God uses ALL things, even the ‘Beast Within’

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I heard a sermon where the pastor made reference to Paul’s lament of not being able to control his inner beast:

Romans 7:21 – 24  So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Those most honest with themselves, especially Christians, will sometimes despair, like the ‘Super Apostle’ Paul, of ever being rescued from the struggle.  I think we ASSUME that eventual sanctification will rid us of this ‘can’t be me version!’.

Johnny Cash

 

Even contemporary cultural icons like Johnny Cash could recognize the battle within:  His song ‘The Beast In Me’  chronicles his struggle to tame the evil self within.  Lyrics to his song

 

 

My beast came out in a hurtful way a couple of days ago.  My mother-in-law is with us this week.  Driving back from a lovely outing to Biltmore, she and I were dancing around social issues and lightly touching the topic of her denomination when one of its prominent former leaders came up.  She made me chuckle when she called him a name that I would NOT have expected from the lips of an 85-year old dignified lady!

My choice when I got home was to:

  • tell Mike privately so he could share my smile
  • tell Mike in her presence as we were fixing dinner

Even though I KNEW that by raising it publicly I risked opening up a can of worms – i.e. discussion about areas of disagreement between Mike and his mom, the beast within me carried the day.

And the pattern I predicted bore its sour fruit.  My dad used to call what I did - ‘pulling wings off of flies’ (that deliberate engaging people in their soft spots with the intention of provoking and hurting them.)

As Mike and his mom engaged, his emotions got the better of him and the tenor of his voice changed in intensity and volume.  His mother criticized his MANNER of discussing the issue and he reacted to her criticism like he was a teen at home and the atmosphere got awkward.  I changed the subject feeling remorse and shame, knowing all along that I had deliberately set Mike up.

As you might have surmised, this is not the FIRST time I have deliberately stirred the pot with my poisonous words.

*

But God…!!!

Those wonder-filled, power-affirming 2 words:  as I repented and asked for forgiveness from my heavenly Father the next morning on my walk, I started praying for my husband’s heart and for his relationship with his mom.  I could tell that he had gone to bed bothered and sad.  We hadn’t talked about it.  But I know him.  And worse….I KNEW what I had done.

Later during that next day, I asked him if he were alright.  And he mentioned he was still bothered by the previous night.  As I had been praying for his heart, I just offered the suggestion that if he were to approach his mom and apologize for raising his voice, she might be so startled at this new behavior. And who knew just how God might use that softer side of Mike?  I offered this glimpse of his mom’s possible reaction and a way to clear the air as a suggestion.

He later reported to me that he had done the very thing….and felt better.

*

I re-learned two facts:

  • I need continually to be praying that only what is KIND, true and necessary be what comes out of my mouth. The corollary to THAT is that I must not forget that my first inclination at times is to do what is NOT loving and pleasing to my Father.
  • God IS able to use all our sin for our good and His glory.  Not that we should sin on freely, but that we don’t have to despair each time the beast pops his ugly head out –  unbidden.

Returning to Paul’s admission of his personal on-going struggle with his wicked nature, the comforting reminder in Romans 7 picks up with his question in verse 24b – Who will rescue me from this body of death?

verse 25 - THANKS BE TO GOD – THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD!

God works all things

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I’m thankful that I still have a few more days to practice kindness with my mom-in-law, relying on God to give me both the desire,  the will and the strength to keep the beast tied up!

One little insight – one big release

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cricizing others

 

 

 

 

John 21: 21-22 

(Speaking of the disciple John…) when Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

Mathew 7: 2 

..because the way that you judge others will be the way that you will be judged, and you will be evaluated by the standard with which you evaluate others.

**

For several years now, I have felt judged and found wanting by a person close to me. That is NOT a fun feeling.  As a result, I have kind of gone on the offensive, seeking to please this person to get on her good side.  Call it depositing brownie points in anticipation of the next time when I fail to meet her standards.

I have struggled with these negative vibrations/feelings:  ranging in thinking that they pointed to a real deficiency in me to deciding that they were groundless; that maybe indeed I had just imagined them!  Nonetheless, the feelings have kept me from relaxing around her and from feeling that being myself was NOT enough or allowed.  Like I always had to be on my best behavior.  Can you relate?

But the other day, I learned something….or rather observed something that freed me from this unequal balance.  I heard HER lament out loud the very deficiency for which I have felt blamed all these years. And suddenly I understood that SHE was the one imprisoned in a world of ‘guilt and shoulds’.  What I had perceived as a criticism of ME was the shadow of the heap of guilt and judgment she laid daily on herself. Suddenly I felt compassion for her and liberation for me.

Hard on yourself

 

 

 

 

Now I know more clearly how to pray for this friend. And…

I wonder whom I myself have burdened with an unfair judgment that is really a projection of a SELF-judgment!

What to do with fear, worry, doubt and self-pity

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Francis Frangipane quickly put his finger on just what fear, worry, doubt and self-pity are:  tools in the hand of the devil.

Frangipane - the 3 battlegrounds

In his book on spiritual warfare, Link to Amazon here, Frangipane explains how by recognizing when there is a disturbance to your peace, you can turn away from all those SELF-feelings and submit to God’s will.  The supernatural gift of peace that will flood or trickle back into your consciousness is actually a blow against Satan.

 

 

 

Here’s how this teaching has helped me during the past week.

Multiple times I caught myself worshipping the false God of the What If (that is – meditating on imaginary fearful scenarios – some of my temptations to worry focus on the safety of my kids and their families driving….)

When I caught myself worrying/fearing, I stopped and said:

  • This feeling is a tool from Satan
  • I’m serving a false god by spinning out these thoughts
  • Let me run back to the only true and living God
  • He tells me: “Don’t fear what they fear; do not be frightened” (1 Pet 3:14b)

A brief parenthetical explanation – I learned last weekend at the Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference in Orlando that to eliminate the satanic fears that plague us (what one speaker called ‘servile fear’ – akin to what a prisoner might experience being dragged off to be tortured and/or executed) we must replace them with the healthy, life-giving fear that God bestows on us when we are saved.  This is a ‘filial fear’.  This right view of God, called the Fear of the Lord, is similar to what a beloved and secure daughter or son feels toward the parent whom they want to make smile.

  • My God reminds me of the healthy kind of fear by saying, “Instead of those deadening, depressing fears you’ve indulged in, fear ME, the God who created you and who sustains you.  Then you will see clearly and be reminded that I have everything under control.  Keep your eyes on ME and step by step I will guide you because your heart is focused on submitting to my will.
  • Once I have thought this through (takes about 30 seconds), I breathe deeply and the peace flows back into my consciousness.

fear of the lord

 

 

 

 

 

*

As encouraged as I am by this new way of thinking, I want you to know how often I bow down to the god of fear and worry. I catch myself falling back into life-sucking thoughts multiple times in the day.  But I’m beginning to feel more powerful, now that I can talk back to the Master Liar and step back into the light.

talk back to the devil

Psalm 34: 7 to 9  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing

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

 

 

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.

 

If you’re going to dwell on something….

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If you’re anything like me, you might get caught up in ‘do-loops’ from time to time.  That’s when you can’t stop thinking about a problem or difficult situation and you go ’round and ’round, without getting anywhere.

Fast Merry Go Rounds on a playground

 

 

 

I have let myself get mired down in a situation like that – even though I have a teaching contract for next year, I keep thinking about other job possibilities.  The problem is – no doors have opened and few suitable situations loom – at least THAT I CAN SEE!

But what happens when you think about a problem?  You FEEL weighted down and depressed.  Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian speaker, has some advice:

Stop Thinking about a problem

 

 

 

 

 

But does that go far enough?  No!  If we don’t replace the now-forbidden topic with something else to think about, we’ll just go back to worrying about the same old problem!

The solution is to fix our gaze (our mind’s eye) on something else beside the problem.  This is what the Hebrew people experienced early in their desert wanderings with Moses.  In Numbers 21 the Jews complained about the food and water situation.  That was their problem.  And in their bitter recriminations -  a blatant slap in the face to God who had sprung them from Egyptian slavery, they looked at their lacks.

So God sent a worse problem – lethal biting snakes and many died.  But along with this punishment, God provided a way out for those who would alter the direction of their gaze.  Moses was instructed to cast a snake replica and fix it on top of a pole and hold it up.  Those who TRUSTED God’s instructions did what they were bidden, looked up at something other than their circumstances and were healed.

Moses and serpent on a pole

  •  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.  Numbers 21: 7 to 9

 

So, too, with us – if we want healing, we have to think about something else.

This account in Numbers is actually a picture of the Gospel in the Old Testament.  Just like those ‘wandering Jews’, we 21st century men and women are also practiced complainers against God.  And because of this inexcusable disobedience against our Maker, we are headed toward everlasting death.  But God has sent a remedy.  If we look up at Jesus and forsake our own attempts to save ourselves,  we can be healed.  The Son of God took the punishment we deserved by submitting to death on a cross.  His murder and resurrection produced 2 gifts for us:

One……

  • His death is both proof that the Father deemed the payment for OUR sins sufficient
  • Our trust in that ‘fait accompli’ means the payment applies to us

Two….

  • His resurrection to new life is proof that we too will also be raised
  • Our first-step trust** means we are now included IN Christ and are guaranteed to be raised to the New Heavens as well

(**Jesus’ death in our place only counts for us if we TRUST what God says about our dire condition and His Son’s work FOR us and if we STOP trying to save ourselves through what WE do)

Given all that (and that’s a lot), Paul tells us how to live in this sorrow-filled world:

  1. Rejoice in what the triune God (Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit) has done for you
  2. Give God all your problems
  3. Don’t think any more about those problems but INSTEAD about what is…true, noble, right and just, pure, lovely, acceptable, excellent and praiseworthy

The bottom line is this:  We become what we behold.

Become what you behold

Who wants to look like one of his or her problems!!!!

 

When measuring is a snare

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Get out of jail free

Romans 6:14 uses words to describe our ‘freedom’ card.

The first translation is from the NIV and the second is the Message

 

 

  • For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
  • Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

I’m reading a book that Graham gave me for Mothers’ Day.   Here’s the link  -  Punch Fear in the Face – Start

Jon Acuff Bk Punch Fear...
One of the author’s premises is that people have these internal voices that authoritatively talk to us in messages that are anything but positive.  And…(here is the kicker)..we BELIEVE them!  They are particularly active anytime we entertain a new direction like:

 

 

  • start an exercise program
  • go back to school
  • research a possible business idea
  • ask for a raise
  • confront another person who has hurt us
  • stop a bad habit
  • ask someone out for a date
  • audition for a part
  • apply for a job
  • dust off a dream
  • change churches

His remedy is to articulate out loud what the voices say, think about the message in the light of day and speak truth back to them, thereby quenching their power……for the time being. I actually had the courage, yesterday, to do just that and it was liberating. woman in the shower       I don’t like washing my hair because it means staying in the shower longer than normal which means I have to confront what I think is a poofy tummy (I know…TMI!).  For the first time, however, I recognized this thought as ONE OF THOSE INSIDIOUS VOICES!!.  So I talked back to it and said – “Wait a second.  A tummy is NOT a shoulder bone.  Shoulders are hard, tummies are round and soft – that’s just how they are made.  So what if it feels poofy?” And that was that – the voice went back into hiding and I was left feeling free!

I had read the above verse in Romans the other day and suddenly made the connection.  Anytime I MEASURE myself vis-à-vis others using an imaginary standard in my mind, I EITHER feel superior or inferior.  And what I have done for that moment is to step back INTO the prison cell of the Kingdom of Darkness where Law reigns and sin is the norm.

Measuring and comparing oneself to others is to forget that we have already been sprung from the World’s Way.  We have been transferred into the Kingdom of Light, by Grace.  We didn’t collect enough brownie points to EARN our way into it. We were liberated from our dark prison cell.  The door swung wide and we walked out into the Light where we have

  • value because God chose us and paid for our release
  • an inheritance we don’t have to earn
  • freedom NOT to play the ‘measurement’ game

In essence – we now live in OPEN space in the LIGHT under a completely different system that uses the currency of grace, not merit.

And….we find ourselves frequently running back to that dark prison of measuring ourselves in comparison to others, a system familiar to the point that it’s almost comforting.

prison bars

The good news is that the door stays open and we can turn around (repent) and walk back into the light.

Knowing that is like sticking your hand in your pocket and finding that Get Out of Jail Free card!

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