The danger of NOT being needy

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A friend unburdened herself to me last month that she was scared to find herself in the midst of a dry spell with God.  She doesn’t sense His presence any more.  He seems distant.   When she reads her Bible, she feels nothing.  She once felt alive to God, close to Him.

Now she finds herself going through the motions.  When I gently probed about what brought on this change, she didn’t know.  She couldn’t pinpoint exactly when her intimacy with God, her excitement of belonging to Him had waned.  She had woken up one day, all of a sudden aware that He ‘was gone’, as she explained it.

She asked me what she could do to get the old feelings back.  We talked about the external behaviors of Christian discipleship such as prayer, worshipping with other believers, thanking God, regular Bible reading, journeying.  She admitted that although she still attended church most Sundays, she had stopped both reading her Bible on a daily basis and pursuing regular time with God in prayer.  She felt hypocritical and mechanical in doing them.  Doubt about the efficacy of our prayers had crept into her mind.

As we were brainstorming and thinking about the practices of believers, God suddenly brought to mind what I think is the key to a close relationship with God.  Neediness.

I feel needy EVERY DAY and many times throughout the day.  I could chalk it up to my age and growing awareness of the fragility and incertitude of life’s circumstances. Or maybe I simply have no more qualms in admitting that in my own strength and resources I can’t do much of anything well, I’m just plain NEEDY!

Stop a moment!  Isn’t ‘neediness’ the very essence of being a created being?  But God as Creator, what does He need?  Not one thing!   To be God is to be self-sufficient.  To be creature is to be needy.

O, the happiness of being in want! That neediness keeps me begging God, scouring my Bible for His sure promises of provision, guidance and wisdom.  Daily, I journal about what I find in Scripture.  Likewise, I talk about the truth of God with my husband, other family and many friends.  I pepper emails with encouragement from God because when I point to God and His greatness, I FEEL renewed and strengthened.  All through the day, I thank Him as I see His provision.  When I start to dread tomorrow, I’m learning to rehearse why I don’t need to be afraid.  When I catch myself worrying, I repent of my unbelief and ask my husband to pray for me to trust God. I’m in constant dialogue with God because I live out of the insufficiency of Maria.

Yes, His mercies are new every morning, because my needs are new every morning!

Financial and health needs, relationship challenges, work problems, decision conundrums and other suffering have turned out to be God’s greatest gifts to me. I knew that at one level. But listening to all my friend is suffering and trying to DO to regain her once close relationship with the happy Triune, all-powerful God of the universe scares me.  I don’t EVER want to lose that.

Nothing compares to knowing God.

Where I used to begrudge any circumstance of neediness, I now THANK Him specifically.

Here’s how I have reworded Paul’s description in 2 Cor 12:10

Original: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

My version:  For the sake of a close relationship with Christ, then, I am content and thankful to be given weaknesses, neediness, hardships and problems.  For when I am needy, I am strong in the Lord.

For…..The fear of (losing) God is the beginning of wisdom” Proverbs 9:10

Know your heart AND your bowels!

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feelings

Proverbs 3:5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

Good life advice for Christians, right?

But wouldn’t you think the inspired author of Proverbs would have called us to trust with our mind or our will instead of our heart?  After all, don’t we decide matters rationally?

Hebrew heart language is NOT an anomaly.  Here’s another verse from the Old Testament:

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Looks like the Bible is again telling us that our actions stem from what’s in our heart.

Here’s advice from Moses that reinforces that point:

“The word is very near you,says Moses to a rescued Israel, “in your mouth and in your heart (from Deut 30:14)

My husband and I have a running friendly disagreement.  I say that feelings flow from thoughts. And he maintains that feelings surge up unbidden with no connection to thoughts. He maintains that he has little control over those very strong emotions that seem to take over in extreme situations like:

  • being blocked unfairly, whether in the car or in a conversation
  • being accused of having let someone down with that wrench to the gut and tell-tale invasion of red flush across the face

The Hebrews AND the Greeks did recognize and identify the source of THOSE powerful emotions.  They sprang from the gut or the bowels!

Lamentations 1:20 refers to this organ as the origin of the strongest feelings – no rational thinking or deciding going on here!  Look, O LORD, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death.

What about the New Testament?  Jesus gives us a vivid example of deep anger arising from within.  Do you remember when he and his disciples journeyed to Lazarus’ house? Before they even reach the house, sister Martha meets him and dialogues rationally with a calm Jesus.  Martha slips back in the house and notifies her sister Mary who runs out to see Jesus. Mary’s weeping when she meets him triggers a responsive emotional echo in the Son of God that is other than rational.  Jesus allows Mary to lead him to Lazarus’ burial site accompanied by a growing crowd.  John 11:33 – When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

That groaning is the same gut feeling that wells up unprompted by rational thought or beliefs.  I’ve heard pastors explain that Jesus practically snorted like a horse, so indignant at death was he.  Rationally Jesus understands the cessation of earthly life, but his physical reaction is beyond thinking and feeling.  It’s in a different category.

Why does this matter, this distinction between gut feelings/bowels and the heart?

It turns out that my husband and I ARE both correct in how we evaluate feelings.  There are those that well up from our depths over which we seem to exercise little control.  More often, though, we deal with the ‘ordinary’ and frequent feelings that flow from our thoughts and beliefs.

And because ordinary feelings spring from what Bible language terms, ‘the heart’, then we CAN learn to change them and that is GOOD NEWS!

Not only CAN we replace and rework the content, we must!  God emphasizes the heart and commands us to control this mind/thought/feeling/-deciding organ.   Garbage in , Garbage out goes the prosaic adage. When we DO filter the content of thought and ideas , our heart changes.

Since having recently recognized that the Bible tends to look at the heart more as the thinking organ of will and choice, I see this distinction all 0ver the Bible!  And I am helped.  Before, I had concluded that I had little chance to fight worry, fear or anxiety, but now I know that I CAN, due solely to the Holy Spirit in me.

God, through Paul writing in Romans 12:2b exhorts us…..continuously be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.

My current ‘go-to’ steadying truth these days seems to be:

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about (at fearful circumstances, either real or potential) for I am your God!  I will strengthen you; Surely I will help you; Surely I will hold you up with my victorious and righteous right hand! Isaiah 41:10 (Amp)

With practice (like in any other skill) I am learning both to desire and to obey my Dad’s commands.  I want to please Him!

More details about the Bible’s understanding of ‘the heart’

 

Freedom from…….

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Acts 3:12 And when Peter saw it (the crowd’s amazement) he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?

Peter and John encountered a crippled man hanging outside the temple in Jerusalem as they were entering to pray with other Jews. Reduced to begging so he could buy his daily bread, this man probably did not expect a physical healing that day.

But Peter’s response to the uplifted face changed this man’s status:

  • But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!

More surprising than the healing miracle was what followed. The crowd turned to adulate Peter and John. Peter immediately deflected the praise in a way that I find LIBERATING!

Think about what Peter announced in verse 12 above. Neither human power nor man-practiced piety (habits of prayer, Bible study and charitable giving) was the source of the healing. He & John were simply conduits for God’s power. They were using derivative power. People are but like the moon whose light is a reflection of the sun’s radiance. The source of the apostles’ miracle was God alone.

Therefore, the credit goes to God alone. Were Peter to claim otherwise, it would be as silly as a gas grill taking credit for the ribs or steak that a man barbecues. The grill is the tool. So, too, are we tools and vessels in God’s hands. Any skill, strength, idea, or desire we display comes from God.

man grilling

 

 

As I pondered this account and applied it, I started to feel LESS special. But then I realized that if I don’t receive the credit, than I ALSO don’t bear the burden for the results.

God alone is responsible; so the outcome belongs to Him. I’m off the hook! I just have to be willing to be used by God, to offer back to Him for His use all that He has given me.

This shift in job description means in effect: No credit and no blame or condemnation from the One who counts. (That’s not to say that other people won’t feel free to criticize, but they’re just ‘fellow grills, or sauté pans’ or other tools in the hands of the King of Kings)

As soon as I started to breathe in this freedom and release some burdens, the Holy Spirit gently reminded me of all the attributes I claim as MINE. I knew immediately that He was directing my attention to those qualities I like to think make me unique, the ones I tend to boast in, to take credit for:

  • Time management skills
  • Fitness and eating routines
  • French and cooking talents
  • Desires to read and learn
  • ‘Natural’ abilities to initiate conversations with strangers and draw them out

But why do I think any of those desires and habits find their origin in me?

Hmm, definitely food for more thought. If I’m going to be free from the ultimate responsibility as a derivative created child of God, then I am also going to have to give up any thought of being exceptional BECAUSE of all that stuff.

Prayer: Father, help me! MAKE me glad to be Your ordinary utensil. Give me the desire and inclination to boast happily only in You.

 

A dangerous question

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“Mike, what would you say is my most precious, cherished sin?”

It took him a moment.  Not to think of the sin, but to be sure I was serious about asking for that level of honesty.

The answer didn’t surprise me, but it still produced an ‘Ouch!’ because it rolled so easily off his tongue:

  • Your obsessive routines of eating, exercise, sleep and reading!

Let me set the scene, so you can see WHY this is such a squirm-producing topic.

My friend Regina gifted me with a weighty tome by puritan William Gurnall  – Here’s the link on Amazon

William Gurnall's book

 

 

 

 

Gurnall wastes no time in getting down to business.  He reminds his readers of Abraham’s ‘Let’s get real about whom and what you love most’ test administered by God as recorded in Genesis 22:2 –

  • Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Gurnall modified it to fit us!

  • Then God said, “Take your favorite sin, your most cherished sin, which you love  – X – and sacrifice it on the altar”

I’m aware of how often I sin, but to identify my FAVORITE sin, my go-to sin was hard.  So I asked the person who knows me best.

So there I was, face to face with THE QUESTION:

  •  Do I WANT to give up my routines that bring me such comfort?

Immediately the voice offered some reasonable words…

  • “Eating healthy, sleeping enough, exercising daily, READING….those are all good things!  Don’t be extreme”

The problem was, that wasn’t God’s voice.

Isaac bound on the altar

I read on in Gurnall.  In the very next paragraph he warned me that unlike Isaac who did NOT resist his dad’s securing him to the altar, OUR sacrifices will tend to crawl off the altar.

Satan facilitates the escape of the victim with a one-two soft punch:

  • What you do is not THAT bad…!

and the 2nd blow is….

  • Don’t rush or be too hasty.  Wait awhile.  Maybe you heard wrong.  Maybe your husband is just jealous of your self-discipline!

I talked this subject of idols over with one of my sons and his wife who is a true Christian sister to me. What we came away with was that prioritization is key.

  • Yes, it so happens that my habits of choice are healthy ones
  • But they can also become cherished control mechanisms for my ‘happy’ life now
  • It’s not an either/or situation that requires me to jettison them, but something easier to see but challenging to implement.

Jesus boiled down the Law to the 2-dimensional Law of Love

Love God, Love People

When my food, exercise, sleep and reading habits DON’T take away from concretely loving God and loving others, I can pursue them.  But loving God comes first and loving people is a way of loving God.

 

Practically it looks like this (I think!):

Priorities:

#1 – first part of my day I spend in Bible reading, prayer and medication on God’s truth – to get myself happy in God, which is my duty

  • Ps 32:11 – Be glad in the Lord and rejoice….
  • 1 Thess 5:16 – Rejoice always…
  • Phil 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!

#2 – whenever a person comes into my presence or NEEDS to be in my presence, spend time with her or him as appropriate (yes, we all have work to do, but work can become an idol as well!)  For me…..

  • that means remembering that my husband is my covenant partner AND BEST FRIEND
  • that means phone calls to family and close friends are more important than reading
  • that means that neighbors, students, colleagues and people along my daily path at the grocery store, in line at the PO at coffee hour at church are more important than reading something on my iPhone

The leftover time is what I get to invest in God-honoring ways.  If I choose to spend that time cooking or reading or walking or browsing Twitter and Instagram, I am free to do so.

 

Question:  Whom would you ask to help you see your most cherished sin?  And how painful would it be to keep sacrificing it in order to make room for more of God?  If this Gurnall book blasts away within the first 5 pages, I wonder what else is in store for me!

I’ll keep you posted.

 

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.  

Crazy Love – thoughts from Francis Chan

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Francis Chan shares a vision of what being crazy about God looks like.  Lloyd C. Douglas wrote a book in 1929 called Magnificent Obsession, loosely based on the Gospel of Matthew.  That title describes what Chan is trying to portray as the ideal Christian response to God.  Here are some kernels of thought that spoke to me.

  1. Quoting A. W. Tozer:  “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us”
  2. Regarding God’s command to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’, Chan says:  “When I am consumed by my problems, stressed out about my life, my family, my job, I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice.”
  3. Regarding control in the face of the uncertainties of life:  turning inward is one   way to respond.  Acknowledging our lack of control and reaching out for God’s help is another
  4. If we indulge in worry and stress, we are displaying arrogance.  We are declaring our tendency to forget 4 things:  -we have been forgiven/ -our lives are brief/ -we’re headed to heaven/ -in the context of God’s strength, that our problems are small indeed.
  5. The greatest good on this earth is God
  6. A piercing question:  Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live?
  7. How God measures our lives (and what matters to Him most) – how we love
  8. If life is a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream.  If we stop swimming (i.e. stop pursuing Christ), we get pushed downstream.  We are letting our relationship with Christ deteriorate.
  9. Nothing should concern me more than my relationship with God (not my weight, not my time)

10. When I look at my relationship with God as a duty, a chore, a sacrifice, then I am getting the glory, not God.

11. We have a choice.  Either we just let life happen or we actively run toward Christ.

12. Radical concept – how about aspiring to the Median – when people commit to live at or below the median US income and give the rest for missions.

13. ******What are you doing right now that requires faith?

14. ******We are consumed by safety.  Most of our prayers are for traveling mercies.  What about praying, “God, bring me closer to you during this trip, whatever it takes.”

15. ******Battling pride – we have to seek to make our self less known and Christ more known.

16. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances (my job, my weight, my time) or environment.  It is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God.  (which means that God must REALLY care about providing me with a way to cultivate joy, i.e. TRIALS)

17. A person who literally has to depend on God for his daily bread and all that includes stays in prayer, close to God.

18. Chan says he wrote the book because much of our talk doesn’t match our lives.  We ‘quote’:  “I can do all things through Christ…../ Trust in the Lord always….” But we try to set our lives up so everything will be fine, even if God doesn’t come through.

19. You don’t have to wait for a special calling from God to be obedient to what He commands in His word.  Jesus didn’t say, “If you love me, you will obey me when you feel called…..”

20. Chan quotes Daniel Webster:  ‘The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life.’(And we thought he just loved words!)

21. About churchgoers who are lukewarm – they will not be heaven.  He recalls God spitting them out of his mouth in Revelation 3.  If someone DOES have the HS, there will be fruit evident in his or her life.  His or hers will not be a lukewarm life.

22. His summary – most of us live CRAZY LIVES.  A crazy life is to live a safe life and to store up things while trying to enjoy our time on earth, yet knowing that any second God could take your life.  Better to have Crazy Love of God and let that guide you.  We should

–      Keep pursuing Christ

–      Keep the thought that we are not alone – the spiritual realm is watching us, both God’s force’s and the Enemy’s

–      Try for a whole day to be conscious of heaven

–      Remember that we have life and power in us through the Holy Spirit

–      Recall what Annie Dillard wrote – ‘the way we live out each day is the way we will live out our lives’

–      **The American Dream (i.e. build a bigger barn story from Luke 12) fuels a lukewarm life.  We should not conform to that pattern.

Chew well, fellow travelers, and may we burn brighter for Christ. May it never be said that we were lukewarm.

Dead to Sin and Remembering

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In Romans 6:2, Paul says, “We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?

I am a typical human.  I forget most of what I hear or read.  When I wake up in the morning, I have to remind myself of God.  I’m usually awake 2-3 minutes before I think of Him, even if my last waking thoughts were about God.  Like morning mist, He has vanished and has to be beckoned back.  But this is an improvement on my earlier life.

I used to live my life not even thinking about God.  The first time I was in church was when I was in a children’s choir in 2nd and 3rd grade.  We didn’t go to that church or any church, but my mother must have thought it was a good idea.  At the end of the year, we kids would sing at the two services, making for a long Sunday morning.  But that had nothing to do with God.  That was just choir and I even came to dread Thursday afternoon rehearsals because I wasn’t very musical.

I share this with you so you know that my early childhood was not spent in church.  I have come to God gradually, regularly attending from age 9 on, initially as a church-goer, not yet a believer.  But even when the Gospel became real to me at age 23, I still wasn’t in the habit of thinking about God all the time.  And now, at age 53, although my conscious thoughts go more often to God, I still find myself even going a couple of hours at a time without a thought of God.  That is a dangerous place to be.  It’s like being unarmed in a war zone.

If there were any verb that I would rate next in importance to BELIEVE or TRUST, it would be REMEMBER.

Psalm 78:42
They did not remember his power— the day he redeemed them from the oppressor,

Deuteronomy 7:18
But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh

Deuteronomy 15:15
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today and to all Egypt.

Psalm 137:6
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy

Psalm 106:7
When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

There are a host of verses like this.  They tell the truth about God and about who we are.  They call us to remember God’s past provisions to us, how He has rescued us when we called out to Him.  They remind us of God’s amazing promises – our true riches.  And finally they emphasize how we are new creations, recreated in Christ with certain powers and different duties and delights.

This brings me to the fact (that daily bears repeating) that we are NOW dead to sin.  Frequently I have to remind myself that I have a new nature with Holy Spirit power actually in me to resist those things my flesh tempts me to do.  Sometimes I forget and fall back into embracing as truth, the lies that call out to me:  eating this will be pleasurable/ sharing a juicy tidbit about someone will grant me the floor and everyone will listen for a moment / bragging on myself or my kids will make me feel important and I like that feeling.

So remembering who I am (an adopted daughter), where I am (in Christ at God’s right hand ……as well as…. here on earth with the HS in me) and what privileges and power I have (more than I can ask or imagine) all help to break the spell that sin has on me.

We would pity an heiress to a fortune who has forgotten that she has access to financial blessings and privileges.  It would be silly for her to live as a beggar-woman.  We, too, are rich beyond belief.  To the extent that we remember who and whose we are, then we can be free from the power of sin over us and live the life of the spirit which Paul tells us IS life and peace.   Now that is worth remembering!

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