What are you afraid of?

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You’ve probably heard about ‘disordered loves’.  That’s when you love something more than God.

If I’m honest, I struggle with THAT sin not only every day but also multiple times in a day.

What do I love more than God?  Theologically, nothing!  But functionally, I can rattle off probably 10, without pause:

  • my time
  • my comfort
  • my routine
  • speaking French
  • my ability to cook well
  • my appearance (being fit for my age)
  • READING
  • writing
  • sleep
  • long stretches with no obligations

And I haven’t even mentioned people I love!

Yes, I am aware that the Holy Spirit constantly is at work in this entire area of my life.  It’s called pruning, or sanctification, or suffering.

But the other day, something caused me to think about ‘disordered fears’.  I haven’t spotted that expression before, but books have been written about the disproportionate fear of man over the fear of God.  Or how we can become immobilized through fear of failure.

There are a hundred things to fear. And Christians and unbelievers alike battle fear.  Winston Churchill understood the evil of fear during wartime.

Here’s what prompted me to think about how our fears might be out of whack.

First I saw God’s emphasis on loving HIM above everything else.  This lesson has recently been reinforced as Mike and I journey once again through the Bible in a year. Today we finished the book of Joshua.  This successor to Moses is about to ‘be gathered to his fathers’ and he passes on his final advice and admonitions to the congregation of Israel at Shiloh.  He spends a good deal of time recounting God’s faithfulness to the Hebrew tribes, beginning with Abraham and mentioning this fact:

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” Joshua 23:14 (NIV)

BASED on what God has done for them, Joshua explains their responsibility to LOVE God.  It’s a command.  If it’s a command, it must not be a feeling.  Because ephemeral feelings come and go.  Loving God turns out to be an action that looks like this:

  • serving God wholeheartedly
  • clinging to God
  • preferring the one true God to other Gods
  • obeying God
  • worshipping and sacrificing to this God only

But how did I connect this directive to love God to what we are to fear?  Well, you can’t read much of the Old Testament without picking up the importance of ‘fearing God’.  Proverbs 19:23 is just one of many verses: “The fear of the LORD leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.”

Earlier in the week, I was wallowing in some non-God fears.   Kind of like Pilgrim mucking around in the Slough of Despond.  But thanks be to the Holy Spirit!  He brought me up short about the sin of fear.

I saw that these temporal fears (I’m gaining weight, some work-related circumstances might never get better, what if………….happens?) were occupying my thoughts and causing me to be despondent.  That was a slap in the face to God.  God brought me up short about my unbelief in God’s good (*good as HE calls good, that is whatever facilitates my eventual conformity to Jesus) plan for my life.  That realization led me to confess that I was fearing FIRST and FOREMOST something other than God.

I now see that if I shift my thoughts and energy to fearing, to pleasing, to caring about God’s reputation, then maybe my other fears will fall ‘into’ place and to their correct size. God doesn’t want us to deny our fear; He invites honesty.  BUT He is at work to place them in perspective.  Loving God leads to life.  Fearing God leads to life.  Loving AND fearing something over God leads to death.

It’s a new thought for me.  What about you?  Do you struggle more with disordered loves or disordered fears?  OR…..are they one and the same, two sides of the same sin?

 

 

 

Spiritual attack and renewal

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Before we moved to Asheville I wasn’t aware of being under spiritual attack.  As a lover of God’s Word, I should have been!

1 Peter 5:8

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

My first years at my school in Asheville his weapon of choice took the form of parental complaints to the principal. This year, he dialed up the discouragement knob.  I’ve been aware for the past 3 years that complaining, gratitude and contentment are connected. When I complain, I invite unhappiness.  So recognizing the grumbles and replacing them by cataloging blessings has been the approach I’ve PRAYED to employ. Intuitively I knew that gratitude could defend me when mildly demoralized.

The enemy turned subtle; however, the attacks intensified.  He selected a foreign language departmental meeting to resurrect a familiar conflict between those who employ a grammar-based approach to teaching and those (me) who advocate a comprehensible-input method.  I felt like giving up.  The effort to advocate for proficiency over accuracy loomed exhausting.  And I fell into low-level depression.

But God….had sovereignly scheduled a fully-funded conference for me and 7 other colleagues to attend.  Zip enthusiasm. Nada!  I was seriously contemplating giving up teaching after this year.  Two nights before my scheduled departure, the demons descended in force. Could have been just one, but it sure felt like a host of them!

The effect?  I stayed awake most of the night, feeling the energy for any of my roles drain away. Whether managing the day-to-day family budget, facilitating a monthly women’s group at church, writing blogs, or especially my job. Fear filled me and sleep was alien.

But God….revealed the next morning during my time with Him that this was a new form of spiritual attack. That startling insight alone made the difference and carried me through the day.  My resolve to FIGHT grew back.  By the next night I actually felt some enthusiasm growing for the trip.  Then insight.  I could see that God had ordained this conference IN ORDER to refresh and energize me for the next phase of life.  And in order to remind me to depend on Him.

And energize me He did.  I sought out workshops led by advocates of the comprehensible input way of teaching foreign languages. The old mojo flooded back.

That vicious and evil feline tried once more that night of conference day 1. I awoke at 2 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. He repeated his destructive sword parry the following night as well. OVER-WHELM-ING did everything loom. All the changes to shift my lesson focus back on a proficiency track seemed impossible GIVEN the obstacles I played over and over in my mind’s eye.

But God….countered with Truth.  He reminded me that if He planned this trip and allowed me to undergo the attacks to toughen me up, then He will lead me each day as I create and plan new lessons.  I don’t have to have all the answers or specifics in place for the rest of the year.  He is enough.  After all He is my ever-present Provider.  So I do what any of us must do in this world, as temporary New Creation sojourners in a yet-to-be redeemed world:

  • we walk WITH Him, hand in hand, keeping our eyes on the One who creates and sustains

Whew!  Glad I’m not in charge.

Deut 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 

 

What Elijah and I have in common

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1 Kings 19: 3,4b, 5a –   Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.……….. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

I was having an Elijah day.  Tired.  Leg and foot cramps at night degrade my sleep. So when I hop out of bed more than the customary once per night, I feel FOGGY and handicapped the next day.

As you know fatigue is NOT conducive to feelings that represent reality.

I had gotten up at my customary time, knowing that I needed time with the Lord on my walk and at the kitchen counter reading my Bible and praying.  If I didn’t set TRUTH front and center in my life, I would not make it through the day teaching school and interacting with colleagues.

Even with the reminder of our unchanging God, it was still HARD.  The feelings, which seemed to originate from WITHIN me, kept up their assault:

  • I don’t really care about kids!
  • I’m too old to be teaching in a Middle School
  • But where am I going to find another job that pays this much and frees up my summer for family and friends?

Finally, I chose to ignore the feelings and NOT yield to the temptation to draw any conclusion.

I found refuge in this promise from God:  My grace IS sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect when combined with your weakness, Maria.  2 Cor 12:9 (includes my personalization!)

The next day, after a better sleep (Thank you, Jesus!) I thought of Elijah and his emotional outburst and wrong conclusions.

If you read the entire passage in 1 Kings 19, you can clearly see God’s tenderness.  He doesn’t rebuke Elijah, but causes him to sleep, then sends an angel to feed him and to invite him to sleep some more. Only then does God dialogue with Elijah and set him straight with truth – that Elijah is NOT the only believer left, but there are another 7000!

So dear friends, I am learning (and RE-learning) not to agree with or even fight feelings when I’m tired, but just to lay them in Jesus’ lap and take care of my body.  There’s plenty of time to figure things out WITH God knowing that He has promised to give me perfect power for my needs.

 

 

Fighting discontent with prayer

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Father, you who SHOULD be enough, forgive my discontent!

You specifically command us NOT to covet. And I continue to disobey you. Coveting, wanting what I don’t have, is the very opposite of loving you with 100% of my mind. As the sun of summer passes over the yardarm, I find myself internally grumbling and focusing on the countdown to the end of my quiet mornings and longer evenings. As though Jesus’ purchase of eternal life were not enough, my disquieted heart is MORE focused on my dread of going back to school. To the point that:

  • not only am I not reveling in these pristine mountain mornings,
  • but I’m deliberately avoiding your will for me that I rejoice, pray and thank you in every thing.

But you have not left me to fight this by myself. If so, then as Martin Luther so rousingly portrayed:

a mighty fortress

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing

So just how do you propose to help me, Father?  Your word to me in fear and anxiety has always been –  Armor-up, Maria!  Dread, that wicked picturing of a scary future, is simply a different flavor.  (And just as much a violation of your command to count ALL things as joy – whether trial or trove, since they come from You, for my good.)

I thank you, that your word in Ephesians 6 has taught me the following tactic:

  •  we’re to pick a weapon from the arsenal of your Word and fight the fear with spirit-indwelt force.

Here is what you gave me this morning during church and I’m going to make it mine in this battle with discontent:

James 5: 11-12 Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.

When I personalize your encouragement I find it easier to remember your promise. But I need your Holy Spirit to prompt me, to remind me of your sure pledge each time I’m attacked by those Satan-suggested gloomy pictures of the coming school year.  Then I can substitute your word to me for the fear scenario I’ve assembled.

Just like Job’s assignment was not what he chose, but he stayed under your heavy hand, honoring your name, with your strength I will stay in the seat you have seen fit to assign me this day, this season. In return for his loyalty, you blessed Job more richly than he ever could have pictured. So I will look to my future blessings.  You’re more kind than I can imagine, so just maybe you have woven treasure into what I’m dreading.  But if nothing else, may my sure inheritance in the next life fill me with enduring energy to be faithful to your will.  Help me to savor and daydream about what full fellowship with you, and overflowing joy may be like.   

God, you KNOW that I can’t successful win the battle against fear and dread without your supernatural help. But woe is me if I don’t daily take up the spiritual weapons you’ve handed me and use them throughout the day and night as the enemy lobs in artillery shells of discontent.

In Jesus’ name, whose intercessions I’m counting on, I pray.  Amen!

Truth ‘trumps’ fear

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No, I don’t mean Donald.

Truth, God’s truth, is the only remedy against fear and foreboding.

Truth by TK

2 Cor 5:7    For we live by believing and not by seeing

Hebrews 11:13  All these people died having faith

A dear friend in his late 50s struggles with the reality of sharing life with an aging church family, many of whom daily face diminishing health and abilities.  Yes, he IS a believer and he DOES rely on the FACT of his salvation. He DOES depend on the GRACE of God throughout the day and he most definitely DOES exercise faith by asking God for what he and others need. Yet, he is afraid of his own physical and mental decline and eventual death.  He views his life here on earth as DECLINE.  And ‘heaven’ is nebulous.

I have NOT responded well.  Nearing 60 myself, I lack skill in showing empathy.

At one end of my response spectrum, I shine at’ arguing logically’ WHY people should not think or feel a certain way. I am practiced at exhorting friends and family to view X situation in the light of T, that is God’s Truth.

And I do know how to offer sympathy – sort of.

But empathy?  What’s that?

Thanks to our guidance counselor at my secular middle school (God’s common grace!), I’m learning this different response that actually spreads balm.  EMPATHY offers this to a hurting soul:

  • That must feel frightening (frustrating, draining….) or THAT must be a relief (a welcome response, a comfort…).

Empathy does nothing more; it simply holds out a non-judgmental and safe space for someone to communicate just how they feel.  And often, THAT is the best gift you can give to a friend.

And if the friend WANTS or ASKS for help, only then should you offer a suggestion.

But….next time if my dear friend asks me, as a Christian,  how I handle the prospect of physical and perhaps cognitive decline followed by death,  here is what I might say:

Me: You believe God saved you, right?  How do you know?

Friend: I know because I believe the Bible passages that lay out the requirements for salvation, specifically Ephesians 2:8 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Me: Good!  And how do you handle the daily challenges and needs of life?

Friend:  I pray and ask God for His help.

Me: And well you should.  How about applying that same act to THIS situation, THIS fear. Exercise the faith that God has given you and turn to Him for His help.  For here is the TRUTH about God:

Psalm 68:19 –  Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

Since that is true, then we should…..

Psalm 55:22 – Cast on the LORD whatever he sends your way, and he will sustain you.

And since we know THAT fact, we then can turn to another promise….

Isaiah 46:4a – Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you

Therefore, we can confidently obey God when He commands:

Isaiah 41:10 – Do not fear [anything], for I am with youDo not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you; I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation]. (Amplified)

So, if we go back to the 2 promises at the start of this post about how we live and how we die, we are told and shown that ALL of life, breath to breath is by faith.

I know you would agree that we DON’T live by seeing the provision and direction ahead of time, but we trust by faith that the God of the Bible WILL come through and do what He promises to do.  That has GOT to be enough.

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

 

 

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’

 

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