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”?

 

 

Resting in Doctrine – God’s in charge!

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Job 14:5A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.

Psalm 139:16Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.

News of a recent hostage death has caused me to think through whether God is in charge or not.  What we believe about God is called doctrine and doctrines DO matter.  They affect our thoughts, which influence our feelings.  These rational and emotional aspects reside at different layers within us, some conscious and others beyond our conscious awareness.  It’s apparent to me that we are guided by thoughts and feelings originating in both camps, whether we know it or not.  Who hasn’t been appalled at a choice comment that slipped out before we could filter it: ‘Where did THAT come from?” we genuinely exclaim in horror.

Garbage in, Garbage out: ‘right’ thinking about God matters.  So what is ‘right’ thinking or doctrine when it comes to whether God is in control of all that happens in our universe? The Bible, the definitive source of doctrine, affirms that He is in fact the first cause* for all that happens. The term for that 100% authority and rule that belongs to God’s is His Sovereignty.

If a king is sovereign over his lands, then what he says is the law of the land.  How much more is it with God who is the author (hence – authority) and creator of all that IS.  And if He is sovereign, by definition then, that quality of being in charge includes the notion of having and exercising all power.  There is no such thing as impotent sovereignty.

Back to the hostage who died.  My heart goes out to the family who is dealing with pain and loss. If they are followers of God, there is one comfort that should hold them up in their grief:

God’s plan for their dear one was not thwarted.  Therefore, they need not take on all the piercing, painful ‘what ifs’ that often assault survivors.  Rescue attempts did not succeed because God sovereignly ordained the day the hostage would die.

This is NOT fatalism because that would mean that it doesn’t matter what one does, that regardless of our actions, the outcome is the same. God’s sovereignty is different because He chooses to carry out His will in our lives through both our human actions and His divine workings.  Rescue attempts ARE appropriate because they might be the means God uses to save lives.

We have an example of God sovereignly determining different outcomes with two of Jesus’ apostles.  James, son of Zebedee,  was the first to be murdered by the Romans.  Wasn’t anyone praying for his rescue?  Undoubtedly!  Then there was Peter, also imprisoned by the Romans.  This time similar prayers led to his miraculous rescue from jail. What made the difference?  God and His sovereign will!

So, why is this doctrine so important?  For one, it is PEACE-producing.  We don’t need to beat ourselves up with the ‘what-ifs’.  That self-inflicted torture implies our actions are sovereign.

So sweet is this aspect of God!  His unchanging character guarantees that His sovereign decrees will always be done.  This in turn lifts the immobilizing burden of possible mistakes off of me.

  • What if I make a wrong decision?
  • What if I should have known better than to make that trip to the Holy Land and fall prey to a terrorist attack?
  • What if I had taken a different route to the bank?
  • What if I had chosen a different spouse, a different job?
  • What if I hadn’t indulged in that immoral behavior?

I can easily wallow in regrets, if I start thinking that I am in charge of my life.

Jesus breathes comfort and peace into our troubled minds:

  • John 14:27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

*Although God is the First Cause of all that happens, there are other doctrines that exclude Him from being charged with the evil we do. Even though God is sovereign, we are still guilty for bad stuff we do. That’s a complex theological discussion that I cannot take up here.

 

Stay in your boundary!

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A night at Cousin Terry’s home gifted us with more than good fellowship and food. We were also blessed with a powerful word-picture or image to remind us of how to live the Christian life, with peace and rest.  The picture below is what I’m calling a ‘boundary circle.’  I’ll explain in a few.

Heart Shaped boundary

 

 

 

 

Christians, by definition, are new creations.  They have been rescued from the futile, darkened kingdom of self & death (run by the Father of Lies) and transferred into the Kingdom of Light & Life, where the Triune God reigns.

Paul explains this to the believers in Colossae,

  • For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son (Col 1:13)

As freed prisoners, now owing our allegiance to our Rescuer, everything is different:

  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Although a Christian for the past 33 years, I’m a slow learner.  What I’ve found to be true in my life, and it probably is so with you, is this: to the extent that we take in knowledge about God, we grow more like Jesus.  If we don’t EAT spiritual food, we imbibe worldly food. Think Junk Food, ‘and there is no health in us’ as the Book of Common Prayer says in a morning confession.

From the moment of ‘transfer’ new believers belong to God as His adopted children, with full rights and privileges, to include a future, guaranteed inheritance. However, I’ve learned that unless I call myself back to present reality, I can revert back to that former, but still very comfortable way of thinking, that of a ‘slave to sin’.

Slavery

 

 

Here’s the rub.  Life is hard, whether you’re a ‘Christ-ling’ or a ‘World-ling’.  But as an adopted child of God, an heir with Christ, I have full access to the love, the power and the promises of God.  I’m not meant to live, dependent on my own resources.  I am a new creation: ‘Christus-Maria’ 

All that being said, despite having been a Christian since the age of 24, I still battle unbelief.  I find myself frequently imagining, worrying and fearing this or that. Our cousin Terry is a mature and wise Christian woman who has learned to trust God by trial and error (aka falling into sin and then repenting) through prayer and nourishment from God’s word.  She is also very real, the kind of Christian with whom you can feel SAFE in admitting your struggles.

So when I shared with her, during our overnight the content of the worries and fears that plague me, she passed on the advice gleaned from a wise Christian man who lovingly admonishes his fearful wife each time she shares a worry:

‘Honey, you’ve stepped out of the boundary of grace for the moment, for the day!  There’s no grace NOW for where you’re hanging out – the future. There’s only grace for the present. Get back inside the boundary!’

So back to the protective circle of love at the top of this post.  I picture myself yoked with Christ, WITHIN THAT CIRCLE OF LOVE.  As long as I keep step with Him, then all is well.  The strength and direction come easily as I walk, moment by moment, in conscious communion WITH Him.  It’s only when I run ahead in my thoughts to the future hypothetical ‘what-ifs’, that I find myself in the scary ‘badlands’ of possible dangers, outside of my boundary of love.

Yoked

 

 

How senseless to run on ahead, alone, as a weak and defenseless little donkey, leaving behind my supernatural Older Brother and Redeemer!

I find comfort in this image of a protective circle of love and grace surrounding the new me, harnessed to a comfortable restraint permanently linking me with Jesus. More and more, I am learning to ‘harness’ my thoughts, to rein them in, back to the HERE and NOW where Grace is King.

Question: Where are you running ahead of your provision?

 

A gentle Father

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Stop hand

 

 

 

I don’t react kindly to criticism.  In fact my mother-in-law once told me I was spoiled (I’m an only child – maybe it goes with the territory)!

So when my husband held up a hand to stop me from butting in while he was speaking, I felt shut down.  When I voiced my objection, he said he didn’t appreciate being interrupted. Not much I could say to that, for my remark definitely and abruptly had been an attempt to cut into his explanation. And it wasn’t the first time.

“I’m just raising a question!” I sputtered.  Even as I tried to justify my rudeness, I began to see for the first time how this breaking into someone’s verbal train of thought was actually habitual with me.

Scenes from visits with my adult sons flashed through my mind.  How many times in our discussions about God had I inserted MYself with MY views right in the middle of their sharing.  Much to their credit and my shame, they always patiently yielded to me when I cut in to pass on my brilliant God-moment.

Back to that incident in the kitchen with my husband.  This was not the first time he had gestured to me when I started to jump in with my 2 cents worth.  In fact, I had showcased the very same annoying habit the previous evening with friends over for dinner. Stung, I self-righteously felt wronged when he had put a halt to my butting in with discrete body language.

But this night I had seen my action for what it was – just plain rude and unloving. It was like the Holy Spirit opened my eyes.  A bit humiliated, I nonetheless discerned an emboldened desire to pray for help in retraining myself.

Since that ‘teaching moment‘ in the kitchen two weeks ago, God has provided reinforcement of not only my need to change but the truth that I CAN change. He has brought podcast remarks and scripture across my path, reminding me of supernatural power available to those who have been transferred into God’s kingdom of light (evidently, there is enough light for even me to see the need to change!)

Kingdom of LIght

Peter encourages us to make every effort to add moral goodness to the faith that we have been given (1 Pet 1:5).  But this is AFTER he has reminded believers that we have been given FAITH to become partners in the divine nature of God as we KNOW and TRUST Jesus’ promises.

What I’m learning is that all of the promises of power in the Bible are ours as God’s regenerate children.  But we have to act on them, using the faith that we’ve been given. (we don’t ‘gin up’ the faith ourselves)

John Piper created an acronym to assist himself and us in accessing God’s help during those moments when we see our need:

A – Admit you are helpless  – sounds like an AA principle!

P – Pray and tell God what you need

T – Think of one of those encouraging promises from God’s word and Trust it (like- I can do ALL things through Him who strengthens me – Phil 4:13)

A – Act on the promise, though you don’t FEEL any power. Take the action necessary, trusting that God is 100 % faithful to come through as He has said.  This is walking by faith and not by sight.

T – Thank Him after the fact for supplying the power, provision and/or whatever you asked Him for

**

Humble heart

 

 

 

I’m ashamed to admit that this is only the second time in my life that I have attempted to change my behavior in response to God’s nudge.  Oh, I’ve tried self-transformation before, but these adjustments have been me-centered, to make me happier or make others think better of me (grand-parenting skills, weight, fitness, sleep habits, intellect, hobbies).

The first time was 14 years ago when serious fissures in both my and Mike’s view of marriage threatened to torpedo our covenant.  I read books and prayed and sought out wise Christian women to guide me in adopting a Biblical view of marriage, something that was foreign to me even though I had been ‘in church’ since the age of 9.

But it has been years since that crisis. And thanks be to Him and the manner in which He got our attention, our marriage is now a source of true joy for both of us. It obviously took God hitting me with a padded 2×4 to get my attention.  At least this time, the catalyst to change my unloving interruptions was less painful.

I wonder what else is in His divine lesson plan for me!

 

Thanking God for this Present Futility

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Futility

 

 

 

I was set free – again – the other day when I heard someone reading from Romans 8.  Verses 20 & 21 caught my attention.  The Amplified Bible with its extra explanatory words in black translates the Greek like this:

  • 20 For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him Who so subjected it—[yet] with the hope (expectation) 
  • 21 That nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

Since the Fall and man’s first rebellion, frustration and futility and struggle (all known as ‘suffering’) have been built into our universe. Reality is that we live in a broken world that won’t be ‘fixed’ until Jesus comes back.   Furthermore, God informs us that we humans and nature will get worse, not better. When Jesus is plied for the details about the ‘end of the age‘, He responds in Matthew 24:12 with…

  •  because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold

Why don’t I live as though I believe the fact of brokenness and imperfection?   Why do I still wake up each morning thinking that the ideal is possible if I work and pray ‘hard enough’?  When it comes to agreeing with God about my sin problem or nature, I don’t balk at His assessment.  Nevertheless,  I display blindness to God’s description of the world as long as I cling to false expectations and unrealistic hopes in

  • my job
  • my body
  • my marriage
  • my relationships with friends and other family members
  • my government
  • my church

God helped me this week think through a series of propositions leading to a new perspective about work:

1. If God has woven frustration and futility into the very fabric of our world until Jesus comes back, then I can let go of my expectation of finding THE ideal job.  And IT won’t exist until He creates the new heavens and the new earth.

2. Released from the false expectation that I can find and land the ideal job,  I am liberated to seek my ultimate joy in God, not in all-satisfying work.

3. If work doesn’t have to satisfy those deep needs meant only for God to meet, then I can view my job as a place to sprinkle grace by listening to others and encouraging them.  I can meet frustrations with calm since I don’t have to see them as blocking my ultimate joy or satisfaction.  These realities help me to relax and accept that no job will provide what I’m seeking to the degree that I’m seeking it.

4. Most liberating, if frustration and futility are ordained, then I can stop hiding, and instead SHOW my cracks and inconsistencies without fear.

  • Phil 1:29 – For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.

5. Being willing to reveal my broken self and how much I need Jesus’ saving and sustaining power brings glory to God.

6. My neediness and unashamed transparency give hope to others that God might be willing to accept/heal/support/love them.  Were I to persist in the myth of ‘Maria’s Competency‘, how would that help anyone?

Being Real

 

 

 

 

The final relief-bringing thought for me this week was a view of heaven that sprang to mind, that is MY version of heaven.  (No, it’s not one where I can eat dark chocolate without guilt!)

David Zahl, an evangelical Episcopal priest, wrote something for Mockingbird (Blog is here) like, ‘Life is not about passing test after test; you already have the A, the 10/10’.

That got me thinking.  If I knew I had already been accepted into the graduate school of my choice to follow my ideal course of study, I would be ecstatic.  And until I departed for this school, I would relax and enjoy life and fulfill my responsibilities and be fully present without all the anxiety of measuring up, or making it happen or…or..or…..

Kingdom of God is here

Well, those in Christ already have THE ‘A’.  The Kingdom of God HAS commenced.  Eternal life for the children of God IS a current reality.  But all those ideal situations AWAIT us.   They are not meant for this world, but for the next. So let us REST and not fret over the reality of this present futility.  Frustration is the NORM in a broken world.

Here’s a blog about those who give up the quest for perfect

 

Wanting to be admired

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  MeVoilà my favorite topic – me! 

 

I’ve grown increasingly aware via my lived-out experiences as well as through reading Christian authors of this unpleasant fact: the more we grow in our knowledge of God and His standards of holiness, the more we realize how far short we fall.

 (Thank the good Lord that our salvation does NOT depend on meeting the bar, but on what Jesus did on our behalf!) 

So when the desire rises in me to boast, in a fake nonchalant way about myself or my kids, I have to pray to resist this pathetic urge.  For that is what it is – sick self-aggrandizement!

Why should I brag about how XYZ I am as though it is a true representation of my value?  Because it’s NOT who I really am.  Yes, I feel a momentary rush as I bask in my own self-proclaimed glory, whether you admire me or not.  But here’s the rub: it’s not the total picture of who I am.

Imposter Syndrom

To be honest, if you knew all those thoughts and feelings and actions that I keep from you, you’d laugh to think that I, Maria, even thought highly of herself for one moment.

 

 

 

 

So there we were last night enjoying supper with some friends on our deck overlooking God’s splendor.

Early Morning Mist at Gilead House - 14 June

And I was aware of wanting them to be impressed with how well I cooked as well as how smart, hardworking, well-read and fit I was.  And at the same time, I knew that to drop hints of my fake-veiled glory was to steal glory form the One who alone deserves to be magnified – Jesus Christ.  I even prayed about my tendency ahead of time, knowing that it would far better to do otherwise.  Admiring Jesus could be potentially life-giving to them and it certainly would satisfy me more deeply.

I think God allowed me to fall again into this sin and then have the opportunity in church today to repent and long to kill that instinct through His grace – aka HS power.  These 2 verses describe the Maria I want to be:

Psalm 34 – 2 to 3

My life makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble and afflicted hear and be glad.

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.

 

How do you know if you are ‘saved’?

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Assurance of Salvation

1 Cor 1:18 – For the message about the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.

I understand that it is a very unsettling place to be, not to know for sure if you are going to spend eternity with God or away from Him.

I am writing this post to simplify the issue and to communicate that if you want to know whether you can count on heaven with the Biblical God, there is ample written evidence from God to settle that issue, once and for all.

It seems to me that there are several categories of people:

  • those who give no thought to life after the expected 70+ years (Psalm 90:10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years….)
  • those who are adherents of false religions that teach and encourage practitioners to DO THIS or THAT to reach heaven
  • those who are true Biblical Christians but still live with uncertainty about their ultimate destination
  • those who are NOT Christians but think they are and might assume they are headed for heaven
  • those who are Christians and anticipate with growing desire and delight their future in God’s favorable presence in the renewed creation

Marraige Supper of the Lamb

In truth, there are only 2 categories of people: those God has elected and those He has not.  There are no degrees of election or a pathway TO election from non-election. You’re either ALL in or ALL out.

If God doesn’t plant within us new, unnatural desires, we will never understand Him or see Him as beautiful and valuable.

Here’s the simplest way to know if you are a true Christian (and it has nothing to do with how ‘good’ you are or what you do):

Do you see the Biblical Jesus and how one is saved from God’s wrath as an amazing gift? as treasure beyond imagination?

Or do you see Jesus and His teachings as stupid and boring, even to the point of being non-sensical? 

The key, though, is to know and understand the REAL Jesus, as the Bible presents.  Be warned!  Many self-proclaimed Christians, as well as atheists, share a mythical, made-up idea of God.  They invent a Father God and a God-Man Jesus to their liking, for whatever reasons.  I suppose it follows that if you INVENT God, then you can CREATE the pathway to heaven.

John 8:31-32   He said to the Jews who believed, “If you keep and obey My Word, then you are My followers for sure. You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

Stay within the boundaries of God’s Word; understand the text, given its style (poetry, narrative, history, parables, advice for living)  and context.  The Bible is written so that even uneducated people can be taught Truth.

And if what the text says and means doesn’t make sense to you, then pray to God and ask for His help.  He promises to give light and understanding to all who seek Him earnestly, sincerely. Pray also for those around you, that God would kindly open their eyes to His nature, what is at stake and His offer of forgiveness.

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