Which governs your walk with Christ – knowledge or feelings?

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Patrick’s definition of Biblical wisdom in today’s sermon stopped me cold.  Our pastor has begun preaching through the book of James in view of the many trials to befall our church family in recent months.  He has sensed, rightly so, a need for us to know HOW to think properly about what God has sent.

I’ve always joked about being a member of the ‘pure joy club’ as in:

  • Consider/Count it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds...James 1:2

But when you are suffering, it’s nothing to laugh about. No matter the flavor or extent of pain and difficulty, we all require good teaching and counsel in how to deal with the trials. James’ instruction, therefore, directing his listeners to ask God for wisdom in the suffering makes sense.

But here’s the new wrinkle:  I had always thought that praying for wisdom meant asking for guidance in what TO DO!  Today, Patrick took a different angle.  He explained that the kind of wisdom we need is help in thinking correctly/truthfully about the trial.  If we can’t imagine how to view this current suffering as falling into the category of ‘complete joy,’ then we are to pray for the ability to take what we know about God and his Word and apply both to our circumstances.

In essence we are begging God:

  • Father, help me to understand and trust that you are working in this awful circumstance!  Help me TO THINK correctly!

From THAT new definition of Biblical wisdom, it occurred to me that Knowing WHAT TO THINK is more important than knowing WHAT TO DO. And since our actions or lack of actions affect our emotional state, right knowledge must rule our feelings.  

So here’s a question?  In your life is your  knowledge more important than your feelings?

God, speaking through the prophet Hosea, says: My people perish for lack of knowledge -Hosea 4:6

and in Isaiah 5:13, God warns: Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; those of high rank will die of hunger and the common people will be parched with thirst.

And in this teaching from Philippians 2:5, Paul counsels – Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.

What he means is THINK, or DIRECT YOUR MIND…about a certain topic.

A recent conversation with a close friend provides an appropriate illustration of the importance of correct thinking.  This dear gal has been suffering from what I call:

ADHD – Anxiety, Despair, Hopelessness and Depression

Like all of us, she is pulled in many directions as a mom of 2 under the age of five as well as being pregnant with her third child.  Her self-chosen priorities feel like burdens because of some INCORRECT thinking.

Here is one example of the unintended consequences of false ideas. Her life presupposition has been:

  • I am what I do.  Therefore, if I’m not doing, then I don’t exist.

In her case she has chosen to define herself as the kind of mom who:

  • cooks healthy meals for her kids
  • spends time reading to them and homeschooling the eldest
  • exercises every day
  • keeps an organized house

So when circumstances (aka God’s providence) interfere and block her ‘doing’, then she has felt herself coming undone, like she doesn’t exist.

She has been living off of, feeding on her emotions with NO input from God’s word.  She truly is perishing for lack of true knowledge.

Truth will set you free

The only solution is to throw herself onto God’s mercy and ask Him for wisdom in how to think correctly, that is Biblically about her circumstances, given accurate knowledge of God’s character, ways, past rescues and promises of future grace.  The right kind of knowledge trumps feelings.

Here’s one final bit of evidence that our God considers true knowledge vital.

The apostle John comforts us in the most important knowledge or reality that any Christian wants – assurance of one’s salvation.  The good news is that our feelings do not enter into the facts.  Listen to his words in 1 John 5:13

  • These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

We all know the source of this life-giving knowledge – God’s written Word.  Don’t starve! “Mangia! Mangia!” as all good Italian moms exhort!   Let us taste and see that the Lord IS good.  Why do you think I named this blog, “Feed on Him”?

 

 

What makes you happy?

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We all want to be happy.  Even our birth announcement as a new sovereign nation enshrined the pursuit of happiness as one of the top 3 values of the former colonies.

Pursuit of happiness

But how do you define ‘happiness’?

If you look at our culture, that concept changes almost daily.  It used to be ‘choose your own sport or extra-curricular activity in school’ to ‘choose our own profession or college or place to live’.  Now it’s choosing your own definition of marriage, your own gender and even your own racial identity.

Since the definition of happiness seems to shift so frequently, are you and I even in a fixed position to judge what makes for lasting happiness?  The Bible asserts in multiple places, “No! Don’t trust your heart or your mind.”

Jeremiah, spokesman for God said, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick-who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9)

Therefore, in light of that truth,it makes good sense that the Book of Proverbs counsels us NOT to: “…lean on our own understanding” Prov 3:5  Rather we are to…Trust in the Lord (not us)..”

Here’s where God recently has shown me the truth of His Word.

For years I have taught French using a methodology called TPRS Here’s a link to a useful explanation.

I have worked on the skills which are more akin to improvisational theater than anything I’ve experienced.  Workshops, personal coaching, 7 national conferences, teaching blogs have all helped to train me to improve my teaching.

But early on, I absorbed ‘being a skilled TPRS teacher’ as a tool for measuring my worth.  I saw the professionals who could ‘do TPRS’ with such ease, enjoyment and results (aka – engaged students who participated without hesitation).

As a result, I instinctively started judging my school day as a ‘good day’ if the kids responded with their creative energy and focused attention.  And it was a ‘bad day’ if I didn’t feel them eating out of my hand, so to speak.  With that much self-imposed pressure, driving to school would cause me to get anxious and nervous.  My daily question quickly grew to be: Would I be able to ‘pull it off’ again?  My faithful husband prayed daily for me.

Yet, I never questioned the wisdom of this method of self-justification. And my happiness continued to wax and wane according to my ‘success’ with this skill.  And I measured success by my students’ responses to my teaching each day.  But then I realized something about my on-going ‘morning mood’ and connected it to the following truths from God’s Word.

Psalm 1a, 3a – “Happy is the man…..whose delight is in the Law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night” 

Psalm 41:1 – “Happy is the man who considers the weak/powerless/poor…..

What a different way to look at happiness!  So here is what occurred to prompt me to SEE these verses in a new light.

In the couple of months between spring break and the end of the school year, I began to notice that I actually FELT happy during my drive to school each day.  That sense of peaceful contentment had kind of snuck up on me.  As I began to analyze the WHY, I saw that I was no longer measuring my day, my worth as a teacher by how well I taught my French classes.  In other words, I had stopped evaluating my skills and my students’ response to how I taught.  That was part of it, for sure. More significant was the impact that change of focus had on my unconscious thoughts while commuting.

Bu there was another change. I don’t know when it started, but sometime I consciously decided NOT to check email or any social media before I arrived at school.  That meant from the time I arose I either listened to podcast sermons while feeding the cats, exercising, and driving to school or I was reading my Bible over breakfast.  I was feeding, meditating on Truth.  And what I took in not only made me feel happy; it also caused me to be more in tune with my colleagues and students at work. Many around us often feel weak, powerless and poor. It’s a feature of this world broken by sin that everyone is battered and suffers.  Hence, souls are more fragile than we realize.

Freed from the compulsion to ‘prove’ myself each day, I have apparently allowed myself actually to enjoy teaching students and interacting with my colleagues. Schooldays turn out NOT to be all about me and how well I teach.  I’ve stopped using my classes to measure my skills.

I do thank my good Father for this wiser and healthier perspective.  Furthermore, He has given me a contract to teach again in August.  And to top it off, this summer doesn’t quite feel like a temporary pass from the galleys, but a continuation of a life learning to put into practice George Mueller’s advice to all Christians.  That is – to make oneself happy in the Lord first thing in the morning. Link here about George Mueller.

Now if I can only transfer THAT revelation to other areas of my life where I’m still imprisoned by the need to calculate how well I am ‘doing’!

Question: What’s an area of your life where you have been ‘sprung’ from one of your former SUBTITLES and the burden of maintaining it?

Wrong kind of guilt

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Romans 12:6-8   We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Familiar scenario – compare yourself to someone else and……voilà!

I was feeling guilty again, like I SHOULD be doing what this other sister-in-Christ ENERGETICALLY and capably does with her über-confidence.  She had laid out a convincing argument that you could not consider yourself a Christian UNLESS you showed your love for God by seeking out ‘neighbors’ whom you could bless with a type of pay-it-forward gift.  I was feeling convicted and selfish and burdened all at the same time.  I saved her blog post and her ‘modus operandi/ MO’ for this kind of gifting so that I could reflect prayerfully about what she had written before adding it to my TO DO list.

I’m glad I did.

What bubbled up to the surface of my conscious mind over the next 2 days was this:

  • Doing kind things intentionally for the poor does not excite me
  • Big hospitality as outreach isn’t something I find joy in doing
  • I enjoy & seek openings to bring up Jesus and eternal matters with everyone I meet
  • I read and study to understand doctrine and reasons why Christianity is true and credible
  • I find pleasure in articulating and honing  what  I learn with like-minded Christians
  • I like praying for others
  • God calls us with very general commands to love Him and our neighbor
  • God calls us with very specific commands to care for the widow/orphan in the body, to pray and encourage each other in the body, to share the gospel and disciple nations, to give financially for the support of the Church and to have an answer ready to explain the reason for our faith when asked (to name just a few)
  • Christians are blessed with at least one specific gift to support the body of Christ

So I concluded:

  • I do NOT need to add more to my To-Do list by seeking out strangers to bless
  • However, when I encounter anyone in my path whom I can help, I should
  • I have God’s blessing to exercise my gifts in HIS power and grace with joy and thanksgiving

Finally, here is the subtler lesson I gleaned – it is wrong for me to look down on a sister or brother who doesn’t share the same passion/gifting that I do.  Likewise, I need to remember that what ‘comes naturally to me is actually from God, to be used faithfully and gratefully for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom. There is no reason to boast or to criticize.

Thank you, Father, for loving me with patience!

Crazy Love – thoughts from Francis Chan

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Francis Chan shares a vision of what being crazy about God looks like.  Lloyd C. Douglas wrote a book in 1929 called Magnificent Obsession, loosely based on the Gospel of Matthew.  That title describes what Chan is trying to portray as the ideal Christian response to God.  Here are some kernels of thought that spoke to me.

  1. Quoting A. W. Tozer:  “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us”
  2. Regarding God’s command to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’, Chan says:  “When I am consumed by my problems, stressed out about my life, my family, my job, I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice.”
  3. Regarding control in the face of the uncertainties of life:  turning inward is one   way to respond.  Acknowledging our lack of control and reaching out for God’s help is another
  4. If we indulge in worry and stress, we are displaying arrogance.  We are declaring our tendency to forget 4 things:  -we have been forgiven/ -our lives are brief/ -we’re headed to heaven/ -in the context of God’s strength, that our problems are small indeed.
  5. The greatest good on this earth is God
  6. A piercing question:  Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live?
  7. How God measures our lives (and what matters to Him most) – how we love
  8. If life is a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream.  If we stop swimming (i.e. stop pursuing Christ), we get pushed downstream.  We are letting our relationship with Christ deteriorate.
  9. Nothing should concern me more than my relationship with God (not my weight, not my time)

10. When I look at my relationship with God as a duty, a chore, a sacrifice, then I am getting the glory, not God.

11. We have a choice.  Either we just let life happen or we actively run toward Christ.

12. Radical concept – how about aspiring to the Median – when people commit to live at or below the median US income and give the rest for missions.

13. ******What are you doing right now that requires faith?

14. ******We are consumed by safety.  Most of our prayers are for traveling mercies.  What about praying, “God, bring me closer to you during this trip, whatever it takes.”

15. ******Battling pride – we have to seek to make our self less known and Christ more known.

16. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances (my job, my weight, my time) or environment.  It is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God.  (which means that God must REALLY care about providing me with a way to cultivate joy, i.e. TRIALS)

17. A person who literally has to depend on God for his daily bread and all that includes stays in prayer, close to God.

18. Chan says he wrote the book because much of our talk doesn’t match our lives.  We ‘quote’:  “I can do all things through Christ…../ Trust in the Lord always….” But we try to set our lives up so everything will be fine, even if God doesn’t come through.

19. You don’t have to wait for a special calling from God to be obedient to what He commands in His word.  Jesus didn’t say, “If you love me, you will obey me when you feel called…..”

20. Chan quotes Daniel Webster:  ‘The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life.’(And we thought he just loved words!)

21. About churchgoers who are lukewarm – they will not be heaven.  He recalls God spitting them out of his mouth in Revelation 3.  If someone DOES have the HS, there will be fruit evident in his or her life.  His or hers will not be a lukewarm life.

22. His summary – most of us live CRAZY LIVES.  A crazy life is to live a safe life and to store up things while trying to enjoy our time on earth, yet knowing that any second God could take your life.  Better to have Crazy Love of God and let that guide you.  We should

–      Keep pursuing Christ

–      Keep the thought that we are not alone – the spiritual realm is watching us, both God’s force’s and the Enemy’s

–      Try for a whole day to be conscious of heaven

–      Remember that we have life and power in us through the Holy Spirit

–      Recall what Annie Dillard wrote – ‘the way we live out each day is the way we will live out our lives’

–      **The American Dream (i.e. build a bigger barn story from Luke 12) fuels a lukewarm life.  We should not conform to that pattern.

Chew well, fellow travelers, and may we burn brighter for Christ. May it never be said that we were lukewarm.

An Experience in Sharing the Gospel

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Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act with outsiders, make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I clobbered my mother-in-law with doctrine.  I wrote her a letter outlining my concerns about her spiritual life.  I shared some basics about sin, repentance, the Good News of what Jesus has done for us and how to grow in the love & knowledge of God.  But I overwhelmed her with my intensity. And I have irrevocably moved our relationship into a new territory where neither of us knows how to maneuver.  All of this – 2 weeks before our youngest son’s wedding when family will gather.

My mother-in-law is 81.  She grew up in the Catholic Church, switched to the Episcopal Church in college, met & married a seminarian and shared the life of an Episcopal priest & bishop for almost 59 years.   Thus has the Episcopal Church been the center of her life.

My concerns for the state of her soul were cumulative over many years as my husband and I were graciously drawn out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of light.  Looking back on our past, Mike & I recall how we truly THOUGHT we were Christians all the years we were faithful church-goers and served in different ministries.  Indignation and denial most likely would have been our reaction had someone confronted us with the state of our souls.  So I understand how it must seem puzzling to someone living a ‘religious’ life, that it might be possible not even to belong to Christ.  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  Matt 7:21

As we discovered truth and life, we wanted to share this joy and the assurance of salvation with those closest to us.  My mother was a believer, yet died before I was regenerated.  I failed to share the Gospel with my father.  I tried, but was not equipped and backed off many times when he didn’t want to talk.  Out of that experience, my husband and I approached his parents.  Our concerns for their spiritual well-being intensified over the past months as my father-in-law was dying.  We prayed for opportunities to have authentic discussions about the reality of Christian hope.  But we could do no more than skirt the periphery of religiosity.

I don’t understand people’s boundaries.  To my discredit, it is very difficult to imagine or empathize, and therefore yield to limits and walls friends and family erect to protect emotions or comfortable routines of looking at life.  (Why wouldn’t you want to talk about the most important topic in life? – your future after you die?  Don’t you want to know if what you have staked your life on is valid?  Don’t you want to even know WHAT it is you believe?) My grown children and husband consider me intense.  But I can’t see that:  I am what I am.  Is a fish aware that he breathes in through gills?

So returning from my father-in-law’s funeral I wrote my mother-in-law THE letter and launched her on a roller-coaster of emotions of anger, shame, indignation and horror.

Here is what I have learned from this experience:

(1)   – Patience is not something I practice naturally, so just as a pilot must intentionally crab into a wind to keep her flight path straight, so must I wait longer than I think is necessary.  I composed THE letter on a Friday and sent it to two people whose opinion I value.  I received a green light from one, but did not wait long enough to hear back from the other person before mailing it off.  She replied 3 ½ days later and suggested restraint.  But I had already mailed off the letter. To my ‘partial credit’ I had slept on it and prayerfully revised it over a 3-day period.  Yet I should have waited for this second person’s wisdom, since I had explicitly asked for it.

(2)   Offhand remarks I wrote that were not even my main point were received poorly.  This really surprised me.  I should have considered every sentence.  When I closed the letter to my dear mother-in-law with the reassurance that her grandsons would be praying along with me for her, I thought that would encourage her.  Instead she was horrified that I had shared something ‘negative’ and had ‘misrepresented her’ to the boys.  I never would have anticipated that reaction.

(3)   Less is more.  I dumped TOO much on her (14 pagesL).  The quantity had two negative effects: a) she missed some important parts because it was too much to take in all at once and b) she felt bludgeoned by the sheer amount of what I wrote.

I failed to SEASON my written conversation with her; I just dumped out the whole blue container of Morton’s iodized salt.

So, I am trusting God now to work my blundering efforts for her good and for mine.  I am praying that we can sort out a way of relating that is safe and comfortable for her when she arrives next week for the wedding.  I am sorry that she will feel self-conscious around her grandsons and us.  That was not my intention.  But I don’t regret that I initiated the discussion.  I could never have said some of what I wrote face to face.  I will continue to share the Gospel with others when appropriate and will trust the Holy Spirit to let me know His timing and the proper words.

Let’s finish the rest with forthrightness and humility like David

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2 Sam 24:10  But David’s heart smote him after he had numbered the people.  David said to the Lord, I have sinned greatly in what I have done.

Unlike his earlier major debacle with Bathsheba when Nathan confronted David with his sin, no human being needs to meet with David this time.  The unseen Holy Spirit, who convicts all believers of sin, communicates directly to David’s heart.  The king has called for a census during a time when his kingdom is not at war, and no conscription is necessary. Joab, his military chief of staff, has strongly advised against it.  But the King’s wishes prevail.  However, after 9 months of counting when David is presented with the data, he immediately comes face to face with the fact of his sin.  He confesses immediately to the Lord and submits to his punishment.  We know that he was correct in his spiritual inventory, because the prophet Gad is directed by God to present to David three choices of punishment.  God implements the 3-day plague that David has chosen as the lesser evil.

A further sign of spiritual growth is when David, appalled at the price his own people have to pay for his sin, attempts to halt the plague’s destruction at the end of the allotted time.  His prophet Gad instructs him to set up an altar and sacrifice.  The intended place is Araunah’s barn.  When the farmer finds out David’s intentions, he offers to supply everything David needs at no cost, including the land, animals and firewood.  David, totally unconscious of any embarrassment, publically renounces the gift by explaining that he will not offer to the Lord something that has not cost him.  David has learned that true worship, where one declares the worth of another, requires giving up of something of personal value.

I’m struck by a parallel thought.  First, the mighty King David, the man after God’s own heart, is still sinning.  I need to prepare myself for the fact that as I mature, I will, from time to time, still settle for less than God’s glory in my choices. I am still a sinner, though redeemed.  But I can always repent and receive forgiveness as long as I am humble.  Second, my sin will cost others, and my repentance will cost me.  But I rather face reality and prepare for it, then live with the illusion that Christian growth leads to an end to sinning.  Not in this life!

Reactions worth emulating, taken from the Life of David

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1 Sam 30: 1-6  Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

David’s men had every right to be upset over the kidnapping of their families.  The Amalekites were not present to absorb this outrage, so it was directed at their own beloved leader, David. Had they stopped to think rationally, they would have concluded that clearly David was not responsible for this disaster.  After all, he suffered the same loss as his men.

What stuns me is how David did not argue with them or show any fear or start to make plans.  He immediately turned to the Lord for his strength.   What did that look like?   He must have privately poured out his grief over the loss of his wives and sought God’s counsel about how to deal with his men.  Did this last 30 seconds or 2 hours?  Was there much time before his men actually picked up stones?  We don’t know.

But his next step was to consult with the priest and pray publicly to the Lord for a plan.  God answered and David moved into leader-mode and constructed a rescue plan that eventually succeeded.  All family members were saved.  David’s priorities in the face of a leadership and life crisis were vindicated.

**

2 Samuel 5: 9-12

And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all around from the Millo inward.  And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.   And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also carpenters and masons who built David a house.  And David knew that the LORD had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.

In this passage, David had been anointed King over both Judah and Israel and was enjoying great success.  Scripture tells us the reason was due to God being with him. But what was David’s assessment?  Was his stature and international renown due to his own prowess?  How encouraging it is to follow David’s thought process when foreigners bestow him with gifts.  A lesser man could easily conclude that this good fortune was due to his own greatness.  But David lived with the sovereign intervention of God in his life.  Had his life unfolded as his mom and dad expected, he’d still be a shepherd and last in line to inherit anything. David clearly understood that it was God who had cast him in this leading role and that God was the director and had his own purposes for Israel.

One can read elsewhere how David did not always act righteously, but here, at least, are two examples that offer us patterns to emulate.  In the face of immediate disaster, David turned to God.  In the face of impressive success, David acknowledged God’s agenda and doing.  He was neither too worried about his circumstances, nor too impressed with his own curriculum vitae.  His eyes were on God in either case.  May it be so with us.

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