One anothering – don’t stop

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Christian friends are invaluable.  We encourage one another by listening well. We pray for each other.  We redirect sisters and brothers back to God.  We focus on firm Truth in light of scary, wobbly circumstances. We offer our presence, sometimes just simple shoulder rubs and tissues.

And we never know what will help. But we stumble ahead and give what we have. Because God is in the business of using us to comfort others.

The other day, I was still mucking around in my latest pit-version of a long-term struggle with sin. Midday, Mike threw me what turned out to be a lifeline. He emailed Psalm 37 to me at work. At least once a week he shares a reading from his daily devotional.  Nice. Familiar.  Comforting.  Insightful as to what strikes him.  But THIS TIME what he forwarded seismically changed my thinking.  As RC Sproul says, ‘Ideas have consequences.’

God used one verse, a promise, to lift me out of the mud and set me on high ground.  I was stunned by this concrete, tangible proof that…….

……the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

God’s pledge, known and divinely written by David in Psalm 37:5 launched me into new space – a kind of freedom.  Here is how God’s promise goes:  Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him and He will do it!

Immediately I saw my sin AND the path to rescue and freedom!

For years, I have struggled with ‘how to eat’ so as to ‘feel good about my body’.  The battle came from wanting to eat as much as I want, without limits, AND wanting to feel happy in my body. Nine years of bulimia, stopped by God’s mercy due to my first pregnancy, preceded the past 35 years of overeating and agonizing.  I have learned to control, sort of, my ‘habit’ of the overeating. Yet I still obsess.

For 37 years Mike has walked with me in this struggle.  Recently his God-inspired wisdom jolted me in a healthy way.  First came his observation that perhaps God has ordained this ‘design flaw’ or THORN in the flesh to be His means to draw me to Him. New thought!

Gently he pointed out that I’ve been asking God for a way to manage or control my sin. He offered that maybe God in His goodness has NOT given me a manageable way to eat or exercise.

All along I have labeled the OVEReating as ‘THE SIN’.  I never considered that my desire to CONTROL could perhaps be sinful.

Further light opened my cage door wider.  Paraphrasing 17th century English pastor William Gurnall: When you pray to God, add a vow.  But make sure there is no hidden sin in your heart. Gurnall then cited one of David’s prayers to the effect, ‘God, grant me _________, so that I may praise you.’

Stunned into pondering how I might EVEN word a prayer request to God about this eating/control issue, I realized that any petition would basically be asking God to give me a way to control my sin.  Furthermore, the idea of adding a VOW stopped me cold.  I saw clearly for the first time that there was nothing holy in my request.

Into that void, Mike’s email sharing Psalm 37 arrived.  Again verse 5 brought light that gave me power-filled hope, what I call ‘crunchy’ or substantial.

Commit your way to the LORD

Trust also in Him 

and He will act

What I saw for the first time was this:

  • I’m to give this ENTIRE thing to Him, the triune God.  It’s not my problem or issue.
  • I’m to place all my confidence in Him, not me
  • And most importantly, HE is the one who will act

Could things be any clearer?  All along I’ve been wanting to control this problem so I could feel good about myself.  But seeing that there was nothing praise-worthy in God answering my prayer the way I have so desperately sought startled me.

Do I know what to do?  Not if I mean, do I have a new plan.

But do I know the purpose of food and the body?

Yes!  Food is to fuel my body and to enjoy.  The body I inhabit temporarily is so I can serve others and God.  The end or purpose of all I do is to glorify God.  Beyond that, I don’t need to go.

I’m still chewing on the simplicity and the power in this promise.  It FEELS to good to be true – simply to hand over a burden and trust God to act.  But I do feel free!

Conclusion?  Don’t stop offering God’s Word to others.  You don’t know ahead of time what God will use to heal someone.

 

Love my boundary lines!

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Sheep in a pen

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Psalm 16:6a

My thorn in the flesh that keeps driving me back to God in desperate need is my tendency to overeat and then get down on myself. I thought I had been liberated from that vicious cycle back in December.  It was then that I renounced once and for all slavishly weighing myself and tracking my exercise day by day.  But then, 10 days ago, I noticed that a certain pair of pants felt tight.  Immediately I spiraled into fear and loathing.

In a nutshell, I suffer from conflicting desires of wanting both to be lean AND to eat as much as I want.  I also fear future hunger and despise feeling stuffed. Taking liberty with the apostle Paul’s cry,

Oh wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me out of this ….(ceaseless struggle!) – Romans 7:24

As I went round and round with God both in prayer and reading my Bible, He brought to mind that psalm snippet above about limits.  Yes!  I NEED boundaries, both to feel safe and to forget about myself. I’m not much different from a dog that escapes from his restrictive yard only to find himself in a big, scary world on the other side.  Once he’s back home on the safe side of his fence or wall, he might then trust his owner’s wisdom and leave off future waywardness.  Actually I bet a dog needs far fewer repeat lessons than I do! After all, I’ve been fighting that wall with God since I was 16.

The Holy Spirit also reminded me what I have recently absorbed, that as Christians, our primary ministry is to our family. For me, my husband must be my focus. And if I am sucked inward, feeling bad about MY body, MY choices and MY satisfaction, I am NOT ministering to this man God has lovingly brought me.

Quickly my plea for guidance, “What am I to do, Lord?” turned into thanksgiving and praise for His Truth revealed in my heart.

Yes, I DO need limits and they DO make me happy.  Once THAT fact was settled, what I was to do fell into place.  No, I would not go back to weighing myself each day.  But I could cut out certain foods and reduce my portion size of others.

And if those parameters are what allow me to forget myself and focus on Mike and others in my sphere, then they truly ARE my happy limits.  Staying INSIDE the parameter is best.

Well, what about this fear of hunger and desire to eat abundantly?  I MUST ‘risk’ taking God at His Word and rely on His promise that I can do ALL things through him (Christ) who strengthens me – Phil 4:13. And all things means happily living with limited portions and occasional hunger pangs. For ifGod is leading me to stay within my boundary lines, then what He commands me to do, He will likewise enable me to do with Holy Spirit power.  As a Christian, it’s a fact that the Holy Spirit resides IN me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but One of love, power and integral/sound thinking.

God’s individual curriculum plan for your life

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Hebrews 12:10b  ….God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

2 Cor 1:8-9  For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Does it surprise you to consider that God has designed both specific pain and specific pleasure for your holiness?

The verses above clearly indicate purpose with lead-in phrases like:

  • in order that…..
  • that was to make us…….

In a previous blog I reflected on the truth that God’s will for our lives is our holiness, our sanctification (same word in Greek).

And if we accept that God is sovereign over every molecule in the universe, then Romans 8:28 brings both truths together. God not only CAN work the bad and the good for our benefit, He designs all things to increase our capacity for holiness and Christlikeness (these two are one and the same).

Two brothers in Christ I know are struggling with different issues that trouble them deeply.  As I’ve been praying for them and specifically reflecting on the pot-holed and often painful path God has proscribed for me, I am beginning to feel some liberation that I want to pass on to these men and to others.

From numerous examples in the Bible we can ascribe afflictions like cancer or a car accident or anti-Christian persecution at work to God’s directing hand:

Isaiah 45:7I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and create calamity,
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

In fact, if you don’t subscribe to the idea that God controls these events, you’re left with a powerless God who just sympathizes with you, but can’t direct/stop/influence the universe. That’s Deism, not a god worth worshipping or one in which to rest and seek refuge.

What has been a hurdle for me to get over is the idea that God might have ON PURPOSE designed me with and allowed to develop in me certain:

  • sin patterns
  • unhealthy tendencies
  • wrong ideas
  • harmful dependencies

I’m not saying that God is evil, wrong or even unloving for doing this.  But if He is sovereign, then He created you and me with these flaws for His good purpose. Since His goal for each of His children is holiness, it follows that you and I would receive a tailor-made plan, designed in love by this perfect Father for His perfect ends.

IEP

My main sin struggle has been with food/body image/weight as idols. I’m 58 and that issue blossomed when I was 16.  I have suffered years of pain. Yet, I am beginning to see that over these years God has been using my disgusting eating/vomiting/compulsive exercise patterns and embarrassing self-absorption to wean me off of myself and on to Him for everything.

I could also describe my runner-up sin, that of a clutching need for ‘enough time for Maria’, but I’ll spare you. Just know that God is getting lots of mileage out of THAT particular design feature.

The very GOOD …….NEWS (new to me) is that the bad stuff I’ve done and still do is part of God’s ‘individual education program for Maria’.  And you have such a life-long plan, too, if you are one of God’s born-again children!

So what’s uplifting or encouraging about that?  Glad you asked!

I was out on an overnight experience with the 8th grade class this week.  We ate camp food.  The oatmeal tasted REALLY good!  So I ate 2 big bowls at breakfast (plus some fruit, an egg….)

As soon as I did and felt FULL, my default ‘beat-up on Maria/self-absorption shtick’ kicked into high gear.

But THIS time, I talked about IT to myself and said:

  • What’s done is done.  And God knew, allowed and even ordained this.  He is sovereign over each sin/lapse/mistake.  It’s part of His plan for me. Sure I have to deal with the consequences, but ‘good’ is being worked IN me right now.  As I repent and rest in His wisdom, I’m growing in holiness.
  • and even more important (Listen up, my two brothers in Christ!!!) we don’t have to be grim and beat ourselves up. These painful days are ordained for a beautiful end.  You might protest like I have, ‘But I thought I was better than this!….I hate my sin and the fact that I’m letting myself and others down when I wrap myself up in X’!

Believe me, I understand.  But where did our idea that we would NOT be dirty or a slave to something or able to control our behaviors come from? Why are we surprised at our junk?  I think it’s a line straight from Hell:

Satan:  How can you be a real Christian if you are doing THAT!!!!

Before I call it quits on this post, I want to go back to my declaration that God has designed our pleasures, too, for growth in holiness. Paul mentions that he has LEARNED how to be content in Phil 4:12 – I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Having what we want, enjoying prosperity can be burdens, too.  We have to gain God’s perspective on success, material well-being and happiness.  Just think of the suffering that befalls lottery winners!  I’m not saying that all the beautiful and pleasing circumstances or gifts are meant as trials.  Just beware that the good stuff can lead to sin, too!

How’s THAT for something to chew on!

The sin beneath the sin or ‘Don’t waste your sin!’

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I never saw it until this week.  It turns out that I’m like the thief who is sorry only that he was caught, not that he did anything wrong.

This realization of my hard, unrepentant heart came about through reading Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid

Extravagant Grace Book Cover

I had purchased it 14 months ago at a conference and finally got around to reading it.  I don’t think I would have been ready for God’s message to me any early.  (an example of His perfect timing!)

One of the central premises of the book is that God ‘s goal for us is to keep coming to a deeper humility and greater dependence on Him.  That two-prong goal actually describes spiritual maturity, according to Barbara.  In order to foster or ‘force us’ into a life-long posture of humble dependence (guess we wouldn’t gravitate toward it on our own!), God tends to leave one or two struggles with sin IN our lives.

I find that to be both encouraging AND discouraging:

  •  Encouraging, in that at least I now know that every other disciple of Christ is struggling, even if they appear to be rock-solid in their faith.
  •  Discouraging, for I recognize that I’m probably going to be fighting these faith-battles regarding my body and food the rest of my life!

At one point toward the end of her book, Barbara talks about feeling comforted knowing that Jesus both feasted and fasted perfectly on her behalf.  She has been a life-long fellow food-aholic.  I found myself sputtering when I read those words.  As I struggled to articulate my objection, God allowed me to pinpoint the problem.  In fact I wrote the author a letter asking her, “What can you write me, give me to HELP deal with this objection?”

Maria’s objection:

  • When I overeat, I don’t really care that it’s a sin….against God
  • I just care that I’m stuck with the consequences
  • Knowing that I’ve overeaten, I immediately withdraw INTO myself as I berate, regret, flail around for a fix to this problem
  • Consumed JUST with me, I could care less about anyone around me; I retreat into my interior world and my demeanor is just plain hard toward others

Apparently putting into words just what is my sticking point was what I needed to do, for since composing that email to the author God has been working to help me to see the REAL problem.

epiphany

Here’s the result of my ‘Eureka!’

  • Overeating is not the sin
  • Overeating is something that happens occasionally
  • The sin window of temptation actually begins at the moment my stomach registers an overload and asks, “Maria – Why did you fill me this full???”
  • It’s at this point that I can choose a reaction along the lines of “Oh well, the food tasted really good and I guess I did eat more than I should.  I’ll eat less at the next meal.  Thank you, Father, for this feedback from my body that prefers balance.”  OR……
  • I can start the familiar pattern of recriminations and churning around how to ‘make up for/put right/regain leanness/compensate for/undo what I’ve just done’
  • I can start to rail against reality and say, “It should not be! I thought I was better than this, more controlled.  How could I have let myself overeat like that? I know how much to eat; so how did that quantity of food slip past the guards unnoticed!  Now look at what I’m going to have to do!!! – deny myself food pleasure in the immediate future to undo this damage.”

It’s self-pity. It’s pathetic.  It’s all about me.  And THAT is the sin!  All along I’ve thought that the overeating was the sin.  I’m just beginning to glimpse that what’s beneath the behavior that bothers me is the sin of self-righteousness and self-absorption.  That’s the SIN BENEATH THE SIN. Because it reveals that I care MOST about my body and Jesus comes 2nd or 3rd or……

One application and one sign of hope:

First the application:

  • I realize that the next temptation to sin will start the moment I have already overeaten. And I can be sure that there WILL BE a next time.  I’m a typical human who is easily swayed.  I’m not a programmed machine.

The hope:

  • There are still plenty of spiritual growth opportunities that God intends to nurture from this fertile pastureland of food control and self-image

Today in Sunday School, Mike was teaching on a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.  His closing words gave me pause.  He summed up the lesson with this thought:

“Thank goodness for the messed-up Corinthians!  Because of their sin, we have these rich letters from Paul!”

So maybe my sin is not just for my benefit.  Maybe the assurance that “God works ALL things for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28) means ALSO that God is causing my sin to serve not just me, but other Christians as well.  At least I can thank Him for not wasting my sin!

Is God sovereign even over my own sin?

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If you ask me to share my favorite attribute of God, I would respond without hesitation: His Sovereignty over every detail of life. As pastor and Bible teacher RC Sproul explains:

  • “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.”

As this fact about God has sunk root in my consciousness, I have grown less impatient when delays happen during the day, whether in traffic or in lines at the store. I’ve been able to create a possible scenario like: ‘Maybe God is preventing me from being involved in an accident’.

That kind of application is easy.  But what happened the other day shifted my mind to ponder other areas within God’s sovereign reach.

During this particular ‘occasion’ my pride intersected with my sin.

First my area of boasting:  “I’m the kind of gal who stays within bounds of food choices so that my body feels (and looks) lean”

Next my fall: But the FOOD looked SO good that I served myself a larger-than-I-should portion.  And like Eve in the garden, I took and ate.

Finally my sin: (not that my pride was not sin) “Yikes, now I feel uncomfortably full.  Oh, no!  I HATE this feeling- and it’s my fault.  How could I have done that!  I can’t stop obsessing about this feeling of fullness.  Why didn’t I stick with a smaller portion?” Self…self…self…self………down into me, away from Mike, away from happy thoughts about God that lift the burden of ME off my shoulders.

When it was time, to bed I headed:

  • to tossing and turning
  • to restless sleep interrupted with thoughts of ME
  • to the next morning with a soulful, self-absorbed greeting of God
  • to my walk, while listening to a John Piper sermon
  • to light and freedom from God, via a new thought!

hope light

Could it be that God is sovereign over even my own sin?  That this ‘lapse’ is part of His plan for growing me to depend more and more joyfully and comprehensively on Him for everything?

I had never even considered that His sovereignty extended to MY own sin. I wavered and the thought began to mist away.

But reason, in the form of a syllogism, rushed in to defend and grow this tiny flicker of hope:

Either God is sovereign over everything or He has no control over human and natural events

God IS sovereign over everything

Therefore, He has control over every human and natural event

What follows is mere corollary:

  • My sin/mistake/bad thing/poor judgment/lapse/evil/hurtful word/thoughtless or deliberate cruel action/ugly thought is part of the ‘everything’ that God has planned or ordained to unroll according to His purposes.
  • If I don’t FRET when traffic interrupts my plans, then I shouldn’t FRET when I act in ways I don’t like
  • Caveat – this does not mean that when I do bad stuff, it’s NOT bad stuff.  It IS bad and sinful.  And as my husband reminded me, Jesus has paid for each and every sin. Therefore, it’s not only POINTLESS but a display of lack of faith as well as a symptom of FALSE PRIDE to beat myself up.  Kinda like carrying out the old Catholic church ritual.

From those thoughts on my early morning walk, came the heart-lifting reminder and sure word that God is working ALL things for my good and His glory and even this humiliating/image-busting “it’s not like me to do….XYZ” event is in His Hand.

So I let the overeating of the previous evening go.  Just like that.  I haven’t yet processed the notion that all those years of self-absorption with food, débuting with 9 years of bulimia and the 32 years since then have been sovereignly allowed/planned by God. But this kairos moment is another reminder that God has called us to reason from His truth.  As Abraham Kuyper so reassuringly proclaimed:

  • “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

one square inch

My ‘stuff’ is included in that ‘square inch’; God IS working all the misery of my own doing as well as the misery that intersects my life from other second causes.  The God who created the universe and all that is in it IS the First Cause, or He is No cause. We can’t have it both ways.

My comfort is further bolstered by this account of wandering souls, stuck in misery of their own making:

Psalm 107: 10 to 14 –There were those who dwelt in darkness and the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains because they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High.  Therefore, He humbled their heart with labor; they stumbled and there was none to help.  Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses.  He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their bands apart.

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