Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sometimes There's Fallout

One of the exhilarating and perhaps frustrating aspects of maturing in Christ is that it doesn’t happen right away.

That very first point of initial regeneration is not just the beginning of something new, but the ending of something old. And that ending of something old, like interest on a 30-year mortgage, is what we spend most of our time, early on, paying off.

Old habits die hard, even under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, and there is much under the tip of each person’s iceberg that God has to torch.

Yes, we are redeemed in Christ, but the big word “sanctification,”—meaning the process of constant regeneration into God’s way of thinking, seeing, hearing and being—is a life long process.

At first, we may appear to actually regress. It’s like a house remodel: things have to get messy before they can be set to rights in an improved and perfected way.

God doesn’t snap us out of everything in one supernatural swoop.

For me, the alcohol was the first to go, and it went quickly. But lest I rest on the laurels of sobriety, God showed me that sobriety was a now-removed obstacle to clarity for the tough work ahead: that of submitting to God so that He could cut the cord, inch by inch, that bound me to past emotional, mental and false religious perspectives.

It is a volley of back and forth as we internalize, in fits and starts, the life in Christ over time.

Hence the frequent lob at Christians that we are hypocrites (as if people in the secular world are not hypocrites to their declared ideology or value system. They are one-hundred percent consistent?).

Just last night, reading Paul Tournier, I came across this:

“I am always surprised that such severe criticism is made of a person when it can be shown that he has contradicted himself, and that we are all so afraid of being caught doing so ourselves. We should have to have become fossilized, never to contradict ourselves, for our hearts and our entire lives are contradictory.”

So let me apologize in advance to those who see Christians as not always representing Christ well.

And let me also point out that when Christians do remain steadfast and obedient, the world often negatively judges that too because the world does not share, accept or even want to understand the Christian perspective and worldview. 

So be it. 

There is nothing we can do to influence a person or social ideology that has no desire to change or to respect the Christian perspective. We respond by simply remaining loyal to God and persistent in prayer.

Thus, the reality of life with Christ will result in some fallout.

Have I acted immaturely and worldly as a Christian? Yes. 

Have I hurt others as a Christian? Yes. 

Have I spoken pridefully and acted selfishly? Yes and yes.

But have I been able to now see all of that for what it is: Christian immaturity, rebelliousness towards God and being more comfortable with my way of dysfunction than God’s way of function? Yes, indeed.

Just as I came to God in abhorrence of the sin I lived in before Christ, I come to God in abhorrence of the sin I have allowed myself to live in—outside of His will—by my own choice, as a Christian.

But I am able, as the years progress and maturity takes hold, to see sin tendency and temptation more and more, and stand against it through the growing knowledge and experience of Christ and His Holy Spirit.

That is why today, this very day, I would not handle situations the way I did 16, 10, 8, five, or even one year ago. I wouldn’t think the same way about something as I may have just one week ago.

And just as I am to forgive others, I am to forgive myself also for these infractions because I know Christ forgives me when I unwaveringly agree with Him that I have sinned. Only when I truly agree with Him (signaling that I am no longer loyal to the sin instead of Him) am I then able to move on from that way of operating.

And so I brush myself off, treat each day and encounter as a fresh one and whisper to God,

“Let’s do this. Again. And again and again until we get it right in Christ. Let’s keep on keeping on for as long as it takes. I’m in it for the long haul, and I know it goes without saying, you are too. 
So then, where are we? And where are we headed?”

copyright Barb Harwood

“For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:4-5

Monday, June 26, 2017

God Will Hold Our Mess so We Can Act in Grace

C.S. Lewis exhibits his usual intuitive insight when he says, in a letter to an acquaintance,

“...the thing you need is not to think more or better about it but to think less: to act unselfishly—that is, charitably and justly—and leave the state of your feelings for God to deal with in His own way and His own time...
But how to do it? For the very effort to forget something is itself a remembering of that something! I think, if I were in your shoes I should try to regard this sense of self-imprisonment not at all as a sin but as a mere tribulation, like rheumatism, to be endured in the same way. It has no doubt its medical side: diet, exercise, and recreations might all be considered...At any rate, remember: ‘I cannot turn one hair black or white: but I can brush my hair daily and go to the barber at regular intervals.’ In other words we must divert our efforts from our general condition or frame of mind (which we can’t alter by direct action of the will) to what is in our power—our words and acts. Try to remember that the ‘bottomless sea’ can’t hurt us as long as we keep on swimming.” C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Edward Lofstrom, from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III and compiled in Yours, Jack

I find the above to be absolutely true. To act charitably towards someone else means to over-rule our worldly thoughts with Christ’s righteousness, so that our words and actions do not feed our inner impulses.

I agree with Lewis that we cannot will ourselves to change our feelings at any given moment. But God can own those emotions for us while we stand firm in our conviction to put God first, not our self-centeredness.

And so in spite of the fact that we are annoyed by an insult, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be prudent and overlook it (Proverbs 12:16). And as men and women of God’s prudence, we escape trouble by not reacting with sinful words (Proverbs 12:13).

Further, we do not avenge or assuage our needful state by participating in or initiating gossip (which includes the forwarding of other people’s news and always needing to be the first with any and all information about others, Proverbs 10:19, 11:13, 18, 20:19, 26).

Proverbs is the place to go when our ego threatens to derail our commitment to being steadfast in Christ.

Proverbs 12:14 says,

“From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.” 
In the margin of my Bible, I at one time wrote these words:

“Righteous talk can be laborious—the flesh wants to sin with the mouth. It’s harder to speak righteously—it can be hard work!”

I don’t know what inspired my handwritten comments to that proverb; perhaps I summarized the words of a commentary. But they are spot on. It is harder to be a person of grace and to let things go: those billions of statements, barbs, injuries, belittlings, jokes made at our (or our political party’s or ideology’s) expense, and being dissed and otherwise unfavored in any number of ways. 

It is so easy to unwrap each and every affront and, like a lollipop, suck on them for a very long time.

Lewis makes a very important point: God is able quite handily to hold our messy purse of defensive thoughts, so to speak, while we outwardly act charitably and justly.

That doesn’t mean we stop being discerning: God gives us discernment to warn us of foolishness and evil (again, read Proverbs!). And it doesn’t mean that acting charitably or justly requires us to let our guard down and not set boundaries with toxic and invasive people. It does not stop us from speaking up in someone’s defense, or curtailing curmudgeonly conversation with a positive word.

It does mean that we begin, finally and at once, to log into our standing in Christ and end the bondage of being perpetually and dysfunctionally offended. We must prioritize God and not our pride.

That is why we give folks second chances. That is why we forgive in word and deed when we do not yet feel forgiveness towards a person. We trust God for His spiritual love for people to be our spiritual love for people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it beautifully:

Spiritual love will be willing to release a person to Christ “in order that Christ may deal with him. It will respect the line that has been drawn between him and us by Christ, and it will find full fellowship with him in the Christ who alone binds us together. Thus this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ. It knows that the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Christ and that love of others is wholly dependent upon the truth in Christ.”

If boundaries need to be set, God will guide us in doing so. If confrontation is absolutely necessary, God will nudge us to it, but gently—not dramatically—calmly and gently. If people rebuff us, it is because that is where they are (and haven’t we all been there, too?). We give ourselves and them to Christ and pray, as Bonhoeffer has said.

God is in control. We’ve heard it so often. But is He, in our own reality?

All of us, at one time or another, have allowed other people to control us by giving them unfettered access to pushing our buttons.

Jesus says we are to come to Him with all of that, and let Him be our fortress against attack.

He will work out our insecurities in His timing. But we must fully submit them to Him while at the same time act and speak as His Holy Spirit directs us.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to “just get over it.” He expects us to let Him be over everything in our life so that we can, one day, in all honesty say,

“I’ve put such and such behind me. Praise God it is His doing!”

Our obedience to Christ in being just and charitable is part of His process of dismantling strongholds and thus, freeing us.

That is what it means to be a faithful servant. To trust and allow God to do what He came to do: regenerate us to new and abundant life in Him, that our joy may be full and His peace (as opposed to the proverbial and elusive world peace) will prevail. 

copyright Barb Harwood

“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:25-27

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Our Vast and Immense God

This morning, as I sat before God, his massive reality came over me: His power, His manifest regeneration of my life thus far, and his constant and never-failing presence that superintends every aspect of this material and immaterial world.

I found myself smiling, during this all too rare moment of 20/20 vision of just how robustly immense and multifaceted God is, of the memory of the very educated person who once said of faith in God,

“It’s a fairy tale, nothing but wishful thinking.”

I sat back in awe that there can even exist people on this globe who would portend to truly have worked that infantile idea out, and that there are others who prefer to accept a god of their own creation rather than the Biblical Christ—those who ordain to glorify man over God.

I smile out of incredulity, because these notions are nonsensical; a silly farce in the face of an obvious genuine. It is ludicrous.

But then, I was there once too: proud of my university attendance, bookish identity and feminist scruples through which I audaciously propped myself up as All-Knowing.

Which only confirms the state of awe in God that encircled me this morning as the sun, His sun, rose out my Eastern window.

God has taken me, and many others, from that scourge of a place, that terribly prideful, delusional, self-aggrandizing state of being to here, this place of peace and contentment brought about through Godly, not human, wisdom.

And rather than take Him solely as a personal God, I refuse such an insult.

God is boundless to any of us, yet it is true He knows every hair on our head (Luke 12:7), our comings and goings (Psalm 121:8, Psalm 139) and our every thought (Psalm 139). He is at the same time immeasurable and vast, mighty and all-encompassing (Isaiah 40, 55; Psalm 147; Deuteronomy 10).

When I can’t go to sorrow, He can. When I am limited in my influence and what I can say, He is not. When I am ignorant of pain and suffering, He is aware of it. When He demands something of me, and He does, He tells me in His Word and through His Spirit’s conviction upon me. And when I have been haughty, He admonishes me by pointing out that I spoke of things too wonderful for me to know, or that I do not yet know (Job 42:3).

This morning, it all came home to me afresh: It is here, in the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit that I reside: in the expansive, permanent, capacity of God to always and forever be God.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Then Job replied to the LORD:

I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
But now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:1-6

"O LORD, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8:9

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

God Can Change Hearts

How do I know that God can overpower jealousy, animosity, anger and resentment? Because he is doing it in my own heart.

Recently, I was able to walk away from a visit with a person—with whom I have had a roller coaster time of it—with a sense of sincere connection.

It was just a glimmer, and I’m certainly not “there” yet in the way of full Christian love and maturity in relationship to this person. But God, through circumstances, life experience and his merciful acknowledgement of my endless prayers to have my heart transformed towards this person, is doing it. I felt something I haven’t toward this person in a very long time, and to be honest, this new feeling is amazing and startling all at once.

When we struggle within a turbulent ocean of animosity in a relationship, especially if the other person is semi or totally oblivious to that inward struggle, it truly borders on the miraculous to one day be in the presence of that person and sense something new, something good, something of God.

I’m not ready to label this a “new beginning.” I have learned to not get ahead of myself—or others—when it comes to relating to one another. 

But I do know my prayers, and I do know God. And I know that my sincere desire for the trajectory of this relationship and my role in it, are of Him, regardless of where the relationship ultimately and actually ends up.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

“Do not call to mind former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
‘Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.’” Isaiah 43:18-19

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14