One anothering – don’t stop

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Christian friends are invaluable.  We encourage one another by listening well. We pray for each other.  We redirect sisters and brothers back to God.  We focus on firm Truth in light of scary, wobbly circumstances. We offer our presence, sometimes just simple shoulder rubs and tissues.

And we never know what will help. But we stumble ahead and give what we have. Because God is in the business of using us to comfort others.

The other day, I was still mucking around in my latest pit-version of a long-term struggle with sin. Midday, Mike threw me what turned out to be a lifeline. He emailed Psalm 37 to me at work. At least once a week he shares a reading from his daily devotional.  Nice. Familiar.  Comforting.  Insightful as to what strikes him.  But THIS TIME what he forwarded seismically changed my thinking.  As RC Sproul says, ‘Ideas have consequences.’

God used one verse, a promise, to lift me out of the mud and set me on high ground.  I was stunned by this concrete, tangible proof that…….

……the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

God’s pledge, known and divinely written by David in Psalm 37:5 launched me into new space – a kind of freedom.  Here is how God’s promise goes:  Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him and He will do it!

Immediately I saw my sin AND the path to rescue and freedom!

For years, I have struggled with ‘how to eat’ so as to ‘feel good about my body’.  The battle came from wanting to eat as much as I want, without limits, AND wanting to feel happy in my body. Nine years of bulimia, stopped by God’s mercy due to my first pregnancy, preceded the past 35 years of overeating and agonizing.  I have learned to control, sort of, my ‘habit’ of the overeating. Yet I still obsess.

For 37 years Mike has walked with me in this struggle.  Recently his God-inspired wisdom jolted me in a healthy way.  First came his observation that perhaps God has ordained this ‘design flaw’ or THORN in the flesh to be His means to draw me to Him. New thought!

Gently he pointed out that I’ve been asking God for a way to manage or control my sin. He offered that maybe God in His goodness has NOT given me a manageable way to eat or exercise.

All along I have labeled the OVEReating as ‘THE SIN’.  I never considered that my desire to CONTROL could perhaps be sinful.

Further light opened my cage door wider.  Paraphrasing 17th century English pastor William Gurnall: When you pray to God, add a vow.  But make sure there is no hidden sin in your heart. Gurnall then cited one of David’s prayers to the effect, ‘God, grant me _________, so that I may praise you.’

Stunned into pondering how I might EVEN word a prayer request to God about this eating/control issue, I realized that any petition would basically be asking God to give me a way to control my sin.  Furthermore, the idea of adding a VOW stopped me cold.  I saw clearly for the first time that there was nothing holy in my request.

Into that void, Mike’s email sharing Psalm 37 arrived.  Again verse 5 brought light that gave me power-filled hope, what I call ‘crunchy’ or substantial.

Commit your way to the LORD

Trust also in Him 

and He will act

What I saw for the first time was this:

  • I’m to give this ENTIRE thing to Him, the triune God.  It’s not my problem or issue.
  • I’m to place all my confidence in Him, not me
  • And most importantly, HE is the one who will act

Could things be any clearer?  All along I’ve been wanting to control this problem so I could feel good about myself.  But seeing that there was nothing praise-worthy in God answering my prayer the way I have so desperately sought startled me.

Do I know what to do?  Not if I mean, do I have a new plan.

But do I know the purpose of food and the body?

Yes!  Food is to fuel my body and to enjoy.  The body I inhabit temporarily is so I can serve others and God.  The end or purpose of all I do is to glorify God.  Beyond that, I don’t need to go.

I’m still chewing on the simplicity and the power in this promise.  It FEELS to good to be true – simply to hand over a burden and trust God to act.  But I do feel free!

Conclusion?  Don’t stop offering God’s Word to others.  You don’t know ahead of time what God will use to heal someone.

 

What I munch on when bad stuff happens

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Two truths are keeping me together, are feeding me these days:

Mark 7:37 – …..He does everything well! (ISV)

Ps 84:11 – …..No good thing does He withhold.(NIV)

When something ‘bad’ happens, I find myself talking to Jesus – You do EVERYTHING well!  No GOOD thing do you withhold from me!”  These two truths act as the sandwich bread bracketing/holding each particular set of circumstances.  Only with the bread in place, is it safe to draw any conclusion from the ‘bad stuff’ of suffering or evil.

This week, someone dear to me received news that she wasn’t expecting.  I know that she considers Jesus her treasure, that she is a believer.  So I know that the Psalm 84 promise belongs to her.  As I have fought back sinful worry on her behalf, I have reminded myself of these 2 promises.  And that helps me continue to pray for her, but without the worry or anxiety.

Pain and suffering are not ruled out in this fallen world.  We all know that. But they knock the wind out of us at times.  What helps me is intentionally to recall, that God has a purpose, and a good one. And reminding myself that He administers the circumstances ‘just so’, tailored for each one of His children helps dispel the fear.  The suffering and sorrow can still linger, but the fear and anxiety don’t.

  • ‘Come on, Maria, be realistic!  Do these truths work for the really awful stuff – the Sarin attacks that burn Syrian children, old grandmothers and young men alike? How can that be a ‘good’ type of suffering?’

Friends, if Christianity can’t address the toughest questions, then how is it any better than other explanations?

Here’s what I DO know.  Every worldview has to explain suffering and evil.  It’s not a solo burden meant only for Christianity.

But there are many ways to draw false conclusions about God, so we have to be careful. If we start from ourselves with what WE deem good, reasonable or right, then we have already derailed and are headed away from Truth.  The only safe and right place to start is with God.  The times I head away from God, I thank the Holy Spirit who brings back to Him (the Spirit’s job, per Jesus, is to guide us in ALL Truth – John 16:13) . Here is what grounds me in the Truth:

  • God alone created us, therefore He has every right to do what He wants with His creation.
  • God is GOOD and I can trust Him.
  • Just because I can’t see the good in this particular suffering doesn’t mean God isn’t working out good purposes.  Perhaps, one day having completed my earthly trek, I may learn what those good purposes were.
  • As a Christian, I am called to mourn with those who suffer and do all that is within my power as a fellow human indwelt by the Spirit of the all-powerful and loving God.

Coming back down from the mega-worldview to my little corner, I settle back and quiet my soul and munch on my ‘sandwich’:  ‘You do all things well and no good thing do You withhold’.  This is where I live.  This food is sweeter than honey and leaves no bitter aftertaste.

Psalm 131:2 – But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. (NIV)

 

 

The cost of trusting God

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Charles Spurgeon: “(do) You want to see….how (affliction) can bring good to the soul; you must believe it.  Honor God by trusting him.” (as tweeted by Randy Alcorn, 20 Mar 2017)

So many friends waiting, waiting, waiting.

There’s D, whose husband got let go from his job at age 61.  It’s been 3 months and he’s gone through two REALLY promising and lengthy job interviews.  Only to hear back in emails, ‘Thank you for your interest, but we’ve decided to go with someone else.”

In addition to my friend D, several other friends pray for, search and await jobs.

And then there is J who holds on for a solution to a leak in her roof.  It’s not like she and her husband have oodles of money in savings, available to try first one remedy or another. That’s part of the problem.  The house has turned into a money pit, drawing from their retirement funds. They believe they should sell it to protect their savings.  But they can’t list the house until the leak is repaired.  Biding their time, they communicate, encourage and remind contractors, hopeful that each successive remedy will be THE one.

My other friend has endured countless medical procedures and tests and been the subject of panels of medical boards convening to seek the best way forward for an aggressive cancer.  Chosen routes have revealed dead ends.  Patience, while suffering, is her familiar journey partner.

Trying, painful situations hit believers and non-believers alike. We could despair, were it not for knowing the Truth.  For as Jesus teaches, “…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32  

What is that truth that blocks our natural response to fall into a gloomy permanent pit? That God loves us and that the suffering has a good purpose!  That He has planned each trial to conform us to our older brother, Jesus.  To avail ourselves of that truth, God has given us FAITH to believe the manifold and rich promises that are the rightful property or resource of all who ‘love God and are called by Him, according to His purposeful plan.’ (Romans 8:28)

Just as we have been given physical muscles to exercise in daily life, so too have Christians been given the spiritual muscle of faith.  But the gift of believing God comes with a concomitant responsibility.  We have to use faith, to move out, do what is good in the moment, depending on the invisible but real promises that God will come through just as His word says. We have to exercise or actively depend on God’s written pledge to provide, protect, guide, comfort us.

How do we do that?  By deciding to ‘believe (sight unseen) every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matt 4:4).  And that FEELS costly and painful at times.

Who doesn’t suffer the pains of temptation to despair over circumstances that seem to be perpetual?  Yet God commands us to not look at the way things appear, but to see through the circumstances to the God who promises good to those who believe Him and cling to the truth of His promises.

The other night as we were discussing the day’s Bible readings, Mike and I pondered the the connection between trusting…..believing…..expecting…..waiting ….hoping…exercising patience……  All these actions sparkle as many sides of the one diamond called FAITH in God.  But what do those actions LOOK like?  How do you DO expecting, waiting, hoping….?

An insight has recently enriched my mind, an answer to a dilemma. I’ve often struggled to grasp how to live out Jesus’ command, in a self-deflecting, God-glorifying way: “…. let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Matt 5:16    I’ve gotten hung up on the concept, ‘your light’.  How can I have any light in myself?  The answer: this ‘light’ is the gift God has given me to BELIEVE Him.  My responsibility is to show the world in a visible way (light) how much I treasure this invisible but precious reality of relying on and belonging to Jesus. God calls that way ‘patience’ or ‘trust in God’.

Given that He commands me to make visible this divine, inner light, I pray daily to WANT to do just that (and follow through) a – to live in such a way that the world (my colleagues, family and friends) sees my Godward trust, hope-filled expectations, and patient waiting and be STUNNED and chalk it up to God!  (that Maria is so patient during suffering.  She must REALLY love her God and be satisfied by Him!!!)

Patience is a virtue recognized in the western world.  Yet most joke about it and cavalierly let themselves off the hook by admitting they have little.

When I feel strong, I affirm this fact:  God is kind to give me multiple occasions to practice and improve this muscle of contented waiting on Him.  Yet, I seem often to succumb to despair, sometimes multiple times in a week.

But what other choice do you and I have? We can either face the sufferings in life kicking and screaming, or we can submit to the wise and loving hand of the potter who keeps us on His wheel and won’t stop until we are beautifully fashioned into the family likeness.

Potters' Hands

This last truth stunned me this morning when I heard it again: Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. Isaiah 64:4

What is love?

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Nestor Haddaway’s run-away hit posed the question in the ’90s. But it was ‘the head-bobbing, nightclubbing-addicted Butabi brothers’ that popularized the single on Saturday Night Live and later in the film Night at the Roxbury.

Love as a right, concept, ideal, and standard gets a lot of play in culture these days and it always has.  Just consider one of William Shakespeare’s many lines:

  • “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind” from A Midsummer Night’s dream.

Today, however, one seems to assume the liberty to define love any ‘ole way.  But does that make it right? And speaking of rights, who gets to define such weighty matters, anyway?

Listen in on a conversation between an imaginary Cultural Cathy and me:

Cultural Cathy – I have the right to define love as I see it

Me – Really? well how do you define love? and whose standards are you using?

CC – You must not have heard me, it’s up to me.  Right now, I feel a strong bond with Denise.  What we have is the ‘real thing’.  And it feels right.  So it is right for me. I feel loved and so does Denise.

Me – But you call yourself a Christian.  Don’t you have to submit to what the Bible teaches on love?

CC – But I AM following the Bible.  It says all over the Bible that  ‘God is love’.  And I actually can quote a verse, 1 John 4:7.  It goes like this: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Me – Good for you for knowing Scripture.  But we have to use God’s definition if we invoke His Truth.  Furthermore, it’s never enough to find and isolate one verse.  We have to see what the Author meant by looking at the context and other written evidence of what He thinks.   In this case, the Bible also teaches that God is Truth.  Do you remember how Jesus went around saying that He was the truth?  It follows then that Jesus is the standard of the truth.  And if you and I consider ourselves to be Christ-followers or Christian that implies that we stay to stay within the boundaries that Christ set.

CC – what’s truth have to do with love?

Me – good question.  Since you quoted John’s first letter – let’s just turn back a few pages to chapter 3, verse 18.  He writes: Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

CC – hmmm, so your point is??

Me – the deed part is the point.When we ‘love in deed and in truth’ we actually put God’s propositional truth (what He says and teaches, as the Bible documents) into action.  We DON’T get to choose or decide on the propositional truth that suits our temperaments.

David teaches us in one of his Psalms: Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;  Psalm 86:11

**

I don’t know what a Cultural Cathy would say in my fantasy conversation.  If we’re having this exchange at all, she likely would find a way to discount my points.

But we Christians need to know how God defines truth and love.  They are NOT relative. The world may claim authorship rights in determining definitions, but if someone calls himself a Christian, then we should at least be willing to engage with knowledge.  But as Peter exhorts us…with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

What’s the point of praying?

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ER  Two visits this week to the ER, one around 4:45 am and the other around 6 :00 am (earlier time gets you more attention) have made this week difficult to say the least.  What began with tooth issues and extreme pain for my husband in mid-November kicked off an occasional inability to sleep. Occasional turned into more the norm. Struggling to breathe due to heart palpitations sent Mike to Urgent Care during the day on Monday and then to ER at night the other times.

Several EKGs, X-rays, lab work and data from a 24-hour heart monitor have ruled out heart damage.  And we thank God for that.  But the inability to sleep remains and that affects his outlook.

So what about prayer?  I texted many praying friends Friday morning when we arrived for the 2nd time at the hospital.  And what I found was this.  As I affirmed God’s sovereign and loving control in this frightening situation I felt protected by God. Composing messages to these dear prayer warriors asking for their prayers of mercy for Mike, I wrote that God allows/sends trials for our ultimate good, to strengthen our faith. And God’s presence steadied me and calmed my fears.

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:25

Each time I spoke/wrote words of truth, echoing the Spirit-powered promises that God has given us, a settled peace steadied me.

One of my close friends, texted back those encouraging verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians where he describes the God of all comfort who comforts us in our troubles so we can later reach out and help others. These truths expand our view to see the long-term purpose in suffering. We are not alone.  We belong to a community.

Yet, what startled me was that as helpful a reminder as her words were, my faith was not strengthened nearly as much as when I prayed through writing.

Here’s my application:

If you’re on Facebook or you hear in an email or phone call about a need, don’t just write: “Praying!”  Pray!

Take the time yourself to compose a specific prayer that links a quality of God with a specific request to Him to DO something specific and measurable in this situation.

Here’s an example.  Let’s imagine your friend Susie who is nervous about surgery tomorrow and has asked you to pray. You decide to pray on the spot.

  • Open or start your prayer by addressing God and mentioning the attribute you are depending on:

Father, You who created our bodies and sustain us through your power each moment of our lives, 

  • Ask specifically what you want God to do for this person:

grant Susie Your supernatural peace.  Remind her that You are in control of the medical team’s competency, attention and wisdom as well as her body’s recovery.  Take away her anxiety and replace it with the truth that You have given her the Holy Spirit who is a spirit of LOVE and not one of FEAR.  That this very Holy Spirit who is in her is also one of POWER and SOUNDNESS OF MIND.

  • Now tell God WHY you are asking Him to do this:

I ask You this for Susie’s sake and also for the fame of your name, so many will come to know what a great God You are.

  • Close your prayer by reminding God why You are privileged to ask Him for anything:

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen 

What I find now is that by taking the time to write or pray out loud on the spot, my reliance on God grows.  And having prayed specifically and tied it to God’s character that doesn’t change and His reputation, my faith multiplies as I see Him come through time and time again.

Vague prayers, while better than nothing (we are told that the Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t), don’t allow us to see specific answers. When we pray, Dear God, please bless Susie!”, how do we know when He has answered that prayer?

My point is that WE benefit the most by praying. Paul paraphrases Jesus when he reminds us that we get MORE blessed/happy when we give than when we receive. (Acts 20:35)

And if you want some practice, please pray for us!  That we find a solution for Mike’s palpitation-induced sleeplessness AND that God would grow our faith so we have strength for future trials and give comfort to others.

 

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.

What do you do when your belt gets tight?

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If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

Tight Belt

My husband has extolled belt wearing for years. Being cinched in provides instantaneous body awareness.

 

My spiritual Belt of Truth provides the same corrective feedback.

Each morning as I don battle dress, I linger over that Belt of Truth, Jesus’ filtering grip designed to allow only true beliefs in my inner being.

But it’s not uncomfortable. No, Jesus proffers His ‘inner-self support’ as relief from the chains we would otherwise wear.

Before realizing I had been gifted at my new birth with a Jesus Belt, I unconsciously dressed in ordinary and bewitching chains. You know what I’m talking about – that default worldly thinking we assume is normal. The chain links go by various names such as:

  • Choose your own identity and meaning
  • Seek others’ approval
  • Pursue your bucket list
  • Amuse yourself now
  • Work off your guilt your own way

But Jesus has promised a much lighter load, crafted to fit comfortably, one that He Himself promises to bear, provided we stay attached to Him.

Despite starting the day with the correct belt comfortingly reminding me of Jesus’ presence, by noon I was squirming, aware that something was pinching. Sitting at my computer, finishing schoolwork from the previous week, I fretted over personal tasks and NOT ENOUGH TIME!

That false god called “Enough Time for Maria” was competing with the Almighty for supremacy. I caught myself grumbling while resenting time constraints. Snap!  Ouch – my  Jesus Belt tightened.

What made my belt prick? I had allowed ‘unbelief’ into my core to dilute my happy trust, contentment and peace.

Quick Holy Spirit conviction brought my confession of this sin of unbelief and repentance. I had to flush two of Satan’s favorite lies:

  • God is not sovereign over your life (for me – the day’s hours and their passage)
  • God is not good

Once I confessed and trusted God’s promise of sure forgiveness, my Jesus Belt felt comfortable again. Thank you, Father, for giving me such a life-saving Belt of Truth.

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