pervasive and persistent theme in the Bible.  It doesn’t seem optional or healthy to neglect.

May this truth from Nehemiah 8:10b find its roots in you and me:

“Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”


If we’re not living by faith, how are we actually going through life?


Now it is evident that no one shall be justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith. – Galatians 3:11

I’ve heard that truth for years but it still puzzles me. It seems to run off the tongue of Christians like butter spilling off of hot pancakes.  Just what does God mean, day to day, by living by the law v. living by faith?

Walk by faith

Here are my specific questions:

  • Who are the righteous?
  • What makes them righteous?
  • Am I righteous? If not, how do I become righteous?
  • What does ‘to live’ mean?
  • What does the preposition ‘by’ mean and look like?
  • What is included in faith?
  • Where do we get that faith?
  • Faith in what, in whom?
  • How much faith do we need to ‘live’?

I’m not going to take time in this reflection to walk through, step by step, what ‘righteousness’ as defined by God encompasses.  I want to focus, instead, on what a life lived ‘by faith’ looks like, practically.

So ask someone else or search for yourself how the following facts are actually true. But in a nutshell Galatians 3:11 can be paraphrased like this:

When God declares that a man, woman, boy or girl is legally ‘justified or righteous’ that person is immediately enabled to live moment by moment – ‘ek pistis’ (by faith).  Of course something possible to do doesn’t mean we won’t be needing instruction and lots of practice.

The first step in grasping the concept of this new ability is to understand what that preposition ek/by actually means: The list below is copied word for word from the Blue Letter Link here

By can mean:

  • Out of/from – a place of divine power
  • Proceeding from
  • From abiding with God
  • From the roots of
  • Utterly from
  • Alive after having been dead
  • In a supernatural sense
  • From the divine (new) nature
  • Fueled by the new nature and disposition derived from one’s (new) origin
  • As having one’s prototype in God and being wrought in the soul by His power
  • Out of the material of_________(what ever follows the Greek word ‘ek )
  • From the power on which any one depends, by which he is prompted and governed, whose character he reflects
  • From the supply out of which a thing is taken
  • Of the whole which anything is a part

If you were to draw a Venn Diagram, a circle that represents the entire life of a man declared righteous by God, that circle (his new life henceforth) would be placed inside the larger circle called Biblical Faith in God.

Venn Diagram

Our follow-up question should be: Where do we get that faith? Do we have to gin it up ourselves?

Thankfully, no! This faith is a gift from God, entirely. It’s alien to us before we are brought to new life spiritually. Biblical faith is given only to those God graciously chose before He created the heavens and the earth.

And once He has implanted that divine, supernatural faith in us, it is ours forever.

So, how now shall we live? Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey wrote a book with this title  Link here

But if we take the plain text of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatian church, we are to live from what I picture as the King’s Royal Cupboard of Faith.

As newly adopted sons and daughters of the King, we are given a set of keys to this cupboard that will never run out of spiritual grace for all our needs.


Are you scared? Go to the cupboard and help yourself to God’s strength that is meant specifically for us to use – Psalm 37:39

  • “But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in time of trouble.”

Are you hard pressed to return kindness for your officemate’s meanness to you? Go to the cupboard and fetch divine might to respond with undeserved grace – Matthew 6:11-12

  • “Our Father….give us this day our daily bread (sustenance so that we can then)….as we forgive others”

Are you beset by worry? Go to the cupboard, by prayer, and fill up on God’s strength to hand over each specific circumstance that is weighing you down? – Psalm 112:7

  • They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

Are you struggling feeling enslaved to an ingrained habit of overeating/ sarcastic putdowns/ complaining/ impulse purchases using Amazon’s one click shopping/ addiction to social media / speeding / procrastination…….: Go to the King’s cupboard of faith and draw on strength to exercise self-control – Galatians 5:22-23

  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

This is what it means, I think, for the declared righteous (the born-again Biblical Christians) to live by faith.

The alternative is to live the ‘old way’, guided by self-centered feelings/desires/habits/patterns.  And we all know the genius of THAT!

Charlie Brown

Christianese – even the Bible is ‘guilty’

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I used to get so mad at my mother! 

She was one of those happy Christians (this was in the days when I was NOT a believer) who would spout:  “The joy of the Lord is my strength!”  Those words seemed to make sense to her. Not only did I have NO idea what they meant, her enthusiasm just pissed me off. (Sorry for the irreverence!)  She seemed naïve and Pollyannaish.   Did she mean:

  • The fact that the Lord has joy…..that…. somehow…. translates into strength for me?
  • If I can somehow tap into and siphon off some of the Lord’s joy…..I, too, can feel strong?

What in the heck is the connection between joy and strength?

Turns out that her saying was NOT just a catch-phrase; it’s an actual Bible verse, i.e. Nehemiah 8:10

Even after I became a Christian, I still didn’t know what it meant…… really!

Only in the last couple of years have I come to understand:  

–setting aside of worries or troubling situations to focus on what I have been given as an adopted member of God’s forever family IS the ONLY path to joy.( Going round and round gnawing on my problems doesn’t produce joy!!!)

— and that being content or happy about the sheer FACT of being in UNION with God produces strength for any circumstance.

–‘glad and glee-filled’ to belong to Christ puts me in a different category above my problems.

— from such a different plane/angle (I KNEW 10th grade geometry would come in handy!)  I am equipped with a qualitative different perspective.

Therefore, the problems either diminish in power/severity…… or disappear, hence STRENGTH.

There are many other snippets of Scripture that are like that: code words without apparent interpretive amplification to connect them to a meaning.  Take for instance this one from Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (1:21)

We can figure out the 2nd clause without much trouble: when we die, we gain Christ’s visible presence because we’re with Him.

But what do those 4 words signify: TO LIVE IS CHRIST?

I was helped this month by an article in Tabletalk Magazine (June 2013, pp 64-65).  The author, Trip Lee, is a Christian rap artist with Capitol Hill Baptist church who talked about all the other idols one could have that provide meaning for life: wealth, worldly success, sex, family, physical fitness, social justice…..But what, in fact,  provides ANY and ALL meaning is Jesus.

That made sense!  (Check – another Bible phrase deciphered!)  It’s like saying, ‘the meaning of my life is Jesus; the organizing principle of my life is the person of Jesus; what I live for in life is Jesus.’

When I got to talking with Mike about this, I suddenly understood that ‘back in the day’ of parchment, scrolls were rare and limited; you HAD to write in an efficient manner – kind of like our tweets.

I’ll close with one of my favorite short scripture nuggets that I recite to myself each morning as both comfort and anchor for the day.  Christ in me, the hope of glory: (Col 1:27)

What does that mean?

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul” Hebr 6:19

  • “Christ in me” – as a qualitatively new creation (spiritual DNA got changed at the New Birth), I have God in me, as much as if my molecular structure was permanently altered.
  • “the hope”- since God is IN me, I am assured, I have a 100 % God-backed guarantee (God does NOT lie, or else He wouldn’t be God) that I will be with Him.
  • “…of glory” – not only will I be face to face with God’s glory, I will also somehow be a partaker/ sharer in this über-celebratory love feast.  I will be…..  fêted, praised, appreciated, fussed over, lavished with abundant love & attention in quantities that are overflowing – hence glorified.

What are some of YOUR Bible phrases that you have translated or are still puzzling you?

Letter to a dying acquaintance

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Lost Sheep

Dear X

Y told me that you’ve received a really hard diagnosis: gut-wrenching news about cancer. I am so sorry to learn this and can’t even imagine what thoughts and emotions you & your husband must be dealing with!

I want to share with you a perspective about the goodness of God in the midst of extreme suffering.  I have no idea where you are spiritually.  But I would want to be reassured of God’s love during a time like this, if I were walking through a dark valley.

Nothing comes as a surprise to God because he is in charge.  And nothing happens that is not filtered through his loving hands. Don’t fear; you won’t say anything to him that will shock or hurt him or cause him to love you less. He has known about this cancer.  He is with you in every breath you take and during every doctor’s visit.  He is helping you in this transition.

When I am struggling, I often remind myself of the truth that Jesus sustains everything by the power of his word – Hebrews 1:3 (or by his powerful word, as some translations say) or in Colossians, Paul says about Jesus, “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. I literally will say, “thank you Lord, that you are sustaining me by the power of your word!”

So how do we know that God loves you and me? We know about God from both what is written about him, the record of his thoughts and actions in the Old Testament and also the accounts of the actions and words of God in the flesh, Jesus.  The God-man came to save us from ourselves. We NEED saving, because we’ve all gone astray and are confused like the lost sheep he calls us. He tenderly leads us.

Here’s what Luke recounts in his 9th chapter, verses 4-6

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!

Ann – it’s NEVER too late, as long as there is breath in you, to turn to Jesus for help, for strength and even for salvation.  He doesn’t hold anything against the one who seeks him, no matter his or her past.

If you are already a Christ – follower, then I would encourage you to think about heaven and talk about it with your husband.  If he is a Christian too, then he knows he’ll see you again!

For the believer, all that is mortal is being swallowed up by life. We will live forever with Jesus. In new bodies, to boot!  The proof that we will get new bodies (different, but recognizable by others) is seen in the fact that Jesus DID come back after being resurrected. He walked, talked and ate with his disciples for several weeks.  They touched his physical, resurrected body.

This fact of his being resurrected represents God the Father saying to the Jews who had him crucified, ‘You all were wrong in thinking Jesus was blaspheming when he claimed to be one with me.  Everything he said was true.  His resurrection is my verdict of “NOT GUILTY”.’

As I close, I want you to know what I like about God, what gives me comfort and I hope will comfort you, too.

God, because it’s his nature, his character, showers us with

  • loving-kindness
  • mercy
  • faith (a gift)
  • fair and righteous decisions
  • truth

All his decisions are perfect.  We might not see or understand everything right now, but he does work out all things for the good of those whom he loves and who love him.

Please know that I am praying for you and your husband daily.  If you would care to talk more, have your husband call me.  I’d be happy to come visit  during the Christmas holidays.

Praying that you know the true peace of God that is beyond earthly understanding.



God was faithful to answer your prayers – a report.

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Do not fear, for I am with you:  do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Is 41:10

Last week I reported how God had opened up the door for me to present two workshops for second language teachers interested in the language acquisition method I’ve been using for 8 years: TPRS® (teaching proficiency through reading & storytelling).  I was not necessarily anxious about sharing the thinking, research and techniques.  That was to be in English and I had the power point slides and had prepared notes.  What frightened me were the two demos in French that I needed to sustain.  I was afraid that I would not be a credible poster child for using the TPRS techniques.  I often compare myself to those TPRS personalities I watch at national conferences who demonstrate the skills with great ease & success.  By nature I am an introvert who extraverts for time-certain periods.  I don’t always think of clever story possibilities, on my feet, in French!

The other details that made me nervous were the tech and logistics of the conference room set-ups.  Finally, I had no control over what the attendees would think when the founder of this methodology, Blaine Ray, did not show up and instead they had me, a mere practitioner from the field!

Well, it’s no surprise that the God of the universe who does more than we can ask or imagine took care of me.  I love Psalm 23 because of God’s promises.  ‘Goodness and mercy’ actively followed me all 5 days!

  • At one point my iPodfell out of my purse at lunch and one of the teachers picked it up.  I had a play list of French music on it I was using during breaks.
  • My mind was on other matters so I wasn’t paying close attention to the envelope containing checks/credit card info for book sales.  Another teacher tucked it out of sight when we left the conference room for lunch in the lobby.
  • The attendees at both workshops were VERY nice and encouraging.  I felt I could be myself.
  • My day 1 of the first workshop left me feeling poorly about that challenging French demo.  I spent a lot of time that night in the hotel getting coaching from Blaine and another French teacher, Donna, who presents at workshops.  The next morning when I was out walking early in the morning, I recited all the verses that I know and drew encouragement from them.  Nonetheless, I was resigned that my skill level was just not where it should be yet!   What a JOY-ful surprise at the end of that 2nd day of the Washington, DC workshop when it all came together and my French TPRS skills moved to a higher level.  I felt like I had achieved a new competency.  On top of that, the satisfaction those attendees communicated was heart-warming.  I felt that I had given them something of value over the two days.
  • God was faithful to keep me awake driving through summer afternoon traffic back down to Newport News.  That had been a prayer request because I knew I was running on less sleep than normal.
  • The next morning was the local workshop in Newport News.  I found myself ‘angsting’ as I was driving to the hotel.  It was only a 5 mile trip, but my mind started thinking, ‘What if I get into an accident and am late to set up for this workshop?’ That’s when Isaiah 41:10 came back to mind and I just affirmed out loud ALL the parts :

Lord, I WILL not fear, for you are with me.

I will NOT anxiously look at all the bad things that might happen.

You ARE strengthening me in this situation.

You ARE holding me and you will uphold me in all the possible situations over the next two days

My spirit relaxed.

  • THIS 2nd workshop went even better.  The changes that both Donna, the other French teacher, and Blaine had suggested worked very well.  I felt that I fairly showcased the techniques.  These mostly Spanish teachers got to feel what it is like to be taught a foreign language using TPRS.  Their energy built me up and I was able to give it back to them.  God enabled me to think on my feet and together we created a story about a lady who wanted to dance the tango.  The two men in the group were good sports and played the game well.
  • God revealed a surprising thought to me yesterday as I was relaxing into a very welcome nap:  Now that I have presented two regional workshops, I no longer have any grounds for thinking I can’t do TPRS well.  I am competent.  Of course I will continue to work on the many skills that go into making a good TPRS teacher.  But I have barred the door, forever, to indulging in negativity.

I CAN do all things through Him who strengthens me.  It’s okay to be a jar of clay, a cracked pot, when you have the God of the universe upholding you!  Thank you, Lord.  And thank you dear faithful friends who prayed and encouraged me.

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