What’s at the bottom of your cup?

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Has someone bumped into you recently?

spilled-coffee

What was your reaction?

What came out of your mouth the last time your flight was cancelled and the airlines lost your luggage, upsetting your plans?

John Piper repeats often that what we are REALLY like is made evident in how we respond unconsciously to life’s ‘bumps’.  In fact he goes so far as to teach that only about 10 % of our thoughts/actions and words are pre-meditated. The vast majority turn out to be unconscious.

But, we can influence our subconscious mind.  It turns out that our life and its impact on others depend on what we pour into our ‘cup’.  Just what is this ‘cup’?

If we consider that we carry around a perpetual reservoir of feelings, thoughts, and desires out of which spring our reactions, we might take care to pre-pack the tank with some truths that will soak up any acid that life’s bumps might activate!

Recently I heard Tim Keller refer to the sweetness at the bottom of his heart.  The context was the very fact or existence of a Christian’s inheritance, something about which we meditate little.

John Newton, puritan pastor from 200 + years ago also nurtured himself in Gospel facts. Quoting from Newton’s preface to The Olney Hymns (a Newton- William Cowper collaboration) Pastor John Piper shared this encouragement: “The views I have received of the doctrines of grace are essential to my peace; I could not live comfortably a day, or an hour, without them.

I’ve taken to heart this wisdom from the past.  Given the political and social chaos of our times, I am choosing to limit my intake of what is fleeting in favor of focusing proportionally far more on what I know to be True, Beautiful, Good and forever. Those are the truths of my inheritance, purchased for me by Jesus, imparted to me by the Holy Spirit and lovingly planned for me by Father God.

But unless I meditate on them, they won’t seep down into my ‘reservoir’.  They won’t line my cup.

Listen to Thomas Manton, another puritan pastor from a previous century: “The promise of eternal life is left with us in the gospel, but who puts in for a share? Who longs for it? Who takes hold of it? Who gives all diligence to make it sure? Who desires to go and see it? Oh, that I might be dissolved, and be with Christ! If these hopes have so little an influence on us, it is a sign we do not cherish them more in our hearts.”  (published originally in a book, By faith, sermons on Hebrews – volume two, pages 16 and 17)

I don’t SET MY MIND enough on things above, where Christ is seated. (Colossians 3:2)

But what about those mornings when you don’t wake up with a ‘full tank’ of Gospel truth? What about those times when you can’t find it in yourself to rejoice?

Dig into this rich food for your breakfast.  (before any screen time!) Your cold heart can’t help but warm up if you soak awhile in this series of facts from the Heidelberg Catechism:

What is your only comfort in life and death? 

That I am not my own, 1
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death, 2
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 3
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood, 4
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil. 5
He also preserves me in such a way 6
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head; 7
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation. 8
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life 9
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

 

 

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.

 

 

Food and the Kingdom of God

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Gluten-free, slow foods, farm-to-table, organic, paleo, real food, vegan – who knows HOW or WHAT to eat anymore!

The Table Comes First

I just finished reading a compelling book The Table Comes First.  Adam Gopnik explores the history and philosophy of meals and restaurants.   At the end, however, he reveals that he belongs to that segment of the population who doesn’t worship God.  Therefore, in lieu of the salvation paradigm of Christianity, he makes the assertion that the elevation of the pleasures of dining and sharing a meal can provide meaning, purpose, depth and a sort of rescue to otherwise unmoored humans.

If I look at my own idolizing of ways of eating, I also plead guilty to seeking ‘salvation’ through food.  But with Gopnik’s bold claim, I was struck by how unnecessary it is to place food and Christianity into opposite camps.

Consider the following tangible examples:

  1. Human history originates in a garden with an abundance of fruitful trees for the sustenance and pleasure of God’s image-bearers.  The other bookend of the Bible and the human story are set as a heavenly feast with the host of the Party Himself!
  2. The resurrected Jesus asked for a piece of broiled fish to eat. (Luke 24: 41-42)
  3. A fair number of Jesus’ signs and miracles produced, transformed or multiplied food and drink.  Think of the wedding at Cana and the fine wine.  And the two accounts of the feeding of the 5000.  And manna and quail for the wandering Jews in the desert, accompanied by water from a rock.
  4. Honey revived King Saul’s son Jonathan after a long battle. (1 Sam 14:27)
  5. Gleaning in the barley fields led to Ruth’s marriage, the great-great grandma of King David from whose line Jesus came.
  6. Jesus dined with women and the marginalized segments of society, to the shock of the elite and rule-following average Hebrew.
  7. And let’s not forget the setting for the inaugural New Covenant of Grace, a Passover meal.

And if the above are examples of material food and drink, then there are all the image passages that point beyond food qua food:

  1. We are commanded to, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Ps 34:8)
  2. Jesus likened himself to the staff of life. “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
  3. Paul himself chose covenantal wine to symbolize his final days when writing to encourage Timothy – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” (2 Tim 4:6)

What good news that we don’t have to choose either secular society’s view of food and drink or an ascetic version of Christianity!

My husband reminded me last night of one of CS Lewis’ main teachings about human desires.  These ‘hungers’ are NOT ends in themselves, but signposts to something greater that can only be satisfied in a better and deeper way.  So if we find that we are hungry for earthly food, then we were created for a more satisfying food that will be provided us upon receipt of our inheritance.  The desires ARE real and they WILL BE fulfilled, but in ways that we cannot begin to imagine.

My take away in thinking this through is to be BETTER prepared when describing true Christianity the way it really is to a world jaded and blasé about life.  This world doesn’t satisfy.  And it never was MEANT to.

Recall the excitement you might once have lived when you were very little and Mom and Dad treated you to one of your first outings for lunch or an ice-cream.  Or think back to one of your initial dining experiences as a young adult on a date in a fancy restaurant. The way they thrilled you can never be quite the same.

But Christians don’t have to be wearied with this present world.  The best truly IS yet to be.  We won’t miss out by being a Christian.  We get it all with Christ.

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit

Not wearing that letter “A” any more!

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Scarlet Letter

James 4: 4 You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? 

 

What a relief!  To come clean and admit that you have betrayed the one who loves you best.  With the ‘worst’ out in the open, there is nothing more to hide.  And in that public knowledge lives freedom.

But do we wear our branding of ‘unfaithful to God’ or do we cover it up, disguise it by good works, competence, religious behavior, helpfulness or talent?

Last week I was wrestling with the wrong kind of fear, the dread of others thinking poorly of me or less of me. But as I let God’s Word guide me in distinguishing fear of man from that ‘AWE-full’ thrilling though cautious respect of God, I found safety again and open spaces.

This week William Gurnall, my current 17th century author of choice, has given me a renewed appreciation for my God-given clothing.

His most famous book is a compilation of sermons he delivered teaching his flock about the reality of warfare in this life and the spiritual tools we are to use to be both safe AND useful as redeemed children of the Father.

500 Old Cabin Cove taken from Blue Ridge Pkwy

So each morning, as I tread up and down the gravel road in our cove, I pray for God’s help to pull together all the scattered thoughts of the previous day and submit them to God.  I mentally and almost physically tighten that first piece of spiritual clothing Paul describes in his exhortation to the Christians at Ephesus:  the belt of truth.

Belt of truth

Which truth? – the truth about who Jesus is and who I am since He bought and freed me.  What others might consider an accessory today is what literally holds us together.  Without that boundary line separating truth from confusion, we come apart.  So tighten your belt, friends!

Next I ready my feet, not with my own planned-out, agenda-bound shoes.  I don God’s sandals that are directed at bringing to those I encounter this day the counter-intuitive message of ‘How to find peace with God’.

Shoes of peace

Everyone is seeking it, though many don’t know that ‘being right’ with the God of the Universe is their biggest need.  But I have to remind myself before I leave the Cove for school that I’m not off to fulfill my plans, but God’s.  After all, I do work for Him.

Since I can’t face the world just with my belt and my shoes on, what is my basic uniform for the day? Certainly not that Scarlet letter of Shame: the Father has replaced that temporary tattoo with a permanent Blood-Stained R for Jesus’ righteousness.

Letter R

What the Romans wore as effective protection for the heart and other organs, God calls our breastplate.  It’s both armor AND an advertisement to the spiritual world of whose we are.  So front and center stamped permanently on me is Jesus’ earned and validated righteousness.

To round off  my equipment, I gather my helmet to protect and SAVE my mind from misleading thoughts and grip my shield to block the doubts and fears and what-ifs that are aimed straight at my heart and head and eyes that day.

By now my morning sweat and lactic acid producing walk accompanied by this mental spiritual dressing has brought me back up to our cabin.  I thankfully pour some coffee, fix a quick breakfast and sit down to sharpen my sword for the day. You know the only offensive weapon our Father gives us is the ensemble of truths and promises written down in the Bible.  I am so thankful for the time to fill up my mind with powerful fuel for the day.  Funny how all those insights that held me firm yesterday have drained away.   But why is that so strange?  After all, we take in physical food several times a day and expect it to tide us over only a few hours. Why should spiritual nourishment be any different?

So I eat with gusto and head out for the day.  Another page in the life of a thankful ambassador reporting for duty to her rebel outpost in that dark place called the World.

Question:  How have you personalized one or more of the pieces of spiritual armor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

When measuring is a snare

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Get out of jail free

Romans 6:14 uses words to describe our ‘freedom’ card.

The first translation is from the NIV and the second is the Message

 

 

  • For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
  • Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

I’m reading a book that Graham gave me for Mothers’ Day.   Here’s the link  –  Punch Fear in the Face – Start

Jon Acuff Bk Punch Fear...
One of the author’s premises is that people have these internal voices that authoritatively talk to us in messages that are anything but positive.  And…(here is the kicker)..we BELIEVE them!  They are particularly active anytime we entertain a new direction like:

 

 

  • start an exercise program
  • go back to school
  • research a possible business idea
  • ask for a raise
  • confront another person who has hurt us
  • stop a bad habit
  • ask someone out for a date
  • audition for a part
  • apply for a job
  • dust off a dream
  • change churches

His remedy is to articulate out loud what the voices say, think about the message in the light of day and speak truth back to them, thereby quenching their power……for the time being. I actually had the courage, yesterday, to do just that and it was liberating. woman in the shower       I don’t like washing my hair because it means staying in the shower longer than normal which means I have to confront what I think is a poofy tummy (I know…TMI!).  For the first time, however, I recognized this thought as ONE OF THOSE INSIDIOUS VOICES!!.  So I talked back to it and said – “Wait a second.  A tummy is NOT a shoulder bone.  Shoulders are hard, tummies are round and soft – that’s just how they are made.  So what if it feels poofy?” And that was that – the voice went back into hiding and I was left feeling free!

I had read the above verse in Romans the other day and suddenly made the connection.  Anytime I MEASURE myself vis-à-vis others using an imaginary standard in my mind, I EITHER feel superior or inferior.  And what I have done for that moment is to step back INTO the prison cell of the Kingdom of Darkness where Law reigns and sin is the norm.

Measuring and comparing oneself to others is to forget that we have already been sprung from the World’s Way.  We have been transferred into the Kingdom of Light, by Grace.  We didn’t collect enough brownie points to EARN our way into it. We were liberated from our dark prison cell.  The door swung wide and we walked out into the Light where we have

  • value because God chose us and paid for our release
  • an inheritance we don’t have to earn
  • freedom NOT to play the ‘measurement’ game

In essence – we now live in OPEN space in the LIGHT under a completely different system that uses the currency of grace, not merit.

And….we find ourselves frequently running back to that dark prison of measuring ourselves in comparison to others, a system familiar to the point that it’s almost comforting.

prison bars

The good news is that the door stays open and we can turn around (repent) and walk back into the light.

Knowing that is like sticking your hand in your pocket and finding that Get Out of Jail Free card!

When falling flat on your face leads to life

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But she’s a GOOD person!

Have you ever heard someone push back against suffering that has befallen a friend?  The sentiment seems to be that such trouble should not have befallen a person like HIM or HER!

But what defines good?  How good do you have to be?

That’s easy – the Bible is pretty clear about what God considers ‘good’.

The truth about us is NOT so good…..

Whether it’s the 10 commandments that Moses carried down Mount Sinai….

Moses and 10 C

  • Or Jesus’ long list of requirements He taught listeners on the hill
  • Or His ‘Cliff Note’ version of two, (Love God…Love neighbor) we can’t BE good enough.  We can’t DO the “Law”!

 

 

 

And that is exactly what we are supposed to learn!  Only when we come face to face with the humbling fact that we stink at being ‘good’ as defined by God (Be perfect!), can we find freedom.

In short – we have to hear the ‘bad news’ of our guaranteed failure at being law-abiding citizens before we are ready to welcome the ‘good news’.

F - failing grade

 

 

 

 

 

People often choose just what they want to pursue to define themselves as good.  Many people invest energy, resources and their enthusiasm in a pet project.  They might be motivated by a vision they catch from their interpretation of the prophet Micah’s message:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?   

Micah 6-8

 

 

 

But it’s relatively EASY to pick the category and measure ourselves by how well we stack up.  But God doesn’t let us pick just what WE want in order to please Him and then to brag.

If you take a few minutes and THINK about Micah’s 3 activities, you can gain some insight.  These are the described  AND prescribed acts, thoughts and feelings an individual follower of God is to show – always.  Let’s imagine a checkbox by each so we can see how well we perform, moment by moment:

_____We  are called to DO what is JUST in every encounter with people, not just the ones we choose.  The Hebrew word mishpat refers to the right or correct legal decision in  a dispute.  So if we individually DO justice, then we give people the benefit of the doubt if we are not sure, following the legal standard of ‘innocent’ until a preponderance of evidence shows otherwise.  Often I do what will maximize MY time and convenience, not is what is RIGHT or in someone else’s best interests at a cost to ME.

_____ God commands us to LOVE  chesed, that steadfast mercy, kindness and love associated with God. What we talk about often reveals what we love.  By THAT proof, I love ME, my husband, my kids, new tech stuff, and time to read.

_____Finally, we are enjoined to WALK…..HUMBLY…WITH God.  That means going at HIS pace, in HIS direction that He alone knows, being DEPENDENT on Him.  But isn’t it MY life? And isn’t the pursuit of happiness one of our country’s bedrock principles?  It’s un-American to be dependent…..

perfection

 

 

How have you done, so far, this day?  God requires a perfect score EVERY moment of EVERY day in EVERY domain of our lives.  It’s only when we grasp the enormity of what God requires to let us into His heaven, that we come face to face with the stinking reality of how impossible it is to meet His standard.  And in case one thinks he can earn a perfect score, Jesus throws a wrench into our calculations with this ‘silly’ image from Luke 18:26, Matthew 19:24 and Mark 10:25  and of how hard it is to get into Heaven:

Eye of the needle

 

 

 

 

The illustration is meant to convey the fact that we can’t measure up adequately to please God.  Only when we really GET this truth are we desperate enough to drink in the good news……… of someone else’s record extended to those disgusted enough, tired enough of their own efforts to meet the standard!

Good News

Next time we’ll talk about how the knowledge of Jesus’ life and death changes everything.

We are wired to bask – when boasting is good

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One of my dear daughters-in-law asked me pointedly over Thanksgiving why weighing a certain weight was so darn important to me.  It’s a good question and one for which I struggled to answer.  All I could offer in response was that I am afraid of getting fat.  

This obsession is nothing new.  Ever since a LONG bout with bulimia I’ve spent inordinate amounts of mental energy on how I feel about my body.  I won’t go into the details, because I’m sure you can identify.  If it’s not a weight/body image issue, it’s something else you struggle with that’s connected with your sense of worth.

Catching a podcast sermon the other day finally provided the key to why a number on a scale can dominate my day. 

Tim Keller was talking about how everyone, whether secular or religious, attempts to justify himself, to prove his worth. 

He recast the biblical term ‘justification’ as (and I’m piecing together his definition): 

  • A validating performance report that bestows status and opens doors 

It’s a never-ending cycle that actually hands over control of our feelings of worth to something outside of us.  The ways we seek validation, worth and significance are endless: 

  • Parenting, so your kids turn out ‘well’
  • Decorating and maintaining a beautiful home
  • Earning the acclaim (and unarticulated envy) of your peers and bosses in your career field
  • Achieving and maintaining a fit body or young skin
  • Performing lots of volunteer work or Christian service
  • Mastering a sport or musical instrument
  • Making a statement by your lifestyle choices (TV-eschewer/vegan/ minimal carbon-consumer/frugal/brand-name snob/socially-conscious/pro –this/anti-that….) 

The trouble is, as Tim Keller points out, that the best-case version of this slave-master means you’re only as good as your last accomplishment.  Thus, you keep having to prove yourself. The worst case is that: 

  • Your kids DON’T turn out well
  • Your marriage breaks up
  • You lose the house
  • You remain infertile
  • You break a leg and can’t run for 6 months
  • You attract poor performance reviews from your boss
  • You lose the contract(s)
  • You come in 2nd 

Keller goes on to announce that Jesus offers an alternative. God offers OUTSIDE justification as a gift.  The mind-boggling news in the Bible is that there is a much better way to feel good about oneself.  And it has nothing to do with what we DO. 

Without going into a Gospel presentation, the point is we are offered a life-giving permanent justification. All we have to ‘do’ is admit that OUR way is bankrupt and then submit to His better way.  This means first dropping ALL our efforts to earn status.  Then we have to accept HIS accomplishment as ourvalidating performance record that bestows status and opens doors. This, then, is the ONLY way to be liberated from the above tyranny. 

But….. 

…here’s the rub – My first reaction when I digested Tim Keller’s point was:

  • I don’t want someone else’s merit.
  • I actually want to be well-thought of for what I’ve done……it seems more real, more valid, more praise-worthy. 

I puzzled over how to reconcile my desire to be free and what God says is the ONLY path.  Finally, I sensed a way out of this dilemma. The Holy Spirit brought to mind times in the past when I felt significant because of others’ accomplishments:

  • When our oldest son Graham would perform on stage in high school and other parents and teachers would gush – I would bask in that spillover glory.
  • When my husband would sing in choruses and at church and others would marvel at his voice – I would bask in that spillover glory.
  • When our youngest son Wes got accepted and attended West Point and others would say with awe, ‘that’s quite an accomplishment!’ – I would bask in that spillover glory.

So, you see, we ARE wired to bask and boast in others’ accomplishments if we are connected to them. 

All we have to do is take that innate skill and change who and what we boast in.  If we are believers, we have an Older Brother.  And what He has accomplished for His family members is unparalleled.  

As Paul says in Romans, and Jeremiah describes in the OT, our primal sin is that we have exchanged what we should glory in – God – for something man-made.

Jer 2:11 ….my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. 

So this Christmas 2013 season, as you have some time, maybe you can reflect on what you boast in.  Keller says the way to become a Christian is to repent of what we boast about, about the ways we try to justify ourselves. 

Below is the link to Keller’s sermon. 

Sermon by Tim Keller, Redeemer Pres Church, NYC

Let us Rejoice at the freedom offered

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