How God changes people

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For 9 years I struggled with bulimia; 6 years before I married Mike, followed by 3 more years.  A favorite activity of ours as young lieutenants stationed in Germany was to explore the German countryside by means of a nearby ‘Volksmarch’.  These organized 3-4 hour walks through villages and wooded beauty gave us time to talk.  I would ask Mike each week while we traipsed, “What am I going to do?  How can I manage or handle this scourge of bulimia!!?”   Poor guy!  My supportive and loving husband probably felt frustrated as he offered his comfort and solutions time and time again.

In my mind, it was all up to me to find a solution AND the motivation to implement it.  The problem was, I couldn’t trust myself to follow through, no matter how sincere my intentions were.

We were new Christians and I prayed my heart out, week in and week out.  But God didn’t give me a way to free myself from this addiction to food.  Instead, he removed the burden himself, in a creative way.  I got pregnant.

With that dramatic change in circumstances, I had a new, compelling interest and desire.   Caring for this baby growing inside of me replaced the desire to binge and purge.  Up until now, I hadn’t felt enough self-love to take care of my body. But now, for the sake of this new life growing inside of me, I WANTED to nurture myself with good foods and healthy practices.

The 7 1/2 conscious months of carrying another human being turned out to be what I needed to break the binge and purge cycle.  God be praised!

God CAN and DOES change people and we know that.  If you are a Christian, there was a time when you weren’t. Maybe you can’t remember that period if you have loved Jesus from an early age.  But many of us do recall feeling either indifferent or luke-warm about God.  And then something happened.  All of a sudden we were interested in reading our Bibles.  The things of God drew us in.  We might have attributed that newfound growing fascination as something we did. But we would be incorrect. Dead men don’t make decisions!

Paul writes to the believers in Colosse: When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. (Col 2:13)

That means that any interest, any LOVE for Jesus comes from outside of us.  As Paul so bluntly argues in his letter to the Romans – ……God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Rom 5:5b)

Mike, too, has experienced this ‘from the outside to the inside change of heart’ regarding cars.  After those couple of years stationed in Germany, the land of VERY fast and powerful automobiles, Mike returned stateside with a growing, almost insatiable love for cars.  About 15 years ago Mike started noticing the decreasing pull of all things automotive.  During the span of 37+ years of marriage, we have bought, owned and sold 28 cars, not counting motorcycles.

But God!  Yes, God removed the interest, the mania, the seemingly insatiable desire for new wheels.  Mike didn’t set out to change.  In fact, he didn’t think he needed to change.  God has been working on Mike’s heart and shifting his values.

When we married at 22 (we’re now 60), we were not even believers.  Over the years, what has emerged as our favorite time of the day is something we would never have imagined in the first 25 years together.  The dinner-prep time, those 90 minutes when we’re in the kitchen fixing dinner and tomorrow’s breakfasts and lunches, we talk and listen to music.  Before we sit down to dine, we each get out our notebooks where we’ve observed and written down what we noticed in the day’s Scripture reading.  Inevitably Mike will have picked up something that passed me by and vice versa.  This in-depth exchange deepens our love and appreciation for God’s holiness and his Word. In our twenties and thirties, talking about God held no place in our daily exchanges.  God has planted and cultivated this now-cherished habit.

Last year I witnessed two other new desires that ‘came up out of nowhere’. (I’ve written previously about ‘dining with my school colleagues’ and ‘wanting to continue teaching and working on my craft of helping students with Second Language Acquisition’). What I love about God is how he surprises and delights me.   Maybe that’s what my family should etch on my tombstone, “Surprised by God!”

Recently, God did it again.  The change caught me unaware.  But this time, I connected it to a pattern.  (Why had no one comforted me with the FACT that change IS possible in God’s kingdom and that it is not all up to us!?)

Here’s what happened.  As I described above God rescued me from bulimia in my mid-twenties. Although the binge-purge pattern no longer ran my life, my obsession with eating and how I looked and felt about my body still plagued me.  The scales have been a powerful idol for decades.  Gradually God has weaned me mostly away from them.  But I still don’t trust myself to stick to any resolutions.

But God!  Yes, he has changed my desire.  Visiting with Shay and Graham over Christmas prompted an unexpected change.  They have been following a plant-based way of eating for 2 years.  Whereas I have always enjoyed the occasional vegetarian meal I considered it extreme to avoid all meat and dairy.  I like meat and dairy.  But watching the documentary Forks over Knives changed me.  I happened to ask Shay a question about the smoothie she was preparing.  It was Christmas Eve and we had a block of time before heading to church.  She asked me if I wanted to see for myself what caused them to switch.  I did and I was convinced.  Plant-based eating IS healthier and CAN minimize one’s risk for disease.  For me, it was a ‘no-brainer’.

And with that, I switched.  Mike, a very good-hearted, generous and supportive husband, agreed to drop his morning yogurt and share a smoothie with me. My lunches, breakfasts, and snacks are plant-based. And I agreed to prepare an ‘every-other-night’ entré of meat.    After all, Graham and Shay have adopted a ‘reasonable’ 80 %-of-the-time- vegan lifestyle.  This allows for eating what is served them by friends, or the occasional desire to sample something not plant-based.

A few weeks into this way of life, I recognized that I no longer care what the scale says.  What I value is eating healthy.  Surprise!  When we drove down to Tampa for Christmas, this new world of plant-based cooking was not on the radar.

So here is the principle.  Don’t angst about a change you can’t seem to make for the better.  Give it to God to bring about:

  • in his perfect way
  • in his perfect timing
  • to his glory and your blessing

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

PS:  I think the desires the Psalmist had in mind are not what WE think we want, but rather what God wants for us as his beloved children!

 

 

One anothering – don’t stop

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Christian friends are invaluable.  We encourage one another by listening well. We pray for each other.  We redirect sisters and brothers back to God.  We focus on firm Truth in light of scary, wobbly circumstances. We offer our presence, sometimes just simple shoulder rubs and tissues.

And we never know what will help. But we stumble ahead and give what we have. Because God is in the business of using us to comfort others.

The other day, I was still mucking around in my latest pit-version of a long-term struggle with sin. Midday, Mike threw me what turned out to be a lifeline. He emailed Psalm 37 to me at work. At least once a week he shares a reading from his daily devotional.  Nice. Familiar.  Comforting.  Insightful as to what strikes him.  But THIS TIME what he forwarded seismically changed my thinking.  As RC Sproul says, ‘Ideas have consequences.’

God used one verse, a promise, to lift me out of the mud and set me on high ground.  I was stunned by this concrete, tangible proof that…….

……the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

God’s pledge, known and divinely written by David in Psalm 37:5 launched me into new space – a kind of freedom.  Here is how God’s promise goes:  Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him and He will do it!

Immediately I saw my sin AND the path to rescue and freedom!

For years, I have struggled with ‘how to eat’ so as to ‘feel good about my body’.  The battle came from wanting to eat as much as I want, without limits, AND wanting to feel happy in my body. Nine years of bulimia, stopped by God’s mercy due to my first pregnancy, preceded the past 35 years of overeating and agonizing.  I have learned to control, sort of, my ‘habit’ of the overeating. Yet I still obsess.

For 37 years Mike has walked with me in this struggle.  Recently his God-inspired wisdom jolted me in a healthy way.  First came his observation that perhaps God has ordained this ‘design flaw’ or THORN in the flesh to be His means to draw me to Him. New thought!

Gently he pointed out that I’ve been asking God for a way to manage or control my sin. He offered that maybe God in His goodness has NOT given me a manageable way to eat or exercise.

All along I have labeled the OVEReating as ‘THE SIN’.  I never considered that my desire to CONTROL could perhaps be sinful.

Further light opened my cage door wider.  Paraphrasing 17th century English pastor William Gurnall: When you pray to God, add a vow.  But make sure there is no hidden sin in your heart. Gurnall then cited one of David’s prayers to the effect, ‘God, grant me _________, so that I may praise you.’

Stunned into pondering how I might EVEN word a prayer request to God about this eating/control issue, I realized that any petition would basically be asking God to give me a way to control my sin.  Furthermore, the idea of adding a VOW stopped me cold.  I saw clearly for the first time that there was nothing holy in my request.

Into that void, Mike’s email sharing Psalm 37 arrived.  Again verse 5 brought light that gave me power-filled hope, what I call ‘crunchy’ or substantial.

Commit your way to the LORD

Trust also in Him 

and He will act

What I saw for the first time was this:

  • I’m to give this ENTIRE thing to Him, the triune God.  It’s not my problem or issue.
  • I’m to place all my confidence in Him, not me
  • And most importantly, HE is the one who will act

Could things be any clearer?  All along I’ve been wanting to control this problem so I could feel good about myself.  But seeing that there was nothing praise-worthy in God answering my prayer the way I have so desperately sought startled me.

Do I know what to do?  Not if I mean, do I have a new plan.

But do I know the purpose of food and the body?

Yes!  Food is to fuel my body and to enjoy.  The body I inhabit temporarily is so I can serve others and God.  The end or purpose of all I do is to glorify God.  Beyond that, I don’t need to go.

I’m still chewing on the simplicity and the power in this promise.  It FEELS to good to be true – simply to hand over a burden and trust God to act.  But I do feel free!

Conclusion?  Don’t stop offering God’s Word to others.  You don’t know ahead of time what God will use to heal someone.

 

What God commands – impossible!

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May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors. 1 Kings 8:58 (NIV)

I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.  Psalm 119:112 (ESV)

I argued ALL day long!  Conversing with God throughout the hours, using Gospel logic. And at the end of the day, I was exhausted and still miserable and STUCK!

What was the matter?  Nothing more than not being happy with a number on a scale.

You’d say that my battle with the idol of the scales and an arbitrary weight I have self-assigned is IRRATIONAL.  And you’re right.  But I can’t seem to respond to unbiased logic.

The two-day battle took place on a Monday and a Wednesday (the one-day reprieve provided some emotional rest).

What made things worse was seeing that appealing to God’s promises and statements of Biblical fact did not appear to help.  In times of suffering, my go-to verses are these verses that I have personalized:

  • No good thing do you withhold, Lord, because I belong to you. – Ps 84:11
  • I know you do ALL things well, Jesus. Mark 7:37

Between affirming those truths, I tried to OBEY him.  Repeatedly I cast THIS care onto Him.  (1 Peter 5:7) But when no emotional or spiritual relief came, I concluded ‘it hadn’t worked’ and told my Father again, “Look, I’m casting this on you.  Help me!  I’m trying to do what you ask!”

I finally told my husband what I was struggling with, sheepish and ashamed, because we’ve been married 37 years. He has listened to me many a night pour out the same grief and pain.

Besides sharing a powerful insight that maybe this ‘thorn’ is a permanent gift from God, meant to drive me even closer to him, he offered this advice:

Maria, you can’t even begin to do what God commands, such as handing this issue over to him.  He has to help you even with this!  In fact YOUR acknowledged helplessness and powerlessness is what God wants from you, not your obedience.  He knows you are incapable of obeying.

Further tender counseling on his part revealed that I have a ways to go to think rightly about this burden.  Mike pointed out that I’ve been living and functioning as though eating and my body-care were something I could manage or control.  I realize this is a lie, an illusion that I have WANTED to believe. What betrays me is how often my prayers have been:

  • God, Father, just show me HOW to eat and WHAT to eat so I can be done with this.  I’m sick of focusing on me.  I want to be free of thinking about me.

A young friend shared recently how her days are REALLY hard and painful. She’s a young wife with a baby.  Continually she cries out to God for help.  But he doesn’t seem to respond.

Her experience and mine find company in the Psalms.  Some of those dark, hope-less accounts of David and Heman, one of his musicians, don’t end with cheer and relief from God.  Read Psalm 88, all of it.  Here are just two verses:

13  But I, O LORD, cry to you;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

14  O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?

Why do you hide your face from me?

What I’m concluding is that God DOES care.  And if He isn’t answering me in the way I expect him too, it’s because he’s still up to something good in my life.  The story is not over yet.  I just thought that BY NOW, I’d have put THIS struggle to bed.

One byproduct of this misery is this:  I find that I am far more compassionate with some of the ongoing patterns of sin and pain other struggle with, especially the kind we bring on ourselves!

But I’m tired.

What about you? Do you feel saddled, still, with the ‘same ole, same ole’ sin?  What has helped you?

 

What are you hungering after?

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CS Lewis writes something to the effect that if you have a desire that nothing on this earth can satisfy, then that unfulfilled longing points to a future fulfillment in another dimension, that is later when we have new bodies on a new earth.

He bases that argument on the simple truth of:

  • hunger pointing to food for satisfaction and
  • fatigue being remedied by sleep and
  • work as the antidote to the desire to make a meaningful difference in life.

I recently was re-comforted with Lewis’ explanation when I gazed out at the beauty of our Smokey Mountains here in Western North Carolina.  Sometimes my heart is stunned and unable to drink in God’s splendor.  I want to absorb it, holding on to it forever,but can’t. And then I feel sorrow and regret at having fallen short.

138 - Misty view of Smokeys toward TN

Per Lewis’ logic, however, one day you and I will have the capacity to take in beauty, to digest it.  But in these limited bodies, we can only gaze and marvel and leave what God has created outside of us, underused.

Moving from external beauty to the beauty of God’s word, I recently came across a glimpse into how pastor John Piper views Scripture.  His words gripped my heart because they were echoes pointing to my longings, too!

Early one Sunday morning my discipline was taking me through Luke 18. It was one of those times when God came near with unusual force. Christ stood out from the pages as irresistibly compelling. Every paragraph made my soul yearn to be radically obedient to Jesus. I felt that no one ever spoke like this man. No one ever lived free like this man. No one ever demanded what he demanded and gave what he gave. So I wanted to take this chapter with me all day and feed on it and fight unbelief with it. I didn’t have time to memorize it. What could I do? I decided to tag each paragraph and remember a key statement from each paragraph under that tag. I noticed that I could think of tags that began with the same letter…..

This man wanted to ingest God’s words just like we do when our hearts are pierced by nature.  When we know we can’t quite take it all in.  We lack the dimensions, the faculties, the capacities to do justice to God’s creation to His Word.  But if we apply CS Lewis thinking, we can reassure ourselves with THE FACT that:

  • If we have a longing that can’t be satisfied on earth in these bodies, then we can be confident that somewhere and at a point in the future, God WILL satisfy, fulfill and meet those good desires with what He created them for.

Our hungers are ultimately longings for God.

Can you wait?

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”  1 Cor 2:9

 

Perfection and futility

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clay pot  “There I go again!”  as hammering self-condemnation reprised.  I had just done what I didn’t want to do, overeat.  Nothing really sinful in that per se, except that overeating is a gateway to my sin of self-centered, interior moping. More familiar than any other melody is my original adaptation of the human ‘Ode to my Pitiful Self’.

But thanks be to God and Bible-centered preaching and writing! Pastor and teacher John Piper rescues imperfect sheep prone to turn inward by proclaiming a recurring life-giving message of: “Don’t waste your disappointments, trials, suffering, failures,……”

God must have thought it was time to break my bent towards control and perfection with this sovereignly ordained ‘trip-up’.  So what galls me the most?  What sends me into despair each time I let myself down and overeat? Certainly not His condemnation, but MY disappointment with myself.

Here’s the rub:  Why am I even surprised that I can’t do what I want to do?

Like Paul, I wail: I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

“Stupid!,” this home-grown expectation or gateway toward self-chastisement. A recent podcast drove that home.  The speaker had been in therapy for a broken marriage and started to heal when she made the connection between her:

  1. Assumption that I CAN be perfect (do what I want to do)
  2. Anxiety over the burden of trying to be perfect
  3. Bondage to control in order to gain perfection

I suddenly saw the futility when I realized that we were never meant to strive for perfection.  In fact, God has intentionally designed us the opposite!  The human model comes with abundant limitations.  We see them as flaws; He ordains them as gateways for God’s glory and grace to show.

...we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 2 Cor 4:7b

Breakable clay is the term for earthenware. In Paul’s time, vessels, plates, jars, cups were made of a clay mixture containing oyster shell pieces. God has purposefully made us out of crumbly stuff.  The Almighty Father and Creator made us delicate and fragile so that we would depend and rest on Him to do all that He calls us to do.  He didn’t aim to populate His kingdom with self-sufficient, sturdily consistent perfect little beings.

That is good news, brothers and sisters.  Let it go, all those expectations of how you want to act.  Yes, we are called to be imitators of Jesus, to be holy because God is holy.  But He knows we are going to blow it, multiple times a day.  Why are we the last to accept that?

Holy Spirit, remind me straight away when I miss the self-assigned mark I naïvely think will make me feel good about myself.  Grow me a new song,

a melody of music“Here I go again, a perfectly designed child of my Father who just sent me a love note that says, ‘Maria, come to me with your mess; don’t be surprised, you just need to give it a rest and flop down and swim in my grace and love!‘”

 

 

Love my boundary lines!

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Sheep in a pen

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Psalm 16:6a

My thorn in the flesh that keeps driving me back to God in desperate need is my tendency to overeat and then get down on myself. I thought I had been liberated from that vicious cycle back in December.  It was then that I renounced once and for all slavishly weighing myself and tracking my exercise day by day.  But then, 10 days ago, I noticed that a certain pair of pants felt tight.  Immediately I spiraled into fear and loathing.

In a nutshell, I suffer from conflicting desires of wanting both to be lean AND to eat as much as I want.  I also fear future hunger and despise feeling stuffed. Taking liberty with the apostle Paul’s cry,

Oh wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me out of this ….(ceaseless struggle!) – Romans 7:24

As I went round and round with God both in prayer and reading my Bible, He brought to mind that psalm snippet above about limits.  Yes!  I NEED boundaries, both to feel safe and to forget about myself. I’m not much different from a dog that escapes from his restrictive yard only to find himself in a big, scary world on the other side.  Once he’s back home on the safe side of his fence or wall, he might then trust his owner’s wisdom and leave off future waywardness.  Actually I bet a dog needs far fewer repeat lessons than I do! After all, I’ve been fighting that wall with God since I was 16.

The Holy Spirit also reminded me what I have recently absorbed, that as Christians, our primary ministry is to our family. For me, my husband must be my focus. And if I am sucked inward, feeling bad about MY body, MY choices and MY satisfaction, I am NOT ministering to this man God has lovingly brought me.

Quickly my plea for guidance, “What am I to do, Lord?” turned into thanksgiving and praise for His Truth revealed in my heart.

Yes, I DO need limits and they DO make me happy.  Once THAT fact was settled, what I was to do fell into place.  No, I would not go back to weighing myself each day.  But I could cut out certain foods and reduce my portion size of others.

And if those parameters are what allow me to forget myself and focus on Mike and others in my sphere, then they truly ARE my happy limits.  Staying INSIDE the parameter is best.

Well, what about this fear of hunger and desire to eat abundantly?  I MUST ‘risk’ taking God at His Word and rely on His promise that I can do ALL things through him (Christ) who strengthens me – Phil 4:13. And all things means happily living with limited portions and occasional hunger pangs. For ifGod is leading me to stay within my boundary lines, then what He commands me to do, He will likewise enable me to do with Holy Spirit power.  As a Christian, it’s a fact that the Holy Spirit resides IN me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but One of love, power and integral/sound thinking.

Moving from believing THAT God….to treasuring Him

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Apparently 75% of Americans say they believe in God. Source of statistic here.  Sounds like a lot until you realize that 100 % of Satan’s henchmen believe God exists, for they rebelled against Him!

James writes in 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

Demons believe

Therefore, the frank acknowledgement that there is a god is insufficient. One obvious problem needing clarification is just who is this god that people identify?  Wouldn’t it be more useful if pollsters helped responders spell out just what KIND of god they believe in?

Let’s assume, for the purpose of this blog, that we have clarified and agreed upon the one and only true God. A problem remains.  Is it enough to believe that this God is real?

No!  And if that answer bothers you, then good!  But don’t despair if you suddenly fear that your belief alone is insufficient.  Read on:

I, myself, was assured this morning that I am a Christian and not someone akin to the demons.  For it IS a frightening assertion that belief alone in the existence of God does not make one an adopted child of the Father with all rights and privileges in his Kingdom.  Many people followed Christ during His public ministry, but very few were ‘His sheep’.  Why did they seek Him?  Food that doesn’t run out, replenishing buckets of water, healing, political solutions, purpose and identity come to mind.

John Piper, whose teaching continues to edify my faith, proclaims that valuing God for what He can do for you is not what it means to be a Christian.  That is a perverted version of ‘believing that God exists and is almighty’.  Saving faith is treasuring Christ more than anything He can do for you or give you.

Trembling like you might upon hearing this narrow definition, I often ask myself, “Am I a real Christian, then?”  For I DO appreciate all that Christ HAS done for me and promises to do.

But the Holy Spirit gifted me this morning when I was listening to one of Piper’s sermons.  God brought to mind my attitude toward God as a teenager attending church with my family. During my junior year of high school I fell into the horrible and frightening pit of binging and vomiting – bulimia. No amount of resolve broke the cycle.  Sunday after Sunday, I prayed in that same pew that God would remove this problem.  I knew enough about God’s previous miracles to believe that He actually could deliver me from this nightmare.  But He didn’t and I’m glad.  For I wasn’t seeking Him, just what He could do for me.

A couple of years into married life, the VERY bad news about my rebellion against God confronted me in a gospel-proclaiming service so unlike the pleasant, but anodyne church of my teen years.  If I thought the bulimia was my biggest problem……… (and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did – I used to smugly boast:  ‘My only sin is overeating!’)….. THE frightening and very real fact of God’s wrath against me was a categorically different crisis.

Both Mike and I gratefully grabbed the gift of pardon and adoption when offered the only remedy – Christ’s substitutionary death and life for us.

Did God then remove the bulimia?  No, not right away.  That deliverance did come a few years later when I was carrying our first son.  But more remarkable than that, God has undertaken to open our eyes to the wonders of the gift of salvation and all that awaits us.  I revel and marvel daily that before the creation of the universe, the Triune God planned for me to be one of His adopted kids with full rights and an inheritance and a future of endless joy far greater than the happiness inherent in freedom from food addiction.

The apostle John says in 1:12 – But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.

John Piper explains that it takes a miracle from God to change our desires. We can’t make ourselves savor anchovies if we’re wired to gag every time we pop one in our mouth!  Only the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power removes the lure of cheap delights and creates hunger for the Bread that never perishes, Jesus Himself.

So, if you have ANY interest in Jesus or in reading your Bible, take heart. That’s a permanent holy gift planted in you by our loving Father. Thank Him for it and pray that He would cause your enjoyment of Him and His presence to grow, surpass or replace anything that either this world offers or He offers. Treasuring Him over His gifts is the goal that promises both to glorify Him and satisfy us.

 

 

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