What God commands – impossible!

Leave a comment

May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors. 1 Kings 8:58 (NIV)

I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.  Psalm 119:112 (ESV)

I argued ALL day long!  Conversing with God throughout the hours, using Gospel logic. And at the end of the day, I was exhausted and still miserable and STUCK!

What was the matter?  Nothing more than not being happy with a number on a scale.

You’d say that my battle with the idol of the scales and an arbitrary weight I have self-assigned is IRRATIONAL.  And you’re right.  But I can’t seem to respond to unbiased logic.

The two-day battle took place on a Monday and a Wednesday (the one-day reprieve provided some emotional rest).

What made things worse was seeing that appealing to God’s promises and statements of Biblical fact did not appear to help.  In times of suffering, my go-to verses are these verses that I have personalized:

  • No good thing do you withhold, Lord, because I belong to you. – Ps 84:11
  • I know you do ALL things well, Jesus. Mark 7:37

Between affirming those truths, I tried to OBEY him.  Repeatedly I cast THIS care onto Him.  (1 Peter 5:7) But when no emotional or spiritual relief came, I concluded ‘it hadn’t worked’ and told my Father again, “Look, I’m casting this on you.  Help me!  I’m trying to do what you ask!”

I finally told my husband what I was struggling with, sheepish and ashamed, because we’ve been married 37 years. He has listened to me many a night pour out the same grief and pain.

Besides sharing a powerful insight that maybe this ‘thorn’ is a permanent gift from God, meant to drive me even closer to him, he offered this advice:

Maria, you can’t even begin to do what God commands, such as handing this issue over to him.  He has to help you even with this!  In fact YOUR acknowledged helplessness and powerlessness is what God wants from you, not your obedience.  He knows you are incapable of obeying.

Further tender counseling on his part revealed that I have a ways to go to think rightly about this burden.  Mike pointed out that I’ve been living and functioning as though eating and my body-care were something I could manage or control.  I realize this is a lie, an illusion that I have WANTED to believe. What betrays me is how often my prayers have been:

  • God, Father, just show me HOW to eat and WHAT to eat so I can be done with this.  I’m sick of focusing on me.  I want to be free of thinking about me.

A young friend shared recently how her days are REALLY hard and painful. She’s a young wife with a baby.  Continually she cries out to God for help.  But he doesn’t seem to respond.

Her experience and mine find company in the Psalms.  Some of those dark, hope-less accounts of David and Heman, one of his musicians, don’t end with cheer and relief from God.  Read Psalm 88, all of it.  Here are just two verses:

13  But I, O LORD, cry to you;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

14  O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?

Why do you hide your face from me?

What I’m concluding is that God DOES care.  And if He isn’t answering me in the way I expect him too, it’s because he’s still up to something good in my life.  The story is not over yet.  I just thought that BY NOW, I’d have put THIS struggle to bed.

One byproduct of this misery is this:  I find that I am far more compassionate with some of the ongoing patterns of sin and pain other struggle with, especially the kind we bring on ourselves!

But I’m tired.

What about you? Do you feel saddled, still, with the ‘same ole, same ole’ sin?  What has helped you?

 

Gorge on power food

2 Comments

Psalm 119:11  – I have hidden your word in my heart in order that I might not sin against You.

This truth stopped by to visit the other night.

It was one of those typical but painful scenes that happen from time to time.

You know those kind – when one person has spun himself into such an annoyed, touchy, tither that he can’t get out of it gracefully.  And you find your interactions adding fuel to the fire.  Furthermore, you feel justified in your self-righteous response as ‘victim’ to the high emotional detritus from the other.

We had eased into the evening routine gracefully AND gratefully, happy to be together after a day at work.  But something little set him off while we were fixing dinner.  The irony is that it occurred while we shared what God had revealed to each of us in our reading and study of the day’s assigned two chapters in Leviticus (Chronological reading plan).

We stepped over that blip and in the course of the next few minutes talked about Noah’s sons and how Shem and Japheth had graciously covered their dad’s nakedness when Ham had sported to them gleefully about the effects of too much wine.  Through our remarking about the grace given, God moved that scene into my active memory drawer.

Then came the blow-up.  Over something minor.  But anger and some internal self-recriminations took over his emotions/thoughts.  I catalogued his reactions to the file of ‘jerk-like’ behavior.

In silence we finished dinner.  I cleaned up and he headed downstairs to the ‘man-cave’ to smoke his post-prandial cigar.

While feeling self-righteous, though lamenting what had just transpired, the Holy Spirit reminded me of this fact:  He loves Mike just as much as He loves me!  My heart softened, climbing down off my high horse.  Two feet back on earth, the quick divine jab brought me to repentance.   How so?  God used the Genesis Bible passage recently moved to the easy-access memory drawer.

Shem had shown his father grace by covering his sin (sprawled-out drunken naked body) with a blanket. (Genesis 9:23)  “Can’t you do the same for your husband?” came the Holy Spirit question.

It was gentle but forceful and it caused tender love to well up.  No condemnation from God, just a sweet push forward toward my husband.  I texted him downstairs, writing how much I loved him cum ’emoticon’.   No response. But when the tired thud of reluctant steps mounted toward the living room, I was ready to enfold him in light and love.  He started to explain that he didn’t know what had come over him.  That he didn’t know how to get OUT of the pit.  I stood up, moved toward him and embraced him in my arms, soothing my wounded, now-softened best friend and husband.

“It doesn’t matter why or how it happened.  Just rest.  I love you.  It’s okay.  We all get ourselves in messes.  Let’s put it behind us and enjoy the rest of the evening.  Whatever ‘it’ was about, our fleeting time together is more precious to us.”

Just like that, we dropped it, relieved.

Score another victory for God’s Word – sovereignly pointing out my sin and enabling me to counter Satan’s false murmurings. My gratitude to the dear Spirit of God deepened, as did my desire to offer this grace covering more widely and more frequently.  It felt good!

How can I rejoice?

Leave a comment

Luke 1:47

…and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Savior…

It was an ordinary day.  Maybe 13-year old Mary was kneading bread for the evening meal, a chore her mom might have left her to complete so she could head to the market. Maybe this young Hebrew girl was alone with the goats, distributing straw.

Whatever she was doing, she might have been musing about whether life with Joseph would be all that different than life at home.  She’d still working with other women in a family similar to hers. The daily and weekly tasks would be the same:  to supply Joseph’s household with food and clothing.  Of course, there would be children to raise, but not that first year, or at least not for 9 months…..

When I read Mary’s reaction to both the news AND the reality of her changed circumstances, i.e surprise pregnancy, I was struck by the wording of this New English Translation (NET) of Luke 1:47.  The text reads that Mary BEGAN to rejoice.

And that made sense.  Until her encounter with Gabriel and his announcement, Mary’s understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures would have been from her parents’ treatment of God’s word, from annual celebrations and local worship traditions.  I can well imagine that God’s truth had yet to penetrate her very soul.  There’s a hearing and there’s a HEARING.

But then….God’s word intruded into her life in more than a figurative sense.  Her Instagram hash tag might well have read #lifeinteruppted!

So how did Mary react?  She BEGAN to rejoice.  Before she encountered living Truth, I doubt she even thought of rejoicing.  For sure I can imagine she was happy to be engaged to a kind and hard-working man like Joseph.  Most likely she enjoyed her girlfriends in the village and felt comfortable in knowing the routine of Roman-occupied Galilee.  But rejoicing?  What was there to rejoice about?

Nothing,….that is until God’s Truth became real to her.  And so it is with us.  I don’t think I ever rejoiced in a deep and meaningful sense until the facts and promises of Jesus began to sink in to my consciousness. Yes, I was excited to travel to Europe, to leave home to attend college, to start work as a new lieutenant, to marry Mike, to give birth to Graham and then Wes.  But rejoice?  That is something categorically different.

Christians who have been ‘surprised by joy’ like CS Lewis or Blaise Pascal, startled by God’s heavy presence (Best Annotated version of The Pensées by Peter Kreeft) know a bit of what Mary experienced.  And they have rejoiced.

So what about us?  The truth is, even if we never experience the Holy Spirit’s heavy presence like Pascal or talk to an angel, we STILL have God’s living Word, given to us in written form.  We have access to TRUTH, which provides fuel for our rejoicing.  The facts and promises we receive by grace are precious.

Ps 119:162 – I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure.

If you haven’t BEGUN to rejoice, then this time of year is the perfect time to start reading and receiving as truth what the Bible declares and promises. Nothing else is going to last forever.  Nothing else is secure, unchanging, liberating, power-filled and life altering. Nothing else is worth this kind of exultation.

Why wonder?

2 Comments

We need to be awed and astounded in order to be happy. Or put another way, those who have retained the ability to be ‘wowed’ and astonished are the happiest.

Who comes to mind when you think about what kind of person is easily dazzled?  Little children!

Wonder

I once heard Ravi Zacharias, a defender of the truth of Christianity, talk about his three children and what it took to wind-up each with that night-time story fear.  His littlest one needed only to hear Daddy read with a dramatic voice:

  • “The door creaked open slowly.”

The 5-year old, past being stirred by that preamble, was sent into a paroxysm of shivers with:

  • “The door creaked slowly open as an ominous but invisible voice growled, “Are there any children here?”

And the more ‘savvy’ seven year old needed more drama and suspense.  It wasn’t until Dad described the perilous predicament of the three children, cowering under the bed, when:

  • “All of a sudden, a slimy but firm green hand snatched a bare ankle and dragged forth the oldest child from under the bed.”

Ravi continued in his account of bedtime stories from 30 years ago to make the point that adults who have lost the ability to be awed grow weary of life.  Why is that?  We are wired, by God, to wonder, to feel awe, to find ourselves comforted by something immensely more grand and powerful than us.  It’s that combination of being scared yet knowing that one is safe.  Like being caught on a mountain ledge in the midst of a raging storm and finding a shallow cave in which to ride out the tempest.  One feels secure AND at the same time swept up in the grandeur of so much power.

Maybe that is why the Bible teaches over and over again that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ Proverbs 9:10.

Are you feeling blasé, bored with life, lost in the ho-hum seeming monotony of daily life? I think this hits most first-world people, many starting around the age of 40. Bored people are not happy people. I know.  From experience!

So what do we have to do to regain the habit of holy awe?  First – admit our boredom to God as sin!  A people blasé about the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer doesn’t KNOW God. Second – pray and ask His help, for we are helpless to do anything good for ourselves. Third – find a promise from God, claim it and pray it.  How about Psalm 119:18 – Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wonderful things from Your instruction.

 

Night sky awe

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

Leave a comment

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!

Is worry normal or is it a sin?

1 Comment

Worry

Yes!

Yes, anxiety is normal and yes, practicing anxiety is a sin.

And there is good news.

I’m being trained to look behind a statement in scripture to reason about the condition of the author.  For example, yesterday morning I paused at verse 4 while reading Psalm 86:

  • Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

Since it was a rainy, gloomy Saturday morning I immediately asked God to gladden both my and my husband’s hearts.  But afterwards I realized that the only reason the Psalmist would have penned such a request was because he was struggling with the blahs or worse and knew he could count on God to help him!  Why ask for something of which you have no need????

Here’s another verse from Matthew 6:25

  • I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.

Why would Jesus dedicate these minutes to expound on worry if He didn’t SEE or KNOW that worry was present in the hearts and minds of those listening to Him?

How about the command NOT to fear?  I read in the on-line Christian Post (5 Nov 2014 blog post entitled Faith over Fear) that Jesus’ primary teaching was: to love others. (125 times taught in the Gospels) According to the writer of the post, Jesus presented and organized His teachings by theme.  And the primary theme (21 times) for His instruction was about FEAR.  Do not fear; don’t be afraid; be courageous; be firm in your faith.  This means that Jesus exhorts us to LOVE by NOT FEARING.  Hmmm, could it be that fear drives out love?  Is that the reason that the apostle John pens in 1 John 4:18?:

  • There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,

And why would Jesus repeat such a message if it weren’t a glaring problem?

So YES – worry and anxiety are normal, but they are neither GOOD, nor HEALTHY, nor appropriate for Christians.  In fact, worrying is a sin since God commands us NOT to worry.

So how does it help to know that worry is both a sin AND a normal reflex?

Because God doesn’t leave us to battle it on our own. There is supernatural power to fight sin.  And we are called to enter into warfare every day of the Christian life. Through daily practice similar to our workouts at the gym, we will strengthen our reflex to rely on His promises and character, growing more like Jesus.  But let’s be realistic; we will not eliminate anxiety 100 %. Therefore, we can expect to have to engage this enemy of the faith daily, WITH the resources God provides. Even my hero of the faith, George Müller, admitted that the decade of his 90s were the hardest.  I imagine his struggles had to do with declining health and increased physical limitations.  There are always new fears to confront.  But God promises fresh mercies each day (‘our daily spiritual bread’)

It’s not for rhetorical reasons that Paul exhorts young pastor Timothy in his first letter, chapter 6, verse 12:

  • Fight the good fight of faith 

This same Paul is the one who explains how to dress daily for the warfare.  Besides defensive armor, he reminds us that there is ONE offensive weapon – God’s word.

The only way to drive the worry dragons away is by saying or singing or shouting or meditating on God’s many promises to BE our strength, to BE our peace and then to bank our life on those promises given to us by a Loving Father whose character is trustworthy.

Here’s one more look at a desperate psalmist and how he deals with danger or suffering

  • If your law had not been my meditation I would have perished in my affliction. Psalm 119:92

The fact that he mentions his affliction is significant.  Like us, he had a choice of mediating on how bad his circumstances were and how he couldn’t see a way out OR he could chew on the truth of God and what He has said.  This Old Testament man of faith makes it clear had he chosen the former course of limiting his view to the present, he would have died.

Aren’t we blessed to have the Bible which does not sugar-coat life’s sufferings?  Instead, it tells us that pain is real and there is help that is equally real and available.

I’ll leave you with an ‘oldie-but-goodie’ sermon link of the man who is teaching me to read my Bible and mine it for MORE than the explicit words:

You can either read or listen to the sermon here

The danger of freedom

Leave a comment

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

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

self esteem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ball and chain

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

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

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

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

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

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

%d bloggers like this: