A Rule of Life

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I feel blah, relishing nothing in the future.  It’s a Friday night, on the cusp of summer and 9 weeks off from school.  My mind thinks about upcoming trips.  I should be excited.  I’ll be with family; there’s even a 5-day cruise in my future.  But nothing stirs.

I finish dinner.  It tasted good! But it’s over.  I briefly ponder the merits of having some chocolate with me tea.  Maybe that’ll make my unhappiness and blah-ness go away.

But I don’t indulge and the next morning I’m glad.  The dessert would not have made me content in the long run.

I go to bed before too long, for even my book doesn’t satisfy.  My husband checks in with me a couple of times, ‘You okay?’  He cares, but I rather not go into it then.  After all, he has his ‘Ecclesiastes Moments’ too, when, as penned by Solomon, nothing under the sun satisfies any more.

The next morning, Saturday, I start my morning with a John Piper archived sermon.  He’s preaching from Isaiah 58: 8-11 about how a certain kind of fasting brightens your day.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawnand your healing shall spring up speedily; if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

That’s the kind of light and satisfaction I yearn for!

There’s time for one more sermon as I exercise and I listen to John Piper in a current commencement address at Boyce college talk about ‘Sacred Schizophrenia.  Truth marinates as I finish up my exercise routine.  I settle in with a cup of hot coffee and open up God’s Word to read today’s assigned chapters according to the Chronological Reading Plan Mike and I follow.   

One foray into Scripture leads to another and I come upon Jesus’ harsh words to Peter that seem to reinforce Piper’s call to deal harshly with the unholy self (one of the two selves living in a kind of schizo struggle).  He corrects his outspoken disciple, Peter, admonishing him to move his mind OFF of man-centered priorities and onto what matters to God.  Matthew records what follows like this: 

Then Jesus told his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16: 24-25

I’ve always shied away from the idea of denying myself.  After all, I’m an arch hoarder of time, of energy.

But I’m feeling empty….maybe that’s where fencing off daily time and space for myself has gotten me. Bankrupt and unsatisfied.

Turning 60 this year has stimulated a lot of this kind of self-reflection.  In my 20s, 30s and early 40s, I was busy with children and work.  And then our sons left home for college, work and marriage and I had time to think.  A lot.  Mike has gone through this soul reflection as well.  The kind of wondering ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’.  Looking at others rushing to and fro and asking: ‘What is any of this for, any way?’

But this morning, I see a glimmer.  Piper says that once we have been born again, we have a new self.  But the facts are like this:  our old man is continually at war with our new man until the day we die.  This old man is a liar, as are Satan and the world.  But God doesn’t leave us clueless and alone.  Thankfully, He points us to what will TRULY satisfy, every time.  Speaking through the prophet Isaiah and then in Jesus’ words to His disciples, He instructs:

Only by putting to death the desires prompted by the old man and giving to those who are hungry and oppressed and naked will we find a life, daily, which satisfies.

So what does that look like, practically, when I’m on the cruise this summer, at my mother-in-law’s for a week, at home this summer, in my classroom?

Solomon has the last word and I find the peace that I need from Eccl 2: 24-26

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,

From Matthew and Isaiah I have already seen what pleases God:  

  • when someone hungry crosses my path, I can offer food in the form of a listening, sympathetic ear, some of God’s Word and a prayer right then and there when appropriate

But it starts with a daily re-commitment to suffer with Christ as necessary, to deny my old worldly self that hoards time and energy and a willingness to travel this day WITH Jesus, depending on Him to guide and supply and protect me.

And that’s not all.  God intends for me to also enjoy the simple pleasures of every day life, eating, drinking and working.  These are, indeed, gifts from God TO me.  When I do them acknowledging His goodness, I bring glory to God.

Later on during the day while we hike, I share with Mike what He has revealed. Already light has dawned.  I HAVE a mandate of how to live, a new rule of life.  I know what to do at each stage, whether now, almost 60 or at age 93 and in assisted living!  The burden and gloom have lifted. I revel in the beauty of the day and how good it feels to move my body and be with the man whom I love.

How God is changing my will

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Philippians 2:13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Lots of unholy churn and inward griping have colored my past 3 3/4 years teaching French to middle-schoolers.  I have prayed for God to open the door to other jobs that pay as much but

  • don’t include a commute of at least 1 hour 40 minutes on a traffic-free day
  • don’t place me in a sometimes hostile anti-Christian environment (secular school)
  • don’t require me to face the burdensome daily challenge of teaching French well and creatively to middle-schoolers

And in His good and wise providence, God has kept me in that job!  So I have prayed, very reluctantly, for Him to change my will, my desires.  Do you ever pray like this, a kind of ‘please God, but I’m not sure if I want you to‘ type request?  This is how I’ve been praying:

  • Father, if I have to continue to work THERE, then at least change my heart so that I more light-heartedly teach/work/serve at that school.  But, Father, I’m actually hesitant to ASK You to change my heart.  I don’t think I WANT to want that, to work contentedly there.  I just want OUT!

But God HAS changed my heart through a shift in my thinking that could ONLY have come about this way.

It was a combination of a Charles Spurgeon selection from his book Morning and Evening, a John Piper devotional one night, some scripture in a prayer I was praying through that my app Prayermate had fed me and a John Piper archived sermon the next morning.  All within about 11 hours.

One of my whiny refrains I kept replaying in my mind leading up to those 12 hours was, “My heart is just not in teaching French to middle-schoolers any more!  I’m tired of the burden. And besides, I’ll be 60 in a few months, maybe I don’t have what it takes to relate to them!”  I can get REAL good at excuse making.

By means of 3 verses, He had shifted my thoughts toward the end of the 11 hours (an evening, night and early morning), which gently but abruptly changed my desire:

  • Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
  • Ephesians 6:7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
  • Colossians 3:23 Whatever you are doing, let your hearts be in your work, as a thing done for the Lord and not for men.

And just like that, with the gentle Holy Spirit memory prompting, He brought those living facts and commands into my heart and mind and something occurred instantly.

In a flash, I saw how sinful AND LAME my whininess had been.  I pictured those sins as adding to the crushing weight of sin that Jesus willingly took on for me.

The next thought was:

  •  If I can’t teach whole-heartedly for THEM, those kids, I CAN do so for God.  By His power.
  •  In fact Maria, your Father created those works at this school right now for you to do as a new creation.  He has equipped and fitted you to do just that.  And that is why He has kept you there in that job.  It has been His intention all along.  He has purposes for you to serve Him in that environment.

That was a Wednesday.  I lived with new freedom and awareness throughout the day, actually enjoying myself.

Cautiously I embraced Thursday.  Same thought-altering feelings prevailed. And Friday as well.

It’s Spring Break this week.  The days are flying and soon Monday will come.  But I’m not dreading it.  With His help, I CAN do what He has willed for me, what He commands me to do.

Here’s the truth:  what God commands, He equips us to do and we have no reasonable defense to resist.  Thanks be to God!

Enough of the churn!

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Up until last Friday, I lived with churn. You know that confused, lingering, heavy problem for which no solution is evident? The one that weighs you down and dominates your thoughts?  Yeah, that kind of burden.

churn-1

It takes a lot of energy to keep switching sides, changing one’s mind.  I did that for a number of years with the dilemma – DO I invest time and energy into weighing myself every day, working to maintain a certain weight? or DO I trust God about how He wants my body to be and choose NOT to have my weight be such an identity issue?  Come 5 December 2017, I will celebrate one year of FREEDOM from that enslaving idol.

That particular ‘giving it up/over to God’ final act came after a lot of churn.  Looking back, the churn and my wishy-washiness contributed to much of my pain.  I have felt so much freer since that once and for all decision 11 months ago.

But the back and forth of making and breaking my word to myself has made me gun-shy. I am leery of the sticking power of any decision I make.  The question is – will I truly leave the issue with God or will I take it back into my hands?

I teach French in a school that is 50 minutes away from our house in Western North Carolina.  The days are long and during the school year, I have very reduced personal time. I also find it daunting most days to challenge and teach middle-schoolers with creativity in a way that best makes a way for them to acquire facility with the language.

Yes, my lazy self would love a job that is closer to home and easier AND paid as much as this teaching job.  But as they say in French, ‘ça n’existe pas’ – that doesn’t exist. Apparently.

Why apparently?  Because I have sought other positions over the past 3+ years, AND God has firmly kept all other doors closed AND maintained the financial limits on us that make it necessary for me to earn what I do.

Finally, last week, after knocking on one more door, I gave up.  I’m tired of ‘kicking against the goads’ as Paul worded it in his account of his conversion en route to Damascus. The New Living Translation renders it this way:

We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will. Acts 26:14

I have a hunch, that when and if God wants me to work in a different setting, He will facilitate the move in a way that clearly is of Him and without churn. When Mike and I prayerfully decided to leave suburban Tidewater, Virginia in June 2013, God opened the doors. He sold our Virginia house, found us an affordable house here that is set in the stunning Smoky Mountains and secured a French-teaching job for me.  There was plenty of prayer, but no churn.

I’m a slow learner but I think this lesson (one that the Holy Spirit repeats creatively in different ways) might be sinking in!  Time will tell, but please pray for me to leave this matter in God’s hands and not invest any more mental and emotional energy into it.

 

 

The Gospel according to the Preacher

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78 - my blue hydrangeas with lots of blooms

Fear God and keep his commandments….eat and drink and find satisfaction in (your) work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?….Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love….Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Ecclesiastes 12: 13b; 2: 24-25; 9: 9a, 10a

Having pursued projects and pleasures, the Preacher’s life principle emerges, germinates and blooms. And I inhale:

Treasure and fear God. Then obey Him, enjoying every good gift He gives, namely the ‘dailies’. The accompanying joy will cleave to me as I work with my heart at what He assigns me.

The perfect job – it exists!

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Perfect job

I don’t know what you fantasize about, but sometimes I imagine the feeling of just having landed THE ultimate job.  In my daydream, I can FEEL the excitement, the open-ended sense of possibility, the overwhelming gratitude and joy of actually being able both to be challenged in a healthy way AND to get to do every day what makes me happiest.  (Speaking French is the number one component)  Included in my daydream is the notion of having been PICKED or selected with all sorts of concomitant and guaranteed learning opportunities and training that will enrich my life.  I’ll be among happy fellow enthusiasts and what we do will make a difference.

Maybe pipe dreams of the ideal job aren’t the ingredients that fuel your fantasy.  Maybe it’s that longing for the ultimate family or skill experience/achievement (winning an Olympic gold in your event) or a different pinnacle of your own choosing.  But for me, it’s always been a longing for THAT job.

And as I approach 60, I’m beginning to realize, not with too many regrets, that there are milestones and goals that I probably won’t realize while I’m alive in this body.

Far be THAT, however, to lead to depression.  For as a Christian, the Bible teaches that the BEST is yet to come!

In fact, if you think about it, since we are immortal and will be given new bodies at Jesus’ 2nd coming, bodies with more and better capacities, the idea of longing for the perfect job while here on earth is both short-sided and bound to disappoint.

But if we view our time on earth as training for the future, (the internship I wrote about earlier – Last week’s blog on a Theology of Work), then we can wait patiently, knowing that God doesn’t waste ANY of our experiences.

So in my imagining the work we will do in Heaven, I bet that:

  • It will be something we each feel perfectly suited for, given our ‘bents’ and our ‘experiences’ here on earth
  • It will be among happy colleagues who lovingly support and encourage one another
  • Our leader, Christ, will be the perfect ‘boss’
  • We will do work that is meaningful and satisfying.

So until then, I pray and trust God for patience and gratitude for both my future destination and the preparation He gives me each day in the meantime.

Colossians 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

PS:  I think the inheritance will be the invitation to come take an active productive role with the Triune God in the Kingdom!

Keep Calm - Job

Interning for the Lord

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What will we be doing forever?

God tells us in His last chapter of the book of Revelation.

Rev 22:3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

A guest pastor shared with our church the other night that this now is his favorite verse.  Some Bibles translate the Greek term  latreuo as worship. However it is equally rendered : “to serve or minister to”

If our job in the new heavens & earth is to serve God, then what is our purpose here on this present earth, in this present time?

Training for the future!

Intern

God wakens us to hear His call, to turn from a life set on self-fulfillment, to come to Him to fulfill HIS purposes for us while on earth as well as later –  as forgiven and beloved sons and daughters. living forever with Him.

But citizenship in this Kingdom has no room for idle adopted children. Rather we are brought into the Royal Family as heirs needing to be trained, needing a complete re-orientation.  Our holy work-study program is an intentional discipling and training regime.  God envisions and equips us to be happy ambassadors of His Good News. As heralds who go about their normal lives proclaiming Truth in the darkness, we invite others to ‘taste and see’ that our King is a good Father.

Recently, awareness of this ‘other’ function/purpose of my life dropped deeper into my heart. I’ve acknowledged for several years my so-called ‘diplomatic’ role as one of Christ’s representatives, whether in my work-a-day life or running errands or hanging out with friends and family.  But not until we moved here to Western North Carolina, to a new school for me where I experienced pain, disappointment and some spiritual attack did my framework shift and settle into a new position.

What I’m realizing is this:

  • that it actually doesn’t matter WHAT I do, WHERE I work, or how painful/pleasant the circumstances.
  • that my call, my mandate from God is to love Him and love my neighbor where I am.

And how do we love God?  By believing Him, by relying 100% on Him, by treasuring Him above any of the good gifts He gives. How do we love our neighbor?  By serving him well.

The sermon linked below reinforced and completed my shift in thinking.  The pastor, Ray Cortese, stressed that being competent in our work is a way to love and serve our neighbor.  We all want a competent and cheerful mechanic, computer repair guy, surgeon, hairdresser, waiter, sales clerk.  And we owe Martin Luther a round of applause for dignifying ALL work done IN God’s strength and FOR His glory.

As Malcolm Muggeridge stated so exuberantly: ‘the happiest person in the world is the woman who sweeps out her house to the glory of God.’ 

I see a two-fold divine standard to how we should work, whether on-the-job, or in the kitchen:

  • Develop competence and strive for excellence in all we do – not to justify ourselves, but to please our neighbor AND God
  • Work with joy, in dependence on God – not for our Glory, but for His

Listen to Ray Cortese, PCA pastor in Georgia, teach the biblical view of work. The link below is to all the sermons in 2015 so far.  Scroll down to the one 1 Feb 2015 – Love Thy Neighbor – work

Excellent sermon on a theology of work

Lost in thought – musings about abiding in the Vine

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Lost in thought

 

 

 

John 15:5

 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

I came across my friend, lost in thought. He didn’t hear me approach. Reaching out gently, I touched his shoulder so he wouldn’t jump. “Where ARE you? You look deep in thought!”

Don’t we sometimes refer to the content of our thoughts as a place?

At the very least, this illustration from ordinary life helps me to understand and apply what it means to abide in Christ.

Pondering again the whole viticulture analogy Jesus uses to differentiate HIS role from ours yielded some clarity.

If Jesus is the vine (think: TRUNK) and you and I are branches growing out of the vine, we are dependent on nourishment from the trunk. We need to stay connected, no matter how forceful the storms of everyday life blow. Our ‘soul’ survival and our spiritual vitality while inhabiting this current Earth depend on our on-going union with Jesus.

What role does the Father play? God the Father is the farmer, the vinedresser whose job it is to (superin)tend HIS garden. That means He sometimes cuts away new growth if it isn’t headed in the direction He deems best. His pruning sheers clip away the dead stuff as well. And He occasionally transplants us somewhere we didn’t choose, sometimes in soil that doesn’t seem to suit! But apparently, in His wisdom, He knows this particular dirt is rich and will cause us to produce more. I don’t always like the TASTE of His nourishing compost piles. There’s other plant food I would prefer, (namely, my COMFORT)!

Not only does the Master Gardner govern our physical setting, His Son as the vital vine, instructs us in how to be a ‘good branch’. Seems the only job He assigns us is to ‘abide’ in His Son, the vine.  But what does THAT mean? And how are we to do that?

Remember my lost-in-thought friend? We actually abide wherever our thoughts go. If we want to stay connected to Jesus, then we need to think often and hard on what He says in His word. Applying a quote from my favorite puritan, William Gurnall, we must ‘suck hard at the breast of the Covenant’. I think the idea is to be like a dog, working over a bone, aiming to get every last drop of tasty meat and residual flavor that he can.

In the same manner, I want to make it my chief daily activity to turn over Jesus’ promises, His deeds, His words, in order to gain as much nourishment and joy as I can.

What about the Holy Spirit? What role does He play? Ah, this is what is cool and encouraging. God’s Spirit is the One who actually produces the grapes, that is the fruit, through us.

Until recently I thought that ‘bearing fruit’ meant PRODUCING fruit. It doesn’t! It means to be the living stalk attached to the trunk from which the 3rd member of the Godhead grows the fruit. Our branch mission or job, therefore, is to focus on Jesus and His living Word.

This is actually work? Just pondering and thinking?   I know, I know, it’s pretty humbling, isn’t it! We think we’re to do GREAT things for Christ. But remember how Jesus actually addressed our labor?

John 6:28-29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

That’s all! Think on and believe what Jesus says.

If it is we who produce the fruit, then we could claim credit and look for glory. The way God has set it up, He alone gets the credit. Well, what about us? At least we get the fruit, right?

Yes and no. The fruit isn’t primarily meant for the branch that holds it up, that bears it; it’s for others. Nonetheless, we get the privilege of being part of God’s provision to the Church and the confused world. And when God’s fruit grown in us nourishes others, we ourselves are replenished! What a good deal!

Proverbs 11:25b ….those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

Bottom Line? What we think about matters!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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