Archive for the ‘ Christianity ’ Category

Grace is Sufficient

What are you gonna say to God

When all you do is pray to God

To take the thorn away?

And all you hear Him say is:

My grace, My grace

My grace is sufficient

My grace is sufficient

“Grace is sufficient” – Shane and Shane

I woke up this morning, like most mornings these days, feeling utterly exhausted.  I said a quick prayer to God asking Him to give me the strength, motivation, and energy to get me through the day, and thanking Him that He is faithful to do this every day.

Overall, I am extremely blessed.  I have a strong relationship with God and am blessed with a deep faith in His promises to provide for all my needs.  I have an amazing husband who loves me far more than I deserve.  I have shelter and a warm bed, plenty of food, a reliable car, a job I enjoy, good health, and dear friends.

Yet we all have struggles and difficulties, and mine right now is constant exhaustion as a result of the demands on my time.  Of course, what I often perceive as “my” time is in reality God’s time that He has stewarded to me to use for His glory and for my spiritual growth.  He is teaching me to humble myself before Him as I spend this time His way, not my way.  And while it is painful at times, death must take place in order for life to flourish.  (“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24)

As an introvert, I like to have a lot of quiet time at home in order to feel both physically and mentally refreshed and recharged.  But because of my husband’s and my schedule, that is not possible during this season of our life. I arise at 5:00 am and am away from home until 8:00 pm every weeknight, and weekends are nearly as hectic.  Most weeks, out of necessity, we do not have a Sabbath or a day of rest.  I think of my friends who have babies or young children and I cannot even fathom the exhaustion of being a mom.  I have newfound respect and admiration for my friends who are young mothers, as their job lasts from 5:00 am to 4:59 am every day.

I have been thinking lately about how easy it is for us to feel that we will be satisfied with things other than Jesus.  It is easy to think that I “need” more money, nicer stuff, uncomplicated relationships.  It is tempting to think that life would be better if I had more free time, or that I need more sleep.  Yet God’s grace is sufficient.  All I need is Him.  Literally, God’s grace is sufficient.

No matter what the struggle, all I need is Him.

Ultimately, the “good” things in my life do not point me towards my need for God.  I thank God for the blessings, but ultimately, if I had no struggle, it would be frighteningly easy to think I had it all together, that *I* was enough.  It is the hardship that reminds me that I desperately need God.  In my exhaustion, I want to feast on Him, I want to know Him better, I want to serve in His name, I want to sing praises to Him, I want to call out to Him for help.

I have good health and great friends.  Praise His name.

I am exhausted.  Praise His name.

I have food and shelter.  Praise His name.

I am struggling financially.  Praise His name.

I have an amazing husband who is my best friend.  Praise His name.

I long for more rest.  Praise His name.

I am His.  Praise His name.

Thinking on Fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7)

A friend asked me what I thought “fear of the Lord” means in Proverbs 1:7:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Many of us will know the textbook answer, but often it is good to think on what we already know, to continually remind ourselves of the Gospel (as Paul reminded believers of the Gospel in 1 Cor 15: 1-2: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.”)

I looked at several different translations of the Bible, all of which used the word “fear” but The Message version says “the first step in learning is bowing down to God.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary uses the word “reverence.”

I don’t ever read “fear of God” as the emotion we experience as we are afraid of something or anxious.  This type of emotional fear is not of God.  In the same way, I don’t see “love for God” as a warm, fuzzy emotion.  “Fear” and “love” are much deeper and are more evidenced by our attitude towards God and our behaviors than some fleeting emotion.

“Bowing down” implies making oneself less than, humble to, obedient to [God].  “Reverence” and “respect” imply working from the basic assumption that God is smarter that us, bigger than us, and more of an authority than us, so that even when we don’t “get” his law or “get” what He is doing, we work from the assumption that it is we who are flawed in our perceptions, not Him.  Thus we seek to follow Him and seek to know Him better.

I am reminded of Phil 2:7-8

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death —

even death on a cross!

It is true that my obedience or submitting myself to God’s law does not make Him love me any more.  Rather, I love Him (because He first loved me) so I act in obedience (and because He gives me the grace to do so).  Yet the more I grow in maturity, the more experience I have with obedience yielding good results (in general, the fruit of the Spirit – joy, peace, etc.).  Thus I am more likely to want to be obedient in the future.  My past obedience leads (not to God loving me more but) to increased knowledge of God and increased awareness of how He is working in me, how he is using my obedience in my life.

I think that knowledge of God and His character is synonymous with love for God (and maybe even love for His law/ obedience to it).

Fearing God, which seems to entail bowing down before Him in obedience and submission, leads to knowledge of His character and His love for me.

I do not learn God’s character or grow closer to Him by disobedience (“fools despise wisdom and instruction”).  A fool (or an unbeliever or someone who wishes to go his own way) does not learn about God’s character and His goodness.  A fool is blind to these things and does not get to experience the fruit of God’s love.  The fool does not get to experience deeper relationship with or knowledge of God.

Grace

I’ve been listening to a particular pastor via podcast lately who preaches very gospel-centered, expositional messages.   

Something I am becoming more aware of through digesting his sermons is that hearing the gospel, hearing about the character of God, hearing about the person of Jesus (1) makes me fall more in love with Him, and (2) heals me.  The healing leads to obedience, but I don’t think obedience in the sense of behavior modification (which is often how I subconsciously think about it) is the point.  Our sinful and frustratingly blind human nature, not to mention our current culture, and even church itself, makes obedience the point.  But I think that is our blindness, not the gospel.  I’m not saying obedience is irrelevant, just that our minds distort it into something it is not.

This has impacted me on a practical level (as well as the theoretical/theological level).  As I think about and adjust to marriage, it is so easy for me to approach my husband with advice like “spend more time in the Word,” “put on the armor of God,” “go to your brother when he has offended you,” etc.  I so often revert to behavioral modification language, and I admit that I may have even used the words, “why can’t you just . . . ?”. 

But the more I listen to the gospel message again and again, daily (gospel- and grace-centered sermons as well as the Bible itself), the more I think that what my husband needs from me, or what we all need from others, is for me to model Christ’s love to him.  In times of conflict, my prayer life is shifting to “Lord, how can I show him Christ’s love in this moment?”  This is grace: not that I would tell my husband (or anyone) about the Bible, but that I would be a living example of Christ’s love. 

Well, I fail miserably on a daily basis, of course.  I am insanely impatient and selfish.  I want to analyze everything and come up with an action plan (usually not the Christ-like approach).   Yet my new awareness is evidence that sanctification is taking place, that I am gaining a deeper understanding of the gospel, and that is exciting.

I think again, “What is healing for me in my life?” and thus, what is probably also healing for others that would enable me to better minister to them?  The answer is to be filled with the character of God, by hearing about the character of God (and/or the person of Jesus) and by experiencing it from others.  Hearing a list of things I “should” be doing as an obedient Christian is not healing or really all that helpful (especially, I think, for those of us who grew up with abusive parents who used guilt and fear as modes of punishment/behavior modification, as we erroneously tend to view God similarly to our parents’ nature).

Wildness and Control

A friend forwarded the following passage from the Ransomed Heart Daily Reading to several women and asked what we thought.

A Weary and Lonely Woman

Friday, August 05, 2011

 Emasculation happens in marriage as well. Women are often attracted to the wilder side of a man, but once having caught him they settle down to the task of domesticating him. Ironically, if he gives in he’ll resent her for it, and she in turn will wonder where the passion has gone. Most marriages wind up there. A weary and lonely woman asked me the other day, “How do I get my husband to come alive?” “Invite him to be dangerous,” I said. “You mean, I should let him get the motorcycle, right?” “Yep.” She shrank back, disappointment on her face. “I know you’re right, but I hate the idea. I’ve made him tame for years.”

 Think back to that great big lion in that tiny cage. Why would we put a man in a cage? For the same reason we put a lion there. For the same reason we put God there: he’s dangerous. To paraphrase Dorothy Sayers, we’ve also pared the claws of the Lion Cub of Judah. A man is a dangerous thing. Women don’t start wars. Violent crimes aren’t for the most part committed by women. Our prisons aren’t filled with women. Columbine wasn’t the work of two young girls. Obviously, something has gone wrong in the masculine soul, and the way we’ve decided to handle it is to take that dangerous nature away . . . entirely.

 (Wild at Heart , 82)

I am just starting out and have a lot to learn.  God is already revealing areas where I need His help to be a more Godly wife, areas where I need sanctification.  I also realize that there are vast areas of blindness where I may feel like I’m doing ok, but in God’s eyes, I am not.  I feel that God is revealing something important to me through the passage.

Two instances readily come to mind, once before we were married, and once after, where Smith expressed his “wild side” (truly not very wild, as he is very responsible, but they were situations relevant to the passage).  Both times, I felt the Spirit prompting me to be quiet (that gentle and quiet spirit described in 1 peter 3:4).  Both instances involved fun, somewhat frivolous ways that Smith could express himself, sort of like hobbies. 

At those moments, God brought to my mind how supportive Smith is when it comes to me getting my exercise and about my weird diet.  He also brought to mind how I will occasionally splurge on “frivolous” things for myself: makeup or something for the home.  He brought to mind how it is important for both of us as individuals to find ways to express ourselves through hobbies and interests (for which He gave us passion and skill).   

My point is that it is somewhat strange that at those times, the Spirit prompted me to be quiet

Meaning: There was a part of me that was tempted to say, “No, I don’t think you should do that.”  I don’t understand why this would be the case, since there really was no “good” reason for Smith not to do those things, and I can only conclude that this tendency to discourage him was my sinfulness.  The fact that I felt the Spirit’s leading/prompting necessarily meant that my human/sinful nature wanted something different.  I believe that this is my sin as a woman, the desire to control (or “domesticate,” as the article calls it), even to be tempted to control for no good reason!  This is the sin of all women, the result of the fall outlined in Genesis 3:16: “Then he said to the woman,  “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth.  And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”  Oh, how I hate my sin.  How I long to die to myself!

 I am thankful for gracious friends who remind me that my man needs to be a man (praise God!), and for increased awareness for the future.

Healing Through Relationships

 

 

I grew up Catholic, so I was exposed to religion for most of my life, but I first heard the gospel and came into a personal relationship with God not quite six years ago. To clarify, the gospel I speak of maintains that I am a sinner deserving eternal punishment, but because Christ lived a life free of sin, died on the cross, and suffered the agony of hell, my sins have been paid for and I am declared clean before God. My righteousness (cleanliness) is not based on anything I did or could do, but solely on the work of Jesus.

 Prior to my introduction to the gospel, I was finishing a graduate degree in counseling. In many ways, I use my formal education in virtually every relationship, no matter how superficial or deep. In other ways, as I have grown in my understanding of God and as He has worked to change me (to die to myself and become more Christ-like, though I am still very far from that, and can never achieve it in this lifetime), I have come to refute some of the truths I learned in school.

 For instance, my undergraduate education in psychology was strongly rooted in behaviorism. Behavior is the product of conditioning (association, reinforcement, etc.). I was under the impression that children’s behavior – or misbehavior, as it were – was a product of reinforcement. The reinforcements in the child’s life are likely very complex, as no one lives in a controlled laboratory. I could take this tangent much deeper, but for the sake of the point, I will leave my curious readers to learn more about behaviorism on their own, and say simply that children’s behavior is shaped by the reinforcements in their environment.

 However, after talking to my friends who are astute, insightful Christian moms, and observing young children interact with the world, and after coming into a deeper understanding of humanity from a spiritual perspective, I realize that children’s misbehavior is a product of their sinful nature, with which all of us are born. Don’t get me wrong, reinforcement works, but it is far from the whole story.

 It seems as though my thinking is expanding in the spiritual realm in such a way that the formal psychology and counseling education I endured only occupies a small part of the puzzle of life, and that in many ways, those lectures I absorbed are very far from the big picture. At times, I feel almost discouraged by this, though I don’t completely understand why. Do I feel that my education was a waste of time? (Not really. But something in that direction.)

 Today I had an insight that helped encourage me in connecting the psychological and spiritual. In graduate school, my professors always said that it is the relationship that matters. Your specific technique as a therapist is important on some level, but change occurs in the context of the relationship itself. You as the whole being are the crucial piece of therapy. This is where the counseling educators and therapists are right on target.

 I had a discussion with a friend who has a huge blind spot in her life as a result of long-standing family dysfunction. I was thinking to myself hours later that the only way she will grow and change and be able to eventually see the blind spot and heal is if she has healthy relationships with others, in part so that healthy communication is modeled to her, which will help reveal the unhealthiness in the family relationships. The other part is that God can work through these relationships in ways that are difficult to articulate, and part of what we call the mystery of God, as our finite minds can never fully comprehend His ways. My friend (and all of us) needs a healthy relationship with Christ, and also healthy female friendships that can model Christ’s love to her. It occurred to me, also, that this is exactly the aim of formal therapy. While many therapists are not Christian, the overall goal is to model a healthy relationship where growth can take place for the client.

 As I pondered all of this, I was immediately reminded of a passage I read recently from one of my new favorite books entitled, “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.” The author, Paul David Tripp, writes that “God’s redemptive activity always takes place in relationships,” both with God and with others. I did not think of relationships as being as crucial, really the only thing, as Tripp stated it, but the more I think about it, the more I see his point. He goes on to write that “our relationships do not belong to us, but they belong to the Lord and are holy.”

 I am thankful for my relationship with God and the healing that has taken place in my own life. I am thankful for my female friends who model Christ’s love for me daily. I am extremely thankful for my relationship with my mom, which after years of hurt and dysfunction, God was able to redeem it, and I can now call my mom my friend. I love her dearly.

On Being God’s Instrument

 

A plain ball-point pen in the hands of an average human being can make some cute doodles, but a pen in Rembrandt’s hands can create a masterpiece. It is not the pen – the instrument – that matters. Rather, it is the Author and Creator who can wield a glorious work of art from simple tools.

 When I was younger – a child, a teenager, a new college grad – I had big dreams and goals for my life. I observed grown-ups and thought to myself that few of them seemed to be very goal-oriented or intentional about personal growth. Most of them just seemed to live to get through each day. I have known a small handful of individuals who have admitted to keeping a list of goals for their lives, often arranged in categories, like physical, mental, spiritual, etc., and this has impressed me. I have often thought to myself through the years that I did not want to lose that sense of purposeful learning, growing, and striving.

 Periodically, maybe a couple of times a year, I pause to glance back through the recent past and imagine the future, and I am inspired to work towards a particular goal. Sometimes these goals are personal and internal, like training for a new goal in my workouts or learning how to create a new crafty project. Increasingly, the goals are spiritual, and I sense they are promptings from God, who is always growing and changing me (Phil 1:6: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”).

 The theme of my thoughts and prayers lately has centered around being an instrument of God. Over the past few years as my relationship with God has developed, I have been intentional about Him working *in* me; I have taken classes and read books to learn more about God, to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to die to myself and to live for Christ. While God has worked *through* me to some extent, I have not been as intentional about allowing Him to truly and deeply use my life.

 Providentially, as I have journaling and praying through these thoughts over the past month or so, our pastor’s sermon this weekend focused on this very issue. He quoted 1 Thessalonians 2: “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” I do not wish to just learn about God and allow Him to change me, though I do want to continue to be intentional in that way, and I do not desire for God to use only my skills, but I want Him to use my life. This year, I want to focus on intentionally becoming God’s instrument.

 As I have begun thinking this way, God has revealed to me several occasions where to say “yes” would be to serve another person, yet because of my selfishness and desire to avoid discomfort, I am tempted to say “no.” What kind of ambassador for Christ am I if I am praying that God would use me, yet the moment it infringes on my personal comfort, I shy away? I am thankful God is revealing these occasions to me.

 I have been reading the book “Instruments in the Redeemers Hands,” and Paul David Tripp, the author, writes that “everybody ministers and everybody needs ministry. . . I need to wake up in the morning and say, ‘God, I am a person in desperate need of help. Please send helpers my way and give me the humility to receive the help you have provided.’ And I need to pray further, ‘Lord, make me willing to help someone else see himself as you see him today.'” That passage is powerful to me. I want to be God’s instrument to help others see themselves as God sees them.

 There is much to unpack in these paragraphs, but blogs beg for brevity. Today I am thankful for a sweet love note from Smith. I am thankful for my health and strength. I am thankful for our cozy home and that I get to live with my best friend.

Purity of Heart

“Purity of heart is to will one thing.” -Soren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard maintained that when we strive for two different ends, there will always be confusion and strife. When our minds pull us in two different directions, we suffer, feel restless and dissatisfied, and we second guess ourselves.

Many times, we want one thing in our minds, but our behavior does not follow.  We want to lose weight, for instance, but we continue to eat things that prevent that goal.  So, we feel restless and dissatisfied.  But there are larger implications of the issue of purity of heart when it comes to our relationship with God.

To will one thing is to center our lives around a unifying principle. Some unifying principles that may consciously or unconsciously shape the way we live are power, control, comfort, or approval. However, none of these will bring ultimate fulfillment. Only God will bring real fulfillment.

Often, I find myself feeling restless and anxious because I am willing two things simultaneously: God’s will and my will. God is in control of my life and wants me to submit to His plan for me, and His plan is far better than mine. When I get stubborn and rebellious (quite frequently) and try to take control into my own hands, I always end up making a royal mess of things. Yet it is difficult for me to give up control. The perception that I am “doing things my way” makes me temporarily feel empowered and in control. So I’ve got to pray again and again that God will help me put my life in His hands.

This is sort of a trivial example, but for the sake of revealing a personal struggle, I’ve been working on a project at work, and I am attempting to complete it using a new and improved method that will save me a lot of time once it is set up. However, doing it the new way versus the old way creates more front end work, in part because of the learning curve. I am impatient with the learning curve, and I like to feel in control, so I’ve been trying to complete the project using both the new and the old way, which is creating even more work for me. Rather than trusting that God is in control, I’m holding on too tightly to my control of the project, and I’m creating a lot of stress and extra work for myself.

Purity of heart would mean that God (or God’s will) is the unifying (and only) principle in my life. Of course, I am a human and a sinner, so that is impossible. But with God’s help, I can strive towards putting God first, as the center of my life.

As I grow in my relationship with God, it is getting more and more difficult to be rebellious against His will and to actually enjoy the rebellion (insert sarcasm font). It is becoming increasingly difficult to hold onto control or to seek comfort and approval from earthly sources, rather than from God. It’s difficult because I end up feeling so dang stressed and restless about things when I do them my way! Ugh.