Joy, Obedience and Major Premises

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John 15: 9-11 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Jesus really wants us to be happy.  And he knows what will satisfy us the most – that is “remaining in him and obeying him”.

He makes amazing claims.  Not only is he not the cosmic meany who wants to block what will make me happy, he is claiming that he can and already has arranged for me to have complete joy.

Who or what ever claims to offer you complete joy?   A house makeover, a body makeover, a new car, a new wardrobe, a new husband, a new job, how about just a new cell phone (can anyone say Verizon iPhone – at last!!)..None of these even pretends to claim to offer us joy, let alone complete joy.  But here is Jesus, explicitly going out on a limb and informing us that he knows us well enough to provide what we cannot even imagine will satisfy us.

I, Maria, don’t even know what will provide me joy. Yet…this offer of his joy, of total joy..it  beckons and stands alone in the universe, unrivaled by anyone, anything.

Hmm…and it doesn’t sound like it will cost me much.  I don’t have to give up my job, my residence, my husband, my money, my habits….(my comfort foodJ  )  All I have to do is…..well..OBEY Him.  Okay, so what does Jesus command?  That’s a bit harder.  There are all sorts of commands in the Bible.  Do I look in the Old Testament or the New?

I can’t be too quick to narrow my scope to the New Testament, just because I am a Christian.  After all, Jesus announces he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  But didn’t the Son of God himself boil the cumbersome laws to just 2 commands – Love God…Love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36)  But wait a moment – there are OTHER two-law summaries. In 1 John 3:23, John reports Jesus as saying –“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”   And in Mark 1:15 – Jesus commands us to repent and believe the good news. So what is a sincere Christian to do?

Here is what I conclude.  Jesus tells us that if we abide in him and his word abides in us, (John 15: 7) then we can ask for guidance about what to do and he will instruct us.  There is no other ONE SIZE FITS ALL guideline than this.  Saturating ourselves with his word is enough.  When we take in and meditate on scripture, then we can think through propositional truth, what I call ‘Major Premises’ and they help us make decisions.

Here is an illustration.  I was making Coq au Vin for a small dinner party Sunday night.  As I was dredging the chicken thighs and legs in flour to brown, my first thought was “poor chicken – he/ she was slaughtered for me to eat” and I started down the PETA –path.  Then I quickly was pulled back to reality by a Biblical major premise, by a propositional truth. I was reminded that, ‘God has given us animals to eat and has blessed that gift in a conversation with both Noah in the OT (Gen 9:3) and Peter in the NT (Acts 10:13)’.  From there it was a quick move to 1 Cor 10:31 – So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

My joy was quickly restored and the guests enjoyed the chicken.J

Is cleanliness truly next to godliness?

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Set your heart on things above…..set your minds on things above, not on earthly things….Col 3 : 1-2

My relationship with housecleaning :

  • Off and on for many years, I paid someone to clean every week.
  • For years I scoffed at my husband’s standard of cleanliness and attributed it to growing up with a super-zealous mom.
  • We had marriage problems and I repented of having minimized something important to my husband.
  • Then money got tighter and I started cleaning myself.
  • Then I started identifying myself with how clean my house was.
  • Then podcasts took over my life and I looked forward to cleaning on Saturdays and filling up on sermons.
  • Then one day I heard something on a podcast that helped to shift my focus on what is truly important.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a picked up house and I do invest 3 hours a week in systematic but minimal cleaning.  But I don’t look at the baseboards.  I don’t look at the grime on the blinds.  I don’t look at the chipped paint of the indoor window sills.  Why?

In view of eternity, this house of mine (actually not my house, the bank lets us live in it as long as we keep up with the mortgage payments) will not last.  It will get burned up when we get a new heavens and a new earth.  So why attempt to hold to a standard of ‘new-looking’, if what we have on earth will not last?  If entropy is a natural law set in motion by God, then it makes sense that physical things (houses as well as humans) will deteriorate.  Physical things wear out over time.

So I clean every week, grateful to have a house, grateful to have the energy and time AND podcasts to keep me company. Yet I clean within reason, within the context that I need to be a good steward of possessions, yet husbanding my resource of TIME as well.  My identity does not derive from being an excellent housekeeper.  That would be idolatrous!

This eternal mindset is useful in other areas.  Mike and I dream of a retirement house in the hills of Virginia.  We often rehearse with one another the specifics of this mountain retreat.  It will be smaller than where we live now, but it will be sturdier, built to last, good quality materials.  All of a sudden, today, I pondered:  Why?  Why does it need to be of better quality (read more costly) materials?  Why would I want it to last?  It’s going to be burned up, too!

Didn’t Jesus say that about the temple?  When he mentioned in passing, as recorded by the gospel writer John, that he would destroy the temple and raise it up in 3 days, the people laughed at him.  The temple, renovated by Herod the Great for the 2nd time in history, was too solid, too well-built for that!  Hmm…so what was the point of fortifying a structure?   Was anyone obeying God specifically here?

So, if the temple was not meant to last forever, neither is anything else.  That means my house won’t last, my body won’t last, my collection of XYZ won’t last.  So why make something temporary so critical to my happiness or even my identity?

Instead, God calls us to focus on what WILL last, “things above”.  Paul reminds us Christians that we have already died. How is that?  Our old natures have died and our old way of thinking has died.  We have died to the mindset of this world that says what is tangible and visible will last forever.  Wrong!!!  All that will get burned up.  But we who are born again into a living hope have our lives safely hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ appears at the 2nd coming, we will also appear with him, in GLORY!!! (Col 3:4)

And that kind of glory needs no polishing.  I don’t have to work at it.  That is GREAT news.  So…let us hold loosely to stuff. Instead, let us invest our time and energy in people.  They are what matter. They will last forever, in one place or another.  The more people with whom we share the Gospel, the more permanent friends we will have in heaven.

PS:  I still look forward to our mountain home, but I hope we will use this reasoning to guide our selection of building materialsJ

What if we were enemies of God?

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  1 Pet 1:3

Being a Christian is not just about having eternal life. I don’t mean to minimize that inexpressible gift, but I want to highlight how belonging to the family of God makes a difference while we are in this earthly, natural body.

Imagine for a moment what it would mean in your life and mine if our relationship with God were different.  You do realize that everyone has a relationship with God.  You are either an enemy of God or a friend of God.  This is no ‘either-or fallacy’.  Those truly are the only two choices. Friends of God enjoy significant benefits during their 80 + years.

Once God has reconciled us to Him through faith (that is: knowing, believing and relying on His work at the cross), the benefits kick in. To appreciate what they are, let’s look at the life of someone who does not belong to God, someone who has not been born into a living hope.

  • He has no over-arching purpose in life that is bigger than him.  Life is just what he makes it.  He creates his own meaning.  But this imaginary meaning is meaningless because it is not anchored in any reality.  It cannot be anything other than wishful thinking.
  • When troubles, violence, pain come, he has no way of making any sense of them.  He is at the mercy of all that may upset his fragile life and harm those whom he loves.
  • By the time he has launched his family and is on the other side of the career curve, he begins to ask himself, “is this it? …so now I just look forward to retirement and then death?”
  • The above point applies only to those who are honest.  Most people push those hard questions away and fill their lives with  ‘stuff’ or ‘experiences’ or a new relationship, trying to generate some ‘joie de vivre’
  • He has nothing and nobody but himself to rely on in the final analysis.  An honest enemy of God lives with existential loneliness.
  • He has no access to any supernatural power.  He is left to battle sin in his own flesh.  Psalm 16: 3-4 quotes God as saying,

“As for the godly (the saints) who are in the land, they are the excellent, the noble, and the glorious, in whom is all my delight.  Their sorrows shall be multiplied who choose another god; their drink offerings of blood will I not offer or take their names upon my lips.”

I can’t imagine anything worse than to have God deliberately choose to remove himself from my life.

 

As adopted children of God, however, we are blessed more than we realize.  Here are a few privileges of belonging to God’s family:

  • We have access to EVERY spiritual blessing in Christ  (Eph 1:3)
  • We have been given fullness in Christ  ( we don’t lack anything)  (Col 2: 19)
  • All the promises of God are a resounding “Yes!” in Christ (they are available to us)  (2 Cor 1:20)
  • We can ask for wisdom when we need it (James 1:5)
  • We have already been given GRACE, PEACE with God and everything we need for life and for godliness (2 Pet 1: 2, 3)

The list could go on and on.  But what I treasure is an understanding of the purpose of life, how to make sense of life.  Life delivers hard, painful blows (Jesus even promises this) but we know that nothing happens without God allowing it.  His Word tells us that He uses all our experiences, bringing out of them good for us (and others) and glory for Himself.  I can trust God.  I don’t have to understand why things happen, but I know WHO is in charge and that He is trustworthy.

Furthermore, the fact that average earthly life of 3 score and 10 years of is just a blip compared with the REST of unending life with God in a different dimension  both anchors me and fills me with joyful anticipation.  The best is yet to be.

Following my own advice when discouraged

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Rejoice always, pray continuously and in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for Christ. 1 Thess 5:16-18

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”, so goes the folk wisdom. Only in my case, what I’m preaching to my gander, I need to follow myself.

My beloved is depressed due to a job he can’t stand and much uncertainty surrounding it.  He feels stuck because he needs to endure 3 more years in this job to qualify for a small pension from the government.  His body reacts with physical symptoms due to his dark gray feelings. His body’s response deepens his depression.  It feels like a vicious circle.

I spend time searching scripture to encourage him with God’s word.  Verses like:

  • Ascribe to the Lord power and strength  (i.e. don’t build up the circumstances and make them seem insurmountable)  (Ps 68:34)
  • But as for me, I will look to the Lord and confident in Him I will keep watch; I will wait with hope and expectancy for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me! (Micah 7:7)
  • Though the fig tree does not blossom….. (my version – though life is REALLY HARD right now)….yet will I rejoice in the Lord.  (Hab 3: 17….19)
  • As a man thinks in his heart, so he becomes (Prov 23:7)
  • I can do ALL things through Him who strengthens me (Phil 4:19)
  • I pray that the eyes of Mike’s heart may be enlightened in order that he may know …….. his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead. (Eph 1: 18-19)

But when my husband doesn’t respond to my encouragement, I can fall into feeling down too!

But wait a second!  I’m being two-faced then.  Who am I to succumb to my feelings?  If I am called to be my husband’s Ezer, his companion to help him, then God has equipped me.   I don’t have to battle his depression on my own!  I don’t have to let it bring me down.

If I’m encouraging Mike to change his self-talk, then I need to listen to my own advice.  I need to talk to myself, tell myself Truth from God’s word and not listen to my feelings which are based on incomplete knowledge.  I need to rejoice that God has given me the power to encourage Mike.  Paraphrasing Paul in 1 Cor. 15 “I worked hard…yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me!”  When I feel weak like I can’t summon up any more encouragement for Mike, I MUST tell myself the truth. I don’t have to succumb to discouragement.   Yes there is trouble in life, but Christ is with me to fight on.  I might not sense that I have the resources or energy to be an encouragement tonight, but I CAN trust God that He will provide manna for the evening, not now, but IN THE MOMENT.  “As is my day, so too is the STRENGTH, the REST and the SECURITY that God provides” (Deut 33:25) I can count on Him to provide manna in the moment.

Putting on my belt of truth and lifting up my shield of faith in Christ to ward off the fears and doubts with which the enemy so delights in barraging me.

How to use Logic to make a decision

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There’s a meeting I SHOULD go to, but I don’t want to.  And I feel guilty.  What to do?

As I was pondering this, I started thinking about why I feel guilty?  Doing so brought up some pre-suppositions that actually govern my life.

Since this is my 4th year of teaching (i.e. learning) logic to 8th graders, it occurred to me that I ought to flush out these unspoken major premises and see if they are legitimate principles for making decisions in my life.

What kind of meeting is the one I am angsting over?  A monthly women’s group.  The focus for November is to pull together baby scrapbooks for new moms from the Crisis Pregnancy Center.  Most of these brave mothers are financially strapped and providing a partially-started book is a tangible way to show love.  What a great cause!

Here are my selfish reasons for not going –

1)    I don’t like going out at night once I’ve come home from work

  • It means rushing dinner
  • It means missing an evening discussion with my husband
  • It means missing out on prized and precious reading time

2)    I don’t like doing crafts

3)    This is optional: I have no particular role to fill accept as attendee

So why would I go? – Here are some reasons

  • People expect me to attend
  • I like people to think well of me
  • I feel guilty when I don’t do what people expect of me
  • What people think of me is important to me

So my syllogism looks like this:

Premise 1 – I should do what I imagine people expect me to do

Premise 2 – I imagine that the women of the church expect me to attend

Conclusion – Tf, I should go to this meeting

*

If the above syllogism is sound (valid in form and true in its two premises), then why don’t I use that same reasoning for serving in the nursery?

After all, I did serve once.  I didn’t like it.  I haven’t been back and  – yet – I don’t feel guilty.

What is the difference?  I think it can be found in premise # 2 – I don’t imagine that the women of the church expect me to do nursery.  But the women’s group is different.  I attended most of the monthly meetings last year and haven’t since July, all for reasonable conflicts.  But I don’t have a conflict this time.  I just don’t want to go.  But the leader of the group and I interact occasionally.  There is no one with the nursery with whom I interact on a regular basis.  So I don’t feel ‘accountable’ to any particular person.  But this gal is different.  I know I would miss out on an occasion to encourage her in her service.

Hmm, now that I have thought this through, I actually want to go.  I want to go in order to support the sponsor of this group.  And that is a positive reason, not a reason born out of guilt.

Here’s the new syllogism

Premise 1Attending events in order to support and encourage the leadership is a good reason

Premise 2I can support this women’s ministry by attending in November

ConclusionTf, I will attend in November

 

About God’s glory – what I learned on my school’s retreat

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Psalm 19:1-2

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge

So whose glory are you intent on displaying?  Whose knowledge?  If nature purposefully magnifies God, why don’t we?

These are questions I ask myself daily.  For over a year, I have been painfully aware that I am more interested in communicating my talents and my uniqueness, hence ‘my glory’ than I am about making God look good.  Yet my daily prayer is, “Give me this day Lord, an opening to say something that makes much of you”.  Rarely, do I achieve that.  Now, to be truthful, I pray in the morning and then the rest of the day I fall back into my natural thought patterns of wanting someone to find me fascinating and ask me about my life.  Yes, I am well aware that this is pretty pathetic and also sinful.  I am stealing God’s glory.  After all, the reason you & I are alive is to glorify God.  So daily, I am NOT fulfilling my God-given purpose.

Last week our school, Summit Christian Academy, dedicated 3 days to an off-campus retreat.  The schedule for teachers and 7th-12th graders included community service, outdoor activities, free time, a talent show, games, small group time and a speaker.

The pastor’s theme was something to do about living a radically different life.  But God’s theme for me was, “How NOT to Rob God of His Glory”.  I was primed.  The young man from Lynchburg spoke for 3 one-hour sessions and it was in the last 10 minutes of Session 3, that God gave me specific insight on how to accomplish my heart-felt prayer.

The text was Acts 19: 13-16.  There were seven sons of a Jewish priest named Sceva.  These sons were exorcists who had observed Paul invoking Jesus’ name and driving out evil spirits.  They tried to copy Paul, although they were not believers.  At one point during an exorcism, a demon spoke out, frightening the seven fakers.  He said, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And of course, these startled and petrified men fled, leaving their very clothes behind them.

The pastor’s point (that God tailored to me) was that as long as we have our own agenda and are living for ourselves, we are NO threat to the spirit world, the world of demons. In fact, we are like the seven sons of Sceva, totally unknown to Satan’s minions.  Self-absorption, therefore, is a guarantee of totally ineffectiveness on behalf of the Kingdom of God.  I will add the other SELF-sins:  SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, COMPLAINING, WORRY, SELF-PITY, DEFENSIVENESS.  You get the picture.  As long as we are just about ourselves, we are certainly not glorifying Jesus.

But, if we realize that by our living for God’s glory, we can ‘stick it to the spirit world’ as the pastor put it, we are fulfilling our purpose.  When we don’t complain amidst difficult circumstances, we are a threat to the dark side.  When we are praising God for who He is, when we are praying, when we are patiently waiting year after year – in faith for God to work in someone’s life, we are taking a stand for the worth of God’s glory.   In short, when our thought life is so immersed in God instead of in us, we are confounding ‘the spiritual forces of wickedness’.

Paul is explicit in his letter to the Ephesians when he says that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but…..

We are ….contending against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.

As you can see, this pastor’s words during our retreat were the practical ‘how-to’ I needed to actively glorify God instead of Maria.  What is SO encouraging to me is that in light of what my purpose is and equipped with these concrete steps, I can now see how every day matters.  There doesn’t have to be any such thing as a wasted day, no matter how my personal ‘stuff’ goes.  Problems, setbacks, failures as well as successes are ALL occasions to wait, thank God, trust Him and pray.   I can also encourage someone who is flat on her back in the hospital or constrained in a nursing home that her life also matters, no matter her physical limitations.  One’s good attitude matters, one’s prayers for others matter, one’s good cheer matters, and how one spends her waking hours DOES make a difference in God’s kingdom.

So thank you Pastor Matt.  I, too, will enjoy opening my eyes each morning and imagining the spiritual forces of darkness grumbling, “Oh no, she’s awake!”

 

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