Restrain or Give Way

While at a local store, my husband and I encountered a man in front of us in line that tested my husband’s patience. I was oblivious to the extent of his rudeness because my attention was elsewhere, but I did hear one of his comments and that one was enough to make me raise an eyebrow.

He was caustic and insolent, giving snide remarks and pushy comments to the clerk. Driving home my husband told me it was making him angry to listen and that it was hard not to step in and make a comment of his own.

The situation made us stop and think…when and what do we restrain and when do we give way?

Sometimes we pray for patience (oh, a dangerous prayer to pray) and God gives opportunities to grow that fruit in us. The reality is, He knows we need that pruning and will give us situations even if we don’t ask for them. Yes, our God has a sense of humor, even as some of that pruning is rather uncomfortable; but there is always purpose in our pain in our pursuit and practice of becoming more like Him…be it patience or other areas.

How many times do we restrain ourselves – whether in words or actions – even though our hearts are desiring quite the opposite? And when is that restraint most often practiced? Is it easier to draw back from a confrontational and/or acidic response with strangers? Are we more inclined to give into that “response” to those we love; to let the frustration and anger pour out on friends or family instead? Is it easier to say no to a temptation when we are with a certain group of people more than others or when we are alone?  And when we ought to give way, do we pull back in fear when God is calling us to step out in faith?

Do we live with eyes open, asking God to give us the discernment to see temptation as it rises and the courage and power to not just step back but intentionally respond with the heart of one committed to Christ – to tame a caustic tongue, to turn away from a particular action, to press forward and do the hard thing?

The reality is we all have sinful hearts and are tempted again and again to do and say things that are contrary to the “new creation” we are in Christ or to not do things for His glory that are outside our comfort zone. Face it; we are told to “follow” our hearts, but they are completely deceitful and will, if we are not prayerful and intentional, take us down roads we would never intend to go.

An angry word, a confrontational comment (that is not spoken humbly in love, for the good of the other person), a sinful action in public or when no one is looking, a bitter heart nurtured by murmuring or complaining, or anything that sets itself up against the character of God and His command for us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) – set them all aside by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and live out what we know!

As our friend Bill McDonald says, “Be intentional doers of the Word!”

It is at that intersection of choice that the Holy Spirit will be prompting those who are followers of Jesus Christ; He will convict us, remind us, prod us, pull back on us and say, “Whoa!” We will either choose to curtail our impulses, our desires, and our temptations or we will give ourselves over to them and rush headlong into whatever is set before us, often either blaming someone else or a situation or rationalizing that at least we don’t…(fill in the blank) or that we all have our sin bents and we will never be perfect this side of heaven so….!

When we well up with any desire that is contrary to God’s character and His commands, we have a decision to make (and often not much time to make it; it’s why God says “train yourselves” beforehand). Restraint in the face of temptation says we are hearing God’s voice and choosing to “take up His cross and follow” obediently for His glory, our ultimate joy, and the good of those most affected by our choices.

Every time we set a guard over our mouths, our hands, our feet, or our imaginations, we are strengthening our spiritual muscle, making it easier to hear the voice of the Lord and respond well the next time.

Sometimes it will take intentionality beyond what we think we can do or, in our flesh, would like to do. Often it takes a deliberate call out to God and a rebuke of the enemy of our souls who loves to exploit our weaknesses. Ultimately, we have to stand on the truth that God Himself has given us everything we need for “life and godliness,” “to take every thought (and every emotion) captive” – increasingly!

When we stand firm – we ought to celebrate, thank God, and allow someone to rejoice with us! Realize that it is God at work, continuing to “complete the good work He began.” Likewise, when we blow it – take it to the cross, leave it there, don’t keep picking it up or see it as an excuse to toy with it. Instead, thank God that, in Christ, we are forgiven but that He has given us all we need to stand firm, asking Him to remind us of that the next time a snare is set for our souls.

It’s not a “Pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps” or “You can do it because you are strong!” issue! Not at all. We are weak, and the enemy knows our breakpoints; but God, who created us and calls us by name, knows us better and is already there set to equip us, strengthen us, and give us the ability to stand or flee, to speak or be silent, to murmur and complain or give thanks, to sink into despair or cry out for His mercy. Yes, He provides and equips, but it’s our job to take hold of that grace and use it!

Restrain or give way…but do so not according to the tug of your heart and its desires but according the Word of God and the unwavering voice of our Savior!

“…Stand firm and you will see the deliverance, the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today!” Exodus 14:13

“The healthy Christian has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, trembles at God’s Word, lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.” J.I. Packer

“A correct view of God is necessary in order to have a correct view of everything else.”

Believe It or Not: God is Good and That’s No Lie

Do you enjoy being lied to? And, when you know you have been lied to, do you want to follow that person?

I think we can generally agree that the answers to those questions is: no!

And yet…

We believe lies.

And, too often, we act on them and allow them to shape our view of God, ourselves, and others.

We listen to and believe the lies from the very enemy of our souls.

Take that in.

We believe our ENEMY.  We believe the father of lies, the disrupter of truth, the deceiver, the one who has come to “kill, steal, and destroy,” the evil one, the one who is as a roaring lion seeking to devour and destroy.

And, in so believing that his ways will satisfy our longings, in essence, we don’t believe that God’s will.

Insomuch as we shape our view of ourselves and others by those lies, we fail to see each of us as God does, created in His image.

In so listening to and believing the deceiving whisper of the enemy, by our actions, our thoughts, and our words, we live as if we don’t believe God Himself!

In so responding to the crafty perverter of truth, for all intents and purposes…

We don’t believe our good, good Father, the Author of Truth, the One who Himself is faithful and true, our Rescuer, our Comforter, our Provider, our Redeemer, our Savior, the One who went to the cross, and endured the shame and pain for our redemption, the One who created all things and said, “It is good,” the One who has given “every good and perfect gift.”

We don’t believe God’s promises that are woven through and are the foundation of His commands nor His great love for us behind them; that His precepts are intended to do us good, not harm; give us life, not death. That His covenants with us and those covenants between ourselves and others that He also inhabits are intended to give true joy and true contentment while bringing Him glory.

We don’t believe that actual happiness and contentment come from, as John Piper puts it, “a superior pleasure in God.”

We don’t believe that God can change our minds and hearts to hate the sin that He hates, to love what is “true, noble, right, pure, excellent, and praiseworthy,” and to desire the greater gifts. And we don’t believe that God’s greatest gifts are found in obedience because, only then, are we living as we were created and enjoying His creation – people and things – as they were intended to be enjoyed.

We don’t believe that when we blow it, His grace is sufficient to forgive us while not giving us the latitude to cling to it and continue in it.

We don’t believe that God can change the heart of “certain” sinners just like us; that He can take a weary, wounded soul and breath life into them.  We don’t believe He can move the heart of those who have wounded us or those we love and bring restoration.  Or, if we believe it, do we storm the gates of heaven expectantly and literally without ceasing?

We don’t believe that everything God allows in our lives has to first be sifted through His hands and that, when we walk through the deepest valleys and the most stifling places, He goes before us and even carries us through; that He has a purpose for His children in the midst of suffering, regardless of the intensity or the type.

We don’t believe that He has given us all we need for life and godliness when we say, “I can’t help it; it’s who I am, it’s not big deal – it’s only…” But God says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

We don’t believe that He does good to those who take hold of the promise and choose to “do good” out of a growing love for and allegiance to Him.  “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” (Psalm 37:3)

We don’t believe that we will not fully hear His voice if we are harboring, cherishing, hiding, keeping our sin close to us and coddling it as a beloved possession. (Psalm 66:18)

We don’t believe that we are called to obey as a result of our love for Him – in public and in private – and that, in pursuing this goal, we run in freedom. Too often we say we believe that, but our choices don’t reflect it.

Temptation may remain, but what we do with that temptation is evidence of whether or not we believe God when He tells us to “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1

Instead, too frequently, we choose to believe the enemy’s lies. They “seem” more enticing, they “seem” more satisfying, they “seem” more comfortable, they “seem” more exciting…in the moment.  But we miss the truth of what “seems right” – it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12)  It may be a physical death when we choose practices that take a toll on the body, it may be spiritual as we grow cold to all or parts of God’s Word, or it may relational as it affects our relationships with others.

When we put more confidence in the lies of the enemy than in the truth and the promises of God, we settle into temptations and choices rather than battle them. Like a well-worn blanket, we believe they will comfort and satisfy our restlessness, not realizing how scratchy the blanket of sin, unwise decisions, or heart attitudes that arise towards those who have hurt us really is and what it is doing to our souls; not recognizing that the temporary balm turns bitter and blinds us to the goodness of God before our eyes.

We miss the treasure hidden in plain sight, the gifts He has given and longs for us to enjoy that are either ignored or embraced as “idols.” But we cling to that scratchy blanket, cover our heads, and miss the grace that equips us to recognize and shutdown the lies and has the power to transform us day by day, more and more into the likeness of His Son.

We try to run shackled, encumbered, weighted down by the sin that so easily entangles and wonder why we are spiritually, relationally, and physically exhausted; why His joy eludes us. It’s hard to run with perseverance, in freedom, and with joy when we, who are called by His Name, keep our eyes fixed on ourselves and the world that seductively beckons rather than on Jesus and the true goodness of God.

It’s impossible to have a contented rest and delight in our blessings when we continually choose that which is contrary to His character, the parameters He has set for His children, and the guardrails He has put in place to warn us. When we run in our own strength and our own passions rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit and His intentions for us, the chains bind; they cut and they hurt. But we weren’t redeemed to stay in chains!

We hide from God, as Adam and Eve did in the garden, and from those who love us well, hoping we will never be fully known, believing (falsely) that if we were completely known, we would not be loved but that if we maintain a façade, we will be accepted.  We hide from each other lest someone love us enough to speak truth into our lives and give us that hard grace, desiring for us what God also desires, even as they hold out the healing grace of forgiveness.  Or we hide because we love our deeds and don’t want to part with them.

All the while, we fail to hear the voice of the Lord, “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’” (Isaiah 29:15)

But God says that He is light and “in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” (I John 1:5b-7)

We choose a “freedom” that is no freedom at all because God’s Spirit does not reside in darkness, in hidden places; He calls us to “have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11), to “confess (our) sins to each other and pray for each other so that (we) may be healed,” (James 5:16), to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to one another.” (Ephesians 4:25) For where the truth dwells, so the Spirit of the Lord abides as well, “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

But God!

He pursues! He calls out! He redeems us and He calls us by name!

He created us to hear His voice instead of the lies and, like the Shepherd with His stubborn, foolishness, forgetful sheep, He reorders our steps so we can and will hear. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

He disciplines us because He loves us and intends for us to return to Him, not to keep running the same tired, pain inducing, God defying patterns, but determined and confident that we can run a new race, leaving behind all that has ensnared us and been a hindrance to our relationship with Him and with others.

The enemy heaps on shame that cannot be healed; our “old man” self wants to “feel sorry” when it is evident our ways are “known.” Neither produce peace. But our Redeemer call us to “godly sorrow that leads to repentance and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). As Pastor Tim Armstrong says, He calls us to a change of mind that leads to a change of choices, actions, attitudes, words, and behaviors and gives us the Holy Spirit to make it so.

He enables us to recognize those who love us well and who are determined to walk the hard roads with us and to show us grace when we sin even as they desire His greatest good for us; to allow us to embrace those who love us with a love that “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13:6-7) But that kind of love is not blind nor ignorant and it will humbly “speak the truth in love,” sometimes even in tears, to redirect us and, as needed, to restore us to our Savior and any with whom we have broken relationships.

It has been said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” When we listen to and choose the lies of the enemy over the voice of our Redeemer, the very Lover of our souls, we are the epitome of the Proverbs 26:11 “fool.” “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” And we are fools when we believe the enemy’s lies about any number of things and mistake the fleeting pleasures of sin as delicacies thereby missing the true treasures that God designed and has given to actually delight us.

Would we be willing to cry out in faith, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” And humbly say, “Show me my where I have believed satan’s lies over Your Truth, O God. Create in me a clean heart. Give me a willing spirit to sustain me.”?

Would we recognize truth behind the lies and say with David, “Surely God is good…it is good to be near my God.” (Psalm 73:1, 28)

Would we be hungry for what actually pleases and fulfills us – God Himself – to then say, “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds.” (Hosea 6:1)

“Walking by faith means defeating sin’s pleasures with the promise of a superior pleasure in God!”    John Piper

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Fight to Be Faithful…Refreshed and Ready

IMG_1337.JPGRecently, I read an article from Kevin DeYoung, from which the following led to more thought, “As a pastor, everything seems more important and more urgent than being in the word and prayer. We must fight to be faithful.”

Indeed, in ministry there is often the tyranny of the urgent and many expect the pastor to be available to them as needed. It is, without a doubt, the pastor who is faithful to cultivate his time in the Word and prayer that best nurtures his congregation, best ministers in his community, and best expounds on the Bible in teaching and preaching.

The same could be said for the believer in every sphere of life. Regardless of the age or level of activity, we often justify our “me” time, our “down” time, but that’s the irony of it all. For the believer, our greatest rest and reward is in His Word. Our best “me” time is nestling up to our Abba Daddy and hearing His heart. We are better equipped for all of life – for doing, thinking, discerning, and walking well – when we listen to our Lord’s heart and let Him hear ours.

The opportunity to revitalize, restore, and refresh is found in the presence of our Savior. And yet, we all succumb to satan’s whisper too often flowing from our own bent – “I just don’t have the time.”

I remember being so exhausted when I was the mom of young children, especially once I started homeschooling, that I didn’t think I could wake up early and function. And, if I stayed up late, it was to finish tasks undone during the day.  I just needed rest!

Yes, that is legitimate! Jesus rested and called his disciples to do the same, so that is good. But some of my sweetest times were either sitting alone quietly and letting God’s Word be a balm for my weariness or having a little one, even from infancy, snuggle up next to me asleep (or not) and having it open while I held them, sometimes reading aloud so it would also penetrate their head and heart as well. I was always amazed at the refreshment I got from it; so much more so than when, holding one of my sleepers, I turned on a mindless t.v. show for the noise factor.

And, then the days would get hectic again and I would forget how life giving it was as I got back to the demands that seemed to claw at me.

Today, there may be opportunities for a prolonged time to bask and there may be other times when I have to grab five minutes. But oh the strength gained regardless!

One of the ways I find to hide God’s Word in my heart throughout the day, both now and when I was busy with preschoolers all the way up to my high-schoolers was by way of music.  Music that is drawn from God’s Word – all genres from kids’ praise to bold music with solid truth to quiet praise and worship – has always penetrated its way into my heart in a manner that God often brings it back to my mind to refresh and even challenge me at just the right moment.

We can be sure of the promise found in Isaiah 55:11: “…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  Music has a unique ability to pierce through the noise of life and adhere to our hearts and minds.

Paul reminds believers, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8) Not only does disciplining ourselves to be in God’s word and prayer refresh us, it makes us ready for the inevitable clash; for truly every believer has times when life is fraught with discouragement and pitfalls – times when, in our weariness, we are more vulnerable to temptations and less likely to be “ready to give reason for the hope that we have,” let alone be salt and light. It is the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God that equips us to battle through those things that threaten to unravel our worlds.

The more we are in God’s Word, the Bible, the more we realize that it is our very life and breath. It is His gift of strength for our journey, for our conflicts, and sometimes for the tediousness of the everyday when we fail to see His beauty in the grind, the revelation of His glory in the commonplace, and His call for us to be His ambassadors of grace to the soul thirsty world among whom we live and move. The more we are in His Word, the more effective and content we will be in our individual lives and roles.

We soak in it and let it soak down into us not so we just “know” it but so that the Holy Spirit then transforms our hearts and our actions.

In Luke 10:38-42, Martha was busy doing good things; but Jesus said that Mary had chosen what was better and it would not be taken away from her. She was drinking in the Savior while Martha was serving and missing out on the refreshment. Her work of service was good, but Jesus knew that time with Him was better and was what she needed.

Work, service, recreation, and fellowship with others are right and even necessary; we were created for it all! We should nurture our families and enjoy them. We should care for our bodies and enjoy God’s creation. We should foster the talents and gifts God has given us. His Word calls us to be in fellowship with other believers and to be a conduit of God’s mercy and truth to the unbeliever. We can laugh at a funny movie and cry at a sad one. We can wisely tweet and Facebook and Instagram and enjoy it (as long as it does not control us nor lead us to compromise)!  We should make an impact in the places we call “our world” and abroad. And, yes, we need time to just be still or even nap.  All of this is good!

But, if you are anything like me then or now and, if we are honest, though there may be seasons of life where those things are hard to come by, it is often not that we have too little of those opportunities and have to fight for them. Rather, we often have to choose to pull away from some task that must be done “now” or some relaxation into which it is easy to settle and, instead, fight to be soul satisfied; not as a legalistic checklist but to enjoy our Redeemer and to “do” life well!

So we must, as Kevin DeYoung says, “fight to be faithful” – fighting our complacency and self-focus; facing and dealing with the broken places in this fallen world; pushing back against the “tyranny of the urgent” that we might rest in the shadow of the Almighty! Relying on God’s strength, we choose the self-discipline His Spirit provides that leads to fulfilling our true heart’s hunger, comforting our soul with the peace that will come, not from another triviality with which we often fill our time but from the Word that is living and active. It will come from pouring out our hearts to the One who is ready to take our burdens and give us rest.

Lifting hands of praise for the goodness He provides.

Laying before Him those things from our hands and head that draw us away from Him.

What will satisfy our true thirst? What will be the key to our discernment, to choosing wisely, to loving others well, to forgiving those who offend us, to enjoying God and His many gifts to us, especially that of our redemption, and to serving, but that the Word of God dwelling in us richly?

“Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, for You have been my refuge, a strong tower…” Psalm 61:2-3

Like Mary, there are times we need to stop doing “Martha” things and sit at the Savior’s feet, soaking in His truth and basking in His presence. The journey will be sweeter and more delightful with the new perspective and we will be refreshed and ready!