What do you talk most about?

27 Aug

I was thinking about my tendency to ‘evangelize’ or proclaim the merits of my latest interest, usually about nutrition. I’m growing aware of the possibility idolatry. My latest ‘passion’ is all things Keto.

While reading God’s word recently, He ‘pinged my conscious’ with this thought:

  • Maria, are you more interested in talking up a Keto way of life than in talking about me?

THAT got my attention.  “YES!”, I had to admit.  I do tend to follow a pattern of doing just that.  (Last winter and spring I was on a Vegan campaign!  Yes, go ahead and laugh!)

Joking aside, here’s the sober truth:

Our God speaks. He is alive.  He really exists. And his speech created something out of nothing and continues to create ALL things, just by the power of his word.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed by God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Genesis 1:1-4 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.

Hebrews 1:3 (Jesus) He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

From just these 4 snapshots of God’s speech, the Bible confronts humanity with the FACT that words matter.  That words have power. How do we actually KNOW this?

We have God’s written words.  Our Creator has endowed mankind with the ability to speak, to write and to read.

Weighty implications follow. Consider this:

  • If God spoke the universe into existence,
  • If we are made in the image of the Creator God as written in Gen 1:26 (Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.)
  • Then our words contain creative power.

Of course, we are mere reflectors of some of the grandeur of our God.  But the Bible DOES say we share some attributes of God and one day will we be MORE like God.

So, my question to myself is this.  “Maria, do you speak most about……”:

  • Maria?  what you are doing, thinking, experiencing, suffering.
  • politics?
  • your latest passion?

“Or do you talk MOSTLY about God?”

If I take 5 seconds and think rationally, I have to conclude that most of what I talk about to others is what Solomon called, “meaningless.”

Why meaningless?  because my ‘stuff’ and circumstances as well as the world’s temporal circumstances are ephemeral.  Only God endures forever.  Only God matters.  And only God satisfies.

The people I talk to each day at school, at church, at the grocery store, even at home with my husband…they are all hungry for something to hold on to.  I AM, TOO!  My Keto experience will vanish like a vapor.  The world’s leaders as well.  And my suffering. And these momentary afflictions are only significant in that they are planned by God as his ‘Individual Holiness Plan’ FOR me, to make me more like Jesus.

Look at how Jesus viewed the words from His Father:

John 17:8 For I have given them (his disciples) the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

May we all watch over our words, by God’s grace, and speak what matters most and gives LIFE, the truth that Jesus came from the Father. For us!

 

Am I a good thinker?

11 Aug

Logical minds are those that operate clearly and rationally.

So, it pays to check, from time to time, the state of our minds.  Are we thinking rationally?  Are our premises true?

Examining my notions and beliefs has preoccupied my thinking this summer!

My conclusions about thinking fall into 2 sections:  How God is cultivating my thought life and worldly truisms that contain wisdom and help in pruning one’s beliefs.  First, the Master Gardener’s work:

Through a series of trials, God has pressed on me the need to abandon worry…..completely!  In a post on my other blog site, I wrote about pulling my thoughts back (numerous times in a day) from the constant pattern of worrying or daydreaming what-if situations.

The night after writing my post, I fell into a different kind of thinking – the quicksand variety that pulls one down into an endless do-loop.  Not ACTUAL thinking but ‘stewing‘!  It all started after that wee-hours routine stumble into the darkened bathroom.  Back in bed, I simply stayed awake and segued into pondering several situations.  Not problems, not trials, just specific issues like:

  • teacher workdays starting very soon and the need to plan lessons
  • researching more portable hiking snacks that fit our Keto lifestyle
  • the need to prioritize and streamline activities during my non-school hours

I couldn’t fall back to sleep.

Can you relate?

When I finally arose and headed downstairs, coffee in hand, for my time with God and His Word, I was saying to myself, “Maria, you are such a mess!  Look at what you wrote in your blog yesterday and look at you now!”  I flipped open my Bible to the section in Philippians where Paul addresses worry:

Philippians 4:4-8 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Square in the head, it hit me.  The problem with ‘stewing’.  It has no purpose, it has no endpoint.  It can go ON and ON!  Most importantly, it doesn’t fit the definition of a REQUEST to be handed over to God.

So, what is the solution?  A grid to sift my thoughts, a form of triage or consideration whereby I evaluate thoughts, draw distinctions and dispose of them:

  • I already have a category set up called:  Sinful worry or meditations on what-ifs, positive and fearful.  Solution?  Stop it and repent!
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 1:  can this concern be formulated into a succinct prayer request to hand over to God to take care of?  Yes? – cast it on Him.
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 2:  what remains from that which canNOT be reworded into a prayer?  If anything, then just stop the thoughts. How?  By God’s power for those who are worshippers of Jesus. AND by substituting new thoughts.  Per Paul’s formula, as follows.
  • Alternative meditative topics for the middle of the night: Think about what is praiseworthy and beautiful and true.  And what is the noblest of subjects, if not Jesus and His death and life for us?

Second, from the category of sources other than the Bible, I have heard two new messages.  Each has caused me to question the accuracy of my mind and my brain:

  1. What I think about me might not be true!

My pattern up to now has been to accept this: I AM my thoughts.

I take for granted that what I believe is true.   Okay, maybe not about political issues or even some difficult cultural controversies.  But when it comes to what I take as TRUTH about me, I rarely doubt those conclusions. What I think about me IS me. What I think about me IS true, for who knows me better than me?

I began to doubt my mind’s ability to be accurate about Maria when I heard a gal on a podcast say we are to verify or authenticate the content of our self-talk:

  • How do I know that ‘I can’t change X about me because I’ve always done ‘it’ that way?  What are my reasons? Where is my evidence?

That startled me because I had never applied Logic to what I believed about me, who I am.  The next day, a surprise guest, a ‘motto’, came to lodge in my mind: Be Flexible. I am NOW practicing doubting and questioning my thinking about me.

The other message that has challenged me positively and been a REAL help is this (again from a podcast):

2. The brain seeks ‘pleasant’. 

I see evidence for this EVERY morning. When my alarm sounds, I GROAN inwardly because my routine is to exercise first thing. BEFORE coffee and Bible.  I have battled conflicting desires for years.  But now I know – that’s not me who paints an unpleasant scenario blocking my morning pleasure.  It’s my brain. That bodily organ whose goal is to organize fight or flight to avoid PAIN.

Obviously, but falsely, my brain views 15 minutes of weights plus 15 minutes of yoga as PAIN.  However, with my mind, I can remind my brain of our reasons why health takes precedence over ‘pleasant’ right now. Thank you very much, Ms. Brain, but Maria’s mind is running things, now.

So…..these new thoughts about nighttime churning and limiting beliefs are the fruit of reading, listening, meditating and openness to new ideas.

To sum up, consider how God reveals truth about Himself through the prophet Jeremiah in 11:20 But, O LORD of Hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and mind….

Since we are made in God’s image, shouldn’t we as well test our heart and mind to know if what we are thinking is true, good and helpful?

 

 

 

The logic of change

20 Jul

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature.... Romans 1:20 (NLT)

During the summer I like to arise at 5:30.  After feeding the cats, scooping poop and making some salty hot water infused with lemon juice, I head out on an early morning walk in our Smoky Mountain cove, the cup of water in hand.  The birds herald the new morning and the occasional distant cockle-doodle-doo of roosters comforts me, a souvenir from living in the Cotswolds as a young adult.

This morning, already past mid-July, I notice the sky is still dark.  I can’t see my zucchini plant well enough to spot any growing squash.  Why just a month ago, on the Summer Solstice, we pointed out to each other the most easterly spot along our mountain ridge where the sun was setting.  Now four weeks later, the sunsets mark a new direction, toward mid-winter, on the other end of the distant ridge.

Conclusion?  Nothing in nature stays static.  I know this, but I feel surprised.

The larger meaning relates to God.  If the natural world which He formed is not immobile, then neither is He static. Yes, His character and nature are unchangeable.  His qualities and attributes remain 100 % pure.  But He is always at work, on the move, carrying out His eternal purposes planned long ago before the ‘Let there be’s’.

I boldly cheer my heart.  “Maria, don’t fret.  That impossible situation that looks immovable.  It’s not.  God IS on the move, as CS Lewis penned about Aslan.”

My thoughts turn toward seeing this as a logical syllogism, reassuring me:

Premise 1 – All of God’s creation, visible and invisible, is constantly changing.

Premise 2 – This particular situation with a loved one is part of God’s creation.

Conclusion – Change, visible and invisible, is happening in this need.

And besides praying and trusting and watching for God to work, I don’t have to DO anything.   The Bible gives me plenty of assurance that this is how our God acts.

King Jehosophat (870-849 BC) prayed for change in circumstances threatening the extinction of his kingdom.

2 Chronicles 20:12 For we are powerless ….We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

And God answered his plea as recorded in verses 15-17:

 And he (an inspired prophet) said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel.  You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

And God DID act, to wipe out the enemy.  In the face of certain disaster.

 

 

 

 

What to do with your mind

6 Jul

I never understood, until now, how important the mind is in the Christian life.  Yes, I know, that sounds STUPID.  But have you ever read any of John Owen’s books?  I’m on book 2 in an Owen trilogy, this one named, The Power and Efficacy of Indwelling Sin.

John Owen book cover

Owen’s main point is that our minds, once we are believers, have the crucial role of guarding our souls.  That is their job. They stand sentinel, keeping watch over potential influencers.  The battle against temptation and sin starts in the arena of the mind.  If Satan can deceive our minds into thinking OTHERWISE about reality, then he can get the mind to draw a false (and dangerous) conclusion.

And here is the scary thought.  Whatever the mind believes and settles on, the soul (our will plus our affections) follow.  The battle is in the mind.  I should know this, having read Joyce Meyer’s book years ago.   Joyce Meyer

Given the life and death nature of our mind’s assignment, to keep out lies and deceit that lead to sin, training in logic and clear thinking is crucial!

Here are some thoughts gleaned from Owen’s book (quote marks to indicate taken from his writing verbatim) that have sobered me into thinking about thinking:

  • Our minds can only default to one reality – earthly or heavenly.
  • Where the mind goes, what we set our minds on, the entire soul (our will + our affections) will follow automatically.  The mind opens the gate and the soul rushes in.
  • We CAN retrain our minds to default to things above (for we have the Spirit of God permanently ingrafted in us.) The FACT in 2 Tim 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. – Holman Christian Standard Bible) reminds us of God’s gift.
  • “The principal care and charge of the soul lies on the mind.”

By the way, and this nugget was WAY helpful to me, John Owen explains that ‘spirit’ is often used interchangeably with ‘mind or thoughts’  For example, Paul refers to God, “…whom I serve with my spirit.”  Romans 1:9, meaning he serves God with his mind.  How cool is that!  We are to walk with God, fueled and motivated by means of our thoughts, our mind!!!!

With that idea of how to understand the human spirit, look at this Pauline prayer:  I pray that God, who gives peace, will make you completely holy. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept healthy and faultless until our Lord Jesus Christ returns.  1 Thess 5:23  (Contemporary English Version)

Here is an example of how the mind can easily fail to do its appointed duty.   Owen explains that our minds can be so deceived by the ‘law of sin’ or Satan’s influence, that we can reason falsely and arrive at a conclusion that does not correspond to reality.  He writes: The deceived mind imposes on the will to obtain its consent unto sin by proposing unto it the advantages that may accrue and arise thereby.  It renders that which is absolutely evil a present appearing good. (page 338).

Owen uses Eve as an example.  Her mind did not hold fast to God’s law, nor to the consequences of disobeying Him. She stopped contemplating/thinking about the sweetness of fellowship with her Creator and how good He was.  Instead, she shifted her mind to consider the benefits of such pretty, delicious and ‘beneficial’ (per that serpent) fruit.

Why did she start contemplating this dangerous tree?  Because she shifted her thoughts from God’s truth to the statements coming out of the serpent’s mouth.  And she concluded they were more true.  And once her mind shifted its weight to this dangerous reasoning that she would benefit MORE from eating the forbidden fruit, her will and affections followed with nary a peep.  Imagine her thinking looking like this:

Thought 1: This fruit does look attractive, tasty and full of good consequences

Thought 2: This garden creature assures me that no harm will come to me, unlike what God has said.

Thought 3:  These potential benefits outweight what I can get from God.

By turning her back on God’s truth and listening to another source, Eve opened the door for her will and affections to side with her mind and almost ‘compel’ her to disobey God.

So what are we to do to strengthen our mind, since so much rides on it?  Much.  But that’s another post.  So I’ll leave you with this starting point.  Observe your thoughts.  And evaluate them through the grid of God’s Word.  Are most about God or about circumstances? Do you tend to say, “I feel that….” rather than “I think that…”?  That might be a clue that your mind is flabby.

And what would I advise if you wake up a weak state of mind?  Read a good book, one that makes you think. Read with pen and paper in hand.  That will slow you down.  The good news is we CAN retrain our minds.  With God’s help.

 

 

No time for Bible study? One-verse Logic

24 Jun

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 (ESV)

Recently I spent a few days with one of our sons and his family.  Anne, my ‘daughter-in-love’, is a busy mom with 3 small children.  She takes care of the home, prepares good meals, daily maintains fitness, nurtures and is encouraged by girlfriends, listens to and loves her husband well.

In other words, her plate is full.  And it’s hard, very hard, to find a patch of time to study God’s Word and pray.  She is frustrated because she knows she NEEDS this food from God.

What I am offering here is a way to be sustained by God’s Word no matter how few or many minutes you can allot to meditating on God’s deeds, instructions and promises.

I love pondering ‘mere’ phrases of the Bible.  I have been well trained through years of listening to John Piper as he works through Bible passages one word, phrase, and passage at a time. The truth is (and Satan doesn’t want you to know this) that it can be enough to spend time with just one verse, pondering the individual words and then the verse as a whole.

I find it all-too-often tempting to read right through familiar texts like the line from Psalm 23 quoted above, without slowing down to digest any part of it.  That’s because we might be operating under a false presupposition:

  • More Bible read or covered produces more knowledge of God

Worded a bit differently:

  • Larger quantity = greater Knowledge

Not necessarily so.  God’s Word is to be tasted, chewed, swallowed and savored – slowly.  Over and over again. Let me show you what I mean:

Since any good logical Joe or Jane starts with terms, that is, the words that represent a concept, I’m going to narrow my focus and share some thoughts as I move slowly through the first half of this one verse, Psalm 23:5.

You prepare a table:

  • This is present tense. You ARE PREPARING.  Right now. In my current circumstances. Implications?  God cares for me this moment.  He is aware of what I need.  I can’t prepare my own table.  He has access to provisions that I don’t, for He creates ALL. The preparation is not yet complete, but He is working on it.
  • It’s a table, not a snack.  A table implies multiple dishes.  Time to savor a meal. Table fellowship.  No eating on the run.  Not fast food.  I’ll be able to sit down at a table and not have to stand up.  There’s the element of rest.

In the presence of my enemies:

  • I have enemies.  God knows what I am facing.  He is a realist.  And He is able and willing and committed to taking care of me, especially when besieged by enemies.  Not just one enemy, but multiple.
  • In their presence.  These enemies see the table prep going on.  They are aware of my God and His loving care for my physical and emotional needs.

And that’s just half the verse and my thoughts THIS day!  Because the Holy Spirit makes God’s Word alive to believers, by faith, I assume that He knows what I will need tomorrow. And what I see tomorrow might be different.  I find that exciting and motivating enough to want to feed on God’s Word every day.

When I ponder a verse like this, I like to do it out loud and narrate it back to God, measure by measure, as I go down into it.  Always in the context of thanksgiving and praise to Him.  I might say:

Oh, thank you, Father, that you are RIGHT NOW preparing what I need in the midst of this situation where I feel knocked about, threatened and scared.  You are going to feed me and strengthen me.  I don’t have to feed myself.  What a good Father you are!

So, if you don’t have much time to spend a quiet hour with your Bible because of the day or the season of life, don’t go extreme and settle for a starvation diet.  That just makes you vulnerable to Christians’ very powerful enemy, Satan.  He is on the prowl for busy Christians too distracted to nourish their souls with God’s Word.

Take ONE verse for the day and chew on it throughout the hours.  Better than a breath mint, a candy bar or a Starbucks coffee, it’ll keep your lips releasing a sweet odor, pleasing to the Lord and totally off-putting to that wicked roaring lion.

 

 

 

Abortion in Ireland – masking truth with acronyms

27 May

Ireland prefers unrestricted abortion, at least according to 2/3 of those who voted last Friday.  Currently, unless a mom’s life is in danger, abortion in this Catholic country is illegal.  Now, subsequent to this recent referendum, the legislature will put together a bill allowing for unfettered access to legal abortion in the first twelve weeks of gestation.

I listen to two daily news programs by podcast.  One of them is in French, broadcast by Radio France Internationale. So this morning, as I was catching up on last night’s summary of the previous day’s events,  I marveled over the deliberate French obfuscation of the act of ‘avortement‘ or abortion.  Their popular substitute for that guilt-producing word is the acronym IVG – ‘interruption volontaire de grossesse’, which stands for ‘voluntary interruption of pregnancy’.

The newsman explained to us worldwide learners of French (yes, this podcast broadcast is designed for French learners) that these 3 letters, I-V-G, were neutral and carried no moral value or stigma. Apparently the original and still used word ‘avortement’ does evoke a judgment.

Why would it be necessary to create a neutral way of communicating the act of killing one’s unborn child?  Because everyone knows it is WRONG!  Scott Klusendorf of Life Training Institute defines abortion this way: the intentional killing of an innocent human fetus.

But doesn’t that pointed description just load guilt onto a mom?  Does a woman who already feels bad because she doesn’t want to go through with her pregnancy need this added burden?

First of all, calling abortion a deliberate death sentence for an innocent life DOES pre-indict a mom if she goes through with the act.  But the goal is NOT to make her FEEL bad, but so that she can wake up to the impending DISASTER, take a breath, step back from the temptation to do this evil that she will most likely come to regret and seek out another solution to her crisis.  If she already feels bad about this unwanted pregnancy, is it reasonable she will feel LESS bad for having allowed her baby to be killed?  Repentance, or telling the truth about a WRONG DEED is a gift!  And there ARE other healthy, God-honoring, life-preserving, ultimately GOOD ways to handle this trauma.  Will it cost her?  Yes!  But abortion will cost her, too.  And that act will harm her and the baby in permanent ways.

My dear logical friends, terms matter! And they impact our standing before the one, true and Living God. Yes, we can repent and God will forgive us.  But we can’t confess our guilt if we don’t think we are guilty!  And others won’t be able to SEE the danger of sin if we don’t call it what it is, ‘evil’!

Isaiah 5:20  Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

The men and women in the French medical field who have institutionalized and banalized (made ordinary) this appellation, one free of moral judgment, bear more guilt before God.

But what about us? What responsibility do Christians exercise, especially those like you and me who take our spoken and written words seriously?  Dear God, may we exercise GREAT care, to be honest!  Why?  Here’s why:

  • If God, who is Truth, spoke the universe into existence through words (in fact, THE Word who is Jesus)
  • If we are made in God’s image
  • If we have the ability to use language
  • Then we, who bear God’s image, should truthfully use our words to communicate ideas and information.

So let us commit to thinking clearly, with integrity before we speak or write.  Life and death can depend on how we communicate.

By the way, here’s another interesting tidbit about how the French view words.  In English, one can always look up synonyms to express an idea differently. In fact, I often do when writing blog posts, in order to write more freshly.   Apparently, the French do not substitute synonyms as freely as we do.  For to them, EACH synonym means something just a shade different and one should use language with precision.  No casual thought-less substitutions will do!

Not a bad principle.  Just wish some of them would apply that standard to their acronyms!

When do I keep my mouth shut? – Flawed reasoning confronted me.

6 May

Knowledge is important.  And so is wisdom.

I recognized and used both in one conversation last week: knowledge about a hole in someone’s thinking AND sense or wisdom to keep my mouth shut.

I was with some teacher colleagues on an overnight trip with our 6th-grade class.  It was dinnertime.  We sat together, enjoying some adult conversation while the kids jabbered away contentedly over their pasta and meatballs.

I joined the table with my tray as a fellow teacher,  a dad with a soon to be high school graduate, reasoned that he was going to have to offer his younger child, a daughter, the same arrangement he had with this son.  I interrupted the explanation, asking to be brought up to speed on the conversation.

What I learned should not have surprised me, but it did.  Apparently, this father and his wife allow and even have encouraged their son and his girlfriend to sleep together IN their home, in the boy’s bedroom.  Their rationale?  ‘They are going to do it anyway, so we would rather have them ‘do it’ in our home.

The other teachers at the table, all with children of various ages from college-aged down to 5, seemed to agree.

I immediately spotted the flaw in this man’s reasoning.  I WANTED to pose this hypothetical:

  • So, if your son wanted to use opioids, you would furnish them yourself because he is going to take them into his body anyway

That was only the FIRST scenario that came to mind.  I truly was astonished by this man’s blatant lack of chagrin or shame in sharing this information with us. What an open rationale for just about anything an 18-year old boy might find fun or stimulating to do!

HAD I presented that hypothetical scenario about drug use, I would have been using an argumentative tactic called Reductio ad absurdum.

Here’s the rub:  I wasn’t involved in an argument with someone.  I simply was party to a conversation.  No one asked my opinion.  Therefore, as I continued eating, listening and contemplating this example of poor parenting (to say the least), I made the decision to keep my reasoning to myself.

The writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1 wisely penned: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Guided by wisdom, I believe, I kept silent.  Not only was I not invited to weigh in with my views, I recognized that none of these colleagues shared my Biblical worldview.  None are believers, held captive to God’s truth by His Holy Spirit.

But I did rejoice that I have grown skilled as a Logical Jane to spot so quickly the lack of healthy reasoning.

I hope someone asks me what I think about a similar topic. Soon!  May I, by God’s grace, be prepared to give a reason for what I believe.