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

 

 

Sarah, Sex and the Hall of Fame

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Sarah and Abraham have a baby

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Hebrews 11:11

The above verse resolves the perennial debate between those who pit James against Paul in this tricky question of doctrine:

  •  Which is sufficient for justification –  faith or deeds?

How is that?  Consider…..

Sarah was long past the age of childbearing and her husband was no longer virile when she overheard the angels assuring Abraham that in a year’s time she would give birth to a baby.

Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”…Genesis 18:12-14

So what happened?  Did Abraham and Sarah trust God’s message to them?  His word certainly affirms that they did.

Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3b repeating Genesis 15:6)

**

Impossible situations

What struck me the other day is that both Paul and James are correct.  Abraham and Sarah DID trust as fact the unbelievable news that they would be able carry out the physical sex act together AND conceive AND give birth to a baby. And based on their counting as true God’s promise, they physically came together in a sexual union and the aging body parts worked and…voilà…9 months later, Isaac was born.

Do you see how considering God’s word as good as reality the foundation for the actions that follow? It’s not an either faith/or action but a both/and way to live!

Let’s bring the Sarah and Abraham illustration into our lives. Where are you facing something too unimaginable for you to believe God could or would actually do the ‘impossible’?  Have you sensed God directing you to take a step of faith and trust Him to work through you, accomplishing something that common sense, or intuition or worldly wisdom say COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE DONE?

God commands us to**:

  • confess our unbelief and admit we need help to trust Him
  • believe him and roll each and every heavy, worrying situation onto Him.  Next we are to…
  • pull out one of God’s promises of future grace and relying on that,  we are to…..
  • move out and take the action, step by step as He shows us.  Finally, we are to…
  • give Him thanks and praise when He has done the ‘impossible’ through us and in our situation

(**the above formula comes from Pastor John Piper in his acronym APTAT – admit, pray, trust, act, thank)

What helps me is to rest in the assurance that if God commands this kind of obedience, then He will help me each step along what appears to be an obscured road.  Reassuring to me is the FACT that His word promises light for the next segment of the journey and at the right moment.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

 

Which governs your walk with Christ – knowledge or feelings?

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Patrick’s definition of Biblical wisdom in today’s sermon stopped me cold.  Our pastor has begun preaching through the book of James in view of the many trials to befall our church family in recent months.  He has sensed, rightly so, a need for us to know HOW to think properly about what God has sent.

I’ve always joked about being a member of the ‘pure joy club’ as in:

  • Consider/Count it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds...James 1:2

But when you are suffering, it’s nothing to laugh about. No matter the flavor or extent of pain and difficulty, we all require good teaching and counsel in how to deal with the trials. James’ instruction, therefore, directing his listeners to ask God for wisdom in the suffering makes sense.

But here’s the new wrinkle:  I had always thought that praying for wisdom meant asking for guidance in what TO DO!  Today, Patrick took a different angle.  He explained that the kind of wisdom we need is help in thinking correctly/truthfully about the trial.  If we can’t imagine how to view this current suffering as falling into the category of ‘complete joy,’ then we are to pray for the ability to take what we know about God and his Word and apply both to our circumstances.

In essence we are begging God:

  • Father, help me to understand and trust that you are working in this awful circumstance!  Help me TO THINK correctly!

From THAT new definition of Biblical wisdom, it occurred to me that Knowing WHAT TO THINK is more important than knowing WHAT TO DO. And since our actions or lack of actions affect our emotional state, right knowledge must rule our feelings.  

So here’s a question?  In your life is your  knowledge more important than your feelings?

God, speaking through the prophet Hosea, says: My people perish for lack of knowledge -Hosea 4:6

and in Isaiah 5:13, God warns: Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; those of high rank will die of hunger and the common people will be parched with thirst.

And in this teaching from Philippians 2:5, Paul counsels – Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.

What he means is THINK, or DIRECT YOUR MIND…about a certain topic.

A recent conversation with a close friend provides an appropriate illustration of the importance of correct thinking.  This dear gal has been suffering from what I call:

ADHD – Anxiety, Despair, Hopelessness and Depression

Like all of us, she is pulled in many directions as a mom of 2 under the age of five as well as being pregnant with her third child.  Her self-chosen priorities feel like burdens because of some INCORRECT thinking.

Here is one example of the unintended consequences of false ideas. Her life presupposition has been:

  • I am what I do.  Therefore, if I’m not doing, then I don’t exist.

In her case she has chosen to define herself as the kind of mom who:

  • cooks healthy meals for her kids
  • spends time reading to them and homeschooling the eldest
  • exercises every day
  • keeps an organized house

So when circumstances (aka God’s providence) interfere and block her ‘doing’, then she has felt herself coming undone, like she doesn’t exist.

She has been living off of, feeding on her emotions with NO input from God’s word.  She truly is perishing for lack of true knowledge.

Truth will set you free

The only solution is to throw herself onto God’s mercy and ask Him for wisdom in how to think correctly, that is Biblically about her circumstances, given accurate knowledge of God’s character, ways, past rescues and promises of future grace.  The right kind of knowledge trumps feelings.

Here’s one final bit of evidence that our God considers true knowledge vital.

The apostle John comforts us in the most important knowledge or reality that any Christian wants – assurance of one’s salvation.  The good news is that our feelings do not enter into the facts.  Listen to his words in 1 John 5:13

  • These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

We all know the source of this life-giving knowledge – God’s written Word.  Don’t starve! “Mangia! Mangia!” as all good Italian moms exhort!   Let us taste and see that the Lord IS good.  Why do you think I named this blog, “Feed on Him”?

 

 

Why we run away from trials and suffering and why we shouldn’t

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I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Psalm 119:75

Seems that every other archived sermon I listen from my iTunes feed of daily John Piper ‘past sermons’ is about suffering and the benefits.  But he’s not the only one proclaiming that uncomfortable message.  Another pastor Mike and I follow has started a series on the Book of James, written by Jesus’ half-brother.  You know how he starts at the beginning of his letter, that invitation to join the ‘Pure Joy Club’?

Count it pure or all joy, my brothers when you fall into trials of many kinds….

And then there is my hero in the faith, George Mueller, the 19th century British pastor who prayed about the idea, then planned for and ran orphanages that eventually housed 3000 parent-less children over 40-50 years.  Not once did he publish outside of the handful of praying partners the financial needs to support what he undertook.  And God directed daily bread (literally and also metaphorically, referring to all their needs) Mueller’s way.

But it was not easy. Most often the forthcoming provision was obscured until the last minute.  After decades of practice at banking on the Father to meet all their needs, Mueller concluded that the good and ever-present God:

  • gives us problems and difficulties, so that we are led to exercise prayer and faith and grow stronger

Yet, we’re human.  It’s a no-brainer to choose comfort and ease and visible provision.  But could we be wrong in what we cherish, in what we think is due us, what we conclude will best serve us?

One doesn’t have to look far to see that whereas EVERYONE suffers in life, the pain and problems are disproportionately distributed. Does that seem fair to you?

No!, but…..caveat coming:  Pursuing that question of ‘rightness’, going down THAT path will NOT lead to any SATISFYING answer that quiets all our questions. Just ask Job.

So of course the uneven assigning of pain doesn’t seem fair.  But don’t let us therefore conclude that God is neither in charge NOR good.

Yes, the world is messed up.  And always has been since our primal parents opted for their own wisdom, rather than God’s.

But that doesn’t mean that suffering and problems are gratuitous.

Here’s what one language scholar from Blue Letter Bible wrote in explaining the word ‘afflicted’

  • Jehovah depressed/ consumed my strength that was in the way

Why would God do that?  Well, plenty of Bible contributors have explained that:

  • Before you made me suffer, I used to wander off, but now I hold on to your word. Ps 119:67
  • My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:6
  • God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

Looking at that last verse snippet, let’s ask this question: To whom does God give His supernatural power and wisdom and favor?  only to the humble.  How does God humble us?  Well, you tell me!

Okay, so this makes sense on paper.  What about LIFE?

In this current season in my late 50s, what I struggle with is still….. willling and eager worship of my self-created version of ‘feeling good’.

And it seems that the more lessons He plans for me, the worse my situation, my sin grows. It happens in 3 ways:

  • I understand more clearly the evil of idolatry
  • I feel more helpless to deal with it
  • I cling to it all the more

As Paul bluntly cried out to his scribe, (and I paraphrase) Miserable, self-absorbed wretch that I am, who can rescue me from this mess?  Romans 7:24

I know everyone can identify when they think of that one (at LEAST one) on-going, dogged sin that we both despise and cherish in some sick way because it’s familiar.

Permit me to share some hope that I recently received during an episode of God’s ‘attentiveness’:

  • First – from Blue Letter Bible, again about the term ‘affliction’

The simple basic verb ‘to be afflicted’ means ‘occupied with/ busied with.  So when we are blind-sided with suffering, whether brought on BY ourselves or BY another, God is at work in us, concentrating ON us.

So we can’t say, “Where is God???!!!!”  He absolutely IS with us, is busying Himself with us.

  • Second – in a sermon Pastor Steve Brown entitled, ‘Don’t Waste Your Sin’, I learned something new.  When Jesus died on the cross with our sins attributed to or assigned to Him, He paid for them, right?  A synonym for ‘paid for’ is ‘purchased’.  Jesus BOUGHT our sins for us, so in one sense, we ‘own’ them. Brown counsels us to put them (the cancelled sins) to constructive use.  What does he mean?  Think of the woman at the well who, once she was saved, happily and boldly proclaimed to her fellow villagers, “This man told me ALL about myself!”  And she was joyful.  She made GOOD use of her sins, that SHE committed, that she chose time and time again, but that Jesus had forgiven.

So, if I apply those ideas to myself, then each time (and there will be more, I don’t doubt) I struggle with investing importance in my particular ‘something’, which is created, rather than the creator I hope I remember:

God is doing something ON me for my good.

Jesus bought this sin, so how can I use it to bless someone else?

For starters, no point in covering it up!  May I boldly share how God never tires of restructuring the same ole’/same ole’ lesson to conform me to His Son. And if He keeps forgiving AND using even THIS stupid sin in my life, then He will do the same for you!

God’s choice of affliction for me – blessings through the pain

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So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Wisdom fixed

Getting older is a gift because with the passing of years may come a perspective different from the one held in youth (i.e. 20s and 30s!)

The principle suffering that God sovereignly chose for me (for His purposes and my sanctification) has been that of food addiction and body obsession.  All along, had you asked me “What do you want God to do in your life?” I would have unhesitatingly responded: “Free me from thinking about food and my body!”  This ONE THING has (and still does to a lesser degree) so filled my conscious daily thoughts since I was 16.

God has not answered THAT prayer, but has lovingly left this pain in my life, all the while teaching me about Himself.

Food, exercise, elimination, fitness, weight, bulimia have all been vehicles of sin, forgiveness, and redemption.  And I know that God has/ is not finished with me yet. Here’s an example of a recent blessing:

The other morning I was…exercising and talking to God.  My weight was up and I was repenting of my sin of making THAT more important than having awakened another day, belonging to God as His forgiven, redeemed child.  I was also feeling constipated. (sorry if this is TMI, but God works through these body conditions!) In sum, I was doing a bit of early morning complaining.  When all of a sudden, an unpredictable thought popped into my mind, a truth I now attribute to the Holy Spirit.

  • “It doesn’t matter what your body weighs or if you’re constipated, you can still use your body to glorify ME!!”

I found myself spontaneously and joyfully asking Him to forgive me.  Suddenly a 3-dimensional spaciousness opened up. Maybe it’s what James calls the “Law of Liberty” (James 1:25, 2:12).  From that agreement with Truth, a new realization dawned:

When highlighting, changing or obscuring one’s body is the goal…...

…….then weight gain, body shape, wrinkles, disease, aging, disabilities, homeliness….(you name it)…become the enemies.

But if glorifying God is the goal……

….then it doesn’t matter what kind of body God gives me, or whether I even LIKE the body He has given me, because the body is only a tool (for the Christian) to magnify God and to please Him.

I concluded that morning that I can glorify God even when I weigh X or even when I feel bloated or constipated.  And that felt freeing.

My next thought was this:  without all the emotional pain and sinning these past 42 years with this particular version of self-obsession, I would NOT be learning how to love God and neighbor as His beloved child.

Do for God's glory

My conclusion?  The most acute source of pain can also be the richest fountain of blessing.

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.

Pop quizzes lead to good things

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Pop Quiz

It was pop quiz Tuesday apparently.  A long-standing besetting anguish ‘popped up’ again and I recognized it for what it was:

  • not only a spiritual attack BUT BOTH
  • a trial AND
  • a venue for one of those ‘good things’ that God promises NOT to withhold from me.

In Psalm 84:11 God promises:

For the LORD God is a sun and a shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

I’ve always LOVED that verse because it corrects my perspective when faced with a day when God did NOT give me the time I wanted to read, exercise, or get as much work done at school.  I say to myself:  “Having that time to read must NOT have been one of the ‘good things’ God intended for me today.”

This morning, however, when I was processing how to handle that reoccurring trial, James’ spin on tests was on my mind:

James 1:2:  Count it pure joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

And I saw the connection.

  • If God has promised NOT to withhold even one good thing from me this day
  • If trials are designed to prove my faith AND give me greater endurance and patience
  • If the final result of this endurance or steadfastness is completion (aka: looking like my Older Brother)
  • Then…..this testing/trial/pop quiz is a conduit to one of those GOOD THINGS that God has promised He won’t withhold from me.

Maybe that’s why James tells us to rejoice when our School Master announces a Pop Quiz!

 

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