What God commands – impossible!

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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?

 

Confidence in God’s word for your salvation

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Magnet  Do you ever fear that you might not be a true believer?  Do you question your salvation because you feel so discouraged by a ‘losing fight’ with sin?

The other day, we talked about this, a young believer and I.  She shared that she often wonders if she indeed is one of God’s own.  As you and I struggle with recurring sins that weigh us down, so does she.

Actually, I find the very FACT that I’m bothered by my sin as EVIDENCE that I am saved. And when my Biblical glasses are on and the Holy Spirit confronts me, the ensuing chagrin prompts me to go to my Father, yet again, for Christ-earned forgiveness and cleansing from sin.

Pouring over 1 Peter 2, my friend and I parked on a couple of truths to understand better what frightened her in the first line, highlighted in red below:

Verse 8b: They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

She fears that she might be one of those unhappy people destined for disobedience.

To give her some concrete help, we reviewed some diagnostic questions that would demonstrate that indeed she is one of God’s chosen:

  • Did she recognize that her sinful condition and sins automatically make her an enemy of God?
  • Was she trusting Jesus as the only saving means to reconcile her to God the Father?
  • Was she overjoyed that she had been redeemed, forgiven and adopted by God to be His forever and favored daughter?

With YES to all 3 conditions, we looked further in 1 Peter 2 at our status per God:

Verse 9:  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

How amazing it is that our heavenly Father chose us just to HAVE us as His people!

On my walk this morning, I stoked and warmed my heart with this fact,  that God FIRST and FOREMOST wants me to belong to Him. Full stop!

Thinking of unbelievers or fragile new Christians, I searched for an image that simplifies the entire wrath of God and atonement combo, I pictured Jesus on the Cross as:

THE GREAT SIN-WRATH MAGNET

His willing atonement or dying in our place draws and absorbs forever two substances foreign TO Himself as the God-Man:

  • our sin
  • God’s wrath 

With our sin removed and God’s justifiable wrath toward us averted or appeased, we are FREED to see Jesus as beautiful and receive His righteousness accredited to our account! I’m not a science person, but the way I imagined this exchange like the polarity in a magnetic field.  Unburdened by sin, and without God’s impending judgment, our polar attraction changes so that we are drawn NOW to Christ’s beauty and inestimable worth. Without effort or merit we fly to Him out of desire, like paper clips to a magnet.  Christ’s work on our behalf is a ‘no-brainer’, not something we decide or choose.

This conversation with my sister-in-Christ and subsequent thinking makes me realize how important the Lord’s Supper is for believers.  We need to be regularly reminded of the FACT, that because of Christ’s willing and intentional living and dying in our place, we DO belong to God, our Father.  The cross of Christ is objective proof or evidence.

 

Gorge on power food

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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!

My inner murmurer

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Do everything without complaining….– Phil 2:14a

And they complained in their tents and they did not hear the voice of Lord Jehovah. – Psalm 106:25

Here’s a typical Maria tape – a transcript of my inner narration:

  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to go for my cove walk (it’s painful because of the hills)
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to water the plants
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to make supper AND get a crockpot ready for tomorrow night
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to wash my hair today
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to start back to work, which will REALLY cut into ‘my’ time

I tend to dread chores/events that are either discomforting or ones that reduce my time to sit down and do what I truly love – reading and catching up on correspondence with friends via email.

I think that inner wingeing voice has had free reign for longer than I know.  For a while now I’ve been aware that I am the source of most of my discontent.  But looking back, I think I have lived for years, accompanied by that unceasing inner complaining.

It’s only in the past week that I have suddenly awoken to the fact that I, Maria, a born-anew person, am endued with the permanent Holy Spirit of power, love and even-keeled understanding. Hey, I don’t have to continue struggling with discontent. I can kill the fleshly default. How?  By believing and acting on the many promises He has given me as part of my equipment.

And this idea to break my complaining habit is not just a good Maria plan.  God WANTS me to turn away from such sin.  No matter how ‘natural’ it may be.  No matter how common, accepted and normative in our culture it seems.  But come on, maybe verbalizing discontent, even to myself, might be something God frowns on, but is it really such a big deal, such a huge sin?  Isn’t it just one of those ‘little-ole-lady’ sins, as my husband used to call them?

Um, nope.  There’s an entire commandment devoted to it.  #10 – Do not covet!  What is coveting but wanting what you don’t have, wishing things were different.

Just this awareness that I CAN conquer my grousing habit has been enough to change the quality of my inner life.  The insight that inner complaining is wicked and evil has motivated me to find a new narrative.

I find that as soon as a thought forms like, “Oh…the dreaded up-and-down hill walk faces me before I can sit down with coffee and Bible” I’m quick to substitute a new script:

I GET TO go exercise my body.

That one little 2.5-word replacement for “I’ve GOT TO” apparently is sufficient to halt the complaining and block my mood from souring.

So for sure I’m encouraged by my waning discontent, but even more significant is the growing realization that I was engaging and practicing sin.  For according to Psalm 106 as quoted above, my inner murmurer was preventing me from hearing God.

Thank you, kind Father, for giving me your Holy Spirit who keeps on working to make me holy so I can see you and hear you more clearly.

Romans 7:25 – I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

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!’

 

Bringing up past mistakes

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Satan Accuses

Isaiah 43:24b-25  God tells the Israelites….

You have wearied Me with your iniquities. “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

When I read this verse the other morning, I immediately thought about voices that DO remember and RE-CALL my sins.  If it not be God, then who might be the source of those accusations?  

Satan for one.  He is called the ‘accuser’ of Christians in Rev 12:10:

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

But there’s someone else who hurls those attacks: ME!!!  All the times I beat myself up for something I did.  Either I indulge in that hurtful practice instead of repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness, or I replay the sin/mistake/offense DESPITE having repented and been forgiven.

What stopped me cold, however, this morning was the sinking thought:

Am I being like Satan when I, myself, bring up a past, covered-over and forgiven sin or hurt done to ME by a neighbor, friend or family member? It matters not whether I fling it at the person or just  fume in resentment.  It’s still satanic.

Maybe I should copy my older Brother Jesus instead.  You know Him – God who was slaughtered unjustly on the cross AND still forgave his murderers and loved them?

Hear the good news about God as promised in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Are you exhausted?

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God helps those...

Have you ever heard this American-ism?  Who hasn’t?  In fact, my father used to quote it to me all the time growing up.  Trouble is, he wasn’t a Christian.  But he was a self-made man.  He grew up in a family that had money, pre-1929!  Born in 1924, he lived a while in Alaska as his family raised silver blue foxes for their fur-fashioned luxury stoles and coats supplied to wealthy blue bloods.

Silver Fox Fur Jacket

That niche soured quickly as the depression dried up the demand for expensive accessories.  Reduced to poverty, the family moved south to Arizona where his father was killed by a drunk driver in 1930.  ‘Mom’ relocated back to Arkansas with my dad and two brothers to eke out a living. There were cousins there, I think. The family scraped by, subsisting at the lowest economic rung. FDR saved my dad through innovative Civilian Conservation Corps camps for young men.  Spending his senior year of high school away from home, Pop studied at night in order to graduate on time with his class back in Mountainburg, Arkansas. His checks provided the funds so his mom and youngest brother could eat.  From there my dad joined the army, grappling his way up the military ladder. He earned a BS and an MA at night. He commanded units in Korea and Viet Nam during 5 combat tours. He pioneered and wrote aviation doctrine as well as a book.

About his relationship with God, all he would ever say when I gently pressed amounted to: “I’ve made my peace with the Lord” But my dad DID live by the ‘Gospel’ – the American good news of ‘work hard and make something of yourself’.

And Ben Franklin’s aphorism about God lending a hand to independent self-helpers fit his worldview. See this brief Wikipedia explanation of the history of the phrase that Ben Franklin popularized. For a long time I didn’t know how to counter that statement.  After all, the Bible does extol working hard to add to our virtue.   Take Peter’s exhortation in 2 Peter: 1:5-7

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love.

That sounds like effort!  If the God-waiting-on-us-to-do-our-part doctrine is not so, then what do we make of much of the moral law in the Bible?

After thinking about how to reconcile “work hard and your efforts will be supplemented by God v. to trust God and watch Him do it all” I think I can propose the right way to consider this topic.  Here’s my attempt:

It’s a matter of one’s starting point, having the correct ‘mindset’ to borrow a term in vogue in my field of education. Do we believe that God created us and then left us to follow our interests and passions, with our calling the shots in life?  Or do we take our cue from our Creator and ask some of those foundational questions such as:

  • Since God created us, He must have had a purpose. What might that be?
  • And if it makes sense to look at what He has written to discover His plans for us, what has He said?
  • And how are we to DO this work for Him?

It would also be prudent to identify God’s own ‘teleos’, His goal for offspring created in His image. Fortunately, He does not leave us guessing.  God writes in Isaiah 43:6b-7:

Bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the ends of the earth—

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.

Paul in the New Testament echoes the same purpose when he writes to the Christians in Ephesus: (Chapter 2:10)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Here’s the  64 thousand dollar Q

How does God get the glory when the spotlight shines on us and what WE do…..with a little boost from God?

That was rhetorical, obviously.  He can’t!

God ONLY gets the praise and glory and acclaim He deserves when unlikely, weak people accomplish His work where it’s evident that only He could have enabled either the attitude of the ‘worker’ or the results. Remember the 5 loaves and 2 fish accounts?  Were the disciples praised for their supply of enough food to satisfy 5000 hungry men? Do you understand a bit more Jesus’ curious exhortation:  Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

I never could figure that out!  If we’re doing the good works, wouldn’t WE get the kudos? Why would anyone think to praise God?

Good question!

The good deeds we are to do, we are to do with His strength, in a humble way that magnifies the surpassing greatness of God. No surprise there!  If we actually read His Word, we find out that God expects nothing less from us. After all He explicitly created us to carry out and accomplish pre-planned tasks, each one initiated BY HIM for you and for me.

So back to my blog title: Are you exhausted?  Could it be that you are doing a lot of ‘good stuff’ that you initiated without reference to Your Creator?  And working hard in your own strength, in a way that makes you look good?  No one is denying that much good is done in the world by Christians and non-Christians alike.  But IF we’re worn out, maybe, just maybe it might be because we are functionally living out the American Credo.  After all, who could possibly criticize our good works? Have you considered the answer to that question might be God, Himself?

Here’s a sobering thought: …..anything that is not done in faith is sin.  Romans 14:23c

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