Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Note to Self

Whatever you are tempted to believe

is wrong with your life,

is not what is wrong.

Your heart

is what is wrong.


Every time.

Without exception.

You have slipped into idolatry


and have begun to worship


or someone

other than



Get still.


Remember who He is.

Remember what He has done for you -

once forever

and over and over again.

Remember where you would be without Him.

Remember where you always end up without Him.

Turn around.

Look up.

Worship God. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Getting Personal

I sat looking at the sky through the huge window at the front of our church in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was Easter Sunday, 1991. At one point in the sermon, Skip Ryan asked a question that travelled like an arrow from his mouth to the center of my heart:

"Are you having a relationship with Jesus Christ, or are you having a relationship with a set of facts about Him?"

I wanted to avoid the answer, but I could not deny the truth. I loved Christianity more than I loved Christ Himself. I loved it as the Truth. I loved it as the perfect solution to mankind's estrangement from God. I had a zeal for Christianity as a system of belief. But that isn't all I had. I had experienced God's power at work in my life. He had healed me. He had led me. He had drawn me. He had empowered and used me to teach others. Sometimes I even heard God speak to me - not audibly, but deep within my spirit. But for all of this, there was still a disconnect with the Person of Jesus.

Growing up with a believing mom and an unbelieving step-dad had not been helpful. Mom faithfully took us to Sunday School and church each week. These were solid, Bible-believing churches that talked about "inviting Jesus into your heart" and "having a personal relationship with Christ." But from Sunday afternoon until the following Sunday morning, Jesus was absent from our lives. We did not talk to Him, not even before meals or at bedtime. Nor did we talk about Him. The only time I heard His name mentioned was as an expletive. I had no example for bringing Him into my normal, everyday life.

As a result, Jesus never rose from the pages of my Sunday School literature. I thought of Him as the person who had lived hundreds of years earlier, the one who healed and fed people, then died on the cross. Although I celebrated Easter every spring, and understood that He had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, I never thought of Him as alive. He was a character in a story. A story that, on one level, I believed to be true and had defended passionately as the only truth.   

Even after that Easter sermon in 1991, I spent many years avoiding thinking about Jesus too specifically. I clung to control over my life, hoping I could serve God while keeping Him at a safe distance. Maybe this is easier to do psychologically if God is only Spirit. Jesus suffered. Jesus died. Jesus is the One who calls me to do the same. Jesus is the One I will stand before face-to-face to give an account for how I have lived. For this reason, Jesus is a greater threat if I am not surrendered to Him as Lord.

I am learning to know and love Jesus. I am beginning to relate to Him as a real person. I am praying daily that God will continue to work to bring the knowledge and the experience I have of Him together in my heart and mind. I have by no means arrived, but I am incredibly grateful to have begun. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

It was quite a few years ago that I first learned this acrostic for fear:

F - False
E - Evidence
A - Appearing
R - Real

Even when I know the evidence is not true, fear rarely goes away easily. As our pastor said last Sunday, "Fear puts feelings in the driver's seat." Once those powerful emotions get a grip on the steering wheel, a sweet, "Excuse me, but would you be so kind as to allow me to drive again?" will not suffice. Neither will a calm discussion of the facts cause fear to let go. The fearful emotions must be made to surrender by being convinced that the truth is stronger and will prevail.

This means I have to believe the truth more than I believe what I feel. The more resolute my conviction of what is true becomes, the more decisively I will prevail over the lies inbedded in the fear.          

Jesus is my example for the way to prevail. He was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. After 40 days of fasting, His adversary came with a twisted motivation and quoted Scripture from the Old Testament. He hoped Jesus would come out from under His Father's authority and act independently. Jesus prevailed over the enemy by speaking the truth from the same Scriptures with authority. He not only knew the truth; He was and is the Truth! After three failed attempts, Satan left Him.

Praise God! My belief in the truth does not have to be perfect; it just has to be real. And the more  battles I win, the stronger my faith grows.   

I believe, Lord. Help Thou my unbelief.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Moved with Compassion

It is only as our daughter, Marie, lifts her18-month-old son, Ian, from the high chair at Sweet Tomatoes that she understands his lack of enthusiasm for his lunch. Watery diarrhea has run under his diaper and soaked his clothes. The spare outfit Marie usually carries was used the day before.

We make a quick exit to Marie's van, and buckle Ian and 4-year-old Ainsley in their car seats. It is early February and cold. Ian wails pathetically behind me. I turn to see the tears pool at his lower eyelids and spill down his cheeks. To drive home just seems too far away.

"Let's stop somewhere so I can buy him something to wear," I suggest. Marie heads for the Target a few blocks away.

Once inside, she ushers Ainsley (who is about to throw up) to the restroom, while I make a beeline toward the toddler clothing. Clean, warm and comfy, I think as I scan the racks of boy clothes. I come up with a pair of cotton-lined, pull-on pants and a soft butter yellow and cream pullover. After getting Marie's OK, I pay for the clothes and offer to take Ian to the women's restroom to clean him up.

He is truly a mess. I have him stand on the changing table and hang onto me as I carefully remove his shoes and pants. He looks into my eyes with an expression that says, You're not my mom, but since you're taking care of me, I guess it's OK. I notice the sleeve of my coat is wet where he has leaned against me. Now I will smell like diarrhea, but it's OK. Once his filthy pants are removed, I have him lie down and remove his diaper.

It is disgusting, but I do not feel disgusted. Pure pity and tenderness swell within me. The stench on him does not diminish my love for him. If anything, his helplessness makes me love him even more. In this moment there is nothing I would rather be doing than changing my precious grandson. My deepest desire is to provide for his number one need - to be clean and clothed.      

As I wipe the diarrhea from Ian's legs, I catch a clear glimpse of God's heart toward me. I know I am often covered in the excrement of sin. There is no doubt my sin is offensive and stinks in His nostrils. But He sees my terrible predicament and is moved by loving compassion to rescue me. I am helpless. I have neither the means nor the ability to become clean on my own. He is not repulsed, reluctant or resentful that I need Him.

I am His and He loves me. He is glad to wash me again, not with baby wipes, but with blood. He reminds me that I am no longer naked, but clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

It is finished. I pick Ian up and carry him back to his mom.  



Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Real Deal

There is the religion called "Christianity" and there is faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Although the two have some things in common, they could not be more different. In fact, Christianity, as a religion, is more like Islam, Hinduism and Judaism than it is like genuine Christian faith.

In every religious system on earth, humans engage in a variety of practices and rituals, based on their particular scriptures and beliefs, to reach or to appease or to obtain blessings from one or more divine beings. If they are faithful, good things happen. If they fall short, bad things happen. (I admit, this is a somewhat simplistic explanation, but I don't think it is incorrect.)

True Christian faith rests in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. The wrath of God for sin was poured out on Him. There is no appeasing to be done. The perfect life Jesus lived is "credited" to the believer as pure righteousness. The Christian is forgiven and adopted as God's own child and co-heir with Christ.

And it is all by God's grace. In other words, gift. No earning. No performing. No sacrificing. As with any gift, salvation can only be gratefully received. We accept it by faith.

Unlike religious systems, God's plan for rescuing sinful human beings from sin leaves no place whatsoever for pride, which makes it highly offensive to the fallen heart. As Tim Keller has said, religion is the default mode of the human heart. We want to be able to save ourselves.

Even those of us who have accepted God's gift of salvation in Christ can very easily slip back into a performance-based relationship with Him. How this must grieve Him! The only remedy is to run back to the cross and look up at Jesus. He accomplished everything necessary to fulfill God's holy demands. For us. Forever. It is finished.

Our part is simply to believe it.    

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Anxious to Please God

I wouldn't fault anyone who struggled with anxiety after looking at bills they couldn't pay, or getting  bad news from their doctor, or finding out their spouse wanted out of the marriage. I would even understand if a person felt anxious after a car accident or before having their teeth cleaned or boarding a plane.

The first time I recall feeling anxious I was 30ish. It was Christmastime and I had sewn and stuffed three nativity scenes from printed fabric I found at Wal-Mart. I really hadn't considered who I would give them to before I began the project, except for the one for us. I smiled as I arranged each fold-out stable with its respective figures in front of it. To my amzement, the Marys, Josephs, the nine wise men and all the animals stood upright on their cardboard bottoms.

In the glow of success I began to ponder who might receive the two "extras" I had made. I had several close friends with young children like mine. Should I choose two of them? Which two? I had plenty of nieces and nephews who would be getting gifts from us. Would two of them enjoy having one of the nativities? No two of them really stood out to me. The possibilities swirled through my mind like water around an open drain, bringing total confusion. I tried to gain clarity by asking myself what I thought was a good question: Who would God want me to give them to? 

It was at that moment that I first experienced anxiety. Not "valid" anxiety, but the pointless, stupid kind that I feel completely ashamed to confess. I would say it was over nothing, but it wasn't over nothing. Sadly, it was about needing desperately to please God.

I had to find the one "right answer" that He would find acceptable. Maybe God would want me to give all three of them away to needy families! Would it be selfish to keep one for my own kids? Making God happy was at stake. Keeping Him smiling down on me was on the line. I wasn't sure what the consequences might be if I failed, but I was in crazy, panic mode.

This happened 25 years ago, but I remember like it was yesterday. I was a Christian. I was leading a women's Bible study. I believed Jesus had died for my sins. But I had no clue how to bring the truth of the gospel into my relationship with God.        

Now I'm learning.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Very Good Really Bad Thing

I walked into Wal-Mart the other day asking God to make it clear whether I need to start taking Zoloft again. It has been a wonder drug for me in the past, freeing me from both anxiety and depression. I've been battling anxiety for about 18 months now, although not continually. Funny, it never crossed my mind to renew my prescription until three different people mentioned it in two days' time this week. I figured the Lord might be trying to tell me something. Maybe.

The reason I feel conflicted is because I have been learning to handle these attacks through prayer. Anxiety that used to claw at my heart for hours I can now usually overcome in minutes. If I catch it just as it begins to flutter in my chest, to simply whisper the name, "Jesus" brings peace. But if I let it go - or try a different strategy (like trying to figure out why it is happening) - I'm setting myself up for a long, bumpy ride.

In the past ten days, I have had a couple different bouts with the enemy that I do not care to repeat. I have also experienced amazing victories, even after the anxiety had become quite intense. By quoting some key Scripture and prayerfully entrusting myself to God to deliver me, I have returned to a place of perfect calm. That's cool! What I am experiencing is not "mind over matter," but the exercise of real faith in a real God with real power.

Yes, it's exercise. It's the spiritual equivalent of weight training. My faith muscles are growing and I'm getting stronger. It isn't enjoyable to battle anxiety, but I am pretty happy with the results of having to do so. Little by little, I am losing the self-sufficiency and unbelief that have weighed me down for so long. I'm learning to trust God at a much deeper level.

And I can honestly thank Him for the very unpleasant experience of being anxious.