I don’t know enough to be discouraged!

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I read a devotion this morning exhorting Christians to LOVE Jesus for what He has done for us (Galatians 2:20)

  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The author described the impact of one sermon preached by John Flavel (1627-1691) in England.

This English pastor did not hesitate to preach ALL of God’s Word.  In that same sermon, Flavel drew out the consequences for those who, having heard of God’s love, then go on to reject this good news and call for repentance:

  • If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!  1 Cor 16:22

Here’s the amazing fact that gave me pause.  A young boy within the hearing of that particular sermon immigrated to America, lived a prosperous and long life.  Then at the age of 102 or so, suddenly recalled Flavel’s sermon, repented and finished out his earthly journey AT PEACE with God.  You can read the account here.

John Flavel never knew the impact his preached word had on an anonymous boy.  Let’s imagine that Flavel lamented, with a bit of discouragement, the lack of seeming repentance among his hearers that particular Lord’s Day.

Would he have been justified in his conclusion?  Not if judged by the long-term results on one emigrant by the name of Luke Short!  Insufficient information would have led him to draw a false conclusion.

So, too, with you and me.  Most of my discouragement is truly a short-term conclusion.  I apply for a job and hear nothing.  My husband auditions to record an audiobook and receives a sympathetic rejection.  My adult children continue to correct, with love and firmness, a particular child’s unpleasant attitude.  Results ‘appear’ NOT to be forthcoming.  A resulting response can often be that we give up prematurely.

At the very least, may we adopt a humbler pose and simply rest on the FACT that our good Father has ALL knowledge and sees ALL events. That He is, in FACT,  in the process of bringing about HIS good plan.  Is it not a bit premature, if not arrogant, on our part to conclude, ‘THIS IS NOT WORKING?’

If nothing else, allowing God to be God will take unnecessary burdens off of us.  When Jesus invites us to swap yokes – our problems for His guiding ways and works, He first tells us that knowing Him is the key to trusting Him with all our goals and plans:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest Matth 11:27-28

The next time we are tempted to entertain discouragement, may we instead remember that the proper antidote to discouragement is to read, ponder and soak in accounts of God’s past deliveries.  He does know what He is doing.  And we don’t have enough information to justify any discouragement.

 

 

 

The cost of love

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‘Unused grace is like a fragrance capped in a bottle‘, so I read the other day in one of Charles Spurgeon’s devotions.

perfume bottle

Thinking about grace prompted me actually to list in my mind the 9 fruits of the Spirit, such as kindness, patience and self-control.   Those examples of God’s grace then reminded me of the qualities Paul exhorts the Colossian Church ‘to put on’ daily, such as compassion and humility.

Then God stopped me cold in my thoughts.  When do we act kind? or exercise patience? or control our emotions or show love?

Only in those situations that TRY our patience, with those people who are difficult to love, and when our feelings lure us to vaunt or to fall into self-pity.

Do I know what I’m asking God to do when I pray for Him to grow in me these qualities fitting for a child of God?

 

 

If we’re not living by faith, how are we actually going through life?

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Now it is evident that no one shall be justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith. – Galatians 3:11

I’ve heard that truth for years but it still puzzles me. It seems to run off the tongue of Christians like butter spilling off of hot pancakes.  Just what does God mean, day to day, by living by the law v. living by faith?

Walk by faith

Here are my specific questions:

  • Who are the righteous?
  • What makes them righteous?
  • Am I righteous? If not, how do I become righteous?
  • What does ‘to live’ mean?
  • What does the preposition ‘by’ mean and look like?
  • What is included in faith?
  • Where do we get that faith?
  • Faith in what, in whom?
  • How much faith do we need to ‘live’?

I’m not going to take time in this reflection to walk through, step by step, what ‘righteousness’ as defined by God encompasses.  I want to focus, instead, on what a life lived ‘by faith’ looks like, practically.

So ask someone else or search for yourself how the following facts are actually true. But in a nutshell Galatians 3:11 can be paraphrased like this:

When God declares that a man, woman, boy or girl is legally ‘justified or righteous’ that person is immediately enabled to live moment by moment – ‘ek pistis’ (by faith).  Of course something possible to do doesn’t mean we won’t be needing instruction and lots of practice.

The first step in grasping the concept of this new ability is to understand what that preposition ek/by actually means: The list below is copied word for word from the Blue Letter Bible.com Link here

By can mean:

  • Out of/from – a place of divine power
  • Proceeding from
  • From abiding with God
  • From the roots of
  • Utterly from
  • Alive after having been dead
  • In a supernatural sense
  • From the divine (new) nature
  • Fueled by the new nature and disposition derived from one’s (new) origin
  • As having one’s prototype in God and being wrought in the soul by His power
  • Out of the material of_________(what ever follows the Greek word ‘ek )
  • From the power on which any one depends, by which he is prompted and governed, whose character he reflects
  • From the supply out of which a thing is taken
  • Of the whole which anything is a part

If you were to draw a Venn Diagram, a circle that represents the entire life of a man declared righteous by God, that circle (his new life henceforth) would be placed inside the larger circle called Biblical Faith in God.

Venn Diagram

Our follow-up question should be: Where do we get that faith? Do we have to gin it up ourselves?

Thankfully, no! This faith is a gift from God, entirely. It’s alien to us before we are brought to new life spiritually. Biblical faith is given only to those God graciously chose before He created the heavens and the earth.

And once He has implanted that divine, supernatural faith in us, it is ours forever.

So, how now shall we live? Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey wrote a book with this title  Link here

But if we take the plain text of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatian church, we are to live from what I picture as the King’s Royal Cupboard of Faith.

As newly adopted sons and daughters of the King, we are given a set of keys to this cupboard that will never run out of spiritual grace for all our needs.

Key

Are you scared? Go to the cupboard and help yourself to God’s strength that is meant specifically for us to use – Psalm 37:39

  • “But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in time of trouble.”

Are you hard pressed to return kindness for your officemate’s meanness to you? Go to the cupboard and fetch divine might to respond with undeserved grace – Matthew 6:11-12

  • “Our Father….give us this day our daily bread (sustenance so that we can then)….as we forgive others”

Are you beset by worry? Go to the cupboard, by prayer, and fill up on God’s strength to hand over each specific circumstance that is weighing you down? – Psalm 112:7

  • They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

Are you struggling feeling enslaved to an ingrained habit of overeating/ sarcastic putdowns/ complaining/ impulse purchases using Amazon’s one click shopping/ addiction to social media / speeding / procrastination…….: Go to the King’s cupboard of faith and draw on strength to exercise self-control – Galatians 5:22-23

  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

This is what it means, I think, for the declared righteous (the born-again Biblical Christians) to live by faith.

The alternative is to live the ‘old way’, guided by self-centered feelings/desires/habits/patterns.  And we all know the genius of THAT!

Charlie Brown

A radical solution to my ‘red lizard of sin’

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red lizard of sin  It can be reassuring to be surprised by what one reads. Reassuring because I’m encouraged to know God has plenty for me still to learn; therefore, there is no danger of growing bored!  But surprises can also deliver blows to the solar plexus.

It was just a few nights ago, April 23rd to be exact, when I opened up Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotional classic. See the text here. Dishes done, I relaxed cozily into a favorite spot on the sofa, coffee in hand, relishing the time to read.  The Holy Spirit had anything but a peaceful few minutes in store for me.  ‘Au contraire!’ A mini-torrent of conflicting thoughts captured my full attention.  Spurgeon opened like this:

We go to Christ for forgiveness, and then too often look to the law for power to fight our sins.”  Thereupon followed quotes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

Illustrating his point by using the example of the sin of an angry temper, Spurgeon pressed on, saying in essence, STOP trying to cope with the evil of the temper yourself (through willpower and good intentions) but deal with it in the same way that you trusted God for your salvation.

Curious and so far, in agreement, I read on.  Spurgeon’s verbs grew fierce.  He wasn’t talking about reducing the frequency or minimizing the damage from this sin, but KILLING it.  How? – By taking it to the cross for JESUS to give the deathblow.

About to sputter back, No thank you! I’m handling my sins in my own sweet time, with help from the Holy Spirit, I shut my mouth.  The Holy Spirit, through the bold words of this London preacher, had cut me off: I realized that WERE I to hand over a sin to Jesus to kill, FIRST OF ALL, I’d have to:

  • name the sin
  • then actually be willing to relinquish it, ALL of it!

Lock, stock and barrel

What’s the big deal, Maria?  Don’t you WANT to be free from your # One sin?

Well….., I’m not sure.  You see, over the past few days as I have I thought about what that FIRST besetting sin is, I have come to understand that before I hand it over, I actually must NAME it………

Drum roll copy

as……..(and this is embarrassing!)

  • the sin of being preoccupied with myself – of thinking of ME and what I want before I think of anything or anyone else.

When I thought of the occasional GOOD days when I TRY to be ‘other-centered’, those efforts don’t do anything more than assuage my conscience.  Resolves and self-control DON’T decrease my desire for and pleasure in indulging this sin – thinking about ME!  My ‘attempts to be good’ just make me feel self-righteous (more preoccupation with #1!)

Just when I was about to despair over this perpetual cycle, I heard a reminder of Jesus’ commitment to set us free with His truth! Jesus names sin for what it is – SLAVERY!  (John 8:32-34)  His audience sputters and reacts predictably (like me!) that as Abraham’s children, they’ve never been slaves. But Jesus counters with this shocking statement:

Whoever commits and practices sin is the slave of sin.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be enslaved any more.  So (picking up with Spurgeon’s reasoning) here is how to deal with this sin – trust Jesus to kill it just as we trusted Him to save us.  We can’t do either (save our souls, or spring free from sin), BUT we can turn to Him, trust Him and give Him free rein.

To that end, Spurgeon instructs us how to pray:

  • Lord, I have trusted You, and Your name is Jesus, for You save Your people from their sins. Lord, this is one of my sins; save me from it!”

Finally, as an ‘Amen’ Spurgeon eliminates all escape routes: “Your prayers, and your repentances, and your tears – the whole of them put together – are worth NOTHING apart from Him.  Only Jesus can do helpless sinners good, and helpless saints too.”

If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering what the red lizard at the start of this post symbolizes.  He embodies ‘sin’ on the shoulder of a fictional character in CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Read about how God kills THAT creature, thereby freeing the poor soul from bondage.

Passage here

A couple of conclusions I have drawn about this sin of shameless preoccupation:

  • I’m not the one to kill sin, Jesus is.  I just have to hand it over to Him.
  • For, the forceful sway of each and every sin has already been severed.  Jesus gripped that true indictment of Maria in His hand when the nail pierced it (and ALL the sins of His to-be-adopted brothers and sisters).
  • The power comes from re-calling the historical and effectual fact of the Cross

All that remains is to go out and enjoy new freedom, walking with the one and only champion and liberator, and heralding to all who would listen this good news.

The twin evils of smugness and envy

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I was feeling smug. Admiring my ability to juggle this and that. Compared to others.  Evaluating myself next to another sister. He pulled me up short. As realization of sin spread, so did horror.

Juggling life

“I repent, Lord! Forgive me! I see! Truly! I humble myself. You don’t need to do anything else to get my attention. Seriously!”

 

For what had flashed across my consciousness about God was this:

“You, the all-wise and infinitely good God, have perfectly arranged this fellow Christian’s plate with the appropriate palate of weaknesses, strengths, characteristics, bents, abilities, talents, habits (good and bad), circumstances, and experiences all intended for her to grow in the knowledge and love of your Son. Every piece on that plate of hers is necessary to her sanctification and growth in holiness. You planned each one, the good and the ugly!”

And You have done the same for me. Who am I to boast about this or that as though they were due to my efforts and smarts? All along You are the one who has traced out our paths? And more pointedly, who am I to complain about the potholes in the road if they are according to Your will?

“Father, I see that this constant comparing of me with others produce either envy or pride and both are evil! Deliver me from these sins, please! Pride says: Look at me!  Envy says: You are a bad God not to give me what I want/deserve!

Since that day a week ago, He has continued to show me that He does indeed ordain and govern all circumstances. Because He is in charge of every molecule in the universe I can trust what He commands me to do:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6-8

Not evaluating, not judging the circumstances of others is wise. That’s God’s business. Do you remember Peter’s comment to Jesus as told by John after Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples post resurrection?

“So Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man? Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’” John 21:21-22

Several times a day as my smug-o-meter rises, (that is – when I awake to this sin), I put myself back in my place. I say to myself:

“Maria, you have died! And the life you now live, you live by faith in Jesus. (Gal 2:20) That is to say – you move and live and have your being attached to Him. If there be any good in your life, it is only good because of Him. So give it up, this thinking that there is something good in or about you alone!”

That truth not only humbles me, but it liberates me. Since all that is good in me through faith is a gift, I don’t have to worry about earning it. And since Jesus has given me the most costly gift, Himself, I can trust Him to give me any and all such that He deems good for me for godliness and life (2 Peter 1:3)

PS:  When I caught myself later on in the week doing my ‘I’m-so-good dance’, I realized that God was showing me a specific way to PRAY for this fellow Christian.  Again, I repented.  We are all different, intentionally.  He has arranged each of us in the Body of Christ as He sees fit.  Therefore, we are to encourage and pray for one another. It’s in our best interests, after all.  Another gentle smack-down!

Stay in your boundary!

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A night at Cousin Terry’s home gifted us with more than good fellowship and food. We were also blessed with a powerful word-picture or image to remind us of how to live the Christian life, with peace and rest.  The picture below is what I’m calling a ‘boundary circle.’  I’ll explain in a few.

Heart Shaped boundary

 

 

 

 

Christians, by definition, are new creations.  They have been rescued from the futile, darkened kingdom of self & death (run by the Father of Lies) and transferred into the Kingdom of Light & Life, where the Triune God reigns.

Paul explains this to the believers in Colossae,

  • For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son (Col 1:13)

As freed prisoners, now owing our allegiance to our Rescuer, everything is different:

  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Although a Christian for the past 33 years, I’m a slow learner.  What I’ve found to be true in my life, and it probably is so with you, is this: to the extent that we take in knowledge about God, we grow more like Jesus.  If we don’t EAT spiritual food, we imbibe worldly food. Think Junk Food, ‘and there is no health in us’ as the Book of Common Prayer says in a morning confession.

From the moment of ‘transfer’ new believers belong to God as His adopted children, with full rights and privileges, to include a future, guaranteed inheritance. However, I’ve learned that unless I call myself back to present reality, I can revert back to that former, but still very comfortable way of thinking, that of a ‘slave to sin’.

Slavery

 

 

Here’s the rub.  Life is hard, whether you’re a ‘Christ-ling’ or a ‘World-ling’.  But as an adopted child of God, an heir with Christ, I have full access to the love, the power and the promises of God.  I’m not meant to live, dependent on my own resources.  I am a new creation: ‘Christus-Maria’ 

All that being said, despite having been a Christian since the age of 24, I still battle unbelief.  I find myself frequently imagining, worrying and fearing this or that. Our cousin Terry is a mature and wise Christian woman who has learned to trust God by trial and error (aka falling into sin and then repenting) through prayer and nourishment from God’s word.  She is also very real, the kind of Christian with whom you can feel SAFE in admitting your struggles.

So when I shared with her, during our overnight the content of the worries and fears that plague me, she passed on the advice gleaned from a wise Christian man who lovingly admonishes his fearful wife each time she shares a worry:

‘Honey, you’ve stepped out of the boundary of grace for the moment, for the day!  There’s no grace NOW for where you’re hanging out – the future. There’s only grace for the present. Get back inside the boundary!’

So back to the protective circle of love at the top of this post.  I picture myself yoked with Christ, WITHIN THAT CIRCLE OF LOVE.  As long as I keep step with Him, then all is well.  The strength and direction come easily as I walk, moment by moment, in conscious communion WITH Him.  It’s only when I run ahead in my thoughts to the future hypothetical ‘what-ifs’, that I find myself in the scary ‘badlands’ of possible dangers, outside of my boundary of love.

Yoked

 

 

How senseless to run on ahead, alone, as a weak and defenseless little donkey, leaving behind my supernatural Older Brother and Redeemer!

I find comfort in this image of a protective circle of love and grace surrounding the new me, harnessed to a comfortable restraint permanently linking me with Jesus. More and more, I am learning to ‘harness’ my thoughts, to rein them in, back to the HERE and NOW where Grace is King.

Question: Where are you running ahead of your provision?

 

How to act around ‘pagans’ aka un-believers

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I was meditating again on the fruit of the Spirit, those qualities that the Holy Spirit nourishes and grows in us as we stay connected to Jesus.

Fruit of the Spirit

God had given me a large window of time to mosey around in Scripture, a true gift.  Chaperoning the 8th grade trip meant that we spent a fair number of hours on a comfortable touring bus last week as we took in a few college visits, cultural experiences as well as caving and zip-lining.  I had not expected to have 2 seats to myself on the bus and time to read and meditate.

During my study the Holy Spirit connected the fruit of the Spirit description in Paul’s letter to the Galatians to God’s explanation to wives regarding how they should conduct themselves daily with their unbelieving husbands.

  • Wives, in the same way (as Jesus trusted God and submitted to misguided but wicked men), be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the BEHAVIOR of their wives

Just what does this behavior look like?  Like the fruity verbs of the Spirit!  When – empowered by supernatural divine power – we react with love to others’ attacks, mean-hearted comments or inadvertent damaging acts, we catch them by surprise.  The world operates on a tit-for-tat basis.  You cut me off in traffic, I give you the finger or worse.

But a counter-worldly response characterized by joyful, gentle, patient self-restraint will stop someone cold in their tracks.

We all know that, even if we can’t DO it.  But nothing is impossible with God!  And here is a new thought that might make you at least WANT to try out this response again.

While away from Mike on the 8th grade trip, I experienced a nightmare.  I don’t usually recall my dreams, but this was vivid enough to stay with me upon awakening.  We were fighting, my husband and I.  One of those verbal and emotional encounters where I was checked by my superior sparring partner.  Mike is far more articulate, able to think quicker on his feet and empowered with rhetorical and emotional bullying flourishes.  In my dream I FELT humiliated and frustrated and stomped on.  What a relief to wake up and know it was only a dream!  To be fair to my beloved husband, these ‘fights’ rarely happen and have tapered off over the years as the Lord claims more of us, inch by painful sanctifying inch.

Out of this dream, however, came a powerful remedy for the next time someone hurts me or tries to browbeat me.

  • Peter encourages Christian wives married to pagans (unbelievers) to respond with Holy Spirit empowered behavior.

But here is what’s so cool!  Even when CHRISTIANS treat other Christians poorly, this remedy can work.  That means that when

  • another brother or sister-in-Christ in the office
  • my husband
  • my adult children
  • my mother-in-law
  • a church family member
  • a Christian girlfriend

…..’spews’ over me or hurts me, I can choose to say

If he’s going to act like a pagan, then I’m going to treat him like a pagan…….

– with LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS AND SELF-CONTROL.

Why?

  • it’s a startling, unexpected tactic that will prove far more effective than trying to use the same weapons as my opponent
  • this response promises to bring my adversary, ANEW, face-to-face with the unearned, POWERFUL and totally surprising gospel love of God (and we all need reminders, daily!)

I’m not ASKING God for a fresh experience of ‘meanness’ from the world, but this is the world I live in. So I don’t think I will have to wait long.  I just pray the Holy Spirit will bring this better response to mind in time for me to head in that direction rather than default to my natural and well-worn groove of retaliatory meanness.

What about you?  Have you tried this and want to share what happened?

Bottom line – if someone acts like a pagan, let’s treat them like a pagan – with the powerful weapon of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control!  If nothing else, our response will surprise the ‘hell’ out of them – hopefully!

 

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