Focusing in on the wrong words!

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A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  1 Tim 2:11

How’s that for a controversial admonition!  Why it’s enough to stir up some of us gals into a frenzy!

The other day, I listened to a podcast conversation where a woman, well-equipped to handle the Bible in a way faithful to the text, respond to some pushback about this thorny passage.

She handled it by pointing out that most ’21st century moderns’ pass over just how counter-cultural and preposterous was the idea, this new tradition, of women being included in LEARNING! Up until then, only men enjoyed the privilege of being taught.

Jews and gentiles alike would have balked initially at women acquiring any kind of education beyond that necessary for running a household. But Paul viewed men and women from God’s point of view. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28

For as many years as I have read this section of Scripture about women who are to be ‘quiet’ in church, I had missed the main point.  That emphasis being that women were actually encouraged to LEARN.  What other facts have I missed by not giving each word of God equal attention?

Here’s one more example –

He (Jesus) answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ Luke 10:27

I’ve always focused on the ‘ALL’ as a modifier, as in: “You’ve got to be kidding!  love God with ALL my heart, strength etc.  How is THAT possible? I love too many other things as well!”

Having shifted my attention to examine each word for meaning, I realize that one possible interpretation of this admonition is this:

Given that every person is going to love something with all his or her BEST energy, that something must be GOD instead of something like…

  • a job
  • another person
  • oneself
  • money
  • the favorable opinion of others
  • one’s family or kids
  • leisure
  • one’s country

Doesn’t Jesus’ command change everything?  For it acknowledges that human beings are wired to be devoted to SOMEthing.  If we don’t wholeheartedly worship God as worthy of our full attention and energy, we will shift our soul and strength to something created.  And that is idolatry.

How about looking at a familiar passage to see if you can read it through fresh eyes?  What might you have missed?  Let me know in the comment section.

 

 

Am I harder on myself than God is?

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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

 

 

What’s the point of praying?

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ER  Two visits this week to the ER, one around 4:45 am and the other around 6 :00 am (earlier time gets you more attention) have made this week difficult to say the least.  What began with tooth issues and extreme pain for my husband in mid-November kicked off an occasional inability to sleep. Occasional turned into more the norm. Struggling to breathe due to heart palpitations sent Mike to Urgent Care during the day on Monday and then to ER at night the other times.

Several EKGs, X-rays, lab work and data from a 24-hour heart monitor have ruled out heart damage.  And we thank God for that.  But the inability to sleep remains and that affects his outlook.

So what about prayer?  I texted many praying friends Friday morning when we arrived for the 2nd time at the hospital.  And what I found was this.  As I affirmed God’s sovereign and loving control in this frightening situation I felt protected by God. Composing messages to these dear prayer warriors asking for their prayers of mercy for Mike, I wrote that God allows/sends trials for our ultimate good, to strengthen our faith. And God’s presence steadied me and calmed my fears.

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:25

Each time I spoke/wrote words of truth, echoing the Spirit-powered promises that God has given us, a settled peace steadied me.

One of my close friends, texted back those encouraging verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians where he describes the God of all comfort who comforts us in our troubles so we can later reach out and help others. These truths expand our view to see the long-term purpose in suffering. We are not alone.  We belong to a community.

Yet, what startled me was that as helpful a reminder as her words were, my faith was not strengthened nearly as much as when I prayed through writing.

Here’s my application:

If you’re on Facebook or you hear in an email or phone call about a need, don’t just write: “Praying!”  Pray!

Take the time yourself to compose a specific prayer that links a quality of God with a specific request to Him to DO something specific and measurable in this situation.

Here’s an example.  Let’s imagine your friend Susie who is nervous about surgery tomorrow and has asked you to pray. You decide to pray on the spot.

  • Open or start your prayer by addressing God and mentioning the attribute you are depending on:

Father, You who created our bodies and sustain us through your power each moment of our lives, 

  • Ask specifically what you want God to do for this person:

grant Susie Your supernatural peace.  Remind her that You are in control of the medical team’s competency, attention and wisdom as well as her body’s recovery.  Take away her anxiety and replace it with the truth that You have given her the Holy Spirit who is a spirit of LOVE and not one of FEAR.  That this very Holy Spirit who is in her is also one of POWER and SOUNDNESS OF MIND.

  • Now tell God WHY you are asking Him to do this:

I ask You this for Susie’s sake and also for the fame of your name, so many will come to know what a great God You are.

  • Close your prayer by reminding God why You are privileged to ask Him for anything:

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen 

What I find now is that by taking the time to write or pray out loud on the spot, my reliance on God grows.  And having prayed specifically and tied it to God’s character that doesn’t change and His reputation, my faith multiplies as I see Him come through time and time again.

Vague prayers, while better than nothing (we are told that the Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t), don’t allow us to see specific answers. When we pray, Dear God, please bless Susie!”, how do we know when He has answered that prayer?

My point is that WE benefit the most by praying. Paul paraphrases Jesus when he reminds us that we get MORE blessed/happy when we give than when we receive. (Acts 20:35)

And if you want some practice, please pray for us!  That we find a solution for Mike’s palpitation-induced sleeplessness AND that God would grow our faith so we have strength for future trials and give comfort to others.

 

Is worry normal or is it a sin?

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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

What do you do with your suffering?

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Suffering

 

 

 

If you can commit to reading one ‘meaty’ book this summer that will bless you, invest the time in Tim Keller’s work:

Walking with God through pain and suffering

Here’s what resonated this morning during my 10 minutes (I’ve been reading just a few pages at the end of my quiet time):

Boiled down….

  • Either God is the ‘supporting actor or accomplice’ in the drama called Me or He is God and I am not guaranteed that I’ll understand all His ways in my life.

Framing God as MY helper results in the following:

  • ‘desperate, doomed, exhausting effort to control all the circumstances of my life’
  • anxiety about how my life will turn out – Maybe God won’t answer my prayer THIS way!
  • the burden of thinking my life is up to me and my prayers
  • the fear of ‘bad stuff’ happening to those whom I love: what if?????

what if

 

 

  •  By planning out how God should act in my circumstances and solve the problems of those I love, I’ve actually created an IDOL, a version of God that suits me, despite the anxiety I experience.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

The one and only true and living God offers a way out if I…..:

  • Acknowledge that He alone is God and there is no other
  • His ways are best.  He IS the Creator and Sustainer of all life
  • He doesn’t owe me an explanation; after all He is transcendant and I’m finite.  I doubt I’d understand all that He is doing even if He told me!
  • There can be only one Happy Controller, King of Kings & Lord of Lords – and that job is taken! (1 Tim  6:15)

Tim Keller draws from Elizabeth Elliot’s writings.  She’s the widow of Jim Elliot who was murdered by those to whom he was witnessing.  She has known more suffering than a lot of us.  Out of the richness of  lessons learned through pain, she cautions against figuring out God’s reasons for suffering.

When we find ourselves praying from a belief system we’ve created ourselves, “My God would never do XYZ!”, then we should be alerted to our own idolatry.

Idolatry

 

 

 

Elliot recounts the story of a missionary who lived in constant anxiety:

  • ‘Margaret realizes that the demise of her plans had shattered her false god, and now she was free for the first time to worship the True One.  When serving the god-of-my-plans, she had been extraordinarily anxious.  She had never been sure that God was going to come through for her and “get it right.”  She was always trying to figure out how to bring God to do what she had planned.  But she had not really been treating him as God – as the all-wise, all-good, all-powerful one.  Now she had been liberated to put her hope NOT in her agendas and plans but in God himself.  If she could make this change, it would bring a rest and security she had never had.’  (p. 172, Keller)

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while,  you might recall that two years ago I read another book about letting God be God called Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow: Link to her book here.  That’s where I learned about handing over the reins of my life to God.  Obviously reading one book and discussing it with a friend was not enough to cause lasting change!  Thank you Tim Keller for providing another reminder of the burden/sin /illusion of control.

Question: Do you really want to control your own life? 

Controlling my life

 

 

Who’s in charge?

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If I were in charge, I wouldn’t have done it THAT way!

 Have you ever muttered that?  Consider these scenarios

 ·       You’ve been praying for an adult child to come to Christ.  Here he is, approaching 50 and just beginning to show signs of a softened heart.  But you think, “Lord, his life would have been so much better had You done this 20 years ago!”

·         Or it could be your aging mom – defiant until almost to the end.  Suddenly a hearing loss or lessened mobility has gotten her attention and she is asking about God.

·         Or, it’s your husband who has plugged away at his career with such a great attitude, yet no recognition.  “Father,” you plead, “can’t You allow him SOME measure of success!?”

·         You’ve heard of Joni Eareckson Tada – paraplegia PLUS breast cancer?  Not what she would have chosen..yet she claims she wouldn’t change a thing!

·         And finally a Scottish woman whose 2 children died in infancy, her ‘good for nothing’, titled husband was worse than terrible so that all in all she led a bleak life….yet…at age 35 he succumbed to a terminal illness that softened his heart. He actually repented and turned to Christ – literal death-bed conversion whose veracity was attested to by Scottish Presbyterian Pastor Samuel Rutherford.  She later wrote that it was totally worth it, to know that he would share eternal life with her.

 

For sure, not what these fellow believers would have chosen had their plans been sovereign.

 We should also take heart, for it’s not just recent believers who share our puzzled expectations, but Bible heroes as well. Many men and women in the Old and New Testaments echoed equally poignant laments.  The prophets did not understand God’s use of evil nations against God’s chosen people.  You can hear both Habakkuk’s incredulity and horror in 2:13 when he questions the Almighty’s strategy of bringing the hated Chaldeans AGAINST Judah:

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
                 and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
                 and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
                 the man more righteous than he?

 And what about the Hebrews en route to the Promised Land?  I bet they would have been quick to give you their 2 shekels’ worth about the frustrations inherent in a 40-year detour.

 

So….? How do these anecdotes help you & me?  When life doesn’t go according to our plan, we have to remember that Jesus is the happy controller (1 Tim 6:15) not us.  Therefore, His route and plan WILL be best.

With this fact about God in mind, I want to encourage all my dear friends (AND ME!!), those

 ·        who have miscarried too many babies

·         who are raising children with less than perfect brain chemistry or physical attributes

·         who are waiting for the right Christian man to join them in marriage

·         who are working diligently to build a business, yet have yet to see growth

·         who are praying that their children’s marriages will heal

·         who struggle with finances

·         who cry out to God to grow their church

·         whose bodies are breaking down and wearing out

·         who want nothing else than children and spouses to come to Christ or to grow in Christ

 God DOES know what He is doing and you are neither forgotten nor unloved.  Cling to Him, wait in faith and pray on:

 With Habakkuk, cry out:

Though the fig tree does not bud
            and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.  (3:17-18)    

Name change

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the word DISCIPLINE. 

Let me make a distinction.  I have no problem initiating my own disciplines, which I see simply as habits to happiness.   But when DISCIPLINE arrives from outside of me, handed down and imposed, I squirm and feel guilty as though deserving of punishment.  Self-discipline sits differently. In fact, I remember a line from “Seventeen” magazine that went like this:

“(Self)-discipline is remembering what you want!”

The context spoke of how to stick to healthy eating habits and work-out routines.

But the term discipline, when spoken of in the Bible, jars me, reminding me of childhood spankings and the accompanying shame…. )

……hence my presumptuous proposal to substitute “training” for “discipline”.  Training feels more forward-looking since it often travels in company with a 3-letter pronoun, the word FOR.  As in, “I’m training for a marathon” or “I’m in training for 6 months to become a nail technician.”

Before you start criticizing my hermeneutics or saying that I’m changing the Bible to suit myself, listen to what I’m not doing…..

  • I’m neither using POOR logic as in the case of Representative Rob Portman who just this past week flip-flopped his OPINION of what the Bible says about homosexual unions.  Previously he had defended the traditional and Biblical definition of marriage.  Now he has chosen to broaden it because of his son’s circumstances.  He therefore has applied a Procrustean trick and made the Bible fit his desires:

Premise 1 – A loving God just wants us to be happy

Premise 2 – My son is happy with his gay partner

Conclusion – Therefore, a loving God must approve of my son’s pursuit of

happiness

  • Nor am I playing loosey-goosey in how I define the term ‘discipline’.  After all, the Latin root of the word discipline is discipulus which means student or follower. I’m just building on the original meaning – think the 12 disciples.

So, here is my thinking: IF God sovereignly sends/ allows…….  suffering….disappointments….frustrations, and IF God’s goal for ALL of His born-again covenant children is their sanctification or growth in holiness, and IF there is now no condemnation for those who are joined with Christ, and IF God is ‘totally for us’……then it sure makes the idea of discipline as training easier for me to swallow, accept and embrace with peace.  I can trust and flow with EVERYTHING that happens to me as part of God’s plan for my good.  Knowing that the painful stuff is not punishment, but TRAINING, meant to build my faith, increase my holiness, grow my readiness to flee to Jesus, lessen my grip on earthly pleasures and increase my satisfaction in God alone is a gift.

Remembering that scripture is the spoken (and written) WORD of God, let’s be assured by what God says through Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for    correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man/servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for all good works.

It could be God delivered you of that rebellious streak when you were united with Christ, but I must still have it, if I’m chafing at a word usage.  If so, then I will watch and see how God changes my heart.

But in the meantime, I will submit gladly to the ‘blessed and only Controller/Sovereign’ who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Tim 6:15) in whatever He plans for me.  

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