Sure remedy for anxiety – it’s as close as your face!

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No matter our maturity as Christians, we still struggle with worry and anxiety.  We all know that we are supposed to cast our cares into our Father’s lap, but earthly matters tend to dog our minds, keeping us sleepless.

worry

Jesus’ remedy against worry (which also serves as an explicit command to refrain from worrying – Just stop it!!) seems simplistic on the surface.

  • Matt 6:33 (don’t worry about the ordinary but necessary stuff of life, like non-Christians) But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and ALL these things will be added to you.

What struck me the other day were the first 3 letters of the command SEEK.  We’re to SEE, to LOOK UP from our immediate and pressing concern.  And what is the object we are to seek out?  God’s Kingdom.  

Now what in the world does THAT mean?  First things first, let’s hearken back to where we might have heard this phrase. One obvious place is in the Gospel of Mark, that quick-paced eyewitness account of Jesus’ ministry. Right from the get-go, Jesus travelled around proclaiming the startling news that because HE was HERE in their midst as the incarnate God on earth, that the Kingdom of God had arrived. 

I think that by intentionally SEEing this fact, the new government and what that implies, we can reboot.  That means we exhale our distracting thoughts and breathe in life-giving truths, like: 

  • If Jesus has inaugurated His kingdom, then He is also ruling it
  • that He loves me (how do I know that? – if I am trusting Him as my righteousness, then I have already accepted the fact that He died for me on purpose.  That’s pretty strong evidence of love, wouldn’t you say?)
  • that I have an inheritance awaiting me in the near future and hundreds of grace-filled promises at my disposal RIGHT NOW in the midst of all these troublesome situations

So at the break of the new day, in every circumstance, whether segueing to a new task or initiating a difficult conversation or fulfilling an obligation, we are to stop and look up and SEE reality, which is this: “King Jesus is alive and well and at God’s right hand praying for us and talking to His and our GOOD Father”

Well, what about the 2nd part – the exhortation to SEEk His righteousness?

The term ‘righteousness’ is an example of ‘METONYMY’, that is – a shorthand term representing a concept.  For example ‘Hollywood’ is a metonymy that stands for the US film industry.  Or calling a white-collar managerial-level employee a ‘suit’, or the top generals in the army are referred to as the ‘brass’.

Righteousness 

When Jesus calls us to stop being anxious like the pagans and SEE (consider, observe, remember, center back on, enjoy the fact of) evidence of His Kingdom, He also is reminding us to SEE Him.  The righteousness that goes along with the Kingdom IS Jesus.  Jesus is Jehovah-Tsedek, the LORD-Our Righteousness.

Again when we look up and center on Jesus, we lose the craziness.  The needs are still there, but we don’t have to panic or distract and fracture ourselves by all the pieces and layers of concerns.  Jesus has PROMISED to provide; He is trustworthy; we can therefore trust Him. 

For those of you who are interested, here are Strong’s definitions of the two Greek verbs.   Do you see how close in meaning they are? 

The Greek word for SEEK is 2212 or ZETEO – to search, look for, inquire, demand, 

The Greek word for SEE is 3708 or HORAO – to notice, perceive, recognize (and understand)

By the way, I heard a pastor mention that the most common command in the entire Bible IS the verb to SEE or LOOK (1100 times).  We even use this verb in everyday parlance when we’re trying to make a point. Did you ever hear anyone say: “Lookit!” to strengthen his case?

It DOES matter what we focus on, whether we use our physical eyes or the eyes of our hearts.  

And if Paul is correct, that we become more like Jesus by looking at Him, then why not really take Him at His word and shift our gaze from our very present and real worries to the very present, real and powerful Creator of the Universe, Jesus Christ who ALWAYS acts righteously. 

taste and see

I

The twin evils of smugness and envy

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I was feeling smug. Admiring my ability to juggle this and that. Compared to others.  Evaluating myself next to another sister. He pulled me up short. As realization of sin spread, so did horror.

Juggling life

“I repent, Lord! Forgive me! I see! Truly! I humble myself. You don’t need to do anything else to get my attention. Seriously!”

 

For what had flashed across my consciousness about God was this:

“You, the all-wise and infinitely good God, have perfectly arranged this fellow Christian’s plate with the appropriate palate of weaknesses, strengths, characteristics, bents, abilities, talents, habits (good and bad), circumstances, and experiences all intended for her to grow in the knowledge and love of your Son. Every piece on that plate of hers is necessary to her sanctification and growth in holiness. You planned each one, the good and the ugly!”

And You have done the same for me. Who am I to boast about this or that as though they were due to my efforts and smarts? All along You are the one who has traced out our paths? And more pointedly, who am I to complain about the potholes in the road if they are according to Your will?

“Father, I see that this constant comparing of me with others produce either envy or pride and both are evil! Deliver me from these sins, please! Pride says: Look at me!  Envy says: You are a bad God not to give me what I want/deserve!

Since that day a week ago, He has continued to show me that He does indeed ordain and govern all circumstances. Because He is in charge of every molecule in the universe I can trust what He commands me to do:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6-8

Not evaluating, not judging the circumstances of others is wise. That’s God’s business. Do you remember Peter’s comment to Jesus as told by John after Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples post resurrection?

“So Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man? Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’” John 21:21-22

Several times a day as my smug-o-meter rises, (that is – when I awake to this sin), I put myself back in my place. I say to myself:

“Maria, you have died! And the life you now live, you live by faith in Jesus. (Gal 2:20) That is to say – you move and live and have your being attached to Him. If there be any good in your life, it is only good because of Him. So give it up, this thinking that there is something good in or about you alone!”

That truth not only humbles me, but it liberates me. Since all that is good in me through faith is a gift, I don’t have to worry about earning it. And since Jesus has given me the most costly gift, Himself, I can trust Him to give me any and all such that He deems good for me for godliness and life (2 Peter 1:3)

PS:  When I caught myself later on in the week doing my ‘I’m-so-good dance’, I realized that God was showing me a specific way to PRAY for this fellow Christian.  Again, I repented.  We are all different, intentionally.  He has arranged each of us in the Body of Christ as He sees fit.  Therefore, we are to encourage and pray for one another. It’s in our best interests, after all.  Another gentle smack-down!

It’s good to be a sheep

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sheep

 

 

Psalm 23:1, 3  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want……He restores my soul. 

What peace and grounding there is to be found in the first psalm I ever remember learning.  Thank you, Cousin Terry, for reminding me of the rest and assurance that is available to all believers!

We were catching up over the phone.  In response to my question of how she was doing financially (she lives on a fixed income), she confidently recited verse 1, that she lacked and desired nothing due to our shepherding Lord.

After we hung up, I savored recalling each truth and promise packed into those six verses of the 23rd psalm.

Here are my take-aways from just one and a half verses:

From verse 1 –

  • I’m a sheep.  As a simple beast, I don’t have the vision or the wisdom to know where to find green fields and clean, refreshing waters.  I need a GOOD shepherd.  Yet most of the time I operate as though I know what is best for me and where I should head.
  • The shepherd knows me well.  After all, He is MY shepherd.  That means I am HIS little sheep.  I belong to him.  And Jesus knows best how to take care of me.  I act like a foolish beast when I don’t trust Him and His provision.
  • If I don’t have the thing I think I need or want, then that something is not what I should have at the moment. In fact, I will NEVER not have what my maker knows I need.

From  verse 3 –

  • Restoration is a big deal.  The Hebrew word shuwb (#7725 Strongs) refers to life-giving actions that my Shepherd performs, namely….RETURNS, REFRESHES, STRENGTHENS, REPAIRS, CONVERTS.  So often I’m scattered, distracted, worried, headed off on an unhealthy tangent or plan.  I NEED a wise and good shepherd who knows best and doesn’t hesitate to perform holy restoration/restauration.

feeding 4000

 

 

 

  • What Jesus, my Shepherd, repairs and restores is what the Old Testament calls the soul, or nephesh (#5315 Strongs). For the Hebrews, nephesh represents the entire YOU.   Your immaterial feelings, thoughts, pleasures, desires and dreams as well as your material or physical self.

Does that include my disappointments?  what about my ‘yet-to-be-realized dreams’? And my shame?  YES!

Does that include my energy and desires, my ‘get-up-and-go’ as my Dad used to call it? In a word, YES!

This master shepherd CAN and DOES guide, provide, love, encourage, feed, console, motivate and protect me in just the right amounts and combinations at the most kairos or propitious of times.

So with just 1 verse and a fragment, the Psalmist answers my anxiety.  God is always communicating a message of rest, of peace, of provision.  My life is not as complicated as I make it out to be.  And I bet yours isn’t either.  After all, if we are Christians, we know we are just sheep, senseless and stubborn at times, but well taken care of.  Aren’t you glad our Shepherd is committed to us?

Resting in Doctrine – God’s in charge!

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Job 14:5 -A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.

Psalm 139:16 -Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.

News of a recent hostage death has caused me to think through whether God is in charge or not.  What we believe about God is called doctrine and doctrines DO matter.  They affect our thoughts, which influence our feelings.  These rational and emotional aspects reside at different layers within us, some conscious and others beyond our conscious awareness.  It’s apparent to me that we are guided by thoughts and feelings originating in both camps, whether we know it or not.  Who hasn’t been appalled at a choice comment that slipped out before we could filter it: ‘Where did THAT come from?” we genuinely exclaim in horror.

Garbage in, Garbage out: ‘right’ thinking about God matters.  So what is ‘right’ thinking or doctrine when it comes to whether God is in control of all that happens in our universe? The Bible, the definitive source of doctrine, affirms that He is in fact the first cause* for all that happens. The term for that 100% authority and rule that belongs to God’s is His Sovereignty.

If a king is sovereign over his lands, then what he says is the law of the land.  How much more is it with God who is the author (hence – authority) and creator of all that IS.  And if He is sovereign, by definition then, that quality of being in charge includes the notion of having and exercising all power.  There is no such thing as impotent sovereignty.

Back to the hostage who died.  My heart goes out to the family who is dealing with pain and loss. If they are followers of God, there is one comfort that should hold them up in their grief:

God’s plan for their dear one was not thwarted.  Therefore, they need not take on all the piercing, painful ‘what ifs’ that often assault survivors.  Rescue attempts did not succeed because God sovereignly ordained the day the hostage would die.

This is NOT fatalism because that would mean that it doesn’t matter what one does, that regardless of our actions, the outcome is the same. God’s sovereignty is different because He chooses to carry out His will in our lives through both our human actions and His divine workings.  Rescue attempts ARE appropriate because they might be the means God uses to save lives.

We have an example of God sovereignly determining different outcomes with two of Jesus’ apostles.  James, son of Zebedee,  was the first to be murdered by the Romans.  Wasn’t anyone praying for his rescue?  Undoubtedly!  Then there was Peter, also imprisoned by the Romans.  This time similar prayers led to his miraculous rescue from jail. What made the difference?  God and His sovereign will!

So, why is this doctrine so important?  For one, it is PEACE-producing.  We don’t need to beat ourselves up with the ‘what-ifs’.  That self-inflicted torture implies our actions are sovereign.

So sweet is this aspect of God!  His unchanging character guarantees that His sovereign decrees will always be done.  This in turn lifts the immobilizing burden of possible mistakes off of me.

  • What if I make a wrong decision?
  • What if I should have known better than to make that trip to the Holy Land and fall prey to a terrorist attack?
  • What if I had taken a different route to the bank?
  • What if I had chosen a different spouse, a different job?
  • What if I hadn’t indulged in that immoral behavior?

I can easily wallow in regrets, if I start thinking that I am in charge of my life.

Jesus breathes comfort and peace into our troubled minds:

  • John 14:27 -Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

*Although God is the First Cause of all that happens, there are other doctrines that exclude Him from being charged with the evil we do. Even though God is sovereign, we are still guilty for bad stuff we do. That’s a complex theological discussion that I cannot take up here.

 

Be awed and encouraged by God’s plan for marriage

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I just listened to John Piper’s sermon (the 3rd in a series) about God’s view of marriage.  This will enlarge your vision of marriage and inspire you, whether you are single, thriving in your marriage or struggling. You can listen or read at this link.

Link to website for sermon

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Valentine's Day

 

Pop quizzes lead to good things

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Pop Quiz

It was pop quiz Tuesday apparently.  A long-standing besetting anguish ‘popped up’ again and I recognized it for what it was:

  • not only a spiritual attack BUT BOTH
  • a trial AND
  • a venue for one of those ‘good things’ that God promises NOT to withhold from me.

In Psalm 84:11 God promises:

For the LORD God is a sun and a shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

I’ve always LOVED that verse because it corrects my perspective when faced with a day when God did NOT give me the time I wanted to read, exercise, or get as much work done at school.  I say to myself:  “Having that time to read must NOT have been one of the ‘good things’ God intended for me today.”

This morning, however, when I was processing how to handle that reoccurring trial, James’ spin on tests was on my mind:

James 1:2:  Count it pure joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

And I saw the connection.

  • If God has promised NOT to withhold even one good thing from me this day
  • If trials are designed to prove my faith AND give me greater endurance and patience
  • If the final result of this endurance or steadfastness is completion (aka: looking like my Older Brother)
  • Then…..this testing/trial/pop quiz is a conduit to one of those GOOD THINGS that God has promised He won’t withhold from me.

Maybe that’s why James tells us to rejoice when our School Master announces a Pop Quiz!

 

Freedom from…….

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Acts 3:12 And when Peter saw it (the crowd’s amazement) he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?

Peter and John encountered a crippled man hanging outside the temple in Jerusalem as they were entering to pray with other Jews. Reduced to begging so he could buy his daily bread, this man probably did not expect a physical healing that day.

But Peter’s response to the uplifted face changed this man’s status:

  • But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!

More surprising than the healing miracle was what followed. The crowd turned to adulate Peter and John. Peter immediately deflected the praise in a way that I find LIBERATING!

Think about what Peter announced in verse 12 above. Neither human power nor man-practiced piety (habits of prayer, Bible study and charitable giving) was the source of the healing. He & John were simply conduits for God’s power. They were using derivative power. People are but like the moon whose light is a reflection of the sun’s radiance. The source of the apostles’ miracle was God alone.

Therefore, the credit goes to God alone. Were Peter to claim otherwise, it would be as silly as a gas grill taking credit for the ribs or steak that a man barbecues. The grill is the tool. So, too, are we tools and vessels in God’s hands. Any skill, strength, idea, or desire we display comes from God.

man grilling

 

 

As I pondered this account and applied it, I started to feel LESS special. But then I realized that if I don’t receive the credit, than I ALSO don’t bear the burden for the results.

God alone is responsible; so the outcome belongs to Him. I’m off the hook! I just have to be willing to be used by God, to offer back to Him for His use all that He has given me.

This shift in job description means in effect: No credit and no blame or condemnation from the One who counts. (That’s not to say that other people won’t feel free to criticize, but they’re just ‘fellow grills, or sauté pans’ or other tools in the hands of the King of Kings)

As soon as I started to breathe in this freedom and release some burdens, the Holy Spirit gently reminded me of all the attributes I claim as MINE. I knew immediately that He was directing my attention to those qualities I like to think make me unique, the ones I tend to boast in, to take credit for:

  • Time management skills
  • Fitness and eating routines
  • French and cooking talents
  • Desires to read and learn
  • ‘Natural’ abilities to initiate conversations with strangers and draw them out

But why do I think any of those desires and habits find their origin in me?

Hmm, definitely food for more thought. If I’m going to be free from the ultimate responsibility as a derivative created child of God, then I am also going to have to give up any thought of being exceptional BECAUSE of all that stuff.

Prayer: Father, help me! MAKE me glad to be Your ordinary utensil. Give me the desire and inclination to boast happily only in You.

 

Pop Quiz!

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Mexican Impasse

 

 

Ephesians 4:32  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you

Why did he bring up that old sin of mine?

I’m not often caught off guard, but his comment blind-sided me. It definitely related to the movie we were watching, but I hadn’t thought of that shameful chapter from my past for years.

My stunned silence in turn took him back. He hadn’t meant any – it was just a remark. My unexpected reaction so took him back and left him not knowing how to process what was happening.

A chilly distance and awkwardness descended upon us both.

We each felt put upon by the other. We each wanted the other to lay aside their feelings and make the effort to understand our surprise and hurt. It was a Mexican impasse.

Words weren’t adequate to work through the weight of feelings. I sat down to read the paper and he made his way to the ‘man-cave’ to smoke his post-prandial cigar.

Slowly there came over me a sense that I was being offered a pop quiz to plumb the genuineness of my verbal proclamations of love for my husband. Here was an occasion to put my money where my mouth was.

Do I truly love my husband as much as I tell him and others? If so, then aren’t his feelings important to me, even more so than MY own feelings?

And there he was, down in that cold place, next to the propane heater, trying to enjoy a cigar, but feeling UN-loved and MIS-understood and probably maligned.

Soft feelings of compassion replaced my desire first to be understood. A texting conversation began and after a flurry, I knew that offering him grace instead of holding out for what I thought I wanted (to be understood) was more satisfying. I went to bed in peace.

How did I know it was a pop quiz? Because the chapter in my book I picked up after our electronic back and forth addressed GIVING versus TAKING.   And John Piper’s devotional for the day was about forgiveness.

 

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