Can one bite of God’s word sustain you for the day?

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Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. Psalm 4:1 NIV The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. Psalm 6:9 NIV

The message is not new.  We Christians are regularly exhorted to spend time with the Lord each day. Having one’s quiet time is held in high esteem.  For some people, this is easy to do.  If you have the time and you enjoy reading, it’s not a difficult practice to implement and maintain.  I have always loved my early morning time.  And these days, since all my work is as a volunteer, I enjoy the slower time with my Bible, coffee, notebook and prayer app.

But the pressure to keep up this healthy and holy practice sometimes has unintended consequences.  What first comes to mind is the temptation to turn this daily ritual into a checklist item.  Something you have to do in order to be considered a spiritual Christian.  ‘Whew, check THAT off my list!’ doesn’t foster a rich, meditative listening experience. 

I think there is potentially an even more insidious outcome that may ensue. Haven’t we all felt guilty when we can’t seem to keep this rhythm going? Who is not overwhelmed with the daily tasks and demands placed on 21st century busy people? That time with Jesus can easily get crowded out by good things.  Guilt and shame can follow.  “I must not be a good Christian because I either can’t dedicate the daily time I ‘should’ or when I do sit down with my Bible and coffee, I feel dry.  It FEELS rote.”

This morning I read a small devotional that mentioned the two verses above.  All of a sudden, I thought: ‘Maria, just that first verse is enough to chew on all day long. For someone super busy, if she took just one verse and brought it back to mind throughout the day, what a feast she could have!’

So, just how does one mediate on a verse? Let’s break down the first one from Psalm 4:1 into small bites: Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer

David is so direct with God. He doesn’t mince words.  He tells God, ‘Listen up!  I’m talking to you. I have a need.’

Next, he expresses confidence in the Lord.  He reminds God in essence, ‘I know you to be righteous.  I don’t doubt that you WILL hear me and help me.’

Next, we can discern that David has a specific problem in mind.  He feels distress.  He has an enemy or he is in a tight place with no visible way out. We all fall into distress.  Not just occasionally, but multiple times.

A woman I know from tutoring her young daughter in English lives in Moscow.  God has kept us connected since I taught Veronika.  When her son dropped out of university at the end of last summer, he had to enlist in the Army for 12 months.  Two weeks ago, he was sent to the front.  I never bring up politics or the news when I check in with her.  I usually find a verse and google its Russian translation and send it to her.  She is a mom who is in distress.  She fears greatly for the safety of her son. 

I thought of her this morning when I read Psalm 4:1. My overall prayer for her is that the Lord bring her, her son and young daughter to a vibrant relationship with Jesus through this distress.

Finally, once David shares his specific need, he asks for mercy.  He doesn’t tell God how to rescue him.  He simply appeals to God’s character. He knows how merciful the Lord is. And he trusts him.

What struck me this morning is that for those of us who have those seasons or days or weeks of too much to do, there need not be any guilt.  Simply take ONE verse, ONE promise or fact about God from the Bible.  Maybe write it out on a 3×5 card.  And direct your mind back to it multiple times a day.  Think it through and apply it to your life right now. 

That’s worth far more than reading three chapters and not remembering anything that you can take with you during the day. The point is to direct our thoughts toward God, toward all we have been given as members of God’s family.

So, eat to savor.  Don’t just swallow your spiritual food without tasting it over and over again.  Let’s be like cows who keep chewing their food throughout the day.

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!

Forgiveness and freedom from guilt

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The other day I saw a distinction that was new to me.  The word ‘to forgive’ and the French word ‘pardonner’ both have the root or meaning to GIVE (French – donner, like donate).  God gives us a way back to a restored, right relationship with Him after we have violated one of His laws.  It’s 100 % from Him. We do nothing on our own.  Contrariwise, the sacrificial system of the Hebrews was built on the action of the sinner.  You broke God’s law, YOU gave up a valuable, unblemished part of your wealth & sustenance (livestock) and your relationship with God was restored.

Therefore, when God says in the letter to the Hebrews in Chapter 10, “….’their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more’.  And when these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the most holy place by the blood of Jesus (17-19)….having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience (22b)…”

What does this have to do with how you and I live and what we do with our sin?  If you and I are in Christ, that is, if we are part of those called and offered “….the promised eternal inheritance – now that he(Christ) has died as a ransom to set (us)  free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebr 9:15), then there is nothing left for us to DO.

If we were still under the rules of the Mosaic Covenant, we would have to give up goods and perform sacrifices to cover our sins.  But now, as members of the new covenant, we exercise the privilege of heirs. We still sin, but we claim the covering effect of the paid ransom.  More meaningful to me is the freedom from guilt.

If we accept as FACT what God’s word says, then per verse 22b in Hebrews 10, we have been cleansed from a guilty conscience.  When did that happen?  When the Son was killed as a ransom to set us free from the penalty of all our sins (past, present and future) guilt was also removed.

So how does this work out?  My struggle with guilt comes more often from not living up to my standards for myself.  Over the years, I have come more and more to bring those standards in line with God’s law.  When I overeat, when I break a confidence, when I say something negative about another family member or brother and sister in Christ, when I choose to be selfish instead of following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I feel guilty.  And I can wallow in guilt which turns me in on myself, away from God, away from others.  But face to face with the truth that my guilt has been removed, it is getting easier to talk to myself and say,

“Maria, you don’t have to stew in guilty feelings.  They are not necessary.  Guilt has been removed. So stop it!  Remember, there is NOW NO condemnation from God because I am an heir of the eternal inheritance along with my older brother Jesus. In fact He suffered so I don’t have to feel guilty.  Are you saying, by wallowing in your self-indulgent guilt, that it wasn’t ENOUGH for your older brother Jesus, son of the Living God, to willingly be punished for you, for THIS sin?”

I do listen to myself.  And the other day, it only took about 2 hours of stewing and self-talk for me to release myself from the prison of artificial guilt.

How about you?  Are you ignoring such a great benefit?  “Oh bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits, He forgives all your sins!” (Psalm 103: 1a, 2-3a)

 

The blessing of guilt

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I just heard, via my French news podcast, the sad tale of a mid-wife trainee who administered the medication for a D&C to the wrong patient.  A baby died because of this error.  The reporter talked about the mother’s shock and grief.  But my heart wrenched not only for her but also for the poor young mid-wife trainee whose mistake cost the baby’s life.  What does she do with her guilt?  How can she live with herself?

A day later, the political world was rocked with the public accusation of sexual assault.  The French head of the International Monetary Fund apparently forced himself on his hotel maid.  Barely 48 hours after this news we learned of a child, fathered (outside of his marriage) by movie icon and former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What do these three people have in common?  They are burdened with guilt.  They, like us, have to face the question:  What do you do with your guilt? That is a question that has both eternal significance as well as a day-to-day impact on the quality of our life here on Earth.  In their circumstances as well as in ours Jesus is the only answer that can bring healing, justice and freedom for both victim and victimizer.

Guilt is part of the human condition ever since we turned our backs on God in the Garden.  There are two aspects to guilt and I think we fixate on one more than the other.  There is objective guilt – we fail to meet a standard, we are judged lacking.  (That is actually easier to address).  But there is the affective side of guilt, the feelings that plague us even after our objective guilt has been handled.

If I were the midwife, my instincts would kick in and I would be saying to myself, “What can I EVER due to make up for the life I took?”  Without the knowledge that Jesus paid for her culpability in that baby’s death, no matter what or how much she does , she will be haunted until she dies.  The French justice system will evaluate how much she should ‘pay’ given the circumstances and motives.   But unless she has a way to handle her feelings of guilt, she will be miserable.  The fact that Jesus took on all our punishment & guilt, the fact that he died means that we don’t have to be punished more than the State deems.  A forgiven, redeemed Christian lives in the land of “No Condemnation!” Sweet words!

And Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Frenchman?  And Arnold?  I pray that God uses the publicity of these egregious & wicked actions to bring them face to face with their need for a Savior.  Pride goes before a fall.  It is a temptation to be rich, famous and powerful.  Those people need our prayers.  But God is sovereign.  As they say, if we don’t humble ourselves, God will.  The two women who are victims (and everyone else caught in the webs of pain these men have generated) need Jesus.   They need to know that perfect justice will be had: both Arnold and Dominique will pay for their crimes when they face God as their judge, OR, the punishment has already been borne by Jesus on the cross (if they accept the gift of Jesus as a stand-in for them by repenting and putting their trust in Christ).  In this latter case Jesus has been declared ‘guilty’ and has suffered for the crime.  Either way, perfect justice is guaranteed.  The crimes do not go unpunished in the cosmic court.  God knows and sees everything.

Two ‘take-aways’:

(1)  – instead of gloating when the haughty proud fall, instead of hopelessly lamenting the loss of a baby, we need to pray that this severe mercy bear fruit and all involved come to a saving faith in Jesus.

(2)  – remember that we have an opening with which we can share the Gospel.  A question that pertains to everyone we meet, “What do YOU do with your guilt?” might just be the words to cause your neighbor to think about God and to ‘fear’ Him properly.

Implication?  Let us always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have!  (1 Peter 3:15b)

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