Exercising the right muscles….

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Weights

I don’t like working out.  Whether it’s with the weights above or just my daily trek.

In fact, I dread that strenuous cove walk here in the mountains of western North Carolina. Yes, it’s beautiful and the trees and birds point to God’s glory.  But the average incline is 13% and my route takes me up and down the gravel roads.  It never gets easier.

I thought about the difficulty of my daily routine, rereading that Hebrews truth (12:11)…

  • No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Boy, does THAT describe my early mornings – Unpleasant but worth it!

From that reflection, it’s easy to connect to God’s training plan for our character. He uses suffering and difficulties of all stripes to build up our faith and hope muscles.  Just look at what these many God-sent trials accomplish for us:

1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

The 4 verbs listed are powerful encouragements to persist through the God-ordained ‘workouts’.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I love looking up the Greek or Hebrew words to help me understand God’s teachings. So here’s a glimpse of some of God’s many purposes in designing our suffering along with what He promises to do through or by means of the difficult times:

  • Restore – this verb sometimes gets translated as ‘to perfect’.  It means to kit out, equip completely.  Obviously I lack qualities God deems necessary and can only be given me through hanging onto Him when tested.
  • Confirm – you can see the ‘firm’ part of the verb.  Troubles endured in Christ are the means to set us fast, to fix or place us more ‘immovably’ than we’ve been.
  • Strengthen – means just what we think – to make us vigorous in our minds and hearts.  Think resolute and determined!
  • Establish – to ground, shore up the foundation.  Imagine a house being constructed in a hurricane or earthquake-prone area.  The structure of the building would be reinforced and enhanced to withstand intense natural thrashings.  We, too, need this kind of bracing that will not give out.  Strengthening trials ready us for greater ones, kind of like skirmishing with the Varsity team grows the JV team’s abilities.

Do any of us like trials?  NO!!!!

But just as you and I recognize the value gained from physical workouts, let us not fight the spiritual and emotional training that our good God ordains for us.  Besides, we have a workout partner meant to encourage us at all times.  This Comforter will bear us up when the struggles are too much.  The truth is, our faith grows best amidst storms.  Think of giant trees, windswept and battered, strengthened through the storms.  Think of pearls, formed by the irritating grains of sand within an oyster.

So, I say to you just as I have to remind myself: God means my circumstances for good. Fighting against Him just makes us tired!

My seat….

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Ephesians 2:6

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

My Seat

Thank you, Father, for raising me from the dead and giving me new, different and everlasting LIFE. Thank you for the seat you have assigned me.

I didn’t pick this seat. You selected it for me.

I’m sorry for all the times I compare my seat with others’, longing for a different one. Forgive me for the many times I get out of my seat, just like those squirmy boys in my French class.

Help me to trust that You know just what I need in a seat.

May I practice sitting contentedly in my seat. After all, I’m going to be spending a long time next to my older Brother and knowing how kind and loving You are, I bet my seat will turn out to be just the one I would have picked out had I known all the facts. Amen.

What are you attached to?

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Did your attachment tendancies start with a pacifier or your favorite ‘blankey’?

linus Or were routines, like story-time right before bed your go-to comfort? Whatever it was for you as a child, you probably have some items or practices or even a person in your life that make you feel more secure.

Reading 2 Chronicles 26 about King Uzziah of Juda this morning raised the matter of attachment. Here’s how verse 5 reads:

He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.

The French translation of this verse adds a richer understanding.  The verbal phrase reads:  “Il s’attacha à Dieu…” (He attached himself to God…)

This amplification feels like a quartz vein shot through with gold, worth the effort to mine it.  Here are 2 questions to kick off our digging:

  • Why do we attach?
  • and, how do we attach?

First, why do we attach?

I think humans and animals are wired by God to crave certainty and security.  But He has designed us to look to Him to meet that need, not to anything He has created.  Given that the Fall fractured both us and all of creation, we are misguided. We look for substitutions for God that FEEL real.  For even though God is as real as anything we can see or touch, He is spirit, thereby immaterial and invisible to us at present.

On to the second question –  how is it that we attach?

Primarily by thinking about, talking about, keeping near, and treasuring.  A small child keeps his blanket close by.  A crying baby calms down with his trusted pacifier. When I was bulimic, I grabbed cookies or M&Ms to tame the stress.

For some, a variation of attachment might be an acted-out routine that has brought peace. I know friends who routinely undertake remodeling projects as a diversion from anxiety or for stop-gap immediate relief some go shopping or clean out a closet (me!)  More dangerous measures include gambling, porn indulgence, use of drugs or even some extreme sports.

(If you are curious to learn about some non-biblical, psychological reasons for attachment, here is a link to various views.)

Beyond inherent and obvious dangers, what’s wrong with the above attachment items or practices?

The only reason that counts is simply this: these stress-relievers are just as uncertain as the uncontrollable circumstances that bring suffering.  When LIFE happens, pressuring us, what if we are circumstantially kept from our go-to stress reliever?  Maybe that’s the origin of the expression ‘going postal’! Our God knows there are times we humans explode in anger or act otherwise irrationally.

God offers a different way of handling life’s uncertainties and stress, one that the apostle Paul learned.  This morning, while reading a bit of Puritan pastor William Gurnall’s teaching on holding on to faith in the Triune God, I glimpsed a connection to Paul’s teaching on contentment.

You are familiar with this early Christian boasting in having acquired the ability to be content in all circumstances.  ‘All’ included the gamut of experiences ranging from physical comfort and ease all the way to the many times he suffered beatings, imprisonment or calumny from his fellow Jews. (Phil 4:12)

I think Gurnall provides the method for Paul’s method of ‘learning’. Gurnall writes that in times of blessings, plenty and the absence of suffering, we should practice  “Keep(ing)…(our)..minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” Col 3:2

Then when the times of suffering and deprivation come, we should be more equipped to continue to feed ourselves on the rich truths of heaven, the expectations of one day enjoying our inheritance presently kept for us by Jesus.  Directing our imaginings Godward takes practice. You’re probably like me.  My thoughts DO NOT automatically tend toward meditating on the ‘diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ’ (Jonathan Edwards). It takes effort to dig and work a groove in my mind, through much exercise.

I mention Edwards’ line above about what to think about when meditating on Jesus. Because when I first considered devoting time to building a habit of thinking about ‘things above’, my first reaction was:

  • just what should my mind focus on?

John Piper gave me a clue when he quoted Jonathan Edwards in a sermon I recently heard. An example of these very different but astonishing qualities of Jesus would be how He is both the Lion and the Lamb.  Powerfully fierce and humbly submissive, all at the same time.

There ARE multitudes of rich treasures to be mined in the Bible.  And I think this is what is meant by God’s teaching us to ‘attach ourselves’ to Him.  We attach primarily by what we think about and talk about.  If I’m attached to my children, then I will pull out pictures and extol all the cute things they do.  Likewise, if I’m attached to God, I will boast in how great He is.

Contrary to what a material naturalist might argue, we are NOT deterministic beings.  We have been given the gift of imagination, of choosing what to think about.  Paul knew that. Therefore, I think his secret of learned contentment was harnessing and directing his thoughts God-ward.

That encourages me.  I know that I have plenty of time when my mind can float.  I do have the power to direct and focus those thoughts.  I CAN practice a new and different way of thinking.   I want to build up these mental and spiritual muscles of my mind during those periods when I’m not struck down by suffering.  Then when pain does come, I will know how to flee to my true refuge.

I’ll leave you with the French exhortation:

Attache-toi à Dieu!

Clothes make the man?

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Barbie

1 Peter 3:3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.

rather….1 Peter 3:4 You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

Our granddaughters visited this past week, eager to open the toy/book closet and bring out our one and only Barbie.  Thinking about her and the many outfits Mattel has launched over the years caused me to reflect about inherent versus infused versus imputed righteousness.

Since the Fall our essence is no longer inherently righteous;in other words, righteousness is not part of our nature. But some people try to dress themselves, like Barbie, in good works, thereby APPEARING righteous.  Then there are those who believe that the righteousness obtained by Christ’s death on the cross and His perfect obedience can be infused in us, thereby altering our nature. But that is not what the Bible teaches. In fact the 16th century reformers emphasized the historic, original biblical teaching that our righteousness  is by faith alone, through grace alone because of Christ’s work alone.

Since this reckoning or crediting of justification comes from Christ, it is an ‘alien’ righteousness, from outside of us. It’s more akin to an outfit that Barbie’s owner dresses her in.  Just as the doll’s garments cover her, so too Christ’s works cover us. It’s a false conclusion to think then, that ‘as are the clothes, then so too are we‘.  The clothes don’t make the man or woman, they COVER us.  Similarly, Christ’s righteousness cancels our sin in God’s books.

Even with the Barbie example in our minds, we can still be self-righteous and be unaware. Pleasure in any of ‘my’ obedience or good works weakens me so I succumb to pride and all of Satan’s other ploys.

As protection, I try to remember to ask the Holy Spirit to remind me of ‘the truth’.  Daily I mentally don the kind of apparel that my heavenly Father prefers, what Peter teaches:

  • a quiet and complete trust in God that eliminates all fear despite desperate circumstances.
  • spiritual armor that both protects and strengthens my faith, my most valuable God-given gift
  • my attitude towards us, specifically dressing myself as per Paul’s instructions: Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Col 3:12

The question that puts me in my place, as a dependent creature is this:

Maria, what are you trusting in this day to guarantee your salvation and eternal life with the happy, holy Triune God ?

Perfection and futility

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clay pot  “There I go again!”  as hammering self-condemnation reprised.  I had just done what I didn’t want to do, overeat.  Nothing really sinful in that per se, except that overeating is a gateway to my sin of self-centered, interior moping. More familiar than any other melody is my original adaptation of the human ‘Ode to my Pitiful Self’.

But thanks be to God and Bible-centered preaching and writing! Pastor and teacher John Piper rescues imperfect sheep prone to turn inward by proclaiming a recurring life-giving message of: “Don’t waste your disappointments, trials, suffering, failures,……”

God must have thought it was time to break my bent towards control and perfection with this sovereignly ordained ‘trip-up’.  So what galls me the most?  What sends me into despair each time I let myself down and overeat? Certainly not His condemnation, but MY disappointment with myself.

Here’s the rub:  Why am I even surprised that I can’t do what I want to do?

Like Paul, I wail: I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

“Stupid!,” this home-grown expectation or gateway toward self-chastisement. A recent podcast drove that home.  The speaker had been in therapy for a broken marriage and started to heal when she made the connection between her:

  1. Assumption that I CAN be perfect (do what I want to do)
  2. Anxiety over the burden of trying to be perfect
  3. Bondage to control in order to gain perfection

I suddenly saw the futility when I realized that we were never meant to strive for perfection.  In fact, God has intentionally designed us the opposite!  The human model comes with abundant limitations.  We see them as flaws; He ordains them as gateways for God’s glory and grace to show.

...we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 2 Cor 4:7b

Breakable clay is the term for earthenware. In Paul’s time, vessels, plates, jars, cups were made of a clay mixture containing oyster shell pieces. God has purposefully made us out of crumbly stuff.  The Almighty Father and Creator made us delicate and fragile so that we would depend and rest on Him to do all that He calls us to do.  He didn’t aim to populate His kingdom with self-sufficient, sturdily consistent perfect little beings.

That is good news, brothers and sisters.  Let it go, all those expectations of how you want to act.  Yes, we are called to be imitators of Jesus, to be holy because God is holy.  But He knows we are going to blow it, multiple times a day.  Why are we the last to accept that?

Holy Spirit, remind me straight away when I miss the self-assigned mark I naïvely think will make me feel good about myself.  Grow me a new song,

a melody of music“Here I go again, a perfectly designed child of my Father who just sent me a love note that says, ‘Maria, come to me with your mess; don’t be surprised, you just need to give it a rest and flop down and swim in my grace and love!‘”

 

 

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.

Where do you wear your identity?

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Indy Popcon Identity 1 Peter 3: 3a, 4  Do not let your adorning be external… but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

A jarring contrast:

  • 7200 Gospel Coalition women
  • a milling parade of ‘Indiana Popular Culture and Comic Book Convention’ masqueraded devotees

God used clever costumed characters to reveal my unremitting passion for particular glory badges. I deemed my boasting more reasonable and justifiable.

Until I surveyed Jesus’ red badge of submission

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