Use your imagination!

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Do you know how to worry?

Then you are an expert imaginer.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach expert level in any skill.  So how many hours do you think you have invested in your worry habit?  Let’s do the math.

  • Let’s assume you didn’t start worrying until you reached 7th grade, age 12
  • Assume also that you have worried only 10 minutes a day ever since then
  • Add in a ‘day off’ per week from worrying and you will have racked up an hour a week

At that rate, it’ll take you 192 years to become an expert.

But is there a possibility that you have invested more than 10 minutes a day into this skill?

In an informal poll with ‘the man on the street’ regarding time invested in anxious thoughts, I heard 5-6 hours per day as a possibility.

That seeming a bit high, I checked Google and found the average to be 1 hour and 50 minutes a day. 

Let’s round that number up to 2 hours a day.  That’s equivalent to 730 hours a year.  At this rate, you’ll reach ‘expert’ status in only 13.7 years.  For the twelve-year old novice, he can reasonably expect to reach ‘success’ at age 25 1/2.

Of course if our hypothetical boy or girl is truly motivated and invests MORE than 2 hours a day, he’ll arrive at his goal sooner.  So maybe those represented by my informal poll, the ones who throughout the day and night practice imagining their fears make up the ELITE worriers, expert by the age of 17. It probably also helps to have grown up in a household of skilled practitioners who daily performed the liturgy of anxiety.

Back to what the practice of worrying requires – imagination.

Here’s the rub.  God has not given us the blessing of a fertile imagination for the sake of becoming a fantastic ‘fretter’!  He’s blessed us with a mind that WE can direct.  What we think about matters.

In Hebrews 3:1, God exhorts us through the writer to think about Jesus:

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, set your minds on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

What can help us focus on Jesus?  God, who wants us to know Him, has given us the written Word so we can read and SEE with Spirit-empowered eyes who Jesus is. We who are believers have been given ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16).  We CAN know and receive power from what He did and what He has promised.

But habits are hard to change!!!  Yes…..,so what?  Plenty of things are hard.

It’s a fact – bad habits are difficult to break.  But our kind Father has given us a Helper, the Divine Spirit, the third person of the Triune God.  Paul tells us that this Spirit is not one that brandishes unending, peace-robbing ‘what-ifs’ as a tool (think Satan, the father of lies).

Au contraire, this Spirit is by definition POWER, LOVE and INTEGRATED SOUND THINKING. (look up 2 Thessalonians 1:7)

With Him planted permanently inside of us, we CAN stop feeding the worry habit with imagined fears.

With Him, we CAN change and start feeding the happy habit of focusing our imagination on all that Jesus has done and is for us.  Where’s the food?  God’s Word!  There’s more than enough nourishment in the Bible.  Feed on Him and not just 3 times a day. But snack continuously.  In fact God challenges us to move from little kid food to grownup food. He intends for us to mature in Christian practices.  And that takes intentionality and time on task.  Habits begin in the mind.  So we have to feed our minds, conforming them to Jesus.

There are so many benefits to using our imagination for this reason.

We won’t get fat, feasting on spiritual food.

And we’ll be a lot happier, more like our older Brother Jesus who was anointed with gladness:

You love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else. Hebrews 1:9

Now THERE’s a New Year’s Resolution worth taking up. And one with a powerful promise of supernatural help.

 

 

 

 

Clothes make the man?

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Barbie

1 Peter 3:3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.

rather….1 Peter 3:4 You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

Our granddaughters visited this past week, eager to open the toy/book closet and bring out our one and only Barbie.  Thinking about her and the many outfits Mattel has launched over the years caused me to reflect about inherent versus infused versus imputed righteousness.

Since the Fall our essence is no longer inherently righteous;in other words, righteousness is not part of our nature. But some people try to dress themselves, like Barbie, in good works, thereby APPEARING righteous.  Then there are those who believe that the righteousness obtained by Christ’s death on the cross and His perfect obedience can be infused in us, thereby altering our nature. But that is not what the Bible teaches. In fact the 16th century reformers emphasized the historic, original biblical teaching that our righteousness  is by faith alone, through grace alone because of Christ’s work alone.

Since this reckoning or crediting of justification comes from Christ, it is an ‘alien’ righteousness, from outside of us. It’s more akin to an outfit that Barbie’s owner dresses her in.  Just as the doll’s garments cover her, so too Christ’s works cover us. It’s a false conclusion to think then, that ‘as are the clothes, then so too are we‘.  The clothes don’t make the man or woman, they COVER us.  Similarly, Christ’s righteousness cancels our sin in God’s books.

Even with the Barbie example in our minds, we can still be self-righteous and be unaware. Pleasure in any of ‘my’ obedience or good works weakens me so I succumb to pride and all of Satan’s other ploys.

As protection, I try to remember to ask the Holy Spirit to remind me of ‘the truth’.  Daily I mentally don the kind of apparel that my heavenly Father prefers, what Peter teaches:

  • a quiet and complete trust in God that eliminates all fear despite desperate circumstances.
  • spiritual armor that both protects and strengthens my faith, my most valuable God-given gift
  • my attitude towards us, specifically dressing myself as per Paul’s instructions: Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Col 3:12

The question that puts me in my place, as a dependent creature is this:

Maria, what are you trusting in this day to guarantee your salvation and eternal life with the happy, holy Triune God ?

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!’

 

Bringing up past mistakes

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Satan Accuses

Isaiah 43:24b-25  God tells the Israelites….

You have wearied Me with your iniquities. “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

When I read this verse the other morning, I immediately thought about voices that DO remember and RE-CALL my sins.  If it not be God, then who might be the source of those accusations?  

Satan for one.  He is called the ‘accuser’ of Christians in Rev 12:10:

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

But there’s someone else who hurls those attacks: ME!!!  All the times I beat myself up for something I did.  Either I indulge in that hurtful practice instead of repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness, or I replay the sin/mistake/offense DESPITE having repented and been forgiven.

What stopped me cold, however, this morning was the sinking thought:

Am I being like Satan when I, myself, bring up a past, covered-over and forgiven sin or hurt done to ME by a neighbor, friend or family member? It matters not whether I fling it at the person or just  fume in resentment.  It’s still satanic.

Maybe I should copy my older Brother Jesus instead.  You know Him – God who was slaughtered unjustly on the cross AND still forgave his murderers and loved them?

Hear the good news about God as promised in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

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!

Self-sufficiency is a lie!

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Bigger Barn

I am like the rich fool who believed Satan about storing up stuff for future needs instead of trusting God.

In desperation, I pray.  God comes through.  

Relieved, I thank God.

But with the very next breath, I perversely tense,  “Rats!  There’s X situation tomorrow and I’m going to have to BE VULNERABLE and NEED God.  I just wish I could see the resources ahead of time, (look out the window at my BARN.)

Here’s the lie:

Either I provide for myself, or I trust God.

(and Satan paints self-sufficiency as less anxiety-producing)

The truth is, I CAN’T provide for myself.  That’s a false assumption.

Real life: 

Either neediness WITHOUT God, or neediness plus the God who promises to provide with me

Dear Father, help me repent not only of fear-thoughts and worry but also of not wanting to NEED You!

Psalm 40:17 I am poor and needy, yet the Lord takes thought and plans for me. You are my Help and my Deliverer. O my God, do not tarry!

The danger of freedom

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I’m learning to think through what I hear in sermons and what I read.  When God wants to impress a truth on me, He tends to funnel the same message through multiple media.  The lesson last week that perked down into my resistant sinful pattern of thinking was: It’s not about me!

Before you scoff at how obvious that message is, let me assure you that it is VERY counter-cultural.  As pastor John Piper teaches, our society has been saturated with the mantra of the importance of Self-Esteem.  And you know as well as I, that a lie repeated oft enough takes on the weightiness and respectability of Truth.

self esteem

We slavishly work to think well of ourselves or gather praise from others.  That need becomes more than something nice to have.  It becomes our master, our God, and we its slave.

The other day, though, I was given a new thought.  I was feeling ‘sick of myself’ – just tired of thinking about me, what I eat, what my body feels like, how I’m doing with that perpetual thorn, how it’s the lens through which I view the world, the regulator that governs how much positive energy and interest I give to others.  Gradually, a life-altering truth took on substance:

  • It’s not about me.
  • It doesn’t have to be about me.
  • I don’t HAVE to even think about me.
  • Thinking about me doesn’t bring me any joy or energy.
  • I can actually be freed from thinking about me.
  • In point of fact, it’s about Him.  I exist, the birds sing, the trees sway, the oceans roar, the stars glisten, all of us alive to make much of God!

I had gone to bed the previous night with such new inklings swirling about in my head.  And when I awoke and greeted the gravel road for my morning walk and conversation with God, I started to think about me, as ‘per usual’.  But suddenly, the fragrance of freedom tickled my nose and I looked up at the stars and said:  I don’t HAVE to think about me today.  I’m FREE!!!

Well, if I’m not pondering me or my problems, then what am I thinking about when not occupied with teaching or conversing with someone or reading?  In all those interior, unencumbered moments, I get to mull over what makes our God so great.  And in fact, the Bible promises that far MORE joy, TRUE joy comes from those God-truths than any introspection.

  • Psalm 1:2  (How happy is the one who….) delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night.
  • Psalm 119:97  Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long

There’s also that statement of fact in verse 11 of  Psalm 16In your presence is fullness of joy….. I don’t think the psalmist is referring just to when we are in heaven with Jesus.  We are present with Him in a conscious way when we are thinking of Him. Therefore, joy comes from shifting the focus of my waking mind off of ME and onto God.

All day long, I felt like a little child, giddy with delight over a secret treasure.  I would stop and reflect, “Why do I feel so happy?” and then all of a sudden, the truth would flood back. “That’s it!  I don’t have to think about me!  I’m free!!

ball and chain

Do you want to know what happened that night?  I risked sharing this oh-so-tenuous feeling of potential permanent freedom with Mike.  He got it, what I was feeling.  All was well. We were enjoying some close moments of joy that come from sharing truth about God.

We sat down to our treat of dinner on trays and another episode of Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. At the conclusion of both, a tiff flared up ‘out of nowhere’ that isolated us one from the other. Mike headed down to the smoking cave in withdrawn silence and I mulled over delaying a grace-filled loving response to his probable text apologizing for his anger. “I want him to know how it feels to be the recipient of his chill!” I selfishly thought.

I sat down to read the paper and sure enough within 10 minutes, ‘ping!’, the apology popped up.  But his words changed my feelings.  He wrote: “I don’t know what came over me!  These feelings came out of nowhere!  I’m confused and hurt!’

Suddenly, I knew.  It was spiritual attack.  I immediately closed ranks with my husband.  Fingers flew furiously as I consoled him that none of this was about us, but about a new God-truth, that promise of freedom he and I had rejoiced over.  Satan does NOT want us to trust God.  He works to thwart that glorious Freedom from Self.  This enemy of God also wants to disrupt and destroy married couples.

With that life-restoring revelation from God, our conversation whipped back and forth as we discussed this dark assault.  We moved closer together but weren’t quite restored.  More conversation by email brought light and by our evening reunion, we were back on the same side, glad to be reunited.  But we were more aware of the need to remain one with each other, with God at our back, our side and in front.  He is our sure refuge in times of trouble AND in times of blessing.  Blessings can be dangerous, too, if we are not aware of our vulnerability.

PS:  It’s been 4 days and that freedom from self IS authentic and available anytime I want to let go of the boring!

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