Archive for the ‘ Jesus ’ Category

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.

Rebelliousness versus Obedience

 

Sometimes it is difficult to be a Christian. I want to hang onto the world, worldliness, and at the same time, I want the benefits of being one of God’s children.

I like to listen to secular music. I have listened to it all my life, and I enjoy punk, hard rock, and electronica. I want to date “like a normal person.” I spent 14 years (from my first boyfriend at age 13 to the time I became a Christian at age 27) dating without knowing how to date in a Godly way or have healthy relationships, and it is difficult to change old patterns. I want to watch mainstream movies or read pulp fiction because these things are entertaining.

However, trying to hold on to worldliness is ultimately to my detriment. Secular music contributes to my use of bad language and a false understanding of love. Trying to hang onto old ways of dating does not glorify God, and it only causes stress and distance from God. What seems glamorous or appealing proves empty and unsettling. Watching mainstream movies promotes dissatisfaction and disappointment. Relationships in mainstream media are portrayed as if another person can be your everything and can totally fulfill you, but this is not reality.

In our society, we are bombarded with fairy tales. We see men who desire and idolize women; they are the rescuers, saving us from our “real life” that is full of hassles. We see women who are airbrushed beyond what is realistic. We see advertisements and listen to songs that promote sexual and sensual temptation. And we want to hang onto these fairy tales, because they are alluring. Movies and advertisements promise a happy ending as a result of being lustful (“sex equals love”) and greedy (“buying stuff equals happiness”).

God says through Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” When we submit our wills to the control of the Holy Spirit, we gain these “fruits,” or benefits. Often, I want to follow my own will and live a worldly life, yet I want to reap the benefits of the Spirit anyway. But in reality, Godliness and obedience, tough as it may seem at times, increase peace and joy.

Elisabeth Elliot, in “The Path of Loneliness,” writes, “Sometimes we prefer to struggle even when we are quite clear about what we ought to do. Struggling in such a case only postpones obedience. . . Sooner or later someone is bound to come along and say just what we hoped to hear, ‘Go with your feelings.’ This may seem the easiest way until we try it, whereupon we find that feelings are always canceling each other out – which ones shall we go with?. . . [but] those who go with feelings will never inherit the kingdom of God.”

I can always find someone who will tell me what I want to hear, who will say what I need to give me license to do what I want to do outside of God’s will. Several people have told me lately, “Follow your heart.” That could mean that I choose to follow God, because Jesus in my heart enables me to be obedient and to love others. Or it could mean that I follow my sinful heart, my rebellious desires.

The deep desire of my heart is to follow God and to be obedient. While this path does not make life easier, it makes life simpler.

Yet it is easy to get distracted, to get caught up in the moment, to be influenced by worldliness and to falsely believe that I want worldly things.

Elliot writes of a woman who is joyful in her singleness. Elliot asks the woman if she is lonely, and the woman replies, “Oh no. You see, I have a sense of expectancy every day. What does the Lord want to do with me today? I have no agenda of my own.”

What must it be like to wake up every morning with a wholehearted acceptance of God’s agenda, giving Him my day, my heart, my obedience? I so desire to operate at this level. It must come with such a sense of freedom and love and peace. So why would I keep holding onto worldliness and rebellion?

Well, if I were perfectly obedient, I would not need Christ. Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” I am a work in progress, and sanctification will continue until the day I die. God does not expect me to be perfect right now.

Single Again

I’m single again.

And surprisingly, it feels pretty damn good.

The deep longing of my heart is to one day be married. I feel that God designed me for and intends for me to be married. And there are many aspects of dating and relationships that I enjoy. Yet, I have a strong sense that I am exactly where I need to be right now.

I was reading “Let Me Be a Woman,” by Elisabeth Elliot last night, and she wrote in the book, “Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.” I get frustrated with people who exhort, “Be content in your singleness.” God put a desire on my heart to be married, and I see clear evidence of Him preparing me for a marriage relationship. God wants us to long for what he intends for us and not be merely “content.” But He also wants us to live today. This is the place I am in right now. I long for marriage, but singleness is God’s path for me today, and I will live to the fullest in that.

I have a friend who is involved with Celebrate Recovery, a Christian-based addictions recovery program that is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. She reminded me yesterday to take life one day at a time. And she is right. I get overwhelmed at times thinking about the future. At times, I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of meeting, dating, and marrying my future husband. But God dispenses His grace one day at a time. He gives me exactly what I need for today. And thankfully, this enables me to rely on Him every single day. So today, I trust that I am where I need to be. Single.

The past few weeks, I had been feeling increasingly unsettled with the guy I was dating. I hate to admit it, but I knew he was not right for me, yet I was reluctant to cut it off because I liked his personality. And I did not really want to be alone. I have a great support network of friends, but I enjoy the particular feeling of companionship in a dating relationship. I like having someone to talk to before going to bed. I like knowing someone is thinking about me during the day.

I have been feeling insecure, as well, the past few weeks, much more so than is usual for me. Like anyone, I have some insecurity, but for the most part I am pretty confident and well-adjusted. Now that the relationship is over, suddenly, my confidence is back. When I opened up to my ex about how I was feeling (while we were still dating), he told me that my insecurities were coming from inside me, he denied any part in it, and his words led me to doubt myself. Now that I am out of the relationship, I see that it wasn’t that anything is wrong with me, he just wasn’t right for me. And perhaps, as well, I was reacting to his emotional unavailability.

In my Bible study group today, we discussed Philippians 1 and the importance of fellowship. One of the benefits of having true friends who love us (more specifically in the context of the passage, Christian friends), is that they desire to see us grow and be happier and healthier. If our true friends give us criticism or negative feedback, we can trust that they are saying it out of love because they truly want the best for us.

One of my weaknesses is that in dating relationships, when the guy gives me negative feedback, I want to believe that he is saying it in a loving way because he truly desires that I be a more Godly and better person. However, I think in reality, a lot of times guys say things to me out of their own insecurities and weaknesses. Perhaps they are projecting some of their own insecurities, but whatever the reason, the negative feedback is not said out of a sincere heart. Unfortunately, I have a hard time discerning when this is the case, and I take their comments seriously, which in the case of this most recent relationship, made me question myself and feel some insecurity.

As my pastor David* said, “Don’t date guys in the gym. They are screwed up.”

No, that’s not the quote I meant, although he said that, as well. He also said, “Don’t fall in love with the icing, which consists of personality and physical attraction. We need the cake, the substance, to fill us up. The icing is delicious, but when we eat only the icing, we will end up with a headache.”

If I am really honest with myself, my most recent ex was icing. And I ended up with a headache.

Now that the sugar crash has cleared, I am looking forward to working on myself and becoming more emotionally and spiritually healthy. I am also excited to have the opportunity to look for a man of substance, a man whose heart belongs to God.

One of the best books I have read is “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Peter Scazzero. He avers that spiritual and emotional maturity co-occur. (Side note: My recent ex-boyfriend was not at all spiritually mature, hence, he cannot truly be emotionally mature, either. It is not my intent to be critical of him, as he has many great qualities. But I admit that I conveniently overlooked the spiritual issue because I was attracted to him, and I wanted to date him because he was tasty icing. However, I probably should have known better.) In Scazzero’s book, he has one of the most informative charts I have seen that lists the characteristics of an emotionally healthy person. You can view this chart here. Jesus functioned at 100. He was both perfectly confident and perfectly humble.

For now, I will work on my relationship with God first and foremost. I am also seeing a counselor who can help me grow emotionally and psychologically. Beyond that, it is my aim (with God’s help) to put my trust in God when it comes to relationships. I desire to follow His will for me and not to date someone just because he pursues me or seems attractive. I want to look for the substance, the heart, the cake. I wish to fully and intentionally rely on God to provide what I need, particularly in the arena of dating relationships.

While I do wish to be in a relationship that is headed towards marriage, I am not going to go out and specifically seek to date. Rather, I wish to follow God’s direction. For now, at least, I am discarding my old List of qualities and characteristics to look for in mate, and I am going with my friend Emily’s* list, which I have written about previously.

1. He loves God more than he loves me.
2. He supports my ministry by encouraging me and praying for me.
3. He truly understands God’s grace, and is thus able to love the Lord and be forgiving.
4. He fights for me and for our relationship.

Today, I am very thankful for friends who are praying for me and encouraging me. I am thankful for the amazing people that surround me daily. I am thankful for the healing that God has brought into my life. I am thankful that my happiness, joy, peace, and hope comes always and only from Jesus Christ. I thankful that I feel confident in my identity in Christ.

*Names have been changed.

Adrift

The sermon this weekend was completely apropos. Why is it that nearly every week in church tears spring to my eyes, and of course I never remember to bring a tissue?

Our pastor has been preaching on misplaced confidence. He says that often times when we sin, there is a sin beneath the sin. We can work hard at trying to be better, but there is likely something underlying the sin, for instance a wrong view of ourselves. This is so true for me, as I’m realizing that I still have a faulty view of my self-worth, which is broken on a very deep level. I have come so far (through my relationship with God, counseling, and wonderful female friends), yet I still struggle in this area.

All of us have some degree of misplaced confidence, relying on some idol other than God for our happiness. We rely on our own strength to get through life or to earn God’s favor, rather than living the truth that we are righteous in God’s eyes not because of anything we could do, but because Jesus Christ already did it for us.

The pastor said that if you are a Christian, despite your misplaced confidence, God will not reject you (Just as God did not reject David, despite David’s numerous moral failures and misplaced confidence)!

As I was sitting in church thinking about the pastor’s statements, I realized that I do worry that God will reject me. I am so sinful, and I lack so much faith. I am rebellious and I am weak, and while I truly desire to live God’s will and to be the Godly woman that He longs for me to be, I fall so short.

The good news is that because I fall short of God’s glory, I need His grace. I need Jesus Christ’s death on my behalf. I need the Holy Spirit indwelling in my heart to guide me. I cannot do it on my own.

Yet I often find myself subconsciously believing lies. I worry that God will reject me because I am not perfect. I am far from comprehending God’s grace, the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God. Note the word “unmerited.” I do not deserve it, yet I get it anyway!

The insecurity I feel in my relationship with God, feeling like he will reject me based on poor or imperfect performance, is the same insecurity I feel in dating relationships. I do not really understand how I can be imperfect yet still lovable, in God’s eyes or in the eyes of a boyfriend. While my perfectionism is advantageous in a lot of areas, as it drives me toward excellence and mastery, which gives me a sense of confidence and self-worth, my perfectionism is also a drawback. It is not as extreme as it used to be, as God has healed me greatly, but I often subconsciously feel like if I am not perfect, I am a failure.

Once again, I have a difficult time grasping God’s grace. Certainly, I am growing in this area, and I understand it more now than I did a few years ago, but I have so far to go in my walk (which, of course, can never be realized in this lifetime).

In dating relationships, I never feel like they will work out. I always find “reasons” why someone is not right for me, which is relatively easy because no one is perfect. I then proceed to doubt myself and feel ambivalent and stressed, overanalyzing everything. Why can’t I just relax and trust God? Is it that I have not met the right person? I am confident that none of the guys I dated in the past were right for me. Yet I still feel that something inside me is broken, that I do not have a right view of relationships.

Do I (deep down) feel like relationships won’t work out because of me (rather than the “reasons” why the guy is not right for me)? I am not perfect, and I do not feel worthy of love, and perhaps I project this onto others. I do not truly believe that God will bring me my heart’s desire.

Yet God tells me that He will give me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). He tells me that He will meet all my needs (Philippians 4:19), so that whatever is broken inside me, He will heal in His perfect timing.

I don’t know the answers. I hate that this life is full of so much struggle. I am so frustrated that the thing I long for the most, which is to be married and to have that partnership and friendship and love, seems so unattainable. I hate that I feel so inept at relationships, when God has put such a strong desire on my heart to have them. (Before I became a Christian, I did not care as much about having close friendships or getting married.) I know intellectually that God is with me and that He is walking me through it, but emotionally, I still feel like I am adrift on an ocean of uncertainty.

Where is My Mind

A few months ago, a good friend of mine recommended a popular brand of high fiber oatmeal, the cinnamon swirl flavor, and it is so tasty. Recently, another friend enticed me to try mixing in some peanut butter, and today I even tossed in some trail mix, and it is delicious. I have had an inexplicable craving for grapefruit juice over the past week, so I enjoyed a glass of it with my uber-oatmeal.

Speaking of friends, my pastor spoke about friendship this morning at our church’s worship service. It was one of those sermons that spoke directly to me, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. I love when that happens! I feel like God is speaking to me in a very clear and direct manner. He is affirming that what I think I have been learning about His nature and His will is on target.

Many of the ideas that follow are paraphrased from the pastor’s sermon. It is not my intention to take credit for his exegesis and wisdom.

“Love is a commitment based on the will of God and often accompanied by an emotion.”

We need friends who
1. Are willing to sacrifice on our behalf.
2. Will defend us when they are away from us.
3. Will give us the freedom to be ourselves when we are with each other.
4. Are constant encouragers.

How many of us have friends like these?

And how much greater is Christ our friend, as he embodies all of these statements.

Then, near the end of the sermon, the pastor made a statement that hit home for me: do not fight to get rid of sin; fight to see the love of Christ. Find strength in the Lord.

I have struggled with self-condemnation for many years, and recently I have begun to understand what a sin problem this attitude is. I feel tempted by a situation, and maybe I cross the line into sinful behavior, and I subconsciously think that because I am a Christian and a perfectionist, that I MUST make the right and Godly decision (read: in my own strength). When, inevitably, this fails, I beat myself up, piling sin on top of sin. (Side note: temptation alone is not a sin. It is not the first look that is sinful, it is the second and third.) I set my mind to cut off a certain behavior or thought or course of action, as if that is the solution.

But I am learning that the way I am reacting to temptation and to my sinful heart is more the problem than the actual temptation or sin about which I am worried in the first place. I am focusing all my thoughts and energy on the temptation, the sin, what I should do, and my strength or weakness in getting it accomplished. And then I fail.

Instead of fighting to get rid of sin (impossible in this lifetime, as my original nature is that my heart is so sinful), the better approach is to fight to see the love of Christ. This new perspective certainly does not free me from the responsibility to make wise and Godly decisions. But as I have written previously, for me personally, my sin problem leans more toward self-condemnation than licentiousness. I now see that to grow in my relationship with Christ, I want to focus on His love for me. I want to focus on the truth that I am His daughter, His beloved child. I want to build my identity in Christ and focus my attention and energy on Him.

And the behaviors and repentance will naturally follow. Because I cannot do it in my strength.

But I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). And the Lord my God will fight for me (Nehemiah 4:20). I am free from condemnation (Romans 8:1). I am not just one misstep away from losing God’s love; He has removed my sin from me as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

Je Ne Sais Quoi

A friend told me this story:
“I was sitting in an airport, and a man came by and told me, ‘You are very beautiful. I mean, you are an attractive woman, but there is something else about you that makes you extraordinarily lovely.’ I knew what he was talking about. I didn’t say this to him, but having Jesus in you makes you very attractive to some people. I just thanked him and he went on his way.”

I sometimes assume that people who aren’t Christians are turned off by those who are, in part because they are different, and differences invariably cause rifts, and in part because Christians themselves are often the worst evidence for Christianity. Those who call themselves Christians are often hypocrites or overly religious, cramming God down the throats of all they encounter.

But I have been surprised by the number of people who seem drawn to me, particularly as I grow in my faith. I became a Christian about four and a half years ago, and the longer I have spent on my journey, the more I die to myself and live for Christ. He is truly changing me from the inside out. It is often difficult for me to see myself as others do, but I can tell that over the past few years, people approach and respond to me differently than they did in the past. And my sense is that they notice a quality in me that they may not understand, but that I know is Jesus.

I spend a lot of time working out at the gym, and I have been passionate about exercise and a member of a gym for about ten years. For many years, though I was at the gym every evening, no one ever talked to me or approached me. That was fine with me, as I am an introvert, and I am at the gym to work out, not to socialize. And I never really gave it much thought one way or the other.

But increasingly over the past several years, people have begun approaching me, especially in the past couple of years. Granted, there are likely other contributing factors, but I cannot help but think that people see something in me that was not there before. As my identity in Christ grows, I am more confident and more at peace. People seem very intrigued by me, or by the qualities Jesus imbues in me. This is not to give myself props; there is nothing particularly special about me. I am not drastically different than I was years ago. Except God.

I feel that God is using me somehow. He has made me more approachable (often much to my chagrin; if you’ll remember from a previous post how I loathe small talk) so that He can work through me.

I have had some amusing encounters, one of which I will share with you in another post. I am not entirely sure how God is using me, but I sense that He is.

Incidentally, and while I’m on the topic of what God is doing in and through me, I have been thinking a lot about spiritual warfare. I have noticed how the evil one uses my sin and temptations to sin to make me think negative, self-deprecating thoughts about myself. It dawned on me that instead of jumping on that downward spiral, I can instead remind myself that I am a daughter of God. I am His beloved child, and nothing I do can make Him love me any less. He is there for me when I call to Him. This is not an excuse for licentiousness, but it is a comfort when I begin believing the lies about myself that I am weak and worthless.

The way that temptation and sin gets a hold on me is when I tell myself I am powerless. I start to believe that I am no good because I am tempted to be disobedient. But instead of being hard on myself, I now see that I need to come to God and tell Him I need his help. I need to believe the truth, that I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).

Licentiousness v. Self-Condemnation


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sin.

There are many so-called Christians running around who are licentious, having reckless disregard for God’s law. They sleep around, lie, and cheat, declaring that “It’s all covered by the blood of Christ.” These folks believe that because God, by His grace, forgives us our sins when we confess, that they have the license to commit whatever sin they choose. They disregard the consequences, erroneously thinking that all will be well because of God’s grace.

The fallacy in this type of thinking is obvious to some. Paul says in Romans 6:1-4:
1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

True believers in Christ Jesus have a new life, a new spirit, one that grieves over sin and longs to be more like Christ. So we recognize that licentiousness is dangerous and has unpleasant consequences, both temporally and eternally.

However, many of us do not think about the opposite end of the spectrum: the sin of self-condemnation. Guilt can be a positive feeling as it spurs us to repent, but feeling overly guilty is just as sinful as licentiousness.

I used to think that self-condemnation was merely synonymous with poor self-esteem. I knew it was a sin to be self-critical, to dislike my personality or my appearance. God made me the way I am, and I am beautiful in His eyes. This statement is difficult to internalize as it is, and I am learning that in addition to poor self-esteem, self-condemnation entails feeling overly guilty, remorseful, and self-critical over past sin.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:10:
10Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

While Biblical repentance includes feelings of Godly sorrow, it does not mean feeling overly self-critical and regretful for one’s thoughts and actions. Self-condemnation can erroneously make us believe that we are in control of ourselves rather than believing the truth that God is in control, and it denies His power of grace and forgiveness. Self-reproach can lead to relying on our own strength to “just try harder” or on our own power to punish ourselves for our sins (how often do we sin and then feel guilty and commit five other sins immediately after?), rather than growing closer to Him and turning to Him with our needs.

I have learned personally that I have a weakness in the area of self-condemnation, and Satan can use that weakness to put a wedge in my relationship with God. While I know intellectually that I am forgiven, because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1), at times I feel very regretful for past actions and choices. I am a perfectionist, and while I am learning to give myself grace, I often feel that if I am not perfect, I am a failure.

Intellectually, I know that I cannot be perfectly righteous in my own strength, and that I need God’s power and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Yet I hate myself when I err or sin. But this self-loathing is not what God wants.

What helps me in this area is to meditate on what God has done for me, rather than what I have done or not done right or wrong. It helps to spend time in prayer and in Scripture, reminding myself of the truth. And it helps to talk to wise and comforting women in my life who can empathize and affirm the truth.

It is just as sinful to be depressed for two months over a small transgression as it is to lie, cheat, and steal, and callously expect God’s grace to cover it. Self-condemnation is just as sinful as licentiousness, and both fall to the sides of the path of grace and love on which God desires us to walk. I am thankful that through recent struggles, He has revealed to me my sins of self-reproach, so that I may rely more on His strength than my own, and so that I may grow in my spiritual walk.