Why we can trust God!

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Romans 8:32 – Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? (NLT)

I read some GREAT news this morning!  And this GREAT news is the means to provide you and me and all believers with the reason why we can trust and rely on God’s promises written in the Bible.  If we have ANY love for the Biblical Jesus (that is NOT a Jesus we have made up to fit our pleasure and needs but as the Bible presents Him), then we have been born from above.  For without the Holy Spirit in us, we can’t see anything attractive in Jesus.

And once we know that we have been born from above, then we are entitled to:

  • the rest and relief that come from being sure…
  • that we belong to God…
  • and have a place in His forever Family…
  • with Jesus as our big brother and protector…
  • and the Supernatural Divine, Holy Spirit as our counselor, comforter, and explainer of God’s Word.

Now here comes what was new to me and very reassuring, clarifying WHY I can trust God to come through on His promises, as recorded in the Bible.

John Piper, in a book about justification as the apostle Paul lays it out in Romans 9, declares that God’s unconditional election of us IS the foundation of the fulfillment of His promises.

All of a sudden, I SAW why I can trust Him when He promises protection and guidance and provision.  It’s the argument from the greater to the lesser.  If He has already chosen me, then, of course, He WILL provide!

2 Cor 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him, the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (NIV)

Do we receive all of them now, in our current state?  No.  But we DO receive ‘a daily allowance ‘of what our good Father knows is necessary for us to live here and now before our Big Brother returns in glory for us.

So dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Don’t fear.  NONE of what God promises now and later is too good to be true.  Au contraire, our future life with God, our inheritance is far better than we can even imagine!

 

 

Agreeing with Satan = my self-condemnation

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There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1

There it was, PROOF!  – a ‘poochy’ in a photo we asked someone to snap of us at the peak.   I was horrified to SEE it.  Two days earlier I had realized the evidence of what I had been reluctant to admit, I had gained a few pounds over the past few months. I could feel it and see it in the mirror, but now here it was in living color, digitally for the world to see!

The self-recriminations had set in 60 hours earlier and I had been battling them armed with God’s truth SOME of the time.  At other points, my brain buzzed in the high RPM range, figuring out what I was going to do to lose the 5 pounds.

What also bothered me was I thought I had put the Weight and Body Image Battle behind me, having even declared VS Day – Victory over the Scales Day on 5 Dec 2015.  That day marked a turning point when I symbolically moved the scales off the throne of my heart to make room for Jesus as supreme treasure and pleasure.

But by the full force of this self-recriminating skirmish, all I had done was substitute a different but equally deadly joy-sucking idol for that morning metric measurer, the bathroom scales.   What was this new enemy? –  the concept of leanness as my supreme good.

After the hike, I took my journal outside on the deck to see if I could get to the bottom of this seeming forever struggle.  And God was faithful to spark some gut-wrenching insights into the sin underneath this internal drama.

Here are the questions I wrote down:

  • Why does having a ‘poochy’ bother me more than my sin of idolatry and scorn against a Holy God?
  • Why is ‘leanness’ my ultimate and mostly elusive good?

The first question brought immediate remorse over my topsy-turvy value system.  The scales were just the outward and visible manifestation of my inward and wicked heart as represented by ‘the leanness idol’.  Abandoning my quest to maintain a certain weight didn’t take away what I still valued most in life.

The second question led to digging beneath the visible layers in my heart. By continuing to ask WHY, I tried to reach the bedrock of what drives me.

  • Why do I value leanness?  Because I most admire those women who are lean and fit
  • Why do I admire those kinds of women? Because they are free of self-loathing.
  • Why would NOT being ‘perfectly’ lean bring self-loathing? Because in myself, I can’t stand the feeling of a roll of fat or pudginess or tight rings or clothes.  They make me mad and I feel stuck and depressed.  And all that negative emotion pushes me inward into a seemingly self-perpetuating prison. I do all this to myself!

And then a question that directed healing light to that dark place in my heart.

  • What is the opposite of all that yuck I just described? Contentment with myself.  When content, I find it natural to forget about myself and focus on God and others.  Balled up in myself distracts and distorts the destination of my energy.
  • So if I seek a more lasting and better contentment and inner peace, what would God rather me choose as a source?  Why pleasing Him by being satisfied in Him, of course! The answer was clear as day.

Just at the moment that the Holy Spirit enabled me to ponder this pleasant place of happy and restful contentment, He called to mind Paul’s words about having LEARNED to be content in all seasons.  Hmmm.  If Paul could learn, through practice, then so could I!

A bit energized I started to reason biblically:

  • If God is FOR me, who can be against me?  (not even Maria’s self-criticisms count or SHOULD be able to pierce my peace)
  • If I have been declared ‘just’ by God (as a gift, through the mechanism of grace, and secured by Jesus’ redeeming payment with His life – Romans 3:24), then I already possess a permanent unshakeable peace with God.
  • When I beat myself up for having gained 5 pounds, I am participating in condemnation – Satan’s hideous and soul-eating handiwork.  He is the Accuser par excellence.  Agreeing with Satan mocks Jesus’ extravagant gift to me.

I was almost at the point of echoing my ‘Uncle Paul’s despair-filled cry, Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” – Romans 7:24.  At that very moment, I think a whimsical but life-giving picture came to me. I imagined Jesus looking at me with a twinkle in His eye and saying:

Maria has a poochy and I LOVE her poochy!

What a startling but gentling image. Is it really so far out of the realm of divine possibility?  After all, it was my husband who used to say with tender and happy love about our cat Calvin, Calvin has a poochy!  And Calvin was his favorite cat!

If it’s TRUE that there is nothing I can do to make Jesus love me more or less than He already does, then why not THIS scenario of Holy Joy in one for whom He died?

I think the healing took root at that point, Saturday afternoon, on our deck in the sun, journal and pen in my hands.

Almost with embarrassed hesitation I shared these new insights with my husband.  I felt that unless I articulated them out loud to another person, then I might slink back into the dark, dreary cave where I have beat myself up for far too long.  But there it was, in the light of day, publicly proclaimed for the person most dear to me and uttered out loud ALSO in case that the devil, himself, might be lurking.  And I, too, heard this new ‘fact’.  Maybe it was more important for ME to hear those words spoken out loud, witnessed by my husband and the Holy Spirit.

So I’ve been saying to myself several times a day, ‘I have a poochy and Jesus loves my poochy!’

 

If God is for me, what about all those other expectations?

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I get the message of grace, I think.  

I don’t have to earn God’s love, His approval, salvation from His anger at my sin, future life with him…all those almost unimaginable good gifts.  When God woke me up to my true condition and offered me the way of salvation and created in me the mind and desire to WANT to repent and accept His offer, all that and more were mine….forever.

I know I have HIS stamp of ‘it’s finished’ on me…why do I crave the approval and satisfaction of other humans?

Seeking that approval translates into meeting the expectations of others.

Expectations

Most of these I invent myself – I project.  For instance:

  • a colleague showcases a very clever class project finale on You Tube.  It’s applauded by the administration and I translate that as an expectation that I will be as creative in my classes.
  • I read about other foreign language teachers whose students are so enthralled with what goes on in class, that they don’t even know they are acquiring language.
  • a Christian wife mentions her and her husband’s ministry in their neighborhood and how they invite people over for dinner regularly, to share the gospel and serve.
  • close friends host ‘grandparent camp’ each summer at their house and gather the cousins for a week of fun and life lessons.

All these expectations weigh me down.  There are  a host of others too.  They belong to that category of even more personal than I care to mention.  Things like…… what I imagine a ‘good wife, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law, teacher, neighbor, colleague, did I say teacher?, Christian, friend’ should do.

So how do I orient my thinking, renew my mind PRACTICALLY so that I can truly say: It’s enough that God is for me, that I have HIS love and provision, that nothing will block His good and perfect future for me?

That for me is the struggle of applying God’s grace to my life.  How can I accept as enough and all-satisfying that HIS grace is sufficient when I seem to crave and think I should have the expressed approval of others?  Is it even reasonable to expect, to feel it’s worth striving for, that it is even POSSIBLE to win/earn the approval of those very important, somewhat important and tangentially important because I see them every day?

His grace is sufficient

How have you sorted this out?

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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