Who determines your outcome?

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Romans 9:16 So then, it depends NOT on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.

Do those words make you feel stymied or relieved?  Angry or grateful?

Fellow pilgrim, this fact about our God and those who receive the gift of a permanent place in God’s family achieves two ends.  First, we are humbled.  If ever we entertained the idea that our works were good enough to leverage God into owing us anything, this verse in Romans affirms otherwise.

But doesn’t our world trumpet the opposite with THIS success formula:

Dream big and work hard.  Results go to the man in the ring who perseveres!

Second, and for me, this is burden lifting, Paul teaches that God alone determines family membership.  If I rightly suspected that no amount of good works or sincere effort to avoid sinning could meet God’s standard of perfect holiness, my gut feeling correctly aligns with reality.

Illusions dispelled should leave in their place only stunned awe and awakened gratitude.  If meriting this privilege never was likely, but God in His mercy has freely given it, then I have more than hit the jackpot.

Moreover, energy spent trying to drum up desire and work hard enough to impress the Creator and Sustainer and Judge of all with my ‘worthiness’ can be properly channeled.  And you probably know the counter-intuitive truth that shifting one’s life’s energy and focus off of self and onto God and His Kingdom satisfies us far more. Celebrating God’s sheer goodness and inviting others to step out from the crushing weight of performance won’t sap us of energy but multiply our joy.

Too remarkable to be true?  Not for the God of Truth!

 

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.

 

 

The blahs or joy-less-ness

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Psalm 51:7–12 “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.  Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

By God’s gifting, I am more a joy-filled gal than not. I wasn’t always so, but as I have come to know more and more the Biblical God, I have grown happier.  Multiple events each day cause me to look forward to getting up.  But occasionally, God blesses me with a short period of the ‘blahs’.  My dad used to say he had lost his ‘perk’.  He meant physical energy to move about, but I apply the same principle to the state of my emotions.  I say this is a gift, because feeling like there is NOTHING that excites me connects me to those I love who live in that place more time than not.  My empathy grows as a result.

depressed Snoopy

I’m not sure what prompted this recent attack of the blahs, but they came on last Thursday and lasted through Friday. Nothing appealed.  Nothing beckoned.  I felt bored and in that state of mind, I could see no change on the horizon.  I know, it sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?  And pathetic!  That’s what emotions do; they cloud our reasoning.

Knowing WHAT to do, I started preaching to myself, on my commute home from school, instead of listening to myself as many advice.  Truths about my identity in Christ; facts about God’s character; my treasure awaiting me in heaven….everything that I knew to be true.  None of that seemed to lift the mood.

But ‘out of the blue’ came a new thought: “The best is yet to be!” That’s a line either from a poem or a song but those 6 words actually express a truth taught throughout the Bible.  I took it and ran – in logical fashion:

  • If we live in a fallen world and are flawed people…..
  • If one of the consequences of the fall is painful labor…..
  • If God gives not only faith in Himself but suffering as gifts (for it is granted to you to believe and to suffer in Christ – Phil 1:29….)
  • AND if in the presence of God, there is fullness of joy and pleasures evermore (Ps 16:11)…..

Then….I don’t have to expect that I will experience fullness of joy HERE and NOW!!

It’s so easy to self-medicate to erase the joylessness.  Numerous times have I turned either to food or to purchases or to withdrawing into my world of books.  But if periods of joylessness are to be expected, then there is nothing that needs remedying.

Those thoughts in themselves were liberating.  “Well no wonder that I experience some of the blahs….true full joy is promised later!  I can wait,” rang this fresh understanding.

After a sigh of relief, my rescued thoughts (still in the car) turned to the possibility of calling ‘so-and-so’ and catching up with her.  I reached her and sealed my renewed thinking by getting my mind off myself, a comfort.  By the time I reached home, I had forgotten that I was feeling blah.

Okay, I can hear you say, “Well, bully for her!  My condition is chronic. I seem to have been born melancholic by temperament.”  I recognize that compared to you, I don’t even know what suffering is. And my heart goes out to you. I think after these 2 days becoming familiarized once again with what you awaken to daily, I can better understand your struggle.

Here are my two cents’ worth of advice, for what you can glean from it:

  • DO NOT beat up on yourself.  You are not being a bad Christian.  Soak in the fact that the Father loves you and chose you IN THIS STATE, if melancholy is your natural bent.
  • DO take care of yourself physically and keep up the habits of Bible-reading and prayer, especially when you don’t feel like it!

I bring up prayer because David models for us a Godly man who experienced periods of the blahs or joylessness.  Why would he ASK God to restore to him the joy of his initial salvation, if he were not missing it?  And look how he frames that request?  Make me to HEAR all about true joy and gladness.  Initial and on-going hope and assurance, i.e. FAITH, come from hearing the Word. But if we are talking to ourselves about how flat we feel, then we can’t give any attention to facts contrary to our feeling.

So prayer which arises from within Bible reading is life-rejuvenating.  In fact, the two most encouraging words I know from Scripture are:  But God!

He is the unpredictable (at times) God who does more than we can ask or imagine.  Those 2 words happen to pop up in numerous passages, but I’ll leave one to encourage you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Psalm 73:26

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