Agreeing with Satan = my self-condemnation

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There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1

There it was, PROOF!  – a ‘poochy’ in a photo we asked someone to snap of us at the peak.   I was horrified to SEE it.  Two days earlier I had realized the evidence of what I had been reluctant to admit, I had gained a few pounds over the past few months. I could feel it and see it in the mirror, but now here it was in living color, digitally for the world to see!

The self-recriminations had set in 60 hours earlier and I had been battling them armed with God’s truth SOME of the time.  At other points, my brain buzzed in the high RPM range, figuring out what I was going to do to lose the 5 pounds.

What also bothered me was I thought I had put the Weight and Body Image Battle behind me, having even declared VS Day – Victory over the Scales Day on 5 Dec 2015.  That day marked a turning point when I symbolically moved the scales off the throne of my heart to make room for Jesus as supreme treasure and pleasure.

But by the full force of this self-recriminating skirmish, all I had done was substitute a different but equally deadly joy-sucking idol for that morning metric measurer, the bathroom scales.   What was this new enemy? –  the concept of leanness as my supreme good.

After the hike, I took my journal outside on the deck to see if I could get to the bottom of this seeming forever struggle.  And God was faithful to spark some gut-wrenching insights into the sin underneath this internal drama.

Here are the questions I wrote down:

  • Why does having a ‘poochy’ bother me more than my sin of idolatry and scorn against a Holy God?
  • Why is ‘leanness’ my ultimate and mostly elusive good?

The first question brought immediate remorse over my topsy-turvy value system.  The scales were just the outward and visible manifestation of my inward and wicked heart as represented by ‘the leanness idol’.  Abandoning my quest to maintain a certain weight didn’t take away what I still valued most in life.

The second question led to digging beneath the visible layers in my heart. By continuing to ask WHY, I tried to reach the bedrock of what drives me.

  • Why do I value leanness?  Because I most admire those women who are lean and fit
  • Why do I admire those kinds of women? Because they are free of self-loathing.
  • Why would NOT being ‘perfectly’ lean bring self-loathing? Because in myself, I can’t stand the feeling of a roll of fat or pudginess or tight rings or clothes.  They make me mad and I feel stuck and depressed.  And all that negative emotion pushes me inward into a seemingly self-perpetuating prison. I do all this to myself!

And then a question that directed healing light to that dark place in my heart.

  • What is the opposite of all that yuck I just described? Contentment with myself.  When content, I find it natural to forget about myself and focus on God and others.  Balled up in myself distracts and distorts the destination of my energy.
  • So if I seek a more lasting and better contentment and inner peace, what would God rather me choose as a source?  Why pleasing Him by being satisfied in Him, of course! The answer was clear as day.

Just at the moment that the Holy Spirit enabled me to ponder this pleasant place of happy and restful contentment, He called to mind Paul’s words about having LEARNED to be content in all seasons.  Hmmm.  If Paul could learn, through practice, then so could I!

A bit energized I started to reason biblically:

  • If God is FOR me, who can be against me?  (not even Maria’s self-criticisms count or SHOULD be able to pierce my peace)
  • If I have been declared ‘just’ by God (as a gift, through the mechanism of grace, and secured by Jesus’ redeeming payment with His life – Romans 3:24), then I already possess a permanent unshakeable peace with God.
  • When I beat myself up for having gained 5 pounds, I am participating in condemnation – Satan’s hideous and soul-eating handiwork.  He is the Accuser par excellence.  Agreeing with Satan mocks Jesus’ extravagant gift to me.

I was almost at the point of echoing my ‘Uncle Paul’s despair-filled cry, Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” – Romans 7:24.  At that very moment, I think a whimsical but life-giving picture came to me. I imagined Jesus looking at me with a twinkle in His eye and saying:

Maria has a poochy and I LOVE her poochy!

What a startling but gentling image. Is it really so far out of the realm of divine possibility?  After all, it was my husband who used to say with tender and happy love about our cat Calvin, Calvin has a poochy!  And Calvin was his favorite cat!

If it’s TRUE that there is nothing I can do to make Jesus love me more or less than He already does, then why not THIS scenario of Holy Joy in one for whom He died?

I think the healing took root at that point, Saturday afternoon, on our deck in the sun, journal and pen in my hands.

Almost with embarrassed hesitation I shared these new insights with my husband.  I felt that unless I articulated them out loud to another person, then I might slink back into the dark, dreary cave where I have beat myself up for far too long.  But there it was, in the light of day, publicly proclaimed for the person most dear to me and uttered out loud ALSO in case that the devil, himself, might be lurking.  And I, too, heard this new ‘fact’.  Maybe it was more important for ME to hear those words spoken out loud, witnessed by my husband and the Holy Spirit.

So I’ve been saying to myself several times a day, ‘I have a poochy and Jesus loves my poochy!’

 

The danger of worry and anxiety

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When I was mucking around in my anxiety, Satan’s lies slipped past my defenses and entered my mind as MY own thoughts and MY own analysis of reality.

Satan's lies

 

 

 

You can call this blog post Prayer Part 5 – what happens when you don’t trust God ON whom you had cast all your worries.

A couple of months ago, I offered to share some insights I had learned about contentment at a conference I attended in June.   A Saturday morning workshop for the women of my church seemed like a good idea back in July.  I don’t work during the summer and I was enjoying a more leisurely-paced life when I suggested this to my pastor.

Here’s reality:  School has been underway for 4 weeks now. The workshop is scheduled for 6 days from now.  I still need to review and finalize the material.   I didn’t realize that I was counting on VISIBLE chunks of time later in the week.  Just the night before one of those chunks became rescheduled with something else – a very good something else.  Nonetheless, that block of time dropped off my schedule and I had been fighting anxiety for 24 hours.

It’s GOOD to plan ahead.  But we should not rely on or TRUST the provision we can plan, orchestrate and see in lieu of trusting the only true and most capable provider whose name is Jehovah Jireh – ‘the Lord will provide‘.

It was Thursday, almost 6 pm and I was en route home from Asheville having done the weekly grocery shopping.  I knew that I would have very little time to relax (aka READ) before having to go to bed.  There were groceries to put away, dinner to fix (albeit a simple one), my breakfast and lunch to sort, chop and prepare, dinner to enjoy with my husband and then dishes.  But I was praying and believing God that He could stretch my 15 minutes or so of ‘me time’ to make it AS satisfying as 45 minutes.  And I had finally turned over the workshop reduced planning time THING to God and was trusting Him in the present situation at hand.

But then Mike (who writes from home for World magazine) casually mentioned that his audio piece had aired that day. We usually grab our drinks and head downstairs to listen on the big speakers to his 4-minute technology segment he writes and records.

My first thought: This will cost me SEVEN whole minutes!  Grim Wife And out popped GRIM WIFE!

I said tight lipped, “I don’t have time to listen right now, would you mind terribly if we listen tomorrow?”  And I slid into the sin of unbelief AND idolatry.

The most important thing I could have done at that moment was value my husband and trust God to stretch the time.  Instead I put MY agenda over my husband’s needs.  My anxiety and panic and yes – my anger at being so limited in time began to grow as my vision took in JUST my needs and the resources I could see.

I’ll spare you the ‘bad-to-worse back and forth’ my anxiety caused my husband and me.  But you can imagine the 24-hour coldness that invaded our relationship.  The discouraging truth was that I was doing the very opposite of what God has been emphasizing to me over the past few weeks – trusting Him with my worries in order to be:

  • clear-headed,
  • single-minded and
  • focused on the one and only thing that is important – His kingdom right here

God commands us to humble ourselves AND hand over our worries to take care of because we actually have MORE important work to do than our own agenda.  We’re to pray.

And when we don’t, the ever-roaming enemy Satan, creeps in to devour our peace and contentment and joy in Jesus. How uncanny that this ‘fight’ happened right before a workshop that might help women step out of some unbelief in their lives….

Sorry

I’m happy to report that our Father gave me a repentant heart desiring to ask my husband’s forgiveness and to get back on track doing what is in my job description and NOT what is above my pay grade.

 

 

Disclaimer:  My husband IS a huge help around the house.  He cleans our house every Friday since he works from home and I commute almost an hour each way to school.  And it’s not like he was standing by idly while I was putting away groceries.  He had gotten our produce box from the farm.  He had carried in all the groceries and put away the 2nd frig stuff.  Much of the chopping and prep of salads and veggies is for my breakfast and lunch.

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.

 

Envy – that invisible sin

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Envying a bigger fish

 

 

 

It snuck up on me awares. First one friend’s good news, then another’s and finally a third – all in the space of 2 days.  Before I knew it, my coveting was in full bloom!  Thankfully , the Holy Spirit was on duty and drew my attention to what this was;  pure and simple – ugly SIN!

Funny how men are quick to confess their struggle against lust and women their indulgence in gossip.  But covetousness? envy?  – who admits that?  But you know that it must be a biggie, to have made it on God’s Top Ten List.

10 Commandments

 

 

 

What we wish we had that we don’t is also an indicator of our idols – the things we worship.  I’ve heard it said that the act of worship bookends the commandments – at the outset, the proper and exclusive worship of God, the Creator and at the end, the prohibition of worshipping the created.

So what did I do, a forgiven sinner who was forced to look her sin straight in the face?  I repented.  And again each time the longings flooded or floated back. Finally, when I had time to examine at length these desires full-on, God led me to a helpful way to put them into perspective.

If we are Christians, then we have been invited and vetted to permanently partake of the eternal heavenly feast, hosted by Jesus in His Father’s Kingdom.  That experience which will go on forever will literally be out-of-this-world in its magnitude and ability to satisfy and provide multi-dimensional joy the likes of which we can hardly begin to imagine.

Heavenly Feast

 

 

 

 

So whatever it is that I long for HERE on this earth is piddly in comparison.  The image that came to mind (thank you, Holy Spirit!) was of someone complaining about their snack in comparison to a friend’s snack, when all along we will both soon be dining at Buckingham Palace or the Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore

 

 

 

Envy is damaging because it destroys our contentment in God.  It keeps our focus OFF of God and on to lesser stuff.  It sets us up for the corrosive thought that we DESERVE something.  When all along as a pastor friend of mine likes to say, “What we deserve is Hell!  The fact that God offers us a pardon is astounding enough.  Everything else we get is a gift.  And that’s a lot of gifts!”

So maybe I’ll have some of my fleshly heart’s desires satisfied here on earth and maybe I won’t.  But the time spent here is a blink of the eye.  I love the way CS Lewis contrasts the length and satisfaction of life on earth to that of eternal life with the Father:

“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
― C.S. LewisThe Last Battle  

Dream has ended CS Lewis

 

We are wired to bask – when boasting is good

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One of my dear daughters-in-law asked me pointedly over Thanksgiving why weighing a certain weight was so darn important to me.  It’s a good question and one for which I struggled to answer.  All I could offer in response was that I am afraid of getting fat.  

This obsession is nothing new.  Ever since a LONG bout with bulimia I’ve spent inordinate amounts of mental energy on how I feel about my body.  I won’t go into the details, because I’m sure you can identify.  If it’s not a weight/body image issue, it’s something else you struggle with that’s connected with your sense of worth.

Catching a podcast sermon the other day finally provided the key to why a number on a scale can dominate my day. 

Tim Keller was talking about how everyone, whether secular or religious, attempts to justify himself, to prove his worth. 

He recast the biblical term ‘justification’ as (and I’m piecing together his definition): 

  • A validating performance report that bestows status and opens doors 

It’s a never-ending cycle that actually hands over control of our feelings of worth to something outside of us.  The ways we seek validation, worth and significance are endless: 

  • Parenting, so your kids turn out ‘well’
  • Decorating and maintaining a beautiful home
  • Earning the acclaim (and unarticulated envy) of your peers and bosses in your career field
  • Achieving and maintaining a fit body or young skin
  • Performing lots of volunteer work or Christian service
  • Mastering a sport or musical instrument
  • Making a statement by your lifestyle choices (TV-eschewer/vegan/ minimal carbon-consumer/frugal/brand-name snob/socially-conscious/pro –this/anti-that….) 

The trouble is, as Tim Keller points out, that the best-case version of this slave-master means you’re only as good as your last accomplishment.  Thus, you keep having to prove yourself. The worst case is that: 

  • Your kids DON’T turn out well
  • Your marriage breaks up
  • You lose the house
  • You remain infertile
  • You break a leg and can’t run for 6 months
  • You attract poor performance reviews from your boss
  • You lose the contract(s)
  • You come in 2nd 

Keller goes on to announce that Jesus offers an alternative. God offers OUTSIDE justification as a gift.  The mind-boggling news in the Bible is that there is a much better way to feel good about oneself.  And it has nothing to do with what we DO. 

Without going into a Gospel presentation, the point is we are offered a life-giving permanent justification. All we have to ‘do’ is admit that OUR way is bankrupt and then submit to His better way.  This means first dropping ALL our efforts to earn status.  Then we have to accept HIS accomplishment as ourvalidating performance record that bestows status and opens doors. This, then, is the ONLY way to be liberated from the above tyranny. 

But….. 

…here’s the rub – My first reaction when I digested Tim Keller’s point was:

  • I don’t want someone else’s merit.
  • I actually want to be well-thought of for what I’ve done……it seems more real, more valid, more praise-worthy. 

I puzzled over how to reconcile my desire to be free and what God says is the ONLY path.  Finally, I sensed a way out of this dilemma. The Holy Spirit brought to mind times in the past when I felt significant because of others’ accomplishments:

  • When our oldest son Graham would perform on stage in high school and other parents and teachers would gush – I would bask in that spillover glory.
  • When my husband would sing in choruses and at church and others would marvel at his voice – I would bask in that spillover glory.
  • When our youngest son Wes got accepted and attended West Point and others would say with awe, ‘that’s quite an accomplishment!’ – I would bask in that spillover glory.

So, you see, we ARE wired to bask and boast in others’ accomplishments if we are connected to them. 

All we have to do is take that innate skill and change who and what we boast in.  If we are believers, we have an Older Brother.  And what He has accomplished for His family members is unparalleled.  

As Paul says in Romans, and Jeremiah describes in the OT, our primal sin is that we have exchanged what we should glory in – God – for something man-made.

Jer 2:11 ….my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. 

So this Christmas 2013 season, as you have some time, maybe you can reflect on what you boast in.  Keller says the way to become a Christian is to repent of what we boast about, about the ways we try to justify ourselves. 

Below is the link to Keller’s sermon. 

Sermon by Tim Keller, Redeemer Pres Church, NYC

Let us Rejoice at the freedom offered

No need to rush

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In our rushing, bulls in china shops, we break our own lives.” Ann Voskamp

Isaiah 28:16 – Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a  precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation;  Whoever believes will not be in haste.”

I don’t have to rush? Simply because I BELIEVE in Jesus?  That sounds too good to be true!

Belief actually means much more than intellectual assent.  The Hebrew word a-mán (Strongs # 539) has to do with CLINGING to and being supported by a firm foundation.  Picture a baby gripping a nursemaid who is not going to let him go.  When we are settled in our heart and mind that Jesus is the ‘precious cornerstone’ or foundation of the universe, then we don’t have to rush/haste/speed/or run in frenzy-mode.  Now that is GOOD NEWS!!!

Why do we rush?  I don’t know about you, but I have led a life of grim haste in order to squeeze out MORE TIME for me.  As a member of the human race, my natural default is SELF; I try to maximize circumstances to suit me. And for most of my life I have lived with the false notion that I was in charge, in control of my life and that if only I were disciplined and intentional enough, then I could …… speed things up…… in order to…… bank extra minutes…… to spend on……. ME, MYSELF and I.

Welcome to the condition, so aptly described by Ann Voskamp in the first quote.  Thinking that we are helping ourselves, we cause harm by rushing. We add to the illusion that WE know what is best, that our decisions about time are wise.

As I grow day by day, a member of God’s forever family, having been ‘given new birth into a living hope’(1 Peter 1:3), I’m wanting to focus on God’s sovereign control over every molecule of my life.

Here’s how that God- quality brings me peace.

Yesterday, we drove for eight hours to arrive in Winchester, VA for a wedding.  En route we pulled off to find a SHEETZ gas station.  They usually have clean bathrooms and plentiful sodas.  But THIS service station proved difficult to spot once we exited the interstate. It was NOT well marked.  So first we drove in one direction, dodging the ‘Friday-afternoon-in-the –summer’ traffic.  Mike gripped the steering wheel in frustration at the minutes we were ‘losing’ and did a U-turn where he could to drive in the other direction which led out of town.  BACK again in the other direction, retracing our steps, slowed down by all that traffic ‘personally placed across our path to annoy us!’  No…to show us how ugly our impatience and desire to control LIFE looks like.  We eventually found the SHEETZ and refreshed ourselves.   

What I now tell myself once I repent of this self-centered response and attitude is that if I truly believe that God is sovereign over time and circumstances, then obstacles that ‘slow us down’ are part of His divine plan, meant for our good.

More than an impatience problem, I have a belief problem.  For that I repent.  Lord, thank You for the reminder that I can relax, slow down and go at Your pace because it’s YOU who are upholding the universe and in YOU, I have my being.  Thank you!

The Logic of Love

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Logic won out the other day in our household.

My husband sometimes puts me up on a pedestal by thinking that I am ‘the more Godly’ of the two of us. (imagine THAT kind of argument:  “ No, I’m worse than you!  Here let me prove it to you….”)

He sometimes indulges in a kind of self-pitying spiral of feeling bad about himself. One evening last week, I nailed him with an undeniable deductive argument that was both valid and true.  He had to smile in spite of himself.  I was truly Holy-Spirit inspired, because I don’t think I would have come up with the proof myself.

My reasoning was this:

God only gives good and perfect gifts.

God gave me my husband.

Therefore, my husband is a good and perfect gift.

Now I’m not saying my husband is without sin.  I’m using the term ‘perfect’ to mean 100 % suited for me in every way, sent to bless me, to aid me in my sanctification.  I know, ‘sanctification’ is a fancy Christian-ese word. What it means is the process that is meant to “rub off the rough areas of your personality….train you in humility….give you practice in self-less living…..strengthen your submission muscle to make you teachable to God”

You see, learning to love Michael is helping me grow in holiness for, “….. without holiness no one will see the Lord.Hebrews 12:14b

So no matter how difficult it gets living with another person, knowing that my heavenly Father picked him out for me, from before the creation of the universe, helps me accept more easily all that happens between us as coming from the hand of God.  This reasoning softens my approach and keeps me praying in the midst of a disagreement,

Thank you, Father, for this painful encounter.  You mean this for my good.  May I see this as ‘gift’ and respond in the way you want me to.  Guide me. And bless my husband.  Thank you for him.”

I don’t always reason through like that.  In the heat of emotions, I can feel sorry for myself and get a chip on my shoulder with the best of you.  Remembering that God is in control of ALL that comes to us keeps my conclusions from veering off into ‘untruth’.   It’s also humbling and painful to think that God may be allowing my hurtful, sharp and ‘irrational’ remarks to wound my dearest friend for his own good.

Thankfully I can report, that the Holy Spirit is causing both of us to see and regret more quickly the pain we cause one another.  We are learning to repent and ask each other’s forgiveness within the same segment of the day, often within 30 minutes or fewer.

And more broadly speaking, why does God allow such sin?  One reason that I can see, is that the reconciliation Mike and I experience after hardness of heart is the sweetest sensation we have ever felt.  I think we are meant to taste and see in those moments the wonder of reconciliation with the Creator of all things, our Father and Eternal Logos.

So on this start of Thanksgiving week 2012; I give thanks to God for His gift of Michael Francis Cochrane.  “Je t’aime fort, mon petit ours!”

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