Burdens and what to do with them

1 Comment

What is your inheritance as a Christian?  If you are a born-from-above new creation, then God HAS granted and assigned you a share in His heavenly Kingdom.  This is your allotment or LOT in life. What exactly IS a ‘lot’?   To gain some insight, let’s look at how legacies and shares in wealth were distributed in the Old Testament.

Joshua 14:2 Their inheritances were assigned by lot to the nine-and-a-half tribes, as the LORD had commanded through Moses.

Sometimes these apportioned inheritances bring hardships. Life’s trials and problems may at times feel like ‘crushing weights’.   David, out of one such bitter experience, cried: “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! Then would I fly away, and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6). But before he finished this meditation he seems to have realized that his need for the relief that wings would bring could be met in a different way. For he writes a few verses later, exhorting himself AND us, “Cast thy burden upon Jehovah, and he will sustain thee.(Ps 55:22)

Read this commentary quoted by Streams in the Desert: “The word “burden” is translated in the Bible margin, ‘what he (Jehovah) hath given thee.’ The saints’ burdens are God-given; they lead him to ‘wait upon Jehovah,’ and when that is done, in the magic of trust, the ‘burden’ is metamorphosed into a pair of wings, and the weighted one ‘mounts up with wings as eagles.'”
Sunday School Times

Do you find David’s example depressing or encouraging?  For me, the new thought that our burdens are given to us BY God and we are meant to give them BACK to God is a RELIEF! For the implicit conclusion is that we are NOT meant to carry/handle these burdens ourselves.  So why does God ‘gift’ us with trials?  Because they are necessary to the completion of our faith.  This ‘faith’ is part of our inheritance and the Holy Spirit strengthens us through the vehicle of our faith.  So our faith must be fully kitted out and made complete.  Trials are God’s means to do just that kind of perfecting of our faith.

See how the apostle Peter writes about trials in his letter to wobbly believers:

These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return. 1 Peter 1:7

Take heart, dear brother and sister.  God knows what He is doing.  And we can trust Him.

 

Exercising the right muscles….

2 Comments

Weights

I don’t like working out.  Whether it’s with the weights above or just my daily trek.

In fact, I dread that strenuous cove walk here in the mountains of western North Carolina. Yes, it’s beautiful and the trees and birds point to God’s glory.  But the average incline is 13% and my route takes me up and down the gravel roads.  It never gets easier.

I thought about the difficulty of my daily routine, rereading that Hebrews truth (12:11)…

  • No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Boy, does THAT describe my early mornings – Unpleasant but worth it!

From that reflection, it’s easy to connect to God’s training plan for our character. He uses suffering and difficulties of all stripes to build up our faith and hope muscles.  Just look at what these many God-sent trials accomplish for us:

1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

The 4 verbs listed are powerful encouragements to persist through the God-ordained ‘workouts’.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I love looking up the Greek or Hebrew words to help me understand God’s teachings. So here’s a glimpse of some of God’s many purposes in designing our suffering along with what He promises to do through or by means of the difficult times:

  • Restore – this verb sometimes gets translated as ‘to perfect’.  It means to kit out, equip completely.  Obviously I lack qualities God deems necessary and can only be given me through hanging onto Him when tested.
  • Confirm – you can see the ‘firm’ part of the verb.  Troubles endured in Christ are the means to set us fast, to fix or place us more ‘immovably’ than we’ve been.
  • Strengthen – means just what we think – to make us vigorous in our minds and hearts.  Think resolute and determined!
  • Establish – to ground, shore up the foundation.  Imagine a house being constructed in a hurricane or earthquake-prone area.  The structure of the building would be reinforced and enhanced to withstand intense natural thrashings.  We, too, need this kind of bracing that will not give out.  Strengthening trials ready us for greater ones, kind of like skirmishing with the Varsity team grows the JV team’s abilities.

Do any of us like trials?  NO!!!!

But just as you and I recognize the value gained from physical workouts, let us not fight the spiritual and emotional training that our good God ordains for us.  Besides, we have a workout partner meant to encourage us at all times.  This Comforter will bear us up when the struggles are too much.  The truth is, our faith grows best amidst storms.  Think of giant trees, windswept and battered, strengthened through the storms.  Think of pearls, formed by the irritating grains of sand within an oyster.

So, I say to you just as I have to remind myself: God means my circumstances for good. Fighting against Him just makes us tired!

Clothes make the man?

2 Comments

Barbie

1 Peter 3:3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.

rather….1 Peter 3:4 You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

Our granddaughters visited this past week, eager to open the toy/book closet and bring out our one and only Barbie.  Thinking about her and the many outfits Mattel has launched over the years caused me to reflect about inherent versus infused versus imputed righteousness.

Since the Fall our essence is no longer inherently righteous;in other words, righteousness is not part of our nature. But some people try to dress themselves, like Barbie, in good works, thereby APPEARING righteous.  Then there are those who believe that the righteousness obtained by Christ’s death on the cross and His perfect obedience can be infused in us, thereby altering our nature. But that is not what the Bible teaches. In fact the 16th century reformers emphasized the historic, original biblical teaching that our righteousness  is by faith alone, through grace alone because of Christ’s work alone.

Since this reckoning or crediting of justification comes from Christ, it is an ‘alien’ righteousness, from outside of us. It’s more akin to an outfit that Barbie’s owner dresses her in.  Just as the doll’s garments cover her, so too Christ’s works cover us. It’s a false conclusion to think then, that ‘as are the clothes, then so too are we‘.  The clothes don’t make the man or woman, they COVER us.  Similarly, Christ’s righteousness cancels our sin in God’s books.

Even with the Barbie example in our minds, we can still be self-righteous and be unaware. Pleasure in any of ‘my’ obedience or good works weakens me so I succumb to pride and all of Satan’s other ploys.

As protection, I try to remember to ask the Holy Spirit to remind me of ‘the truth’.  Daily I mentally don the kind of apparel that my heavenly Father prefers, what Peter teaches:

  • a quiet and complete trust in God that eliminates all fear despite desperate circumstances.
  • spiritual armor that both protects and strengthens my faith, my most valuable God-given gift
  • my attitude towards us, specifically dressing myself as per Paul’s instructions: Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Col 3:12

The question that puts me in my place, as a dependent creature is this:

Maria, what are you trusting in this day to guarantee your salvation and eternal life with the happy, holy Triune God ?

Stockpiled grace to rescue us

Leave a comment

For we walk by faith, not by sight – 2 Cor 5:7

The Martian

Mike and I just finished watching Matt Damon in the movie The Martian.  We both thoroughly enjoyed the humor and the human drama that unified world wide all human beings for a few moments.

One of the God-moments that I spotted in the film involved the Matt Damon character finding a vehicle sent up by NASA years before. I don’t know if the scene was planned to point to God or just that ‘the eyes of my heart’ have been opened to see ALL truth as God’s truth.

The stranded astronaut, unable to contact anyone with equipment at his base station, sets out to explore on foot.  When his space boot scrapes something hard in the sand, he digs like crazy and discovers the Pathfinder, a device sent up by NASA in 1997.  With it, he begins the time-intensive and convoluted process of establishing a way to communicate with those back home.

What struck me immediately was how very God-like this discovery was – a perfect example of what I call, God’s stockpiled grace, planned since before the creation of the universe and pre-positioned for just the right moment in the midst of a TRIAL.

What a blessing that Pathfinder turned out to be!  That fictional provision is akin to the grace we Christians receive from God when we walk by faith.  God commands us to FEAR NOT in tough and desperate situations, but to count on His promised future grace. He has already planned and positioned what we need.  All the resources for life and godliness await us for WHEN we need them.  We usually don’t see them ahead of time, which is WHY God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godly living through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:19

We ordinary mortals who belong to Jesus are not the only ones who have to trust in God’s promised provision for the future (next minute, next hour or next year).  Jesus Himself exercised this kind of dependence.  I was struck by this fact the other day in Sunday school.  We were reading the Luke passage where Jesus is praying to His Father as He wrestled with the lonely path that lay before Him.

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.               Luke 22:41-44

An angel appeared and strengthened Him!  Isn’t that amazing? God sent just the right help at the right moment WHEN His Son needed it.  Jesus received grace JUST as He entered into anguish.

So here’s some Gospel logic – if the Father provided perfectly for Jesus to accomplish the atoning sacrifice that would later be applied to us, His chosen children, don’t you think we can trust this SAME Father to provide what WE need in the moment of our need?  Just like Jesus didn’t see the angel and feel the empowerment until he showed up, neither will we SEE or FEEL the future provision.

Jesus has demonstrated living by faith in God’s future grace.  That encourages me to trust God to venture out and do the same, through the Holy Spirit’s enabling.

 

Can we lose our salvation?

Leave a comment

Treasure

2 Cor 4:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Many Christians (regarding whom, I have NO doubt that they are authentic believers) fight the fear that they are just fooling themselves when it comes to the status of their eternal salvation.

Like a radio with antennae continually seeking strong signals, so too do I search out scriptural truth to bolster the hope and assurance of struggling brothers and sisters I love.

So when I heard John Piper talk about desire being the key to authentic Christianity, I saw something true and comforting that I might be able to pass on.

When we are born again through the Spirit of God it’s like we are given a new set of eyes. We begin to see clearly just what IS treasure and what is trash.  New desires germinate and start to flourish.  Yes, growth can be slow and seem irregular in direction and pace.  But the overall trajectory has been changed.

But what do we do when doubts like these below plague us?  (who do you think ‘might’ be behind these doubts? – not God!)

  • What if the Bible and how one is saved isn’t true?
  • What if I really haven’t believed?
  • What if I’m not a TRUE believer?
  • What does it mean that I don’t seem to feel as enthusiastic or sure as other Christians?

What do we do?  We look at the treasure!

Think about the man who stumbled upon buried gold or silver in that field (Matthew 13:44). Quickly reburying it, he sold everything he had (fields, house, furnishings, livestock) to put together enough money to buy the entire pasture.  Once he possessed the plot of land, do you think he moved on to other pursuits, ignoring the treasure?  No!  I can picture him digging it up and handling it, savoring it, thinking about what it meant to his future.  His imagination easily filled in the blanks.  He might have used some of it for the present, but the rest he protected as his inheritance or retirement fund.

His joy would have remained and been stoked and even grown with every re-imagining and glorying in this treasure.  Had he started to doubt whether he actually possessed this wealth, he would have wasted no time pulling it out and savoring all that it represented.

That’s what we have to do with OUR most precious possession. As believers in Christ, we have:

  • forgiveness and peace with God
  • a new Spirit in us – no longer of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind
  • Christ’s continual presence THROUGH this indwelling holy Spirit
  • and a bright future to be lived in His presence where ‘fullness of joy’ is promised.

So what do we do either to ward off the doubts or deal with them?

We just need to ‘visit’ and ‘revisit’ our treasure every day, holding fast to it.

Whatever it takes to hold on to our faith, we must do.  Faith is our most valuable possession.  John Piper exhorts fellow believers to STRENGTHEN the gift by realizing that:

Little faith = Little joy

Stoked faith = MORE joy!

How do we fan the fires that heat up our faith?  By reading about this great gift in God’s Word and learning what it means for us to be partakers and heirs of God’s kingdom. Remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17).  I need to hear God’s truth every day, throughout the day.  And it’s MY voice rehearsing God’s promises out loud that help me most to HEAR.

LOVE the Treasure!

PONDER the Treasure!

PRAISE the Giver or the Treasure!

GET TO KNOW the Giver!

Look at this concrete advice to early Christians battling unbelief:

Hebrews 3:14

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the assurance we had at first.

Can we really trust God?

2 Comments

George Mueller   George Mueller is my hero in the faith. He’s the pastor who together with his wife undertook orphan care in 19th century England. His primary purpose was NOT to provide love, care and education for children, BUT was to collect evidence to share with ordinary Christians that God had NOT changed and could still be trusted. In his words, Mueller wrote in 1835:

  • “….so many believers with whom I became acquainted were harassed and distressed in mind, or brought guilt on their consciences, on account of NOT trusting in the Lord: (these) were used by God to awaken in my heart the desire of setting before the church at large, and before the world, a proof that He has not in the least changed; and this seemed to me best done, by the establishing of an Orphan-House.”

Two features stand out about this adventure in trusting God:

  1. Mueller NEVER asked for funds.  He and his wife and the matron who worked with them prayed the money in, by taking God at His Word, by banking their all on His promises to provide.
  2. When all was said and done by 1870, 1722 children were being taken care of in 5 purpose-built homes that had required 100,000 English pounds to build, all provided by God through unsolicited donations.

So…the other dark day, in the midst of despairing over my own particular sin ‘bent’ that was overcoming any joy in the Lord, it came to me (thank you for your prayers used by the Holy Spirit, dear friend!) to tackle it once more but BY FAITH in God’s promises rather than by determination and Maria-power.  (yes, a novel idea, you rightly smirk!)

I’m embarrassed to share that this struggle with sin revolves around eating and my weight and the pre-eminent place all that still holds in my heart. The fight against idols persists. But the truth is my weight has gone up AND (creating the unpleasant dilemma) I like to eat. Reflecting soberly about this situation for the umpteenth time, I moved cautiously in the following direction.  So as not to change the kind of healthy foods nor the PORTIONS of the 3 meals I eat,  I settled on cutting out snacks between meals, a small change I know.  The daily deficit would be about 300 calories.

The next step after setting on a plan was this: I named my fears in black type on the white screen in an on-line journal:

  • That with such an incremental approach, I’ll just kind of ‘forget’ I’m doing this and go back to my old way of eating. I’m an expert at rationalizing and changing my mind.
  • That I will be hungry and unsatisfied between meals and feel sorry for myself and won’t be able to stand those feelings.

I knew I needed a go-to verse as my first weapon, if I was going to undertake this adventure in Holy Spirit power.  So I cobbled together 2 verses that quickly came to mind:

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you, the God who is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all I can ask or imagine, according to Your power that is at work in me! Ps 56:3 and Eph 3:20

My husband has often shared with me his joined-at-the-hip pair of verses that he prayed for our son Wes to lean on as he underwent the rigors of Ranger School:

Apart from you I can do nothing; but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!  John 15:5c and Phil 4:13

So yesterday, day 1, we walked in the rain, it being a Saturday and NOT a hiking day.  I knew that given our leisurely start, I would not be able to eat my packed lunch until we reached the turn-around point of our walk at Biltmore Estate. As I anticipated being hungry and not having my habitual baggie of almonds to snack on, I leaned on God’s promise of provision.

152 - Biltmore in the rain on 10 Oct 2015

I took that fear and looked past it to God’s promise to provide in ways I can’t even project.

And He did!  No surprise there.

We ate lightly for supper, as I tried a new recipe for wild-caught flounder.  But again I contented myself with the assurance that each time I started to ‘panic’ I could take comfort in the God who IS living and runs the abundantly full cupboards of grace set aside for each of His children.

Day 1 – victory in Christ and on to adding to God’s track record of proof.  I know that He can be trusted.  I just need to prove it to myself again in that dark place that has been my hold-out, a stronghold of self-control and sin.

Is worry normal or is it a sin?

1 Comment

Worry

Yes!

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

And there is good news.

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

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

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

Here’s another verse from Matthew 6:25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Fight the good fight of faith 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can either read or listen to the sermon here

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: