Who or what dominates your thinking?

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Is it just me, or do you find that living by faith and not by sight grows HARDER and HARDER as the years go by?  The ‘pop quizzes’ that used to land on me every few weeks now seem to show up every couple of days.

Not one to spot my unbelief right away, I sense God gently but firmly taking my face between his hands (so to speak!) to make me look at my unbelief. My pride recoils at yet more evidence for my lack of trust in the Lord as Good Father, Faithful Shepherd, Wise Counselor.

This past week has been that kind of personal attention or ‘handling’.  I have struggled to let go of persistent worry. It’s not that I have been anxious about anything, rather I have OBSESSIVELY ‘angsted’.  My personalized version of Phil 4:6 is now “Do not OBSESS over anything!” rather than the tame ‘do not be anxious’.

I KNOW what I’m supposed to do and I do try!

  • Daily I hand over my needs à la ‘Cast your cares on Him….’
  • Hourly I pray with much fervor à la ‘The fervent prayers of a righteous man…..’
  • I recollect many blessings, the good things about God, who He is and what He has done and the promises laid up for me……

Yet, I feel bound up in worry.

So, it was no surprise to me that the Sovereign Lord, the One who reigns over all creation, used a portion of yesterday’s assigned Scripture from 2 Sam 19: 1-8 to show me exactly what happens when I make a created thing PRE-EMINENT in my life.

Just so you’ll know how I recognize something as being preeminent in my life, it’s those occasions when my thoughts ‘glom’ onto a created thing like sewing pins sticking to a magnet.

Here’s a synopsis of events 2 Samuel 19:

  • King David’s rebel son Absalom has been killed by David’s men and the coup squelched.  David acts ‘un-kingly’ as he indulges his natural grief in an unceasing, over-the-top inconsolable fashion.
  • He does not publicly thank the valiant ones who risked their lives and their homes to flee Jerusalem and side with him.  He does not acknowledge the cost to his loyal citizens who probably fought against some family members supportive of Absalom.
  • He obsessively wails to such an extent, to such a danger point that General Joab, his chief of the army, has to shock him into acting like a king.  Joab point blank tells him that if he doesn’t stop crying about his son and get back to doing his job as God’s anointed king, then he’ll find himself at the end of EVERYONE’s spear.

That’s the narrative in a nutshell. In what way did I see this biblical example as a gentle rebuke from God to abandon my anxious obsession?  Reading this account revealed the evil of disobedience. God had appointed David to shepherd God’s people for Him. David courted danger, almost to the point of no return, when he inverted God’s priorities. This observation is what convicted me.

The king harmed good people when he made his son more valuable, more meaningful than the welfare of those in his care.

I do the same when I place a created thing over the Creator.

Our pastor’s sermons on the preeminence of Christ have bathed my thoughts over the past several weeks (when I wasn’t anxiously obsessing!) The Greek word for preeminence ‘proteuo’ is described in two ways:

  • Ranking first
  • Exercising the most influence

So even as I have struggled with handing over a particular problem to God and then taking it back, I’ve been asking myself:

Maria, who or what is preeminent in your life?”

It’s a piercing question that demands honesty.  I have felt bound up in the time I’ve invested in trying to ‘solve this suffering’ of a loved one.  And God keeps throwing me reminders to ‘JUST STOP IT!’ (you’ll smile if you’re old enough to remember TV actor Bob Newhart as the UN-empathetic counselor). Our good Father gave me the very same counsel but from a different source.

Margin

Dr. Richard Swenson, an author whose book about regaining margin I’m re-reading, penned this arresting statement

The purpose of life is not to solve suffering but righteousness.

Bolstering that truth has been the realization that EVERY single human being on earth in every epoch has lived or is experiencing now a life of suffering.  The purpose of life cannot then be to ‘solve’ suffering.  I have known this but now I KNOW it more deeply. My purpose, your purpose if you belong to Christ, is to be content in Him, to enjoy Him, to seek to please Him, to sing new songs of who He is and what He has done.  In the midst of suffering.

I think we can fall into the trap of making an idol out of a problem-free life, a life without suffering.  At least I am beginning to see that about me. And if that is my or your goal, then we are setting ourselves up for misery.

May God help us all to be joyful obedient servants of our loving God.

 

 

 

Why do we dread events?

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Deut 7:21 – You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God.

  • The doctor’s appointment
  • The confrontation
  • The all-important exam or presentation
  • The looming busy week with one event after another
  • Going to bed and the potential of another sleepless night

I sometimes find myself dreading what is next in the week or in my day.  Why is that?

I’ve been chewing on this for a while.  The days when not a single dread-laden happening threatens are days I anticipate with relief. As if I could predict the future?

I seem to gravitate toward this illusion of ease because I prefer to cruise on neutral.

The truth is, my idols are comfort and success.  We all know that the nature of idols is that they take the place of God.

Hebrews 13: 5b to 6 – …..be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

If God is ALL THE TIME with me, and I value His presence more than anything else, then comfort, time, success, money, work, country, family, friends, health – all those arenas in which the tides move in and out, don’t matter as much as what I already have.  Him.

And the other feature of dread (or happy neutrality) is the baseless assumption that I know what is going to happen in my day!  I am  not omniscient.  Thank you, Father!  For what I might fear, why do I act as though God has not already planned and stockpiled mercies and provisioning grace?

thermometer   Maybe dread is actually a helpful alarm or indicator that I’m worshipping a false God.  That I’m loving and treasuring something MORE than the God.

Paul prays for believers in Colosse that they will GROW in the knowledge of the true God.

Col 1:9-11   For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.

Who is this true and living God?  Only the One who left perfect fellowship to live in a human body and experience my pain.  Only the One who chose to live and die FOR me so I could experience and enjoy intimate fellowship with the most loving and happy triune personal God. When I talk myself into how bad something might be, I am blind to this God.  That’s why I need to preach Gospel truth to myself daily.

What’s your: ‘Well, at least I…..

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Lion and Christians - endurance

Luke 21: 16 – 19 (NET)  

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will have some of you put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives/souls. (Greek Word 5590 – psyche)

When bad stuff happens, where do you go in your head to steady yourself?  What’s your # 1 solace?

Until recently, if you follow this blog, you know that my chief ‘go-to’ was my weight.  So when ‘bad stuff’ would happen, be it parent complaints at school, or unexpected bills, or a sleepless night, or a concern regarding my husband and family, or an unresolved issue in a friendship I would say, “Well, at least I weigh X!”  And that was my foundation I counted on to make myself feel better, to regain my equilibrium, aka ‘happiness’.

Pretty flimsy underpinnings on which to live life, right?  God obviously thinks so.  He loves me too much to leave me to my illusions.

He has persistently and continually rocked that bedrock to show me both its flimsiness and my willing self-deception (as well as SIN!)

Here’s the bottom line:  anything other than Jesus can be taken away.  And if we make something OTHER than Jesus our foundation, we won’t have any security in this life.  As a Christian, I should know better.  But my practice has not yet caught up with my beliefs. Maybe as a fellow expert in self-delusion you have also creatively built your life on faulty bedrock.

What might some of these be?  To start, how about:

Well at least…..

  • I am well thought of at work (or, at least I have a job!)
  • It all worked out (whatever ‘it’ is)
  • I have my health
  • I’ve surpassed my parents in education, status and career
  • I am married and have kids
  • I have enough money
  • I give away a lot of money
  • I have completed my bucket list
  • I am a respected Bible teacher or pastor or gifted in hospitality
  • I have a huge following on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook
  • I am an American
  • I’m not as bad off as________
  • I live in a safe neighborhood/city/country
  • I don’t live in a hurricane zone
  • No one knows my past
  • I feel at peace with myself
  • I can think for myself and speak up
  • I survived the accident, the health scare, the attack, the storm, the crisis

All those and a ton more are just ‘plain ole flimsy’ and can easily be removed by God.  Here’s a sure promise:  we will be afraid and vulnerable to what appear to be the whims of fortune if we make anything else but Jesus our bedrock.

If you have been found by Jesus and have made Him your ‘all in all’/what defines you then He can’t be taken away from you.  This then, the Eternal Son of God as Lord and Savior and Brother and Advocate and God and King and Friend and Priest and Intercessor, is what HAS to be first or foundational in our lives.

What’s all this have to do with those strange verses from Luke?  How do we square the statement that we may perish with the promise that not a hair on our head will be harmed?

I recently heard Tim Keller (pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) teach on this passage.  To the apparent contradiction of our body perishing but our hair remaining safe, he explained that what is eternal about us, our soul or our life (that Greek word ‘psyche’) is what remains when we die. Everything else is temporary.

But what was MORE fascinating than that clarification was his point that whatever is at our bottom, underneath all those layers of heart desires and motivations, that X (for me it was a certain # on that infernal scale!), is THAT which possesses our soul.  Only through suffering, if we view suffering rightly (ordained by God for our ultimate good), do we let go of the temporary and grab hold of that which we can NEVER lose, Jesus.

Keller framed it as this:  either something else possesses our soul/the ‘us’, OR we are SELF-possessed by clinging to Jesus with both hands.

Have you ever thought of the term: ‘self-possessed’?  It denotes calm, imperturbability, and equanimity.

So back to the question/title of this post: What is your, what is my ‘at-least-I….’ default treasure? Truth is: Christ is the only treasure that both satisfies us 100% AND can never be taken from us.

Dear Father – I’m so fickle!  I keep removing those false gods, those temporary things that promise to sustain me and bring me joy.  AND I keep falling back into WANTING my former ‘at-least-I _____’ idols.  I fantasize that maybe this time, this X might actually make me happy and give me the deep peace I crave.  Give me a hunger and thirst that only You can satisfy and set THIS FOOD in front of me.  I am often senseless like a sheep and prone to wander from You.  I need to be led, dearest faithful Shepherd.  Thank you for your promise to come after me when I’m lost.  Amen

sheep

Idols and the One True God

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Funny how no one protests the dominating and dour-faced deity on the boardwalk!  There stood the grimacing Neptune, trident at the ready, with tourists innocently posing for pictures next to the Virginia Beach idol, I mean icon!   Good thing he wasn’t a real god!!

I was enjoying a final field trip and play date with a friend before starting back to school. No we don’t have young kids; WE were the ones frolicking in the waves.

As I approached the towering symbol on the boardwalk, I couldn’t help but ponder the reaction should there have been an equally large Jesus, beckoning or protecting tourists who come to swim and sunbathe.  Yes, I know that precedent exists.  Outside Rio de Janeiro looms an immense Christ the Redeemer statue. Raised and secured on top of Corcovado Mountain, it was blessed and inaugurated in 1931 by Brazil’s president and a leading cardinal.  But that was 80+ years ago. Today there would be protests.

But instead of thinking about the injustice, I realized that the only reason the Roman god Neptune could be displayed in public in such a grand way by a municipality, is the fact that he is utterly powerless.  No one prays to him anymore.  He must be actually harmless, since Satan has removed him from the dark side’s arsenal of gods.   But Jesus, He is another matter!  He is to be feared.  He is powerful.

To get an idea of the relative power, consider this.  If Neptune WERE real and not just a mythological figure, then we would be talking merely about the King and Ruler of the Sea.  But we’re talking about the Son of God – Jesus, who CREATED the entire universe.  Here’s a way to think of the enormity of the universe. (Borrowed from JD Greear who quotes others.)

Imagine that:

  • The distance between our Earth and the Sun is represented by the thickness of one piece of notebook paper. (the Sun is the only star in our solar system)
  • Then the distance between the Earth and the closest star in the next nearest solar system would be a stack of paper 70 feet high.
  • Then the distance across our Milky Way Galaxy would be that same stack of paper, but now 310 miles high.
  • In our galaxy, it is estimated that there are 200 to 400 billion stars.
  • And scientists conjecture that there are 100 to 200 billion galaxies in the universe.

And it’s Jesus who created all this, at His word.  Talk about mind-boggling!!!

It’s a good thing we shy away from erecting a token statue of the Creator.

So, I say to the City Council of Virginia Beach.   Enjoy the revenue-producing draw that King Neptune exercises for you, for that is all he can do.  But fear the Lord and get wisdom!  (Proverbs 1:7)

PS:  Look at how that verse is rendered in French – « La crainte de l’Éternel est le commencement de la science » Did you notice how the word for knowledge is translated ?  Hmmmm

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