Tug of World

During the approximately 81 hours of pep rallies I experienced (translation: endured) during my high school teaching years, Tug o’ War between the classes was one of the most popular games played. The freshmen developed school spirit by competing against the sophomores. The seniors usually triumphed over the juniors, of course. What was up with that?

Even this non-athlete knows that Tug o’ War starts with each side determined to win, taking a firm, strong stance. In a good game, things appear equal on both sides as players flex muscles, lean back, and grit teeth. Slowly, the balance of power changes as one side gains the advantage. If it’s still a good game, the advantage might shift again. In a less-than-equal contest, one side wins suddenly with a mighty tug.

In yesterday’s sermon, our pastor tackled the subject of spiritual warfare, beginning a series entitled Winning: Put on the Full Armor of God. He’s dealt with this before, and one of the most useful aspects of his teaching was the technique of naming our spiritual battles. Earlier, I shared how I applied this technique in Battle of Loopy Lie Valley and The War for Independence. Once I identify what mind games the enemy is using in my spiritual battles, it’s harder to ignore them. Sometimes I’m in the middle of full-blown conflict without realizing it, and having a list of battles won previously with God’s help wakes me up and calls me back into the fight. It just occured to me that Could I Interest You in an Appetizer? grew out of my facing The Day of Distraction, another frequent battle.

So what is Tug o’ World and what do I do about it? At first, I’m standing firm, Kingdom priorities in order, viewing the world around me from a relatively mature believer’s perspective. I’m making an effort, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to stay on mission. “This world is not my home” is a growing reality in my life, not just a song.

And then I listen to the news just an hour more one day. And the next. The familiar voices and faces are comforting. And then I leave the television on as I do things around the house instead of listening to Christian music. The tug of the world is so subtle. I scroll mindlessly through Facebook, duped that something there will inspire me–still watching the news, of course. Gradually, my world is very different. If I’m not careful, I might find myself in the Skirmish of Imagination Inflation before I know it, worrying about being an invisible senior locked away forever “for my protection” or plotting a dystopian novel I do not intend to write.

A friend is having a new home built nearby. She’s immersed in design details and appliance purchases, and runs her ideas by me. Recently, I got my neighbors together to have our sad, sagging townhome fences replaced and I had my treacherous front steps rebuilt. Fun, positive conversations and projects providing a welcome distraction from current events. I watched HGTV instead of the news. But then I started salivating over appliances and flooring samples in Home Depot and dropped into bed still thinking about my next project. Tug o’ World had shifted from politics to material things, but I was still losing the battle.

Praise God that He does not leave us alone, wandering about the battlefield like soldiers with amnesia! Much more patient that a drill sergeant, He teaches the same lesson over and over in different ways, presenting me with weapons and showing me how to use them.

Here are a few of these scripture weapons:

Hebrews 12:1-3, in particular the command to “fix my eyes on Jesus” from verse 2. Sometimes a reminder is enough to prepare me for the next tug of the world. Way back when I was taking driver’s ed, one of the students in my car needed a constant reminder to “watch the road.” Scary! Those prompts kept us alive, though. Fixing my eyes on Jesus helps me win the battle.

When Proverbs 3:5-6 “insisted” on becoming my 2020 verse of the year, I admit I was disappointed. Why this oldie instead of something new and challenging? Ha! I had no idea how pertinent this advice would be in 2020! I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on right now or know how it will play out, but God does, and I need a constant reminder to lean on Him. I need to submit to Him in everything–not an easy task, but so important for straight paths and winning my battles. (Preaching to myself again–I’ve forgotten this verse lately!)

The book of Revelation has encouraged me lately. In particular, Chuck Swindoll’s Living Insights Commentary has helped me see in more graphic ways the reality of what’s become a platitude: God is in control. Oh, how the enemy wants me to think I need to be in control, or certain politicians should or shouldn’t be in control! There are so many weapons here in skirmishes of Imagination Inflation that I had trouble choosing. Here’s a sample from page 107 in the application of Revelation 5:1-14:

The One who is worthy to exercise judgment and rule over the earth will accomplish His will through your life. Human history is littered with the wreckage of failed attempts to fix humanity’s problems, but we can turn to Christ, who has paid the price to bring about a glorious future. When we trust in Christ instead of ourselves, the evil and opposition of the world seems much less daunting. It’s all subject to Him! When we see His brilliant splendor looming on the horizon, we can endure this present darkness with ever-increasing hope.

Enough said!

Stay in the battle. Preaching to myself.

Outwardly wasting away; inwardly renewed

Someone joked online recently about a virus-related health questionnaire asking if she had any aches and pains. (I haven’t run across that one yet, have you?) She chose to answer “No more than usual.” I’ve been thinking how I would answer if confronted with the same question at the beauty salon today.

In our worldly existence, we’re all subject to aches and pains–and worse, and we spend a lot of energy trying to prevent them ,dull them, and cope with them in various ways. Even our brains are subject to deterioration.

My beautiful, intelligent, and godly mother almost made it to her 99th birthday. She survived breast cancer and enjoyed excellent health most of her life but she did suffer with dementia during her last few years. Although she never forgot her family members or had major personality changes, I felt her quality of life was greatly diminished. I still wrestle with “why?” and I confess some of my questions are mixed with concern about whether this will happen to me, too.

Because of her faith in Jesus, I know Mother went to heaven, where she longed to go for many years. Sometime after her earthly body wore out completely, I rediscovered a scripture which put a balm on much of the discomfort I felt about what I’d categorized as her “ignominious” final years. 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 showed me there’s more going on in the life of a Christian that meets the eye, or than we can feel as we go about our daily activities.

Reading, one of Mother’s greatest pleasures next to music, became difficult. Fortunately, she’d been an eager Bible student throughout her life and hidden scripture in her heart when her mind was sharp. I discovered a stack of her memory cards which reminded me that these truths were still in her heart when she could no longer read or understand. Supernaturally, the Holy Spirit was using them to renew her inwardly, when all I could see was the wasting away of her earthly body.

When Mother could no longer pray, Romans 8:26-27 reassures me that the Holy Spirit intereceded for her, perhaps using as fuel some of the scripture that she had memorized.

As I try to hide God’s Word in my heart, too, I’m reminded that God does not abandon his creatures. Even as I search for the verse, Psalm 92:12-15, which I supposedly memorized, I’m reminded that the Lord does not abandon his children (the righteous). He helps them continue to bear fruit as they age, and as they waste away outwardly, they are renewed inwardly day by day. Even though I don’t always understand His ways, “he is my rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

Happy Birthday in heaven, Mother!

Could I Interest You in an Appetizer?

You smile and accept the menu, your mind on catching up with the friends you’ve joined for dinner. The server hovers. “Can I get you started with an appetizer tonight?”

Since you’re with a group, you might settle on something to share and the server hurries off. He returns just as you’ve caught up on your friend’s latest news and begin to hear the rumbling of your stomach.

By the time you’ve polished off the appetizer and your meal arrives, your appetite has diminished. You groan as the server sets a huge feast before you. What possessed you to snack on hot, buttered bread in between bites of steamed mussels or spicy grilled shrimp? How will you ever do justice to your steak and baked potato or your Italian feast?

How did “appetizers” get their name, anyway? Mom was right that eating between meals spoiled your appetite!

If you’re still with me and you haven’t run to the fridge for a snack, you probably want to know what this has to do with our spiritual life, right?

Spiritual appetizers aren’t like restaurant appetizers. 

During the early days of the pandemic, the days often dragged. Like everyone, I missed my daily routine. My house and my entire neighborhood were quiet. (Hard to believe if your entire family was suddenly at home together 24 hours a day looking for a tranquil corner, but I didn’t have that problem.) As she stared at the occasional preoccupied passer-by during our walks, I knew even Angie the dog missed people and fellow canines.

I started to create a new routine centered around time with the Lord and virtual connections centered on spiritual things. A podcast during our morning walk. Noon prayer with one or more churches. A weekly online Bible study. My own worship service on Sunday, followed by others that I might want to visit as well. This became the new normal and was a helpful way to stay connected with God and with fellow believers.

My appetite and need for spiritual sustenance were strong.

Slowly, days have become fuller and noisier. I’ve ventured out a bit. Now the virus wasn’t the only news on TV, and I “had” to stay informed. I tackled some big projects around the house. I had to rush to get up and over to the dog sitter’s so I’d arrive at an appointment on time. The “old normal” tried to reassert itself.

A vague sense of disquiet marred the tranquility I’d cultivated earlier.

I skipped the opportunity to turn on the Christian radio station and allow some music to shape my thoughts.

“I should probably settle down and pray or do my Bible study. I’d feel better,” I would tell myself.

Sometimes, an insidious voice would whisper, “That’s silly. You were really overdoing it before.”

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”

Your face, LORD, I will seek.

Psalm 27:8 NIV

Strangely, when I managed to silence the deceptive voice and sample the appetizer, I wanted more. Spiritual appetizers helped me crave more spiritual food, not less.

And that’s a good thing!

When the Spirit’s voice tries to interest you in an appetizer, say yes!

 

The War for Independence

independent-woman-3566942_1920“I REFUSE TO BE DEPENDENT,” proclaims an inspirational poster in the physical therapist’s office.

Amen. Why else would I be torturing myself twice a week and committing (more or less)to exercise at home?

Americans have always had a reputation for being fiercely independent. We celebrate the anniversary of our War for Independence from Great Britain every July. Much of our youth revolves around “growing up” and milestones such as getting our first job and our first car, then moving away from home.

That’s normal, right? Even preferable to being dependent on someone else.

We even let this attitude infect our spiritual lives: God helps those who help themselves. If you’re up for following a short rabbit trail, check out the discussion of this saying in Wikipedia. The final section, which covers how many people think this statement is in the Bible, and whether this idea is actually biblical, is fascinating!

In my life, the “War for Independence” is one of my primary spiritual battles. Winning this battle means I must lose my independence. Just as I rely on the Lord for salvation, I must learn to rely on Him for my other needs. Unfortunately, when my sin nature flares, I find that I don’t really like to be dependent on God. I want Him to be there when I need Him, yes, but I’m not wild about needing to need Him!

Does that make sense?

Adam and Eve apparently felt the same way. They opted for trying to become as wise as God. Abraham got tired to waiting for God to make Him the father of a great nation and took matters into his own hands. Satan may have been counting on Jesus to cease being dependent and submitting to His Father’s will when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness.

On my fleshly and feisty days, I dislike being a clay pot in the hands of the Potter. I’m like a terrible two-year-old, stomping my foot and saying, “No!”

But it’s the Potter’s job to make sure I learn to rely on Him and remember the good results when I do. Despite their Ebenezer stones, various festivals, and scriptural records, the Israelites struggled to remember and rely on God’s faithfulness. I journal and rely on scripture to remind me that God is always faithful and utterly reliable. As I review these and listen to fellow believers recount their own stories, the Holy Spirit strengthens me in my battle to depend on God.

I can adopt the posture of dependence more easily when I think of my relationship to God as a child to her Father. He invites us to bring our all anxieties to Him, which requires humbling ourselves under His mighty hand.

Why be dependent?

Only works done by the Spirit will last.

It glorifies God instead of ourselves.

It prevents lapsing into legalism and works-based religion.

We will grow in grace and become more like Jesus.

What better reason do we need?

Preaching to myself again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preaching to Myself: 99 Sheep Syndrome

sheepI memorized Psalm 23 in Vacation Bible School when I was seven. In the King James Version, of course–that’s all we knew. I earned a plaque of the psalm, but the gift I appreciated the most at the time was a Barbie doll! In high school, our choir learned an anthem called The New 23rd. It was based on the Living Bible version, and it’s beautiful. So is the classic Scottish hymn I discovered later.

My point? I’ve known this beautiful psalm most of my life–almost too well.

Psalm 23 was paired with Luke 15:3-7 in a reading this morning, and I almost opted for another passage because of their familiarity.

I’m glad I didn’t. The two passages stewed in my heart along with yesterday’s sermon.

I don’t know if I’m sheep number twelve, or number ninety-nine. But in the story in Luke reference is made to The Ninety and Nine, I’ve called the syndrome I suffer from “the 99th Sheep Syndrome.”

A not-too-recent Sunday sermon was a rousing reminder of our primary mission as Christians: seeking the lost sheep, aka number one hundred. The pastor admitted that the destiny of those who don’t know Christ is a hard truth to swallow, and he even reminded us of ways we cope with the truth that those without Christ will be separated from God eternally, in hell: we ignore the truth, we try to rewrite it, we believe it but do nothing–or we do something about it.

I wander between the do-nothing believers and the doers. I think part of the problem is the fact that I sometimes suffer from 99th Sheep Syndrome! Much of the herd is right there with me, scampering and bleating around the shepherd’s feet. “Baa! Baa! Look at me! Feed me! Listen to me! Hold me!”

Maybe we 99 Sheep Syndrome sufferers forget that we’re supposedly seasoned, mature believers. We like to ride on the shepherd’s shoulders and be coddled and celebrated. (Here’s where the sheep analogy breaks down a bit. Hopefully, we’re not quite as dumb as sheep are reputed to be.) The reality is, though, that we really (should?!) know how to feed and care for ourselves. We shouldn’t require the constant care of our leaders and our Shepherd. We have work to do.

The wonderful news is this: because of Who our Shepherd is, He doesn’t need to look at us, attend to us, or know us more. He already knows us fully, inside and out. Attending to the 100th sheep doesn’t diminish His attention to us one iota! He never fails to provide banquets, streams, fresh green grass, and healing oil.

Assured of his completely adequate protection, we can stop our bleating and look at Him, attend to Him, and learn to know Him more!

He’s chosen us to help search for the lost sheep! When we do bleat, may it be, “Baa! Use me!” 

Preaching to myself today!