Fruit of NOT worrying

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Gentleness

 

Because my tendency to worry is one of my on-going battles with sin,  I’m drawn to pray and read God’s Word in hopes that I will be courageous enough to kill off this habit.  My last few posts have chronicled explorations in living ‘WORRY-FREE’, even if only for short periods of time.

Recently I was surprised when I was re-reading the famous passage in Philippians 4 where God says through Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What struck me this time was how GENTLENESS was set up in contrast to ANXIETY, aka WORRY.

It seems that God is saying that when we are NOT worried, then we can afford to be gentle with others, with ourselves, and all the potential annoying impediments to ‘our agenda’.

But under what kinds of circumstances could anyone NOT be worried?  Is it when we actually ARE care-free?  By all means NO.  If that were the case, then a life without worry would seem like ‘pie in the sky, by and by’!

No, a worry-free life FILLED with stress is what is described here, I think. Remember, this is Paul, the sometime on-the-run church planter and traveling pastor and inveterate writer. The one who was whipped, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, imprisoned and finally murdered.  He learned, practiced and encouraged fellow Christians by his example.

When we actually believe God and trust Him enough to hand over each and every (big and little) concern/worry/problem/situation/stress (whatever we euphemistically use to call that which consumes our thoughts and drives our negative feelings), we are beginning to learn how not to be anxious.

Casting Cares and Worries

 

Being gentle is the byproduct of entrusting God with all of our circumstances and ‘situations’.  It’s also a blatant statement of our belief in the sovereign control of God over every single circumstance.

I’m reading Elizabeth Elliot’s 1976 book entitled: Let Me Be a Woman.  It’s a collection of letters of advice to her one and only daughter who is on the verge of marriage.  In chapter/letter/essay 33 she proclaims this fact:

‘What a relief it is to know that there is a divine design.  This knowledge is the secret of serenity. Jesus is the perfect example of a human life lived in serenity and obedience to the Father’s will.  He moved through the events of His life without fuss or hurry. He met men and women with grace.  He was able to say, “I do always those things that please the Father”……’

That whiff of a life lived gently, without anxiety or rush, doesn’t that appeal to you?  But does it sound TOO good to be true?  Did it only work for Jesus because He was God’s son?  Did it only work for Paul because he was super-apostle?

I’m sensing an actual growing excitement that this way of living could actually be true.  But if I can’t turn to my every day ordinary mess and apply God’s command ‘cum’ promise, then it doesn’t apply anywhere and it’s a patent lie.

The way I figure it, I have nothing to lose. I’m banking on God’s character, that every word He has uttered is true because HE is truth.

So:

  • problemsome 6th grade boys
  • bouts of constipation (just being real!)
  • potential of not meeting my principal’s expectations
  • a busy last week in September that might eat into ‘Maria Time’

all these I’m casting, casting….. hourly throughout each day ……on God for He IS the one who IS taking care of me.

 

One size fits all –the Belt of Truth

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As I get dressed each morning with my Gospel armor (Eph 6: 11-17), I’ve been trying to translate the different items of clothing into words that calm my anxious soul.  Since the first item God calls us to put on is the Belt of Truth, I’ve been examining how I feel about belts in general.

Belts make me feel fat. I hardly ever wear a belt.

But I don’t think God has chosen this protection to point out a flaw in my natural self. (Thank you, Pop, for passing on not only your bone structure but your appetite for food!)

Au contraire, if the cinching up of His Heavenly belt causes any discomfort, it’s because I have needless layers covering my naked body.

What might some of those coverings be?  I’ll show you my 2 closets.  Closet A offers the good things I’ve done.   Closet B holds all the bad things I’ve done or the bad thoughts that dominate my thinking.

A stuff:

  • I weighed under 125 this morning; I’m on my way back to 122!
  • My students responded enthusiastically yesterday to my well-delivered instruction
  • I knocked out a good number of items on my To-Do list
  • I did something yesterday to qualify as a ‘good’ wife, daughter-in-law, mom, grandmother, friend, neighbor
  • I served at Church this week

B stuff:

  • I’m up a pound and I am probably never going to get back down to 122
  • Those ‘good chores’ I should do in various relationships are hanging over me
  • I was a boring teacher yesterday and it’s all my fault
  • I’m not doing enough at Church
  • I should be out sharing the Gospel with neighbors on my street.  And I should ask Ann over for dinner.  What kind of caring Christian am I that I ignore the widow 2 doors down??!!!
  • I should be doing stuff to fix up my house
  • I’m just a selfish person whose idol and chief passion is MY COMFORT and MY TIME
  • I wish I didn’t have to go to work today and could stay home and putter around on the computer and read.
  • I’m not earning enough money, thereby putting pressure on my husband to stay in a job he hates

This is just a sample of how I dress each morning.  No wonder God’s belt of truth is tight!

Thinking about what the Bible means, however, has been a blessing.  The truth is, God’s belt will fit comfortably and actually console and bless me if I let myself be unadorned, exposed in front of God.

There is no need to hide our true self, since He actually bids us to come ‘au naturel’:

  • Just as we are
  • Naked and unashamed (He knows all about us, anyway!)
  • Transparent and unafraid
  • Trusting Him to dress us with Christ’s righteousness

The belt of truth is actually the ideal size for each one of us.  But it only fits comfortably; it only blesses us, if we have the courage to drop the cover-ups of accomplishments as well as the scarlet layers of supposed guilty consciences.

Think of the time saved in the morning, if we dress only in God’s clothing!

PS:  there is actually another layer that I must shed if the belt of truth is to fit easily…the extra baggage of unconfessed sin.  This belt is, after all, God’s belt of TRUTH!  Why cling to my fig leaf when I can be free!  And He adds a little pressure for our own good.  In the end, facing Him honestly, coming clean and being released from the weighty sentence of guilt liberates us   If we don’t… that belt gets harder to wear.

Psalm 32: 3-5  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Information Overload v. Applied Knowledge

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But we have this treasure, in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not ourselves. (2 Cor 4:7)

I am overwhelmed by information.  Because of the űber-abundance of blog-posts… you-tube videos…. search engines…. people’s opinions ad infinitum (et ad nauseum) I find myself unable to keep up.  Of course I am the one who has defined what comes into my backyard.  I am the gatekeeper.  Yet even knowing that I myself have chosen certain podcasts, blogs, correspondances, magazines, and papers, their presence in my world have become a burden.  Who or what will rescue me from this increasing feeling of lack of time?

Merci au Seigneur – thank the Lord.  His word has clarified the distinction between information and knowledge.  And THAT has helped me re-think the situation.  There will always be more information than I can take in.  But information is of no use until it becomes meaningful to me in the form of knowledge.  I see knowledge as information that I have chewed and processed and lodged on my treed, my framework of thinking.   When that ‘knowledge-byte’ is accessible and useful, and grounded in Biblical truth, it can serve to guide me in life choices.

I am struck by how often the word knows/knowledge is used in Scripture.  Consider how it is used in the 2 Corinthians passage in Chapter 4 –

6 For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, has shone in our hearts so as to givethe light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  7 But we have this treasure injars of clay,to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

I think that ‘treasure ‘is this knowledge of the ‘god-ness’ or glory of Jesus and the fact that we KNOW that He is in us via the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday I was reading a devotion written by J.I. Packer and found myself SO relieved by how he interpreted verse 5 in the Romans 5 passage where Paul assures us that “… hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

This verse has always felt like an indictment of my lack of Christian love because I don’t FEEL that love in my heart.  But Packer described it as the KNOWLEDGE of God’s love.  Now THAT I can relate to, for I’m reminded that,

God demonstrates and clearly proves his love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”?  (Rom 5:8)

I see that knowing, i.e. remembering truths about God is what I called wisdom when applied to one’s life.

We come full circle.  Part of that wisdom is the ability to set limits.  And God actually helps.  Part of my frustration with the abundance of information out there originates in the 24 hour day.  God has set up boundaries.  I bump up or crash into them, but they are there for my own good.  They force me to assess, to make choices.  I want to be able to say with the Psalmist, ‘the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.  I have a good & beautiful heritage.’ (Ps 16)

What about Adam?

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The June 2011 issue of “Christianity Today” features a provocative report about the churn among Christians over whether Adam & Eve were historical individuals as portrayed in the Bible.  Francis Collins who currently is director of a Senate-approved agency (National Institutes of Health) considers himself Christian and favors theistic evolution.  As director of the Human Genome Project (completed in 2003) Collins and colleagues mapped out gene sequencing in humans.  Collins has concluded from this study, as reported in a book he recently co-authored (The Language of Science and Faith), that “Adam & Eve as the literal first couple and ancestors of all humans do not fit the evidence”.

This assumption is disturbing on two accounts: First of all, those who support the findings and support theistic evolution minimize the impact of their assertions.  Second and more fraught with potential harm, is the implication for much of Biblical Theology and directly the trustworthiness of the Bible.  I will address the second of these issues.

The author of the “Christianity Today” article, Richard Ostling, correctly articulates what is at stake:

–      Humans’ unique status as image bearers of God

–      The doctrine of original sin and the fall

–      The genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3

–      Jesus’ teaching that all of the Old Testament points to Him (Luke 24)

–      Paul’s teaching that links the historical Adam with redemption through Christ

This issue is different from the debate among evangelical Christians who argue Old Earth vs. Young Earth.  In that arena, it is clearer that there are at least two possible interpretations.  The Bible refers to days (yowm) spent in creating the world.  In Hebrew ‘yowm/Strongs H3117’ can mean 24 hours, a year or a long period of time.  So the creation account is open to discussion without raising the trustworthiness of the Bible as an issue.

But if there is not a literal and historical Adam, then here are the implications:

-God did NOT decide as a Trinitarian unit to make man in His image, male and female (Gen 1:27)

-God did NOT have a conversation with Adam in Gen 2:16-17

-Eve did NOT talk with Satan as serpent in Gen 3:1-5

-Eve did NOT sin in Gen 3:6

-No sudden guilt, shame and cover-up happened in Gen 3:7

-No face-to-face encounter between God and the first couple took place in Gen 3:8-9

-Adam & Eve did not try to pass the buck, playing the blame game in Gen 3:11-13

-Gospel Hope was not first preached in Gen 3:15

-No penalty for sin was announced in Gen 3:16-19, thereby explaining what is wrong with our world

Given the above, I spent a sleepless night this past weekend.  I had to contemplate what it would mean NOT to trust that every word of the Bible is sovereignly breathed out by God. For 12-15 hours, I floated in a nightmarish free-for-all.  In that land, Jesus is no longer my living Rock (Psalm 18:46), no longer my reliable/faithful/true shield and bulwark/defending fortress that protects me (Psalm 91:4)   If I can’t count on God’s word as true, there is no truth.

But wishing doesn’t make it so.

How do we determine that the Bible is reliable and trustworthy as it is written?  What about scientific discoveries that seem to point to other conclusions?  I have no scientific background, but I am a bit more equipped to reason philosophically.  And that is the approach I want briefly to try out.  It is not enough to just say, “The Bible claims to be the true word of God, so it must be so.” That is circular reasoning.  We are trying to prove why the Bible is trustworthy.

For the purposes of this discussion, I am starting with the pre-supposition that God exists. Here is how it goes from there:

For God to be God, He has to be supernatural.  He has to be all-powerful and all-knowing.  And from everything I have witnessed in life, He is also all-good. What is my evidence? : my life, the lives of Christian friends, the accounts of dead ‘saints’ and the historical events of Biblical characters.  In all of these, there is evidence of God working through ‘bad’ circumstances in lives to bring about amazing results.  Having established that He is supernaturally all-good, He also has to be completely truthful and dependable. For someone who is good cannot lie or be wishy-washy.

So, if a transcendent god with these qualities were to ordain that a document be written for the benefit of his creation, would it not follow that this document would be a reflection of his character?   In our everyday life, what we say and do springs from who we are. It is only logical that the same would pertain to this god.   It is therefore ‘reasonable’ ( in the true sense of the word, i.e. logical) to assume that the Bible reflects the character of God.  If God is trustworthy and faithful and true, then so is His Word.  At this point, we can then add what the Bible says about itself.  There are many verses, but here are two that come to mind:

–      Psalm 19: 7-9 gives many adjectives about God’s written word.  It is PERFECT, SURE, RIGHT, PURE, ENDURING, TRUE and RIGHTEOUS

–      Hebrews 4:12 says that God’s word is ALIVE, ACTIVE, EFFECTUAL and FULL OF POWER.

Finally, Jesus who is God, Himself validated the entire Old Testament when He explicitly taught some of the disciples who had been walking to Emmaus.  Over a meal, He showed them how the Pentateuch (includes Genesis) and the Prophets all pointed to Him. (Luke 24:27)

Thinking this through settles the issue for me.  God’s Word IS true and reliable and worth centering my life on.  What about the Human Genome Project?  I don’t know.  I will trust God to sort that out.  I don’t dismiss scientific inquiry. Neither do I default to submitting to science.  I don’t have to have all the answers to trust God, to rely on the Bible completely. I can take my concerns to God and lay them at His feet and trust that He will instruct me.  God is my lodestar.  That is the decision I have to make daily, hourly.

PS:   bereft of my bedrock for those few hours has had the sweet benefit of making me love the Bible all the more.  How precious are its words!  May we taste and see that He who is the Word is good.

The Scarlet Letter

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‘You are/ it is’ precede ‘you should/ it is necessary that…’  A basic understanding of grammar comes in handy.  In the Christian world, God tells us facts before he commands us to obey him.  He tells us what IS (his character, his accomplishments, his power, his plans and goals) before he tells us what to DO.

When we fall into the sin of legalism, it’s because we’ve harnessed the proverbial cart before the horse, i.e., the imperative (do this) before the indicative (what is).

Here’s how using the indicative can help in our own lives. My thesis is that unless we keep telling ourselves Truth, then we fall victim to feelings which can lead us around by the nose.  Imagine you’re in the car, impatient to get home when someone cuts you off.  If you’re like me, you’re likely to criticize that other driver and think the worst about him.  But if you knew an indicative, a fact, your feelings would likely change.  What if you knew that in that car was a young husband desperately speeding to get his very pregnant wife to the hospital.  Imagine her in labor, in pain and him feeling helpless and mindful of only one thing, his precious wife. Would that change how you feel about him cutting you off?  Of course!  You would offer him some slack.  More information changes your assessment, hence the conclusion you draw and feed yourself, hence your feelings.

This example came to mind the other day when I was meditating on Hebrews.  In chapter 10, the author says that if the people knew that one sacrifice would wipe out their sins once and for all, they would no longer feel guilty for those sins. (Hebr 10: 2b ….for the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.) That verse caused me to realize that I am not supposed to feel guilty for sins already forgiven.  The information that a sacrifice not only cleanses me, but takes away the guilt was new information.  And Jesus performed the one and only necessary sacrifice for sins AND for guilt.  When I still feel guilty after having been forgiven, I am forgetting a fact, an indicative.  Reminding myself of the fact that my guilt is taken away MAKES me feel differently.

The current message I’m receiving from the Bible and from sermons by RC Sproul and Tullian Tchividjian is how important the gospel message is to believers.  We need a steady daily diet of Gospel indicatives.  Our minds and hearts need to be saturated by the radical and scarcely-proclaimed message (one that is NOT intuitive, nor picked up by osmosis) of God’s grace and love. Culture daily bombards us with all the stuff we should do.  Guilt comes naturally in our culture.

I was brought to tears the other day listening to Tullian talk about the wonderful news of God’s grace.  He was illustrating it with an example of a student so stressed out by a high school honors class that she can’t perform.  In response the wise teacher guarantees her an A for the semester.   This A is contingent on NOTHING the student does, just on the kindness of the teacher.  From our perspective, this is an outrageous risk.  What if the student takes advantage of the ‘pre-destined A’?  Apparently that is a risk the teacher is willing to take.  In this real-life illustration, the high-school junior ended up relaxing and working hard and probably earning the A.  But she worked with peace of mind.

So too, we, have been given this ‘Scarlet Letter’, this predetermined grade of A, purchased in blood by Jesus.  It is a total gift.  We don’t have to do anything to earn it.  Furthermore, God won’t take it away from those he has given it to.  We can relax and learn from him.  We can trust this yoke, that it is easy.  Yet we chafe.  We would rather FEEL WORTHY.  Why is that?  Pernicious pride!  It offends us to have our opportunity  to earn WORTH taken away from us.  Somehow intrinsic value (totally up to God) doesn’t satisfy us.  This twisted thinking needs to be redeemed.  Only the daily drip method of life-giving Gospel truth can transform our minds.

The next time I start manufacturing pressure for myself, I need to pause and reflect.  Why am I feeling anxious?  What truth, fact, promise, and info about God do I need to remember?  What false conclusion am I drawing?  What am I trying to DO out of guilt or out of the idea that THIS is how ‘good’ Christians should act?  It is great news that I don’t have to DO anything.  I just have to ‘abide’ in Christ.  That means:  stay connected, keep my eyes on him, feed on him, hang out with him, be the Mary at his feet, rather than the Martha trying to get Jesus on her side against the ‘lazy ones’.

I want to wear this Scarlet Letter with pride!

Words & Doctrine Matter!

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As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:30-32

Words matter.  Many words are equivocal, they mean different things.  So two people can converse and think they are communicating when they really are not.  And if words matter, then content matters.

I had a conversation with someone close to me recently who has grown up in the church and uses all the right language but is not saved because of two problems.  Of course the main reason she is still not born again is that the Holy Spirit has yet to ‘quicken’ her.   The other problem is that she has words, but not the correct content. She would maintain that she believes in Jesus, that He is the Son of God and that He died for our sins.  But she doesn’t believe she is a sinner who has God’s wrath bearing down on her.  She believes that the idea of a wrathful God (‘the one portrayed in the Old Testament’) comes from a primitive people’s understanding of God.  The god she likes is the god of the New Testament, namely Jesus, and He is a god of love.

Let’s return to our verse in John.  Jesus says that if we are to know the Truth, then we have to abide in His word. Therefore, it is important to know the content of the word we are abiding in. If the word is a doctrine, then we need to know the exact meaning of words that explain that doctrine.  If the word is a person, i.e. the Logos/2nd person of the Trinity, then we need to agree on the character of that Logos.  We can’t just make up what we think the words mean, whether they refer to doctrine or a person.

So this dear woman is still locked up in her sins, not yet set free by the Truth.

Pray with me that I can clearly and persuasively argue three points:

a)   God’s plan for redemption is one story throughout both testaments. Furthermore, this overarching mega-story begins early in the Old Testament, when Adam & Eve fall and God provide animal skins to cover their nakedness.  Not much later, God’s rescue plan is reinforced with a hint of Christ’s sacrifice to come when a substitute animal is caught in a nearby bush.  Finally, Moses is instructed to set up and teach the people to observe an elaborate sacrificial system pointing to Jesus, with the offering of animals and the transferring of sins on the scapegoat

b)   Our God is one God with many attributes.  God’s loving-kindness (chesed) in the Old Testament is as well known as His hatred for sin.  Jesus’ love in the New Testament is as prominent as his discussion about Hell.  God does not change

c)    Finally, what one must do to be saved?  Being baptized and attending services does not make one a Christian.   I want to carefully lay out the plan of salvation and not assume this woman understands what terms mean.

I’m thankful that the results lie in God’s hands.  I’m to do my part and trust Him for the rest.  May I faithfully represent the truth without pride or condemnation, but with humility and love.

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