What do you do when your belt gets tight?

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If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

Tight Belt

My husband has extolled belt wearing for years. Being cinched in provides instantaneous body awareness.

 

My spiritual Belt of Truth provides the same corrective feedback.

Each morning as I don battle dress, I linger over that Belt of Truth, Jesus’ filtering grip designed to allow only true beliefs in my inner being.

But it’s not uncomfortable. No, Jesus proffers His ‘inner-self support’ as relief from the chains we would otherwise wear.

Before realizing I had been gifted at my new birth with a Jesus Belt, I unconsciously dressed in ordinary and bewitching chains. You know what I’m talking about – that default worldly thinking we assume is normal. The chain links go by various names such as:

  • Choose your own identity and meaning
  • Seek others’ approval
  • Pursue your bucket list
  • Amuse yourself now
  • Work off your guilt your own way

But Jesus has promised a much lighter load, crafted to fit comfortably, one that He Himself promises to bear, provided we stay attached to Him.

Despite starting the day with the correct belt comfortingly reminding me of Jesus’ presence, by noon I was squirming, aware that something was pinching. Sitting at my computer, finishing schoolwork from the previous week, I fretted over personal tasks and NOT ENOUGH TIME!

That false god called “Enough Time for Maria” was competing with the Almighty for supremacy. I caught myself grumbling while resenting time constraints. Snap!  Ouch – my  Jesus Belt tightened.

What made my belt prick? I had allowed ‘unbelief’ into my core to dilute my happy trust, contentment and peace.

Quick Holy Spirit conviction brought my confession of this sin of unbelief and repentance. I had to flush two of Satan’s favorite lies:

  • God is not sovereign over your life (for me – the day’s hours and their passage)
  • God is not good

Once I confessed and trusted God’s promise of sure forgiveness, my Jesus Belt felt comfortable again. Thank you, Father, for giving me such a life-saving Belt of Truth.

What holds you together?

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‘For in him we live and move and have our being…’  Acts 17:28a

TMI?  Too much information – all alarming and overwhelming. With smart phones, laptops, talk radio and even traditional print media, I feel assaulted by sincere-sounding, but conflicting opinions.

Fortunately, my ‘Belt of Truth  awaits me each morning.  Buckling into God’s word not only clears my head so I can see clearly, but also makes me feel secure and safe. You know, I need to prioritize thinking about that belt as much as I think about my food for each school day!

Belt - cartoonThis morning, Sunday, while walking I began to stress about the coming school week.  Will I get all my plans done? What about Jack whose mom wrote yesterday to say how frustrated he felt with one of my homework assignments?

Then I remembered my belt. What do belts do?  They don’t allow for much else to come between our tummies and the snug encircling leather, do they! In that sense they protect us.  From what?

Jesus explained to Thomas, “….I am the way, the truth and the life….”   John 14:6

Tightening my Truth Belt, I’m actually putting Jesus around me.  He promises to block hammering false beliefs.  There’s no room for them if my belt is to stay both firm yet comfortable.

As I trudged up the gravel road, I thought about that quote from Acts about living ‘in him‘.  Paul was actually echoing a line from Epimenides, but applying the truth to God, when he mentioned the poet to the Athenian ‘philosophes‘.

So I will more gladly buckle my safety belt.  Not a car restraint, but a ‘living and moving and being belt’ – One that allows ONLY Jesus both to filter the TMI and to hold me together.

Not wearing that letter “A” any more!

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Scarlet Letter

James 4: 4 You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? 

 

What a relief!  To come clean and admit that you have betrayed the one who loves you best.  With the ‘worst’ out in the open, there is nothing more to hide.  And in that public knowledge lives freedom.

But do we wear our branding of ‘unfaithful to God’ or do we cover it up, disguise it by good works, competence, religious behavior, helpfulness or talent?

Last week I was wrestling with the wrong kind of fear, the dread of others thinking poorly of me or less of me. But as I let God’s Word guide me in distinguishing fear of man from that ‘AWE-full’ thrilling though cautious respect of God, I found safety again and open spaces.

This week William Gurnall, my current 17th century author of choice, has given me a renewed appreciation for my God-given clothing.

His most famous book is a compilation of sermons he delivered teaching his flock about the reality of warfare in this life and the spiritual tools we are to use to be both safe AND useful as redeemed children of the Father.

500 Old Cabin Cove taken from Blue Ridge Pkwy

So each morning, as I tread up and down the gravel road in our cove, I pray for God’s help to pull together all the scattered thoughts of the previous day and submit them to God.  I mentally and almost physically tighten that first piece of spiritual clothing Paul describes in his exhortation to the Christians at Ephesus:  the belt of truth.

Belt of truth

Which truth? – the truth about who Jesus is and who I am since He bought and freed me.  What others might consider an accessory today is what literally holds us together.  Without that boundary line separating truth from confusion, we come apart.  So tighten your belt, friends!

Next I ready my feet, not with my own planned-out, agenda-bound shoes.  I don God’s sandals that are directed at bringing to those I encounter this day the counter-intuitive message of ‘How to find peace with God’.

Shoes of peace

Everyone is seeking it, though many don’t know that ‘being right’ with the God of the Universe is their biggest need.  But I have to remind myself before I leave the Cove for school that I’m not off to fulfill my plans, but God’s.  After all, I do work for Him.

Since I can’t face the world just with my belt and my shoes on, what is my basic uniform for the day? Certainly not that Scarlet letter of Shame: the Father has replaced that temporary tattoo with a permanent Blood-Stained R for Jesus’ righteousness.

Letter R

What the Romans wore as effective protection for the heart and other organs, God calls our breastplate.  It’s both armor AND an advertisement to the spiritual world of whose we are.  So front and center stamped permanently on me is Jesus’ earned and validated righteousness.

To round off  my equipment, I gather my helmet to protect and SAVE my mind from misleading thoughts and grip my shield to block the doubts and fears and what-ifs that are aimed straight at my heart and head and eyes that day.

By now my morning sweat and lactic acid producing walk accompanied by this mental spiritual dressing has brought me back up to our cabin.  I thankfully pour some coffee, fix a quick breakfast and sit down to sharpen my sword for the day. You know the only offensive weapon our Father gives us is the ensemble of truths and promises written down in the Bible.  I am so thankful for the time to fill up my mind with powerful fuel for the day.  Funny how all those insights that held me firm yesterday have drained away.   But why is that so strange?  After all, we take in physical food several times a day and expect it to tide us over only a few hours. Why should spiritual nourishment be any different?

So I eat with gusto and head out for the day.  Another page in the life of a thankful ambassador reporting for duty to her rebel outpost in that dark place called the World.

Question:  How have you personalized one or more of the pieces of spiritual armor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayers, Fears and Promises

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“Bzzzzz,” vibrated my phone in the middle of Senior Theses presentations last night. A student was defending her claim about the on-going effects of the French Revolution, when I glanced over to see the name of the Middle School principal who interviewed me 6 weeks ago in Asheville, NC.  However, since I was one of 2 judges, I couldn’t satisfy my curiosity at that moment.

By the time I WAS free; the civilized deadline for calling future bosses had come and gone.  But patience has its rewards and the news was good this morning.  I got the job!  So thank you for your prayers. I will be teaching French to Middle-Schoolers in the fall.

Now don’t you feel encouraged? – You, the Church?  I know that when I have prayed persistently and over a long period of time, my faith is strengthened upon learning how God has met the need of a brother or sister.  Answered prayer makes me want to pray all the more!  My unbelief is diminished and light expands to push back the dark corners of doubt.

On a side note, God DOES  have a sense of humor.  In our private prayers about this job, Mike and I had specifically asked God to provide me with a French job with a salary range of between X and Y.  And the offer was X!  (not a penny over).  I think Mike was a bit disappointed at first.  Who doesn’t hope for more?  But I can picture God smiling, having arranged the sure way to keep our hope in HIM, the owner and provider of ALL our resources, and not in cash flow.

Despite this great news, I confess that I still struggle with fears and what ifs.

I know – you’re surprised!

You’d think that with this answered prayer, coming on the heels of  last week’s offer on our current house (thank you, Father!), I’d not fear or worry about anything!

It’s true – I have to daily engage in the uphill hand- to- hand combat for faith.  My French 4 girls and I have been translating a list of 10 Truths/Reminders about God.  A young American pastor, Matt Reagan, compiled them in college when he realized that each morning he woke up having forgotten about God.

Demonic alchemy happens in the night and faith evaporates when that alarm goes off.  We have to RE-MEMBER / RE-CONSTRUCT our faith-foundation all over again.   It’s like putting on one’s defensive knight’s armor, piece by piece to engage the day.

Hence, my daily pondering of which promises/ truths encourage me the most:   When the dark clouds of fear start rolling in, I push back firmly with the brilliant rays of God’s truths.  Here are just 3 of those dailies:

·         No good thing does God withhold from those whose way is upright (Ps 84:11)

·         The Lord is with me, I will not fear; what can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

·         God works all things for my good because I have been called by Him and I love Him (Romans 8:32)  

 Join with me and let’s undertake this challenge together:  think about what daily spiritual vitamins protect you, feed you, strengthen you, empower you and share them.  Let’s not be anemic, starving Christians, for want of the power available in God’s word.

For the word of God is alive and full of power.

PS: The French translate Jesus/the Logos in John 1 as ‘the verb’.  Can’t you just picture active, coursing super-natural power? 

Reflections on waiting

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This waiting thing – we’re in the thick of it!

  • Waiting for the house to sell
  • Waiting to get a teaching job in NC
  • Waiting for Mike’s first paying client
  • Waiting for Wes to return from Afghanistan

Not that waiting isn’t part of others’ lives, too:

  • Our brother and sister-in-law are waiting for her immigration paperwork to come through.
  • Friends are waiting for babies – to be born and to be adopted
  • Many sisters & brothers in Christ are waiting for loved ones to be brought into God’s forever family
  • Other friends are waiting for healing and pain to subside
  • A friend is waiting for her husband finally to receive the career recognition he deserves and longs for
  • Another friend is waiting for debt to be paid off so she can marry

I realized something last night that shifted my view of how God is working.  I’m a lot more relaxed this time around selling a house.  The first time was when we were 27 years old.  Mike had moved out to Monterey, Graham was a baby and we were desperate to sell a house in Arizona.  DES-PER-ATE.  I bugged the real estate agent every day.  God was gracious and brought a buyer in 3 months, despite my total lack of faith.

The last time we sold a house, I had started growing spiritually through the means of Bible Study Fellowship, but was living functionally still as an atheist.  I was 42 this time around.  As I fretted internally, worrying about 30 times a day, “What if…..!!!!”  (at least I didn’t phone our realtor every day!), God brought welcome relief in the form of a verse.  We had studied Genesis the previous year in BSF and all of a sudden I recalled the promise God made to Abraham when the old man, like me, was fearful, tired & discouraged.

Gen 15:1 Fear not Abram, I am your shield and your very great reward!

All of a sudden, my behavior switched.  I consciously chose to sub in that very promise from God each and every time I caught myself falling into worry and fear.  I would literally shake my head and actually stand up to that worry/fear thought:

NO!  then I would say to the Lord…

God, YOU are my shield and my very great reward, therefore, I will not fear.

Instead of playing the worry movie 20 – 30 times in a day, I affirmed God’s Word over and over again.  A month later, God brought the buyer.

Now I’m 55 and we’re selling our 3rd house.  My goal is to offer my waiting to God as worship.  I want to PLEASE my Father by demonstrating that I trust him.  As Graham reminded me yesterday in a phone call, ‘We have a rich and powerful Father, so we can relax’.

The realization that struck me last night came in reflecting about how we came to find the house that we are going to purchase in North Carolina, God-willing.  From Thanksgiving through mid January, we had been ‘studying’ available houses, making a list of features, comparing them in Excel (a side benefit that comes from being married to an analytical husband!) all in preparation for a house-visiting trip last month.  Our goal was to make an offer on a house over that January weekend since Waynesville is 8 hours away by car from Newport News.

We arrived on Saturday at the real estate agent’s office and in addition to the list of houses we had planned to visit; she added one that had ‘just popped up’,  being listed 2 days earlier on the Thursday.  It wasn’t part of our ‘careful study’.

And as you might guess, that is the house we have chosen.

Do you see what I realized last night?  At just the RIGHT time, God brought ‘our house’ to us, not dependent on our analysis and searching.

If I extrapolate, at just the RIGHT time, God will bring:

The buyer for our current house…….The job offer for me……etc

Yes, our efforts are important – But God doesn’t want frenzied, desperate efforts.  Reasonable next steps/actions that come from a deep, relaxed and confident dependence on God are the kind that honor our Father.

Lord, thank you for Christ:  my Anchor, my Blissful Rock, my Big Brother, my Champion and Author and Finisher of the faith implanted in me.  Give me the humility to keep casting these cares back on You, because I KNOW You love us and have our best interests at heart.

God meets our needs very creatively!

Incoming! – we’re under attack!

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I didn’t see it coming.  I thought we were dealing with other, on-going issues.  But as hours passed and the distance between my husband and me grew and the feelings turned icy, and directed against each other, I suddenly saw THIS in a different light.

Certain subtle strategic, spirit-placed clues helped me to see the attack for what it was. At coffee yesterday, my friend Kris mentioned trying to praise God’s attributes alphabetically in the car en route to the gym, and un-God-like characteristics kept breaking into her thoughts.  Instead of qualities like Dependable or Daily provider, traits like dour and doubtful came to mind.  She then commented, “I know where THOSE thoughts are from, not me, but Satan himself!”

That idea lodged in the outskirts of my mind.  Then I was reading Ann Voskamp’s blog about 4 action steps to cement a marriage. (This – after a silent ride home in the car from our small group)  All of a sudden, in the middle of a mini pity party, I pictured Mike and me as 2 jigsaw puzzle pieces, jaggedly pulled apart.  We no longer were one complete picture.  Our sinful brokenness was SO tangible for our emotional energy was directed at making each other the enemy.

It was then that I began to see what was happening.  This was a spiritual skirmish that the Sovereign Controller, i.e. God was allowing.  All military encounters, whether actual or preparatory, can be used by wise leaders to strengthen soldiers.  “Let’s get our feet dirty, boys.  Brandish those weapons. Jab at the enemy!  Use your tactics. Don’t just stand there, fight back!”

Each attack makes soldiers wiser and stronger.  Crawling out of the opposite trenches and meeting in what just a few hours ago had been No Man’s Land, I hope that Mike and I will stay alert.  We are in a faith battle in this ‘for keeps’ spiritual war.  For our enemy is prowling around, determined to weaken us and make us ineffective as Christians.

As Paul warned the Ephesians and now us in Chapter 6:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

And why is the enemy attacking my husband and me?  Only because we have stepped out and publically talked about a Journey of Faith.  We are leaving ‘secure’ jobs and a predictable life and income and support structure to go off to the hills and build a new life.  We have announced that we are walking toward this new life by faith in God and the promises in His Word and NOT by sight.  It’s risky and tempting to Satan.

It ‘so happens’ that Mike and I are reading in Job, this start of the New Year, as part of a chronological Bible reading plan.  We, the readers, know that Satan is attacking Job with God’s permission. Today I see this ‘coïncidence’ as part of our spiritual fore-warning. Thank you, Holy Spirit!

Shields up!  Helmets on! Jesus’ righteous breastplate buckled tight.  Peace-laced sandals gripping our feet as we move forward! God’s Word-sharpened sword at the ready! Tightening ranks with my beloved husband.  We have each other’s backs. 

Chronological Reading Plan of the Bible in a year

Addicted to calm waters

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As I write this, Calvin seems better. His downward spiral after some routine surgery led to the vet calling me during my 8th grade logic class. Either he had serious neurological problems or he was a member of a tiny percentage of cats allergic to that particular antibiotic.  Dr. Crist gently mentioned, “If this is a neurological issue, euthanasia might be the kindest option.”

As the tears welled up and I reached for tissues, my 24 budding adults didn’t know quite what to do.  Through sniffles and a tight throat, I explained what the vet had said and what God was teaching me through this experience.  Friday was another day colored by difficult circumstances that had been unfolding during the past two weeks.  Even before my mind absorbed the possibility of actually losing Calvin, God had been teaching me.

Negative lessons:

  • Functionally, I am addicted to a problem-free life.
  • I act as if my pets and family members are mine.
  • The more I need circumstances to go my way, the less I have of real peace.
  • I need trials and difficult circumstances to wean me off of false and damaging ideas.

Positive lessons:

  • I am a steward of anything that I previously looked at as ‘mine.’
  • I am here on Earth to do my Master’s bidding.
  • My desires for peace, health, comfort, rest are good and legitimate and given to me by God.  Where I go wrong is in expecting that they will be satisfied my way here on Earth.  But in heaven, I will be bowled over by how they are met.
  • If I have been bought (redeemed) and forgiven by God because of Jesus’ work on my behalf, then I have a new full-time and life-long calling.  I am a soldier AND ambassador in the Lord’s army.  My orientation must change.  It is no longer Maria’s life and Maria’s agenda and Maria’s desires.  I am a servant.
  • I am to put on HIS clothes and armor each day before going out to share the terms of peace with the remaining rebels who haven’t heard the news about the Conquering King.
  • I wear my wedding invitation to the divine, heavenly banquet.  When Maria died and was reborn by the Holy Spirit, her admittance to the Eternal Party was woven and sewn into her new self.  The blood-written letters lovingly spell out what awaits me.  One day I will be ushered into the presence of the Lamb and the Father.  It is THEN that I can relax.
  • In the meantime, like Jesus demonstrated 2000 years ago, my expectation should be to strip my cumbersome robe of Maria’s agenda, wrap a towel around my waist and wash the feet of those in my path.

Reading and personalizing an Andrew Murray quote on acquiescing to God’s sovereignly-sent trials has helped me.  I summarize what he wrote with 4 prepositions –   By, In, Under, For.

These troubled waters (picture roily seas like the kind Peter walked on) have been sent to me

  • BY GOD’S DIVINE APPOINTMENT
  • IN HIS KEEPING
  • UNDER HIS TRAINING
  • FOR MY GOOD, FOR THE LENGTH OF TIME HE SEES FIT

And what are troubled waters? –  Any circumstance that I don’t like, such as

– problems and disappointments

– delays and frustrations

– trouble and disaster

– sickness and death

– even evil

In short – unmet expectations.

Yet, I act and feel surprised when calm waters evaporate. I shouldn’t.  After all, didn’t Jesus affirm that we would have troubles in this life?  Why do I work so hard to avoid what is inevitable in a fallen world?

As bleak as the above might seem, we can take hope.  These trials are NOT a cosmic ‘whoops’.   God IS in charge.  The Fall is not a surprise.  He has ordained it and is using it for His purposes – His Good purposes.  We can trust Him.

So like Peter, to the extent that we keep our eyes and thoughts fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and trust Him to walk with us through the Valley and through rough waters, we will grow in experiencing His true peace.  NOT the peace that depends on circumstances.

PS:  If our desires won’t be satisfied until the next life, shouldn’t we be coaching our kids how to delay gratification?     

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