A Biblical ‘Rule of Life’ for 2018

9 Comments

1 John 3:23   And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

As Mike and I reach the end of another year’s journey through God’s Word, I marvel at the theme that reoccurs through many biblical exhortations: Trust God!

One strong message God has directed toward me since this past summer rings: Be still! Know that I am God (Ps 46:10).  To a fault, I de-FAULT to thinking (as opposed to feeling and doing).  As a result, not realizing I lack the necessary data, I run myself ragged like a caged rat wearing grooves on his treadmill.  Round and round I go, trying to think myself toward a solution.  Imploring God for an answer brings me His counter solution, “Give it up, Maria.  Stop!  Lay it aside.  What you need more than an answer is to know who I AM.  That is enough.”

Recognizing that I’m more prone to live inside of my head than to give to others, God is wooing me toward the joy of enjoying ‘doing’ or action.  I’m a reluctant and slow learner, but gradually I am experiencing that He truly knows what is best for me, what will give me authentic joy.

I’ve written about how 16 months ago I finally ‘succumbed’ to joining work colleagues at lunch, to fellowship while sharing our lives.  ‘One day a week I’ll give you, Lord!,’  I had conceded, begrudgingly and guilted by God into abandoning my ‘precious email surfing’  time alone in my room while munching away.  Not ever, ever imagining how much I’d grow to love that ‘lunch bunch’. Or how deprived I would feel on the rare occasion when everyone split off for teacher duties, meetings or one-off reasons.  “What? eat alone in my room?”  And that had been my hoarded and cultivated custom in the 24 previous years of teaching.

God is patient.  Far more so than we are with ourselves or with families and friends.  This past season He has led me deeper into stepping outside of my self-centered mindset to GIVE (His nature) to others.  For example, a new pattern has fallen into place – that of scheduling one Sunday afternoon catch-up phone call a week.

And I have learned to accept that if I don’t ‘GET to’ all my curated podcasts or reading I have chosen in a day, then what He allows for IS enough.  I’m just not wise enough to know what is best for me.  That is the relief of resting in God’s sovereignty.

So, what about 1 John 3:23?  The apostle John, through God’s divine Spirit, sums up what it is to abide in Christ.  I like it.  I can hold on to it.  And by God’s grace, I can start afresh each morning to practice it:

  • Trust Jesus:  what He has done for me through His blood, what He promises me in the future grace He purchased for me (thank you, Pastor John Piper!), and in the Life (that grace-filled, nourishing sap) with which He feeds me moment by moment as I consciously stay connected to Jesus.
  • Look outward and see who needs what, and after consulting with my special Advisor, move toward him/her/them to offer what I have.  That is called Love.

Pay off?  1 John 3:24 reassures me with this Word of Truth: Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. 

I get it!  And praise our good Father, He is growing IN me, slowly but surely, a desire both to trust Him with all my unresolved issues, problems, questions, and VERY messy situations, while I go about His business of loving others in the strength He supplies.

I never expected the simplicity and relief of this liberty.

 

What is love?

Leave a comment

Nestor Haddaway’s run-away hit posed the question in the ’90s. But it was ‘the head-bobbing, nightclubbing-addicted Butabi brothers’ that popularized the single on Saturday Night Live and later in the film Night at the Roxbury.

Love as a right, concept, ideal, and standard gets a lot of play in culture these days and it always has.  Just consider one of William Shakespeare’s many lines:

  • “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind” from A Midsummer Night’s dream.

Today, however, one seems to assume the liberty to define love any ‘ole way.  But does that make it right? And speaking of rights, who gets to define such weighty matters, anyway?

Listen in on a conversation between an imaginary Cultural Cathy and me:

Cultural Cathy – I have the right to define love as I see it

Me – Really? well how do you define love? and whose standards are you using?

CC – You must not have heard me, it’s up to me.  Right now, I feel a strong bond with Denise.  What we have is the ‘real thing’.  And it feels right.  So it is right for me. I feel loved and so does Denise.

Me – But you call yourself a Christian.  Don’t you have to submit to what the Bible teaches on love?

CC – But I AM following the Bible.  It says all over the Bible that  ‘God is love’.  And I actually can quote a verse, 1 John 4:7.  It goes like this: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Me – Good for you for knowing Scripture.  But we have to use God’s definition if we invoke His Truth.  Furthermore, it’s never enough to find and isolate one verse.  We have to see what the Author meant by looking at the context and other written evidence of what He thinks.   In this case, the Bible also teaches that God is Truth.  Do you remember how Jesus went around saying that He was the truth?  It follows then that Jesus is the standard of the truth.  And if you and I consider ourselves to be Christ-followers or Christian that implies that we stay to stay within the boundaries that Christ set.

CC – what’s truth have to do with love?

Me – good question.  Since you quoted John’s first letter – let’s just turn back a few pages to chapter 3, verse 18.  He writes: Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

CC – hmmm, so your point is??

Me – the deed part is the point.When we ‘love in deed and in truth’ we actually put God’s propositional truth (what He says and teaches, as the Bible documents) into action.  We DON’T get to choose or decide on the propositional truth that suits our temperaments.

David teaches us in one of his Psalms: Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;  Psalm 86:11

**

I don’t know what a Cultural Cathy would say in my fantasy conversation.  If we’re having this exchange at all, she likely would find a way to discount my points.

But we Christians need to know how God defines truth and love.  They are NOT relative. The world may claim authorship rights in determining definitions, but if someone calls himself a Christian, then we should at least be willing to engage with knowledge.  But as Peter exhorts us…with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Am I harder on myself than God is?

1 Comment

1 Peter 4:8 – Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

James 5:20 – Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Psalm 103:12 – As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Faith's Hall of Fame

Have you ever wondered at the accuracy of God in his assessment of major Biblical personalities such as David, Lot, Noah, Moses and Abraham?  A few of the sins in their lives include:

  • murder
  • adultery
  • parenting of daughters that is abusive by its shameful neglect
  • drunkenness
  • pride
  • self-protective lies that potentially jeopardized the line of God’s chosen people?

Come on, God! You know everything.  Don’t these ‘biggie’ sins disqualify all but maybe Enoch, about whom you report only positive behavior and character in Scripture? How can you even love, let alone acclaim these men You created, called and commissioned?

I thought about this incongruity when struggling a few days back with heavy thoughts of what a poor mom, mother-in-law, friend and grandmother I am.  Maintaining relationships in the way I think they should be cultivated is difficult for me.  Oblivious in my earlier years, but increasingly aware since I turned 35, I have grown in both my appreciation of and commitment to investing time in the dearest of people.  Yet….I often beat myself up for not “X-ing” enough (substitute multiple action verbs for the X).

In the middle of the current ‘I’m not enough’ doldrums, I passed on to one of my daughters-in-law as worth reading a blog post that resonated with my current bleak self regard. She immediately shot back some probing questions that forced me to look even closer at my pity party.  One of her arresting thoughts was this:

  • The more I love my ‘I don’t do this well’ self-assessments, the freer I am to see God work IN those weaknesses.

Hm….

That was last Sunday morning, right before church.  So I worshipped God while all the while thinking through what might be God’s perspective about my ‘muck’.  It occurred to me that nary a ‘Bible Giant’ such as the five I mentioned did everything well.  In fact, when they worked on their own, they fell into big sin.  Only when they served in humble and thankful dependence on God did they experience supernatural results that pointed to God’s intervention.

And isn’t that what God wants?  If we humans, we Christians succeeded in our own wisdom and strength, how would God look good and desirable?

If my weakness is NOT something God despises, then, why do I grant myself freedom to indulge in such negative introspection?  After all, God provides a quick and effective way out of sin, out of my moral debilities long marinated in self-condemnation.

  • If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from ALL wickedness and unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9  And what is unrighteousness, but doing something in our own strength and wisdom.  God calls that sin, because…. 
  • Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:23

There’s actually another sin going on in my stewing in my ‘I don’t do this well’ muck.  It’s plain ‘ole’ fear, mixed with shame.

What do I fear?

  • I’m ashamed that relationships with others, including family, friends and grandkids do not come easily due to my selfish nature
  • Just as I felt insecure as a young mom…that sense from long ago has carried over into feeling unsure as a grandmother
  • If any of my friends or family knows that I have to ‘work at’ a relationship they will feel less loved or think I’m being artificial.
  • My pre-supposition (and fear) must therefore be, “anything that doesn’t come naturally, spontaneously from the heart, is 2nd rate and not authentic. If you have to work at loving someone, you must not really love them. And if you KNOW that about me, you will think less of me.”

Self-criticism  In those ‘I don’t this well’ areas, I obviously have been listening only to these fear voices.

But if I think back to Old Testament ‘giants’, I also see how God assesses them throughout other passages.  For instance, the so-called Hebrews Hall of Fame spotlights the noble actions of some well-known personages.   It doesn’t take much study to notice that those God acclaims as praiseworthy are also ones about whom we have read many unsavory accounts.

What does that say about how God views His children and perhaps how we should view ourselves?

Could it be that as forgiven, adopted and beloved sons and daughters what count are the actions done IN faith, IN dependence on Christ, with no subtraction due to our gross sins? (or ‘little’ sins for that matter – since all sin is forgivable by God when we confess)

And if that is how God evaluates us, sinful as we are, should we spend more time than say, Paul, who acknowledging himself as the ‘worst of sinners’, yet does not allow that fact to deter him from moving ahead.  (1 Tim 1:15 – This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”–and I am the worst of them all.)

So, bottom line for Maria, and maybe for you:

  • Yes, there are areas of my life where I am wobbly (my Mom’s term), but they should point me all the more gratefully to God’s promise to be sufficient for me.
  • It is WRONG and SINFUL to fear and beat myself up (a form judgment and of self-atonement – 2 jobs God has explicitly told me to leave alone.  See Ex 20:3 – Thou shall have no other Gods before Me!)
  • With plenty of areas of weakness, why not look at these situations as prompts to practice turning straight away to God for my supply?

Final thought to marvel over and give thanks: 

Because God the Father has already forgiven my past, present and future sins thanks to Jesus’ substitution for me in death and life, God can justly keep track of those deeds done in faith and happy dependence on Him.

Dear Father, send your Holy Spirit to remind me to STOP beating myself up, even though that is a familiar habit.  Remind me, supernaturally, to look to Jesus for both forgiveness and provision to believe and to do what and where and how You are calling me as your child.  Resting in the sure promises of Jesus, I ask this.  Amen

 

 

Bringing up past mistakes

Leave a comment

Satan Accuses

Isaiah 43:24b-25  God tells the Israelites….

You have wearied Me with your iniquities. “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

When I read this verse the other morning, I immediately thought about voices that DO remember and RE-CALL my sins.  If it not be God, then who might be the source of those accusations?  

Satan for one.  He is called the ‘accuser’ of Christians in Rev 12:10:

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

But there’s someone else who hurls those attacks: ME!!!  All the times I beat myself up for something I did.  Either I indulge in that hurtful practice instead of repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness, or I replay the sin/mistake/offense DESPITE having repented and been forgiven.

What stopped me cold, however, this morning was the sinking thought:

Am I being like Satan when I, myself, bring up a past, covered-over and forgiven sin or hurt done to ME by a neighbor, friend or family member? It matters not whether I fling it at the person or just  fume in resentment.  It’s still satanic.

Maybe I should copy my older Brother Jesus instead.  You know Him – God who was slaughtered unjustly on the cross AND still forgave his murderers and loved them?

Hear the good news about God as promised in 1 John 1:9:

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

Is worry normal or is it a sin?

1 Comment

Worry

Yes!

Yes, anxiety is normal and yes, practicing anxiety is a sin.

And there is good news.

I’m being trained to look behind a statement in scripture to reason about the condition of the author.  For example, yesterday morning I paused at verse 4 while reading Psalm 86:

  • Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

Since it was a rainy, gloomy Saturday morning I immediately asked God to gladden both my and my husband’s hearts.  But afterwards I realized that the only reason the Psalmist would have penned such a request was because he was struggling with the blahs or worse and knew he could count on God to help him!  Why ask for something of which you have no need????

Here’s another verse from Matthew 6:25

  • I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.

Why would Jesus dedicate these minutes to expound on worry if He didn’t SEE or KNOW that worry was present in the hearts and minds of those listening to Him?

How about the command NOT to fear?  I read in the on-line Christian Post (5 Nov 2014 blog post entitled Faith over Fear) that Jesus’ primary teaching was: to love others. (125 times taught in the Gospels) According to the writer of the post, Jesus presented and organized His teachings by theme.  And the primary theme (21 times) for His instruction was about FEAR.  Do not fear; don’t be afraid; be courageous; be firm in your faith.  This means that Jesus exhorts us to LOVE by NOT FEARING.  Hmmm, could it be that fear drives out love?  Is that the reason that the apostle John pens in 1 John 4:18?:

  • There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,

And why would Jesus repeat such a message if it weren’t a glaring problem?

So YES – worry and anxiety are normal, but they are neither GOOD, nor HEALTHY, nor appropriate for Christians.  In fact, worrying is a sin since God commands us NOT to worry.

So how does it help to know that worry is both a sin AND a normal reflex?

Because God doesn’t leave us to battle it on our own. There is supernatural power to fight sin.  And we are called to enter into warfare every day of the Christian life. Through daily practice similar to our workouts at the gym, we will strengthen our reflex to rely on His promises and character, growing more like Jesus.  But let’s be realistic; we will not eliminate anxiety 100 %. Therefore, we can expect to have to engage this enemy of the faith daily, WITH the resources God provides. Even my hero of the faith, George Müller, admitted that the decade of his 90s were the hardest.  I imagine his struggles had to do with declining health and increased physical limitations.  There are always new fears to confront.  But God promises fresh mercies each day (‘our daily spiritual bread’)

It’s not for rhetorical reasons that Paul exhorts young pastor Timothy in his first letter, chapter 6, verse 12:

  • Fight the good fight of faith 

This same Paul is the one who explains how to dress daily for the warfare.  Besides defensive armor, he reminds us that there is ONE offensive weapon – God’s word.

The only way to drive the worry dragons away is by saying or singing or shouting or meditating on God’s many promises to BE our strength, to BE our peace and then to bank our life on those promises given to us by a Loving Father whose character is trustworthy.

Here’s one more look at a desperate psalmist and how he deals with danger or suffering

  • If your law had not been my meditation I would have perished in my affliction. Psalm 119:92

The fact that he mentions his affliction is significant.  Like us, he had a choice of mediating on how bad his circumstances were and how he couldn’t see a way out OR he could chew on the truth of God and what He has said.  This Old Testament man of faith makes it clear had he chosen the former course of limiting his view to the present, he would have died.

Aren’t we blessed to have the Bible which does not sugar-coat life’s sufferings?  Instead, it tells us that pain is real and there is help that is equally real and available.

I’ll leave you with an ‘oldie-but-goodie’ sermon link of the man who is teaching me to read my Bible and mine it for MORE than the explicit words:

You can either read or listen to the sermon here

3 Strikes and Still in the Game!

5 Comments

3 strikes

It was a week for sinning.

Not that I set out deliberately to sin against God and my neighbor.  But God removed some Holy Spirit restraint that operates in those moments when I refrain from saying, doing, or writing something hurtful, self-aggrandizing or unnecessary for building up one another.

First, I wrote a response to a family member’s email to me in which I assumed her motivation.  And I got it wrong, both confusing AND hurting her with the words I chose in my reply.  Had I THOUGHT a bit more and put 2 and 2 together, I would have realized the more likely cause of her reaction.  Actually, the BEST and SAFEST response for me would have been simply to ask her the reasons for what she wrote me.

I asked God’s forgiveness and then hers.  Both granted.

Second, I was in a church meeting and it went longer than I thought it was supposed to.  Irony of ironies. I’ve been writing about how God has been teaching me that delays are part of his sovereign plan to exercise my faith in his promised provision. Yet when the pop quiz came, I blew it. Though I did in fact consider my choices:

  •  I could bank on his ability to stretch my time beyond what my eyes could see.
  •  Or not.

I chose to count on my own pre-set time boundaries.  So I abruptly and obviously left a table of 7 other praying women in the middle of one of them praying out loud and took matters into my own hands.  I knew it was wrong and rude.  And I did it anyway.  Drove home convicted and knew while I was talking to God that I had to contact each one and apologize.

He forgave me and so did the 6 of the 7 women I was able to speak with personally at church today.

Third, the very next day after this second sin, I was talking on the phone with a friend who is coming to visit soon.  She mentioned the possibility of adding an extra day to their trip to visit a mutual acquaintance if he were willing to invite her and her husband to dinner at his house. Instantly savoring some anticipated pleasure in the nasty comment that formed in my mind, I blurted out, “Oh, you don’t want to go to his house for dinner…”  As I was uttering these words, Bam!, God convicted me through the Holy Spirit. But I chose to indulge and finish with the intended mean reason.  I did try to back pedal by tacking on something mealy-mouthed. And furthermore, I certainly did not get the jolt of satisfaction I had imagined.  (isn’t that the way with every sin?)

I knew what I had to do.  I called back my friend to ask her forgiveness (as soon as I got ‘off the line repenting with God!’) She didn’t pick up so with some relief at not having to humble myself personally with her I left a lengthy message.

How EASY and quickly the urge to sin comes on us!

As I’ve thought about these 3 instances: one with my writing, one with my feet and the last one with my lips, I am reminded of 2 verses and an application:

  • If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.     1 John 1:19

With this first scripture, we have God’s promise that we (who are believers) can be cleansed from each and every sin when we turn to God and confess it.  When we do he restores our judicial righteousness (that we have legally, forensically by faith ever since we placed our confidence in Jesus’ death in our place).  Therefore we don’t have to WALLOW or keep asking and re-asking God to forgive us.  Once sought, it’s granted.  We’re restored straight away.

The real-world application comes from Jesus’ unusually humbling washing of his disciples’ feet. His explanation when Peter remonstrates and almost refuses the Lord’s service is the prompt for how seeing a principle that can be used when we sin. Here is the setting: 

feet washed

  • He (Jesus) came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.

What strikes me, is that believers who have been justified at the cross are clean.  Each time we sin, we get our feet dirty, so to speak.  When we repent and confess to God, he cleans our feet. Fellowship restored. Peace with God renewed.  Relief and joy felt and burden lifted!

But what about ‘the next time’ the urge to sin strikes?  Is it a matter of having to double down and CONTROL my natural impulse to say and to write and to do what is wrong?

If that were the case, I’d have no hope.

No, I think the key is found in Paul’s prescription in the 12th chapter of his letter to the Christians in Rome:

  • And do not imitate this world, but be transformed by the renovation of your minds, – (Romans 12:2a) 

My hope and yours in sinning less is to soak in God’s powerful and living Word, which is infused with Holy Spirit supernatural power. The more we meditate on and look into scripture, the more our minds are renovated or renewed.  Our desires are then changed and out of changed desires come changed behaviors.

The ‘Miracle Gro’ of the Christian life IS the Word of God.  And in Jesus and His word, I rest and place my hope.

Miracle Gro

What do you do when your belt gets tight?

Leave a comment

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.

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: