Commands & promises that simplify life

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Parents mean well, but they can unwittingly burden their children.

My father was one of those ‘can-do’ men who had reduced life’s collective wisdom to short statements meant to both encourage and teach.  Some of this military man’s words of advice were:

  • Drive on all the way (Infantry motto)
  • Your wants won’t hurt you
  • Don’t borrow trouble
  • Do your best

That last one has caused me much grief.  Why?  Because I never knew what was my best. By what objective standard did one measure one’s best?  How would I know if I had reached ‘my best’?

There was one time in my life when I obsessively worked a side business while teaching school full-time and mothering 2 sons.  I almost wrecked our marriage, so driven was I for ‘success’ in that part-time fashion venture.

One week in particular stands out.  Push-push-push!  Striving to reach a sales goal in order to be recognized and applauded at the national sales conference one month later, I drove myself nuts (and probably the rest of the family!).  My dad’s motto about one’s BEST compelled me to keep making phone calls.  My goal consumed me.  I couldn’t rest.  That target named ‘MY BEST’ kept inching further away.

This past week, 2 verses have both grabbed my heart and resurrected painful memories of drivenness.

  1. Psalm 105:4   Seek the LORD and His strength, seek His presence continually
  2. Psalm 37:3  Trust in the LORD and do good

Yesterday was a difficult day teaching.  I dreaded one of my classes.  As I was walking up the stairs to the building, praying, I affirmed over and over again: All I need are the LORD’s strength and His presence.  God has commanded me to seek and pray for these things.  He must really want me to have them!

And He came through!  (why do I doubt????)

This morning, bracing for that same first-period class and sensing the familiar creeping dread, I recalled Pop’s adage about doing my best. I prayed for God’s strength and His presence; and the above verse from Psalm 34 came to mind.  Tim Keller in his devotional on the Psalms had reflected on that psalm the previous night.  And I had been encouraged by the simple command to ‘do good’ in the context of trusting/resting in God.

Far from being burdened by having to aim for my best, I felt relief flooding me.  One’s best might be the way of the world, the mantra of certain motivational speakers, but not the path that the Triune God teaches.

Prior to any effort or work God commands from us, He assures us in numerous places what He has already accomplished FOR us. (chose, created, sought, rescued, redeemed, and saved us). And in view of THOSE mercies, we are to TRUST HIM. For hasn’t He already proven to us that He is worthy of our trust?

How that command to trust Him relieved the burden of my dreaded class was in this way:

  • I don’t know what God is doing in the interactions between my class and me.  Most of the time I FEEL ineffective with them.
  • But I willed myself to trust Him, the all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful Sovereign of the universe.
  • And having committed myself to trust Him this day, I resolved to DO GOOD.

But what did ‘do good’ look like? For me, this morning, I taught French to my class in a way that was sensitive to their moods, abilities and comprehension and did not fret with what they gained from the class.  I did not take personally their bored 13-year-old faces or their chattiness about other topics IN FRENCH class!   I trusted God, did ‘good’ and let it rest.

This particular crop of students is weak. Their abilities probably don’t have as much to do with my skill as a teacher as I think. But God has placed me at that school with those children for His purposes. His plans are good and I will commit to being faithful in my assignment through the power the Holy Spirit gives me.  That is all He expects.

 

 

What’s at the bottom of your cup?

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Has someone bumped into you recently?

spilled-coffee

What was your reaction?

What came out of your mouth the last time your flight was cancelled and the airlines lost your luggage, upsetting your plans?

John Piper repeats often that what we are REALLY like is made evident in how we respond unconsciously to life’s ‘bumps’.  In fact he goes so far as to teach that only about 10 % of our thoughts/actions and words are pre-meditated. The vast majority turn out to be unconscious.

But, we can influence our subconscious mind.  It turns out that our life and its impact on others depend on what we pour into our ‘cup’.  Just what is this ‘cup’?

If we consider that we carry around a perpetual reservoir of feelings, thoughts, and desires out of which spring our reactions, we might take care to pre-pack the tank with some truths that will soak up any acid that life’s bumps might activate!

Recently I heard Tim Keller refer to the sweetness at the bottom of his heart.  The context was the very fact or existence of a Christian’s inheritance, something about which we meditate little.

John Newton, puritan pastor from 200 + years ago also nurtured himself in Gospel facts. Quoting from Newton’s preface to The Olney Hymns (a Newton- William Cowper collaboration) Pastor John Piper shared this encouragement: “The views I have received of the doctrines of grace are essential to my peace; I could not live comfortably a day, or an hour, without them.

I’ve taken to heart this wisdom from the past.  Given the political and social chaos of our times, I am choosing to limit my intake of what is fleeting in favor of focusing proportionally far more on what I know to be True, Beautiful, Good and forever. Those are the truths of my inheritance, purchased for me by Jesus, imparted to me by the Holy Spirit and lovingly planned for me by Father God.

But unless I meditate on them, they won’t seep down into my ‘reservoir’.  They won’t line my cup.

Listen to Thomas Manton, another puritan pastor from a previous century: “The promise of eternal life is left with us in the gospel, but who puts in for a share? Who longs for it? Who takes hold of it? Who gives all diligence to make it sure? Who desires to go and see it? Oh, that I might be dissolved, and be with Christ! If these hopes have so little an influence on us, it is a sign we do not cherish them more in our hearts.”  (published originally in a book, By faith, sermons on Hebrews – volume two, pages 16 and 17)

I don’t SET MY MIND enough on things above, where Christ is seated. (Colossians 3:2)

But what about those mornings when you don’t wake up with a ‘full tank’ of Gospel truth? What about those times when you can’t find it in yourself to rejoice?

Dig into this rich food for your breakfast.  (before any screen time!) Your cold heart can’t help but warm up if you soak awhile in this series of facts from the Heidelberg Catechism:

What is your only comfort in life and death? 

That I am not my own, 1
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death, 2
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 3
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood, 4
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil. 5
He also preserves me in such a way 6
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head; 7
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation. 8
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life 9
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

 

 

What’s your: ‘Well, at least I…..

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Lion and Christians - endurance

Luke 21: 16 – 19 (NET)  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well at least…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sheep

What do you do with your suffering?

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Suffering

 

 

 

If you can commit to reading one ‘meaty’ book this summer that will bless you, invest the time in Tim Keller’s work:

Walking with God through pain and suffering

Here’s what resonated this morning during my 10 minutes (I’ve been reading just a few pages at the end of my quiet time):

Boiled down….

  • Either God is the ‘supporting actor or accomplice’ in the drama called Me or He is God and I am not guaranteed that I’ll understand all His ways in my life.

Framing God as MY helper results in the following:

  • ‘desperate, doomed, exhausting effort to control all the circumstances of my life’
  • anxiety about how my life will turn out – Maybe God won’t answer my prayer THIS way!
  • the burden of thinking my life is up to me and my prayers
  • the fear of ‘bad stuff’ happening to those whom I love: what if?????

what if

 

 

  •  By planning out how God should act in my circumstances and solve the problems of those I love, I’ve actually created an IDOL, a version of God that suits me, despite the anxiety I experience.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

The one and only true and living God offers a way out if I…..:

  • Acknowledge that He alone is God and there is no other
  • His ways are best.  He IS the Creator and Sustainer of all life
  • He doesn’t owe me an explanation; after all He is transcendant and I’m finite.  I doubt I’d understand all that He is doing even if He told me!
  • There can be only one Happy Controller, King of Kings & Lord of Lords – and that job is taken! (1 Tim  6:15)

Tim Keller draws from Elizabeth Elliot’s writings.  She’s the widow of Jim Elliot who was murdered by those to whom he was witnessing.  She has known more suffering than a lot of us.  Out of the richness of  lessons learned through pain, she cautions against figuring out God’s reasons for suffering.

When we find ourselves praying from a belief system we’ve created ourselves, “My God would never do XYZ!”, then we should be alerted to our own idolatry.

Idolatry

 

 

 

Elliot recounts the story of a missionary who lived in constant anxiety:

  • ‘Margaret realizes that the demise of her plans had shattered her false god, and now she was free for the first time to worship the True One.  When serving the god-of-my-plans, she had been extraordinarily anxious.  She had never been sure that God was going to come through for her and “get it right.”  She was always trying to figure out how to bring God to do what she had planned.  But she had not really been treating him as God – as the all-wise, all-good, all-powerful one.  Now she had been liberated to put her hope NOT in her agendas and plans but in God himself.  If she could make this change, it would bring a rest and security she had never had.’  (p. 172, Keller)

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while,  you might recall that two years ago I read another book about letting God be God called Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow: Link to her book here.  That’s where I learned about handing over the reins of my life to God.  Obviously reading one book and discussing it with a friend was not enough to cause lasting change!  Thank you Tim Keller for providing another reminder of the burden/sin /illusion of control.

Question: Do you really want to control your own life? 

Controlling my life

 

 

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

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