Tuesday, July 19, 2016

RESTRAINING ORDERS


You might never suspect it of me, but curbing my emotional impulsiveness is something with which I've struggled most of my life. 

I'm quite good at "jumping to conclusions" so I continue to need wait training. It has nothing to do with the pumping iron kind of weight training. Or calorie counting for weight control.

Believe it or not, I tend too easily and quickly to vent my feelings. In this advanced season of my life that habit seems to be well-ingrained. I assume that my matriarchal status gives me a right to be outspoken and to give advice even when it may not be welcome or called for. I admit to times when I want to complain to someone about what that person did that didn’t please me or neglected to do something I expected. I could try to whitewash it and call it righteous indignation. Nevertheless, being too quick to speak is still a negative character trait.

Since I wrongly take for granted that I'm usually right, I'm inclined to make it known. By nature, however, I’m not really a confrontational person, especially not face to face. As a writer, I’d much rather send off a letter. That gives me a chance to craft my complaint, state my case logically and carefully point by point as if I were in a court of law. Snail mail is far too slow these days. With the ease of email I can spout off instantly while I'm still hot under the collar.

Oh, the trouble I’ve gotten into and the embarrassment I’ve suffered time and again by impulsively sending off a missive which in the end turns out to be a deadly missile when it reaches its destination! The dictionary tells me that a missile is “an object or weapon that is thrown, shot, or otherwise propelled to a target.” A message I quickly send off in the heat of my emotions, especially with a backdrop of perception before I have all the facts, can be more lethal than a hand grenade. It has the potential to mortally wound a friendship or a relationship. It isn't a guided missile since I had not waited patiently to be guided by the Lord before I sent it.

God has had me in wait training most of my life in respect to my venting-and-sending written words too soon or speaking words prematurely. The latter are even more damaging since they were spontaneous and I can't retract them. In Proverbs I read, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” And “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken [by inference, written] in right circumstances.” In the book of James the writer warns, “The tongue is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men…from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.”

I'm not advocating holding in my emotions; totally suppressing them has pressure-cooker dangers. In the Psalms, David gave us a preemptive example to follow: “I will pour out my complaint before God; I declare my trouble before Him.” Ah, now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. Vent is a good four letter word, but wait is its healthy counterpart.

Through long years of experience in making mistakes in this area of speaking or writing something hastily or rashly, I’ve found what works for me. However, sometimes I still come dangerously close to transgressing again. An occasion arose when I was really miffed. I felt that I had every right to complain to someone about an unfair situation that involved my feelings. I sat down at my sometimes overly user-friendly computer, and set about venting my feelings through my fingers on the keyboard with the full intention of sending off the email immediately to the person involved. I rapidly wrote two steamy pages. I spell-checked, outlined my points, underlined, cap-lettered for emphasis, and edited it several times until I was satisfied I had spoken my piece eloquently and presented my case flawlessly. Let the chips fall where they may—the person deserved every sentence.

I sat back and blew out my breath. Well, here it goes! But somehow I was held back from clicking Send. An unseen but clearly felt hand seemed to restrain me. Perhaps it was my Guardian Angel. (He is probably exhausted and frustrated with his incredibly long and arduous life assignment of bringing me to my senses.)

“Wait!” There was no mistaking the impression. “Be patient. Click Save instead.” Okay, I guess I could send it out after lunch. “That’s not all—pray for her. And pour out your complaint before God.”

Reluctantly I obeyed. I actually waited one day, two days. The emotional fire in my furnace cooled.

On the third day my target person surprised me by emailing me. With caring and warmth she laid out an entirely different scenario for the situation between us that had precipitated my boiler eruption. I had misunderstood, jumped to conclusions, and read between the lines when there was nothing there to read! Because of my impulsiveness, I could have lost a relationship that was precious and holy!

Venting is necessary to relieve my emotional pressure; holding in my feelings isn't healthy. Writing down my feelings is a good outlet, an escape valve, as long as I don’t send the missive immediately. Complaining is permitted, if I do it to God alone. Waiting a while is always wise.

O Lord, please don’t give up on me. Keep me in your wait training class for as long as I need it. And reward my Guardian Angel with an extra slice of ANGEL Food cake for his coffee break at a “celestial STARbucks.” Time and again he has restrained me from doing or saying some things that could have been more serious than egg on my face.


WONDER BREAD

I’ve heard several versions of this story. The location details  vary, but the point of the true story is always consistent. 

During the bombing of London in World War II, many young children were temporarily sent off to the English countryside to live in safety with rural families until the danger of aerial attacks on the cities would pass. They had experienced "the terror by night" of Psalm 91:5.

Everyone was living in austerity and food supply was rationed. The children were fretful, nervous, and distraught by separation from their parents and families. Their sleep was filled with nightmares. Although they were provided with food during the daylight hours, at night they seemed fearful that there might not be anything for them to eat in the morning.

Their surrogate caring families finally found a loving way to alleviate their anxiety. Although they had eaten dinner, and their tummies were full, at bedtime their hosts gave each child a substantial hunk of bread to hold in his hands through the night. Thus the young ones were assured that they would have something in the morning. If they awakened during the night, the assurance of being able to touch and taste and smell the bread gave them the comfort they needed. It was a "pacifier" to bring them peace through the dark night.

I tried to build on that analogy in my life. Upon going to bed, I deliberately “hold” a piece of spiritual Bread in my heart and mind in order to “eat” it during the night if I awaken and to comfort and assure me that I will be kept safely through the night with the provision of our Heavenly Father. It becomes my "spiritual pacifier."
 
That "piece of Bread" might be a phrase from a Bible verse I select from my nightly Scripture readings. Or even one word that has some spiritual impact for me. Or a phrase from a hymn or a few words from a prayer. Something to sink my spiritual teeth in, to chew on by repeating over and over with my lips or in my mind in silent contemplation--some portion of fresh bread to hold on to through the night. A bedtime snack, as it were. 

David the Psalmist-King repeatedly mentioned how during the day and then all through the night he meditated on his bed about God and His goodness. "I will bless the Lord who has counseled me, indeed, my mind instructs me in the night, I have set the Lord continually before me...my flesh also will dwell securely" (Psalm 16:7-9).

What I think about just prior to drifting off to sleep is incredibly critical. It becomes part of my subconscious and even affects my dreams. Unfortunately, my lifelong habit has been to read myself toward drowsiness, sometimes with light fiction so as not to tax my brain too heavily and prevent the onset of deep, quality sleep. I confess that I’ve too often read far into the night, even beyond midnight, enticed by a dramatic novel. I’ve tried to break that habit and make my last thoughts before bedtime the kind that focus on God, my Provider and Sustainer, and His words, which make for a much more peaceful night.

As Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” so I ask our Heavenly Father to guide me in choosing just the right piece of nightly bread before bedtime each night to sustain me. Jesus declared Himself the Bread of Life. With my mind anchored upon Him and His Word, such nourishment truly becomes “Wonder Bread.”

Monday, July 18, 2016

Living Through the “Not Yet”


Sometimes I feel as if I'm waiting for God to act and He seems to be doing nothing. I've heard it said, “When you are down to nothing, God is up to something.” But I'm frustrated in a “waiting room” stance. 

I want my answer yesterday. I'm stuck in the cement of my time zone. I want to hurry although God's divine four letter word seems too often to be “wait.” I might suspect that Satan is trying to hinder me, and sometimes he is, but not always. He can't stop what God has ordained for my life.

It's hard to live in God's “not yet,” although I know that is one way He answers prayer besides a yes or a no. I fret while I'm in the hall waiting for doors to open into rooms of His favor. Am I able to trust God and praise Him while waiting? Able or not, God allows me at times to linger in this transition gap of “not yet” even if it stretches out for a prolonged time. To our Eternal God it is only a moment.

I know that God really is active in my now, although I don't observe it with my senses. It may not be His “due season” yet, nor His “fullness of time.” I may complain that it is painful and difficult to hang suspended in the “not yet.” Nevertheless, how I respond and handle myself during that period is critical.
I might not be ready for His blessing. God might need to work on me to prepare me to receive what He has in store for me. God may be setting up the circumstances that have to be in place before the time is ripe to bring me into the season of His favor. I can't shorten the waiting period, but I can lengthen it by lack of trust in Him and being rebellious in my waiting period. It will only last as long as He has planned.

I must be careful not to run ahead during my “not yet” time and do my own thing instead of waiting for God to act. Biblical examples are many, and we are shown the consequences and catastrophes of forging ahead without His certain orders. Think of Abraham barging ahead and fathering Ishmael without waiting for Sarah to conceive the promised Isaac. 

Those of us in our senior years who are climbing toward the pinnacle of our summit of life tend to be especially impatient. We are aware that our earth-time is short and there is no time to waste. We are inclined to be restless and impulsively take action without waiting for God because He appears to be dragging His feet. Do we forget that He has the eternal perspective and sees the due time already? There can be no “not yet” with Him.

The Lord wants me to wrap up my faith and trust in Him with expectation and watch for His moving hand, expect the unexpected, and the “exceeding above what we can ask or think.” My waiting room is also my examining room. I must examine myself to be sure I'm doing obediently all that He has already told me to do. Am I up-to-date in my relationship with Him? I'm not simply marking time. I must restfully accept this “not yet” transition period as a gift from Him, an opportunity to enjoy my present season of circumstances which He planned for my good and for His glory.

Dr. Andrew Murray, a “Protestant saint” well-known to many Christians over several generations, a missionary statesman and prolific author of what are called deeper spiritual life teachings on the interior life, wrote: “In times of uncertainty, doubt, or in a waiting period, say, 'I am here by God's appointment, in His keeping, under His training, and for His time.'”

It is pointless to spend my “not yet” time fretting, sweating, stewing, biting my nails, running ahead, or wearing a spot on the carpet with impatient pacing. If I think that nothing is happening, I must remember that “nothing is impossible with God.”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

EXCHANGING PRESENTS




We do it every morning. God and I keep exchanging PRESENTS! 

I “PRESENT my body as a living sacrifice to God” as the Apostle Paul specifically pleaded with us in Romans 12:1. He calls it “my reasonable service of worship.” Certainly this is reasonable. God already gave me a heap of PRESENTS: God created me, breathed life into me, sustained me for 91 years and counting, and planned from before the foundation of the world the good works which I should be doing (Ephesians 1:4 and 2:10).

Next it's my turn: I PRESENT myself entirely and in detail to God. “Here I am, Lord, I'm here to do Your will, to carry out those works I'm supposed to be doing that will be to the praise of Your glory” (Ephesians 1:12, 14).

God is the abundant Blesser, the Ultimate Giver of Gifts, PRESENTS, (Ephesians 4:7,8) always going overboard in His generosity. (1 Corinthians chapters 12-14) He is the Enabler, giving me an armload of Gifts of the Spirit to assist me in doing His will including the wisdom and strength for their accomplishment. He knows my human frame and takes in consideration the season of my life and my changing, sometimes diminishing opportunities and adjusts His expectations and PRESENTS accordingly. (1 Corinthians 7:7b) In each of my calendar seasons He gives me new challenges and possibilities.

Each PRESENT He gives me is fashioned exactly to my need as I cooperate with Him to build up the Church, the Body of Christ. (Romans 12:6-8). He doesn't intend that I should hug his PRESENTS to myself. “As each one has received a special gift (PRESENT), employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).

And if I live and work for Him while growing the spiritual Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians chapter 5) and there is fruit that results from my service, I have great joy in giving back to Him as a PRESENT a basket full of spiritual fruit for the praise of the glory of His grace. 


This exchange of PRESENTS is so exciting day by day because my circumstances and opportunities are new every morning!


Here's how it goes: I use the PRESENTS God gives me to serve others in the Body of Christ--He intends for me to give them away. But there is one PRESENT He wants me to keep--HIS PRESENCE never leaves me. "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age....I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Matthew 28:20).


To top it off, God gives me the PRESENT of THIS PRESENT MOMENT to do His will today!

HIS PRESENT AND MINE

God is in my now
this moment is His
and His this day
so I must turn
from yesterday
and not expect
to live in retrospect
looking over my shoulder
to see either ghosts
of days gone by
or dwell
on pleasant memories.

God is in my now
so all of daily life
is holy ground
each duty crowned
as a royal moment
by the PRESENCE of The King.

My burning bush
is my PRESENT state
where God speaks to me
in the PRESENT tense
declaring “I AM.”
Because He lives
I celebrate now!
On this holy thought
I meditate
and find my joy
TODAY!

--Leona Choy




Wednesday, July 13, 2016

WISDOM FROM MY KITCHEN TIMER

My chiropractor set me up: “Sitting too long at the computer stresses your back and legs and irritates all the nerves connected with them.”

I already know that. But I’m a writer. When I become immersed in the creative process of words and thoughts, I ignore time. Before I realize it, hours have slipped by. And yes, my body shouts about it. It hurts!

“Set your kitchen timer and get up and move every hour. The you can return to your writing renewed,” he advised.

“Okay, I’ll give it a try.” It took awhile to establish that good habit because often I continued to ignore the irritating jangle-buzz of the timer that startled me and I kept right on writing. I'm learning, but I haven’t totally succeeded yet. Eventually I do head for the door with my sunglasses and cell phone, the latter at the insistence of my sons who always warn me about falling and breaking a hip!

It really isn't a forced march; it's an escape from my own chosen confinement. When summertime elbows spring aside, I give in to the siren call of the warm, affectionate sun kissing my cheek, the gentle breeze ruffling my hair, the intoxicating fragrance first of honeysuckle, then the scent of sprouting pine, then peonies, then lilacs, then roses—overwhelming my senses. 

Lord, I notice! I notice and appreciate Your seasonal cycle established from the beginning of creation and continuing to nurture me in my vintage season of life.

As a teenager I had to memorize the poem by James Russell Lowell, “What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days. Then heaven tries earth if it be in tune and over it softly her warm ear lays....” What a sensory expression! The words moved me in my youth, and I can embrace and encore the feeling even now as a great-grandmother. 
 
As a child I soaked myself deliciously in the release and relief of summer vacation from school. Those were lazy, hazy, days when I enjoyed doing nothing and going nowhere special. I understood the true meaning of leisure. Bored was not in my vocabulary. With neighborhood kids I always found more than enough to occupy each day. In that long ago era, we even hiked in the woods and brought along sandwiches and a bottle of pop for an impromptu picnic by a bubbling stream. It was parent-permitted and considered safe. We brought home tadpoles in the empty pop bottle filled with pond water to monitor the progress of the frog cycle. At night there were lightning bugs to catch on the lawn and capture into jars while grownups gathered on porches with neighbors for small talk and to cool off in a captured breeze. 
 
I can experience that feeling again in bite-size pieces when my kitchen timer goes off. I wear a pedometer and in a measured mile I can condense some of the sensory delights of my childhood. I am still alive and my Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Provider, Sustainer, who holds my breath in His hands, is within me, beside me, going before me, drawing me ever closer to Himself. Moreover, He has my back. 
 
THERE GOES THE BUZZER! It's my signal to get up and go. Won't you come walk with me? After the rarity of June comes the sweltering heat of high July and with it even more of God's creation variety to revel in as summer morphs into amazing autumn with its splendid splashes of colors and the thoughts of first flakes of snow not far behind. Always more for which to bless God!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

HEARING VOICES


“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying...(Isaiah 5:9). Oh, I wish I could hear God's voice as clearly as they seemed to in Old Testament days. Was it actually audible? Scripture doesn't tell us. How did they know it was His voice? There are so many other voices bombarding me so that it sounds like static in the ears of my heart.

Yet Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27) Earlier in the chapter He said “they know His voice” and that other sheep which are not of this fold will also hear His voice when He brings them into the fold. Jesus uses the comparison of sheep for His followers.

I've heard that by sheep herding custom several shepherds bring their flocks into a common shelter, a sheep fold, for protection at night. When their own shepherd calls them out in the morning, they recognize his voice and distinguish it so well that each responds to follow only its own shepherd. They have been trained from their lamb-hood days to recognize it. As an elderly “ewe” I ought to know my Good Shepherd's voice since I have been listening to it from my lamb-hood.

There are many other voices that compete for my attention: The voice of my own desires, the voices of other people who seek to influence me, the voice of the evil one who seeks to lead me astray, and the voices of my culture and society. I need the Holy Spirit's gift of discernment to sort them out. Above all, I need continual practice in listening so I will recognize His voice and follow Him when making any decision, in fact for every aspect of my daily living.

In many cases the problem isn't that God is not speaking, but that I am not listening. Or I have neglected to keep tuned to the right frequency. “His ear is not heavy that it cannot hear” but my ears are the problem. The ears of my heart are plugged with earth matters, with temporal things. Or perhaps I am reluctant to hear His voice because I am afraid that what He says might disturb my comfort zone.

God still speaks in our times and to each of us individually through His Word and His Church, through His people, and through the circumstances of our lives. He is speaking constantly through the words of Scripture as the Holy Spirit applies them to our lives. We still might wish that He spoke more clearly like handwriting on a wall, or like Jesus' words in the Gospels in some red-letter editions of the Bible where His words are easy to recognize.

It seems that God speaks more through impressions in our minds and nudges in our spirits. These are nonetheless understandable with practice. We have to invite God to speak, to let Him know that we are listening and are willing to obey like young Samuel did in the Old Testament, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Listening is different from merely hearing.

There are some of us in advancing years who need a little assistance in hearing correctly. Voices in the higher range are not as easy to recognize as those in the lower range. We need hearing aids. The Holy Spirit is “God's hearing aid.” God's voice is “in the higher range” and that is the one that is the most imperative for me to listen to. 

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts...'” (Hebrews 3:7). It is up to me to keep my heart soft and malleable and open to hear His voice. God might have a “now word” for me personally, and for you, right now, today. I don't want to miss it. I can hear it if I keep tuned to His frequency.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

PRAYING FOR BREAD


In the popular TV comedy series, “EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND,” now in reruns, each time adult, married, now-a-father Raymond comes across the street from his house to the kitchen of his parents' house, the first thing his mother Marie always asks is “Are you hungry? I'll make you something to eat.”

Those of us who are Moms can relate to that, even if our children are adults and out on their own. Because we've spent their growing years preparing food for them from infancy at least through their teens, our first thought even today when they walk through our door may be the same as Raymond's Mom. We are always concerned with their proper nourishment. 

Since I'm a mom, a grandma, and a great-grandma, by this time my cooking and baking days should be minimal. But I'm still "providing bread!"

I've brought this need for bread for my family into my prayers for my four adult sons, three of whom are already fathers in their own right and two are grandfathers. In fact, I pray for bread for the rest of my family too, for my 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, all the in-laws and the rest of our family tree. And I extend that prayer to my friends. 

I pray as Jesus taught, “Give them this day their daily bread,” from what we call “The Lord's Prayer” in Matthew 6:11. God "gives to all the living their food in due season” (Psalm 104:27, 28) and I may simply ask God for it.

Am I praying for literal bread, the flour-baked kind? No, not even necessarily for food, although that might be included in the need of the one for whom I pray, or the job to earn the bread. Jesus told us not to be anxious for what we should eat or drink. (Matthew 6:25-34) He mentioned anxiety five times in that passage. What is there about “don't be anxious” that we can't understand? We should seek first the Kingdom of God and all those things shall be added to us. 

A wider meaning of “bread” is whatever is necessary for life, whatever The Good Shepherd provides so that we “shall not want” [shall not lack]. (Psalm 23:1) “Bread” stands for “every good thing sufficient for the sustenance of life.” In praying for bread for someone, it is “for the nourishment life requires, for all appropriate goods and blessings, both material and spiritual.”

A still broader implication of my “Bread Prayer” is that the one for whom I am praying will have a growing relationship with Jesus who declared, “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst...I am the Living Bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:26-58) Here Jesus' words foreshadow the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper. “My flesh is true food...he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life...and abides in Me, and I in him...and shall live forever.”

When I pray for “bread today” for someone, it is not only for them to be blessed and provided for this day in mortal time for the material necessities of their pilgrimage, but also in the “today of God,” in the eternal aspect. My petition includes prayer for their eternal status with God.

Even if I'm short on time I can quickly pray, “FATHER, GIVE HIM THIS DAY HIS DAILY BREAD” when praying for my child or my friend. I don't need to go into detail with Our Father who is in Heaven and tell Him how to slice the bread I ask for.
Or whether I want Him to spread butter and jam on it. It is an all-encompassing heart prayer all in one package, one petition.

I don't know precisely what to pray for. Therefore, Jesus Himself told me how to pray and what to say. I pray His words back to Him. He is living in Heaven praying for us (Hebrews 7:25) and He knows very well how to break that bread I'm praying for, and distribute it according to the need of the one for whom I pray. He alone can satisfy whatever the hunger is in their lives.