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

A radical solution to my ‘red lizard of sin’

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red lizard of sin  It can be reassuring to be surprised by what one reads. Reassuring because I’m encouraged to know God has plenty for me still to learn; therefore, there is no danger of growing bored!  But surprises can also deliver blows to the solar plexus.

It was just a few nights ago, April 23rd to be exact, when I opened up Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotional classic. See the text here. Dishes done, I relaxed cozily into a favorite spot on the sofa, coffee in hand, relishing the time to read.  The Holy Spirit had anything but a peaceful few minutes in store for me.  ‘Au contraire!’ A mini-torrent of conflicting thoughts captured my full attention.  Spurgeon opened like this:

We go to Christ for forgiveness, and then too often look to the law for power to fight our sins.”  Thereupon followed quotes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

Illustrating his point by using the example of the sin of an angry temper, Spurgeon pressed on, saying in essence, STOP trying to cope with the evil of the temper yourself (through willpower and good intentions) but deal with it in the same way that you trusted God for your salvation.

Curious and so far, in agreement, I read on.  Spurgeon’s verbs grew fierce.  He wasn’t talking about reducing the frequency or minimizing the damage from this sin, but KILLING it.  How? – By taking it to the cross for JESUS to give the deathblow.

About to sputter back, No thank you! I’m handling my sins in my own sweet time, with help from the Holy Spirit, I shut my mouth.  The Holy Spirit, through the bold words of this London preacher, had cut me off: I realized that WERE I to hand over a sin to Jesus to kill, FIRST OF ALL, I’d have to:

  • name the sin
  • then actually be willing to relinquish it, ALL of it!

Lock, stock and barrel

What’s the big deal, Maria?  Don’t you WANT to be free from your # One sin?

Well….., I’m not sure.  You see, over the past few days as I have I thought about what that FIRST besetting sin is, I have come to understand that before I hand it over, I actually must NAME it………

Drum roll copy

as……..(and this is embarrassing!)

  • the sin of being preoccupied with myself – of thinking of ME and what I want before I think of anything or anyone else.

When I thought of the occasional GOOD days when I TRY to be ‘other-centered’, those efforts don’t do anything more than assuage my conscience.  Resolves and self-control DON’T decrease my desire for and pleasure in indulging this sin – thinking about ME!  My ‘attempts to be good’ just make me feel self-righteous (more preoccupation with #1!)

Just when I was about to despair over this perpetual cycle, I heard a reminder of Jesus’ commitment to set us free with His truth! Jesus names sin for what it is – SLAVERY!  (John 8:32-34)  His audience sputters and reacts predictably (like me!) that as Abraham’s children, they’ve never been slaves. But Jesus counters with this shocking statement:

Whoever commits and practices sin is the slave of sin.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be enslaved any more.  So (picking up with Spurgeon’s reasoning) here is how to deal with this sin – trust Jesus to kill it just as we trusted Him to save us.  We can’t do either (save our souls, or spring free from sin), BUT we can turn to Him, trust Him and give Him free rein.

To that end, Spurgeon instructs us how to pray:

  • Lord, I have trusted You, and Your name is Jesus, for You save Your people from their sins. Lord, this is one of my sins; save me from it!”

Finally, as an ‘Amen’ Spurgeon eliminates all escape routes: “Your prayers, and your repentances, and your tears – the whole of them put together – are worth NOTHING apart from Him.  Only Jesus can do helpless sinners good, and helpless saints too.”

If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering what the red lizard at the start of this post symbolizes.  He embodies ‘sin’ on the shoulder of a fictional character in CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Read about how God kills THAT creature, thereby freeing the poor soul from bondage.

Passage here

A couple of conclusions I have drawn about this sin of shameless preoccupation:

  • I’m not the one to kill sin, Jesus is.  I just have to hand it over to Him.
  • For, the forceful sway of each and every sin has already been severed.  Jesus gripped that true indictment of Maria in His hand when the nail pierced it (and ALL the sins of His to-be-adopted brothers and sisters).
  • The power comes from re-calling the historical and effectual fact of the Cross

All that remains is to go out and enjoy new freedom, walking with the one and only champion and liberator, and heralding to all who would listen this good news.

When you look, what do you see?

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Fish on a plate

I heard of a freshman bio professor whose first lesson to his eager students was to study a fish on a plate and write down everything observed.  That’s it – no other instructions.  The professor even left the classroom leaving the students on their own.  Not very happy with the paucity of direction, some jotted down a few items and departed with a shrug.  Others added more, as they waited in vain for their biology instructor to return. Eventually, they pushed back their chairs and made their way to the door in puzzlement.

Two days later, students streamed into the class, sure that they were at last going to hear a lecture from this renown expert.

Same fish – again!

Same assignment – again!

Different reactions this time.  Pockets of grumbling, some annoyance, sighs of resignation…..  The professor didn’t stay around to respond.  A few entitled students packed up in a huff, muttering about not getting their money’s worth: others, remembering that they actually cared about the semester grade, settled down to add to their fish list.

The next week, to their initial but short-lived relief, the professor did not abandon them to THE FISH!  Instead, they felt some well-deserved humiliation when he gently chastised their impatience.  Explaining why observation was a skill worth developing, he opened up to them the primary task of a scientist.

Whether this event actually took place or it’s a ‘fish tale’ is not so important.  And in fact, I did hear a pastor recount seminary experience when his professor staged the same kind of exercise, using a single Bible verse.  They were to write down 50 points or thoughts generated from careful meditation of that one verse.  Again – a similar reaction of disbelief and initial frustration.

But the point is this: we often look without seeing.  To our detriment.

Isaiah 6:9 – And he (the Lord) said (to Isaiah), “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’”

Not wanting to miss any more spiritual nourishment than I have already, I’m learning to ask myself key questions when I study a verse, forcing myself to linger IN a text, studying a sentence, questioning word choice.  Years of listening to John Piper preach have helped me pick up some of his habits of the mind.  That man treats God’s Word like a tenacious dog with a bone, gnawing and enjoying it for all it’s worth, determined to get every last molecule of taste and pleasure.

dog and bone

Two places I’ve recently parked are the following:

God, via Paul, commands us to pray by/with the Spirit.

  • 1 Cor 14:15 Then what am I to do? I will pray with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will also pray [intelligently] with my mind and understanding; I will sing with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will sing [intelligently] with my mind and understanding also.

I’ve often tried to sort out what is meant by praying by/with the Spirit.  But the other day, the phrase ‘by myself’ surfaced in my conscious mind. Startled, I realized I had not yet pondered the question that seeks distinctions.  By what other means/power/source could one do something if not by/with the SPIRIT?  And specific to this verse, what OTHER ways of praying might there be?

  • by superstition
  • by myself
  • by rote repetition
  • by duty
  • by force of habit
  • by guilt
  • by fear

But God does not leave us to choose our means of prayer – if we are adopted children of God the Father, then we have His Holy Spirit in us permanently. Most assuredly, God means us to pray effectively by MEANS of and in DEPENDENCE on His supernatural power.  Knowing His intention, who would want to rely on himself?

Here’s one more example, a pair of verses with a word worth lingering over:

  • As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you KEEP my commandments, you will abide in my love. (John 15:9-10)

What does KEEP mean?  you keep what is valuable, you hold on to it, you guard and protect it.  Yes, one of the meanings the Greek word offers is ‘do or perform’ (tareo – Strong’s # 5083) but I can DO a duty without treasuring or wanting to please the one who issues the order.  I DON’T want to be a DUTIFUL daughter of my heavenly Father.  I want to WANT to please Him.  I think the key, at least for me, is to meditate and try to grasp the stunning news that Jesus loves me in the same way the Father loves Him!  Only by starting there, the magnitude of His surprising love for us, can I be drawn to wanting to please God.  Only by repeatedly returning to His love, do I WANT to walk in union with Him where He leads.

May it be said of me, “For the joy set before her, she walked with Jesus, enduring whatever she, in union with Jesus, suffered.” Joy

Is God sovereign even over my own sin?

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If you ask me to share my favorite attribute of God, I would respond without hesitation: His Sovereignty over every detail of life. As pastor and Bible teacher RC Sproul explains:

  • “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.”

As this fact about God has sunk root in my consciousness, I have grown less impatient when delays happen during the day, whether in traffic or in lines at the store. I’ve been able to create a possible scenario like: ‘Maybe God is preventing me from being involved in an accident’.

That kind of application is easy.  But what happened the other day shifted my mind to ponder other areas within God’s sovereign reach.

During this particular ‘occasion’ my pride intersected with my sin.

First my area of boasting:  “I’m the kind of gal who stays within bounds of food choices so that my body feels (and looks) lean”

Next my fall: But the FOOD looked SO good that I served myself a larger-than-I-should portion.  And like Eve in the garden, I took and ate.

Finally my sin: (not that my pride was not sin) “Yikes, now I feel uncomfortably full.  Oh, no!  I HATE this feeling- and it’s my fault.  How could I have done that!  I can’t stop obsessing about this feeling of fullness.  Why didn’t I stick with a smaller portion?” Self…self…self…self………down into me, away from Mike, away from happy thoughts about God that lift the burden of ME off my shoulders.

When it was time, to bed I headed:

  • to tossing and turning
  • to restless sleep interrupted with thoughts of ME
  • to the next morning with a soulful, self-absorbed greeting of God
  • to my walk, while listening to a John Piper sermon
  • to light and freedom from God, via a new thought!

hope light

Could it be that God is sovereign over even my own sin?  That this ‘lapse’ is part of His plan for growing me to depend more and more joyfully and comprehensively on Him for everything?

I had never even considered that His sovereignty extended to MY own sin. I wavered and the thought began to mist away.

But reason, in the form of a syllogism, rushed in to defend and grow this tiny flicker of hope:

Either God is sovereign over everything or He has no control over human and natural events

God IS sovereign over everything

Therefore, He has control over every human and natural event

What follows is mere corollary:

  • My sin/mistake/bad thing/poor judgment/lapse/evil/hurtful word/thoughtless or deliberate cruel action/ugly thought is part of the ‘everything’ that God has planned or ordained to unroll according to His purposes.
  • If I don’t FRET when traffic interrupts my plans, then I shouldn’t FRET when I act in ways I don’t like
  • Caveat – this does not mean that when I do bad stuff, it’s NOT bad stuff.  It IS bad and sinful.  And as my husband reminded me, Jesus has paid for each and every sin. Therefore, it’s not only POINTLESS but a display of lack of faith as well as a symptom of FALSE PRIDE to beat myself up.  Kinda like carrying out the old Catholic church ritual.

From those thoughts on my early morning walk, came the heart-lifting reminder and sure word that God is working ALL things for my good and His glory and even this humiliating/image-busting “it’s not like me to do….XYZ” event is in His Hand.

So I let the overeating of the previous evening go.  Just like that.  I haven’t yet processed the notion that all those years of self-absorption with food, débuting with 9 years of bulimia and the 32 years since then have been sovereignly allowed/planned by God. But this kairos moment is another reminder that God has called us to reason from His truth.  As Abraham Kuyper so reassuringly proclaimed:

  • “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

one square inch

My ‘stuff’ is included in that ‘square inch'; God IS working all the misery of my own doing as well as the misery that intersects my life from other second causes.  The God who created the universe and all that is in it IS the First Cause, or He is No cause. We can’t have it both ways.

My comfort is further bolstered by this account of wandering souls, stuck in misery of their own making:

Psalm 107: 10 to 14 –There were those who dwelt in darkness and the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains because they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High.  Therefore, He humbled their heart with labor; they stumbled and there was none to help.  Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses.  He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their bands apart.

Are you a one-thing person?

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Psalm 27:4

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

I’ve been distracted on and off this week by various good things.  We spent some delightful days with friends Joe & Mary in the rich, rolling farmlands of southwestern Missouri.

48 - Mary talks to chickens

Before this week I actually thought I had NO relationship with Missouri! Come to find out, not only was one of my daughters-in-law born in St. Louis, but also I had spent a week in St. Louis at a foreign language conference 3 years ago.  And I learned that Ferguson is part of St. Louis.

One topic that pulled away my energy and gaze was the possibility of modifying our eating/exercise routines.  It turned out that Joe cooks and eats ‘paleo’, following a certain gal’s version of food choice/prep. He also introduced us to the ‘Happy Body’ workout routine.  I devoured both books prominently perched in their kitchen.

What I noticed was that for a few days, my mind obsessed and was jazzed more by THOSE topics rather than in the eternal matters of MEGA value.  Listening via podcast to some God-centered talks by John Piper and others brought me back to my senses.

Yesterday, on our last leg of the trip home, I was meditating/reading Matthew 6:33: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

When you start to look at the significance of EACH word in a verse, fresh insights pop.  Here is what jumped out and sunk in for the first time:

  • SEEK – we don’t spend time hunting for something we don’t value.  So Jesus is saying in effect, “Make my kingdom your treasure”
  • SEEK – the objective is not obvious to the casual observer.  Effort and focus are needed. ‘Duh!‘, you say.  I realized that I can’t see/seek more than one thing at a time.
  • FIRST – heretofore, I thought first was more ‘chronos’-oriented.  But I looked up the Greek word for ‘first’ and it’s PROTOS (Strongs 4413), which means – ‘above all, top priority, chiefly’
  • KINGDOM – hmm, what am I going to do with a kingdom when I find it?  Certainly not conquer it, nor visit it as a tourist. I’m seeking a kingdom in order to find the King. He is what’s important. And if I find the King, I will be submitting to Him.  Lots of implications here!
  • HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS – not mine.  My life is not to be about adding more ‘subtitles’ or beefing up my résumé.  Who am I trying to impress? (if I’m honest, it’s YOU!)  But seriously, if I find this Kingdom and submit to this King, then I’ll be wearing the uniform/the colors of one of His gals, not my own colors.  And compared to those clothes, even my best show-offy threads are but grubby, stinky, fit-only-for-the-bin rags (see Isaiah 64:6)
  • ALL…ADDED – did you notice that there is nothing else we are counseled to seek once we have found His Kingdom? Everything we need (the stuff we angst over and which Jesus gently takes to task both His listeners and us His readers)

Here are some other verses that back up this ONE-THING orientation I sense God is calling me to cling to:

Luke 10: 40 to 42But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

After those verses, I can see that this ONE-THING focus is really about adopting or choosing a ONE-THOUGHT or ONE-TRACK mind.  In fact the Greek word for worried is MERIMNAO  (3309) or ‘thinking about many things’.

My favorite verse in the entire Bible – Psalm 84:11 actually addresses this mental posture as well.  God promises NOT to withhold any good from those who walk/live uprightly.  And wouldn’t you know it, ‘upright’ or TAMIYM (Hebrew 8549) means to be all in one piece, to be integral as opposed to scattered.

All the above to say this:  that when other stuff is front and center in my mind, I give away pieces of my life.  When I’m focused on Jesus, His good news, my status as an adopted child of the King, all that God the Father has given me, including the forever presence of my supernatural Counselor-Comforter, then Life and ‘Shalom’ return to me.

Father – thank you for reminding me each time I’m sucked away by some other compelling, luring, competing possible ‘first thing’.  Thank you for the vivid contrast I feel when you bring me to my senses, once again.  May I not wander off any more THIS day.  And when I awake and it’s a new day, be so kind as to remind me straight away of WHO and WHAT is my ONE THING, so I can live and feel WHOLE.  Amen!

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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!

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 makes you happy is a clue to who you are

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Matthew 16:26 – What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

“I need to get an A on my Psych test this week!”

  • Why?

“It’ll make me happy!”

  • Why?

“If I do well in my major, then I can get into a good grad program.”

  • Why do you want that?

“So I can have a career as a clinical psychologist”

  • Why?

“I think I’ll be happy in that profession and find it rewarding!”

  • Why?

“When I was a child, my family and I were greatly helped through some sessions with a counselor.  I think that I’d be happy assisting people the same way.”

The pastor who shared this scenario did not go any deeper with his questioning of the college student.  But had he probed closer, a possible subsequent question might have been:

  • Why does it make you happy to help people?

I think the truthful answer to that question is key to revealing the source of our hope, joy, value, identity, purpose – in a word, our VERY essence.

Here is why it matters.  If our hope, our happiness-source is anything but Jesus, we have engaged in a DOOMED quest for 2 reasons:

1) we’ll never be satisfied the way we are wired to be

2) we can lose THAT which we might gain

This reality came to a head for me on Friday.  I started my day at 4:20 am with my ritual worship at the alter of MY WEIGHT, aka the bathroom scale.  Talk about God’s sovereignty – He controls my body to such a degree for His good purposes, that just like previous days and weeks, I was stuck 5 pounds higher than I want to be…..a fact painful to me since November when I realized that I had added to Maria’s substance.

I KNEW that this moment was crucial, that I was battling idolatry and who and what was most important in my life.  I wrestled with this truth on my morning walk, recognizing the approaching ‘line in the sand’.

Line in the sand

Was I going to worship MY happiness or submit to God as Lord of my life?

So once again, I decided to abandon this morning ritual. (I don’t need the scales to help me eat in the manner that provides me with the most energy – we’re talking about something SICK in my soul, an obsession with the scales and a numeral!)  This time, I pray, the decision stays final.  (cynics or realists might rightly ask, “Where have I heard THAT resolve before?!”

Listening to John Piper’s sermon in the car on the way to school and applying his line of probative questions to what I describe as that which makes me happy, I saw the foolishness and futility of imbuing 5 pounds with THAT much power over me.

For MY bottom line with the weight idol is this: If I weigh X lbs, I’ll be happy.

That’s stupid!  Our lives are just a vapor,

As James says in chapter 4, verse 4- ….You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Why should you or I allocate that many resources of mind, heart and strength to the shell, the temporary? Where is my concern with the main part of me that will last eon upon eon of time?  And if, as the Bible teaches, we are going to be completely changed upon seeing Jesus face to face, why am I angsting over what will drop off and decay?

As our pastor Patrick quipped this morning: When we die, the nut that we were leaves behind the withered shell of our body. (That got me pondering: Am I a peanut, a chestnut, a walnut, a pistachio????)   I’m 57 years old.  This weight issue is OH,SO temporary and 40 years from now I won’t be even thinking about it.  So why waste my earthly energy TODAY worshipping the outer casing that is going to disintegrate?

Back to the title of this reflection:

Who are you?  Who am I?  Are we our own god?  or are we worshippers and lovers of the only true and living God?  Truth is – we have souls. We were created and wired only to be satisfied by the best – God, Himself.  Why waste our happiness on junk when we can experience a partial joy NOW learning about and savoring God, all along knowing that ‘fullness of joy‘ awaits us. (Psalm 16:11)

PS:  One final thought about the student who might have answered that her idea of happiness was helping others.  If we help others to FEEL good about ourselves, that is sin.  If we help others to PLEASE our heavenly Father and do that work in His strength, honoring Him in the process, that is what the Bible calls ‘good’.  Inner motivation DOES matter. The Pharisees sought man’s approval and esteem through outward ‘righteous’ behavior.  (Read again Jesus’ words in Luke 18:9-14)

 

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