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

 

 

Bringing up past mistakes

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Satan Accuses

Isaiah 43:24b-25  God tells the Israelites….

You have wearied Me with your iniquities. “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

When I read this verse the other morning, I immediately thought about voices that DO remember and RE-CALL my sins.  If it not be God, then who might be the source of those accusations?  

Satan for one.  He is called the ‘accuser’ of Christians in Rev 12:10:

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

But there’s someone else who hurls those attacks: ME!!!  All the times I beat myself up for something I did.  Either I indulge in that hurtful practice instead of repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness, or I replay the sin/mistake/offense DESPITE having repented and been forgiven.

What stopped me cold, however, this morning was the sinking thought:

Am I being like Satan when I, myself, bring up a past, covered-over and forgiven sin or hurt done to ME by a neighbor, friend or family member? It matters not whether I fling it at the person or just  fume in resentment.  It’s still satanic.

Maybe I should copy my older Brother Jesus instead.  You know Him – God who was slaughtered unjustly on the cross AND still forgave his murderers and loved them?

Hear the good news about God as promised in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

‘The Big Fall’ into sin – again!

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I noticed the contradiction for a couple of days and named it. Preached it, even.
Then I fell for it.  And sinned big.  (Like in those days before I had heard about God’s biblical plan for wives.)
But back to truth.  Here’s the insight:
“It makes NO sense to believe in the sovereignty of God over every molecule AND worry about how I want my day to go.”  That is irrational and stupid.
But it’s been that kind of week.  I’m going out of town on Monday and the days were filling up.  I WANTED to do X, Y and Z and I saw only limited windows of time open for me to take care of those ‘important’ things on my list.  And I panicked.  Even though I know better.  Even though God patiently sets up this lesson time and time again so I can trust Him.
This past Wednesday, the day of THE BIG FALL, I even comforted myself remembering that God has ALWAYS provided in the past.  Without fail.
Not enough time
And yet…the banner over me was NOT ENOUGH TIME, so I grimmed up and grew hard.  Our conversation through dinner prep and on into the meal took on a combative edge.
That was when I found myself dishing back to him in like manner, feeling fully justified.  Just like during all those selfish years, when I would rationalize – “If he’s allowed to play the dramatic, then I should as well!”  But you know how THAT always ends.
Sin is a shortcut to what SEEMS like a good idea in the moment.  But it never satisfies.  Emotion short-circuits clear thinking. Praying to God didn’t occur to me in the midst of feeling sorry for myself.
So, how did it all end?  My husband chose the ‘mature’ card of love and softness toward me.  Having put as many chores as I could between my eventually wanting to absorb the cool mountain air of an evening in the Smokies I sat down next to him in silence.  He let no more than a minute go by before turning to me. His question drew me out, back to the truth of how much we love each other.  The humble features and pleading eyes showed me how much his heart has grown Christ-like since our last ‘raise your own barricades’ skirmish.
That glimpse and the remedial lesson in trusting God’s provision were worth the pain!
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love ….. )  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

The danger of freedom

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I’m learning to think through what I hear in sermons and what I read.  When God wants to impress a truth on me, He tends to funnel the same message through multiple media.  The lesson last week that perked down into my resistant sinful pattern of thinking was: It’s not about me!

Before you scoff at how obvious that message is, let me assure you that it is VERY counter-cultural.  As pastor John Piper teaches, our society has been saturated with the mantra of the importance of Self-Esteem.  And you know as well as I, that a lie repeated oft enough takes on the weightiness and respectability of Truth.

self esteem

We slavishly work to think well of ourselves or gather praise from others.  That need becomes more than something nice to have.  It becomes our master, our God, and we its slave.

The other day, though, I was given a new thought.  I was feeling ‘sick of myself’ – just tired of thinking about me, what I eat, what my body feels like, how I’m doing with that perpetual thorn, how it’s the lens through which I view the world, the regulator that governs how much positive energy and interest I give to others.  Gradually, a life-altering truth took on substance:

  • It’s not about me.
  • It doesn’t have to be about me.
  • I don’t HAVE to even think about me.
  • Thinking about me doesn’t bring me any joy or energy.
  • I can actually be freed from thinking about me.
  • In point of fact, it’s about Him.  I exist, the birds sing, the trees sway, the oceans roar, the stars glisten, all of us alive to make much of God!

I had gone to bed the previous night with such new inklings swirling about in my head.  And when I awoke and greeted the gravel road for my morning walk and conversation with God, I started to think about me, as ‘per usual’.  But suddenly, the fragrance of freedom tickled my nose and I looked up at the stars and said:  I don’t HAVE to think about me today.  I’m FREE!!!

Well, if I’m not pondering me or my problems, then what am I thinking about when not occupied with teaching or conversing with someone or reading?  In all those interior, unencumbered moments, I get to mull over what makes our God so great.  And in fact, the Bible promises that far MORE joy, TRUE joy comes from those God-truths than any introspection.

  • Psalm 1:2  (How happy is the one who….) delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night.
  • Psalm 119:97  Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long

There’s also that statement of fact in verse 11 of  Psalm 16In your presence is fullness of joy….. I don’t think the psalmist is referring just to when we are in heaven with Jesus.  We are present with Him in a conscious way when we are thinking of Him. Therefore, joy comes from shifting the focus of my waking mind off of ME and onto God.

All day long, I felt like a little child, giddy with delight over a secret treasure.  I would stop and reflect, “Why do I feel so happy?” and then all of a sudden, the truth would flood back. “That’s it!  I don’t have to think about me!  I’m free!!

ball and chain

Do you want to know what happened that night?  I risked sharing this oh-so-tenuous feeling of potential permanent freedom with Mike.  He got it, what I was feeling.  All was well. We were enjoying some close moments of joy that come from sharing truth about God.

We sat down to our treat of dinner on trays and another episode of Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. At the conclusion of both, a tiff flared up ‘out of nowhere’ that isolated us one from the other. Mike headed down to the smoking cave in withdrawn silence and I mulled over delaying a grace-filled loving response to his probable text apologizing for his anger. “I want him to know how it feels to be the recipient of his chill!” I selfishly thought.

I sat down to read the paper and sure enough within 10 minutes, ‘ping!’, the apology popped up.  But his words changed my feelings.  He wrote: “I don’t know what came over me!  These feelings came out of nowhere!  I’m confused and hurt!’

Suddenly, I knew.  It was spiritual attack.  I immediately closed ranks with my husband.  Fingers flew furiously as I consoled him that none of this was about us, but about a new God-truth, that promise of freedom he and I had rejoiced over.  Satan does NOT want us to trust God.  He works to thwart that glorious Freedom from Self.  This enemy of God also wants to disrupt and destroy married couples.

With that life-restoring revelation from God, our conversation whipped back and forth as we discussed this dark assault.  We moved closer together but weren’t quite restored.  More conversation by email brought light and by our evening reunion, we were back on the same side, glad to be reunited.  But we were more aware of the need to remain one with each other, with God at our back, our side and in front.  He is our sure refuge in times of trouble AND in times of blessing.  Blessings can be dangerous, too, if we are not aware of our vulnerability.

PS:  It’s been 4 days and that freedom from self IS authentic and available anytime I want to let go of the boring!

Pop Quiz!

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Mexican Impasse

 

 

Ephesians 4:32  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you

Why did he bring up that old sin of mine?

I’m not often caught off guard, but his comment blind-sided me. It definitely related to the movie we were watching, but I hadn’t thought of that shameful chapter from my past for years.

My stunned silence in turn took him back. He hadn’t meant any – it was just a remark. My unexpected reaction so took him back and left him not knowing how to process what was happening.

A chilly distance and awkwardness descended upon us both.

We each felt put upon by the other. We each wanted the other to lay aside their feelings and make the effort to understand our surprise and hurt. It was a Mexican impasse.

Words weren’t adequate to work through the weight of feelings. I sat down to read the paper and he made his way to the ‘man-cave’ to smoke his post-prandial cigar.

Slowly there came over me a sense that I was being offered a pop quiz to plumb the genuineness of my verbal proclamations of love for my husband. Here was an occasion to put my money where my mouth was.

Do I truly love my husband as much as I tell him and others? If so, then aren’t his feelings important to me, even more so than MY own feelings?

And there he was, down in that cold place, next to the propane heater, trying to enjoy a cigar, but feeling UN-loved and MIS-understood and probably maligned.

Soft feelings of compassion replaced my desire first to be understood. A texting conversation began and after a flurry, I knew that offering him grace instead of holding out for what I thought I wanted (to be understood) was more satisfying. I went to bed in peace.

How did I know it was a pop quiz? Because the chapter in my book I picked up after our electronic back and forth addressed GIVING versus TAKING.   And John Piper’s devotional for the day was about forgiveness.

 

What anxiety reveals about me and you

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I realized during a busy period last week that my happiness was not based on Christ alone, but on ‘Christ Plus_____(fill in the blank)’

Christ Plus

That’s not something fun to admit.  But the realization came to me on Thursday, my grocery-shopping day, when I was feeling SCATTERED by all the tasks and details left unfinished at school.   There’s a lot of new tech at school this year and I’ve gained another class to prep to boot.  The workshop I had suggested presenting was staring me in the face with fewer than 40 hours to go and there just didn’t seem to be enough time.  You know the feeling!

But because God had sovereignly brought a blog essay across my path the week before, I was able to recognize and call out my sin for what it was – idolatry!  Just acknowledging that my anxiety in the form of feeling scattered and being bothered meant that I was living according to a formula for happiness rebuked by Jesus was enough to save me in the moment.

Here’s what I realized:  I have made my happiness and peace of mind dependent on getting through my daily agenda, that is

 ….getting stuff done!

To Do List

 

 

Guess what?  All it takes to disturb my happiness is to interfere with my ability to get stuff done.  That’s a pretty precarious position to be in since it means I have basically handed over to the vicissitudes of life the power to block my contentment and peace.

My husband often points out that:

  • unmet expectations are the source of frustration, disappointment and anger

I should know better about all this.  After all, I’ve listened to enough sermons by Pastor Tullian Tchividjean to know and explain his thesis about justification.  His main message is that we don’t have to do ANYthing to secure our justification (salvation) or identity since Jesus provides both.  But I had missed the corollary that Jesus also is the only/alone source of our happiness and contentment. Our formula for true happiness is to have Jesus, aka ‘to be had’ by Jesus.  And anyone who is ‘in Christ’, that is anyone who has given up his ability to help and save himself and who has handed over to Jesus the right to run his life autonomously is ‘in Christ’.

Here is the coolest thing. Once I SAW my sin and asked for forgiveness from Jesus, I felt light!  I was able to do my shopping and interact with the employees that I see every Thursday.  Because I wasn’t fuming about my day, I could focus on them and show interest in how their day was going.  And the more I meditated on this reality, I also was able to hand over all the stuff I needed to do and to realize that THAT LIST had nothing to do with my ultimate happiness.

By the way, the workshop on Saturday proceeded just fine.  The participants enjoyed it and were engaged in discussing God’s command to be free from covetousness and how He helps His flock to find true and lasting contentment.  All went off without a hitch, thanks to God working through the prayers of many of you!

If you’d like to read the blog post that set me to thinking freshly about true happiness, here’s the link

 

 

Wanting to be admired

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  MeVoilà my favorite topic – me! 

 

I’ve grown increasingly aware via my lived-out experiences as well as through reading Christian authors of this unpleasant fact: the more we grow in our knowledge of God and His standards of holiness, the more we realize how far short we fall.

 (Thank the good Lord that our salvation does NOT depend on meeting the bar, but on what Jesus did on our behalf!) 

So when the desire rises in me to boast, in a fake nonchalant way about myself or my kids, I have to pray to resist this pathetic urge.  For that is what it is – sick self-aggrandizement!

Why should I brag about how XYZ I am as though it is a true representation of my value?  Because it’s NOT who I really am.  Yes, I feel a momentary rush as I bask in my own self-proclaimed glory, whether you admire me or not.  But here’s the rub: it’s not the total picture of who I am.

Imposter Syndrom

To be honest, if you knew all those thoughts and feelings and actions that I keep from you, you’d laugh to think that I, Maria, even thought highly of herself for one moment.

 

 

 

 

So there we were last night enjoying supper with some friends on our deck overlooking God’s splendor.

Early Morning Mist at Gilead House - 14 June

And I was aware of wanting them to be impressed with how well I cooked as well as how smart, hardworking, well-read and fit I was.  And at the same time, I knew that to drop hints of my fake-veiled glory was to steal glory form the One who alone deserves to be magnified – Jesus Christ.  I even prayed about my tendency ahead of time, knowing that it would far better to do otherwise.  Admiring Jesus could be potentially life-giving to them and it certainly would satisfy me more deeply.

I think God allowed me to fall again into this sin and then have the opportunity in church today to repent and long to kill that instinct through His grace – aka HS power.  These 2 verses describe the Maria I want to be:

Psalm 34 – 2 to 3

My life makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble and afflicted hear and be glad.

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.

 

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