Perspectives of Pain and Perfection

Is happiness dependent on whatever life throws our way or do we have a say in the matter? We can find peace amongst chaos, contentment despite limitations, and joy even in our lowest moments. It all comes down to Perspective… Craig Groschel in his recent series on Philippians

Everyone is blinded by their own perspective. Perspective is the angle at which you view something. A pauper views a sandwich and shelter as the essence of life. A king views those same principles of sustenance as bland and ordinary, nearly an assault to his majesty. Before I lived in Georgia, I believed that Oklahoma was humid. An athlete views a difficult workout as a challenge and something to be mastered, a couch potato views the same drills as agony and next to death. Do you see where I am going?

Recently I brought you some stories about the persecuted church. After a few days of reading about the physical abuses that Christians in Nigeria and Egypt were enduring, we read about discriminative abuses against Christian businesses in the United States. I am not diminishing the pain of the Christian businesses, but put in perspective, what is endurance?

I am going somewhere with this (:

Craig Groschel has convicted me on many occasions through his online sermons at LifeChurch.tv, but his series on perspectives has been very humbling. I’ve begun to consider the privilege of pain. “Count it all joy, my brothers when you encounter various trials,” says James, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”            (James 1)

Like the example above, my own pain, in perspective seems minimal and sometimes petty. But my Father knows the testing that my faith requires in order to perfect me. Be it struggles in my marriage, the constant humbling need to destroy my personal idols of food and fitness, loneliness, feelings of failure or any other hurdle that God places in my path in the future, He is intentional.

Intentional. Intentional and repetitive. As He is known to do, God has been echoing this one message in my life from various angles. I am also preparing to lead a Beth Moore Bible study in my home. God chose the book of James this time. As I read through the first chapter, I was skewered by the passage I quoted above…

For you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

That’s what I want. I want to be perfect, clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness, perfectly and contentedly reliant on Him for all my salvation and life. That’s going to require a change in my perspective – a new perspective on my own good works, my own sin, my own struggles and my own forgiveness of others. I hope you find the LifeChurch.tv catalogue of sermons effective for your own training in righteousness. Start with the series on Perspectives.

So You Like Living in Prison?

Wanted: a woman with Angelina’s arms, Jennifer Lopez’ butt, Jennifer Aniston’s hair, Courtney Cox’s beauty spot, the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast and Jessica Alba’s legs.

No, as far as I know, that ad hasn’t been published anywhere. Thank goodness. But as I have been reviewing Setting Captives Free and sharing my experience with the In His Image study, I began to wonder: what image am I trying to portray? Truthfully, I’m not all that familiar with any of the aforementioned women, but I do see the tabloid covers at supermarkets. And I have never actually tried to imitate another woman’s physique, but I have obviously been obsessed with my own perception of the “perfect body.”

I am so excited to see and feel the changes in my thoughts as I work through this study. It’s supernatural. Yes, Christ calls us to transform our minds – it takes work. But, He gives us all the tools we need for life and godliness and therefore to be obedient to this command. Through the simple act of obedience, putting my head and heart into His word, my face on the floor and my hand in His, I am changing! I can’t help but be transformed into the image of the one on whom I focus.

I strongly encourage you to enroll in one of the Setting Captive Free studies. No human being, this side of heaven, is so free that he cannot benefit from one of these courses. Choose a Bible study if you’re not sure where to start. There are self-paced studies offered on The Cross, Onward Christian Soldiers, Glorifying God, Philemon, Psalm 1 and Ruth. The site is available in nine different languages. You have no excuse!

Find Freedom Today!

Welcome to Setting Captives Free. Every day we help people just like you find freedom from habitual sins and learn to grow in grace. Our Christ-centered courses are free of charge and help people just like you escape impurity, over-eating, substance abuse, gambling, smoking and more. Join the more than 390,184 people who have benefited from Setting Captives Free. We’re glad you’re here, and we’re here to help!

Sick in Modern Idolatry

Setting Captives Free, is an almost overwhelming resource – or better said – collection of resources. I was introduced to it by another woman struggling through her husband’s addiction to pornography. Little did I know that God intended to use it to address my lingering love of my eating disorder.

Setting Captives Free offers online courses that address sexual purity, eating disorders, substance abuse, gambling, Bible study, self-injury and more. Listing Bible study as a category seems a little deceiving because the entirety of each program is laced with Scripture and the conviction that Jesus Christ is the only source of freedom from these behaviors – more accurately – sins.

Within each category, there is a listing of 3-6 individual courses focused on that issue. Currently, I am studying In His Image.

The goal of this 60-lesson course is your complete and final freedom from anorexia and bulimia.

The course is written by Setting Captives Free founder, Michael Cleveland and Kim Schmidt, who writes from personal experience. Here is a link to Kim’s brief bio, but she shares many more details of her story throughout the course.

Personally, for years through many treatment programs and professionals I was taught that my eating disorder and battles with food and exercise addiction were a “disease,” implying that it was something that happened to me without my choice. Not really. Yes, Satan is our diabolical enemy who prowls about like a lion seeking to destroy God’s creation, especially those in His Image (humans.)

However, especially as one who knew Jesus long before I ever began to idolize food and exercise, my descent into this hell was nothing short of sin. Like ancient Israel, I walked away from a loving, all-powerful God, into the arms of a tangible “king.” I wanted a god I could control. In deeper self-evaluation, I discovered that the driving force behind my eating disorder was a desire to prove myself independent, needless – that I was not weak like others – I didn’t even need food. In essence I wanted to believe that I was my own god and self-sustaining.

What an ugly picture. God is using this study, In His Image, to burn away my dross. Praise Him that in the midst of my sin, I was no less saved by the blood and grace of His son, Jesus Christ in whom I believed. But I also praise Him that He would not allow me to spend the rest of my earthly life wallowing in pathetic worship of a false and powerless god.

Do Something… or die

I grew up with the understanding that evangelism is important – people need to know that Jesus is not only the assurance of eternal life, but that He makes this life worth living. In the throes of my eating disorder, I was absolutely ready and willing to kill myself, check out, be done with it all. If not for Jesus, who gave me an underlying assurance of hope and peace, I would have died. If starving had not stopped my heart, I would have done it intentionally.

It wasn’t so much that Christians are always saying, “suicide is a sin,” I mean once I’m dead, what do I care? But it was something about this Jesus, something about His companionship in my pain, that made me want to try life one more day, one more day at a time.

Then I married a soldier. My personal soldier isn’t very vulnerable, and it’s been rare when he let me in his private fears. I did notice a heightened sense of mortality and sobering responsibility when he was deployed and in command. He felt the burden of not only his soldiers’ lives but their eternity. He places a great burden on the Army chaplains to do their job boldly and with an acute awareness of the personalities and needs of their audience.

His most recent assignment has been at Arlington Cemetery. Again, a place and situation where he is daily faced with death and often looks into faces of people who clearly have no hope. What then? Can we allow the very men and women who are willing to die for our freedoms – can we allow them to enter the battlefield without having done everything possible to offer them the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ?

I am an avid reader of Table Talk Magazine. As a subscriber, I was recently made aware of an opportunity to arm our military chaplains with unique resources to share the gospel during deployments and in garrison. Given the recent assaults  on religious freedom in the military, fully arming chaplains with useful resources is both helpful to their efforts and encouraging to them personally.

Here is an opportunity, presented by Ligonier Ministries through their chaplain support program, to care for the souls of soldiers. It’s time we did more than verbally espouse our support for the military, fasten yellow magnets to our cars, or shake a soldier’s hand at church. Care more. Do more. Do something!

GIVE HERE. 

Post Script Miracles

This has not been my day. You know those days when you’re just “off”? My husband says he didn’t notice it, but my dog did. He moped around me, followed me everywhere and manipulated me with doleful eyes. Maybe he was trying to make me feel better, but it didn’t work. On top of feeling “off” now I feel guilty for not being a good dog mom.

Just this morning we studied the intrinsic value of our marriage partners. The teacher pointed out that in eastern culture, the emphasis is naturally on the value of who someone is. Consider even the recorded praises of the Jewish people to their God. Most of their vernacular is centered on who God is. “Give thanks to the Lord for He IS good.” Ps. 136:1 Whereas, in a western church service, you will likely here people praising God for all the good He has done. Both things are true: God is of utmost value and worth, God IS good; and God has done great and wonderful things.

Where am I going with this? After nodding in agreement this morning, I walked out of the church building into a world of disappointment in myself for not doing anything of significance, worth or value. It seems, my whole existence serves only to extend my life one more day. I live for the sake of living, get up for the sake of getting up – not because I’m contributing anything important or necessary to the world around me. Ever feel that way?

What’s the point of cooking fresh homemade cornbread, folding laundry, buying a sewing pattern, feeding the dog, reading a book, washing the car, sweeping the floor? All these things done once must be done again and feel like an exercise in futility.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? Ecc. 1:2-3 At least I’m in good company.

Post Script miracles. The tag line on my day.

A postscript, abbreviated PS or P.S., is writing added after the main body of a letter (or other body of writing). The term comes from the Latin post scriptum, an expression meaning “written after”[1][2] (which may be interpreted in the sense of “that which comes after the writing”). (Wikipedia) 

What is the fragrance that lingers in the room after I’m gone? What is the P.S. beneath my signature on every friendship? The miracle is that because Jesus Christ lives in me, I believe He is the lasting impression even after my most futile days.

Oh Jesus, that I might follow so hard after you, be so taken with your direction that I will not fear even when my daily tasks seem mundane and my life feels insignificant. For Lord, it is not your choice to make much of me. You created me so that you can live through me. Take even my pathetic shell and fill it with so much of yourself that even when I’m invisible, unnoticed and tiny, the presence of Christ will overwhelm each spirit in my presence.

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Is. 58:11

Catching up on Gratitude

Sorry I missed yesterday, friends. It’s been a week. I was so proud of myself as I returned from my trip to visit my sister. Last week, I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all. I felt like I landed on smooth concrete, wearing roller skates with new ball bearings. Then, this week hit. With Easter choir starting, studying to be a personal trainer, picking up shifts at work, seeing my mentees, meetings for ministries, practicing for choir auditions, addressing wedding invitations, caring for a friend’s dog, hails and farewells, and more things…. good things…but oops – blogging! I hope this is as important to someone else out there as I believe God has laid it on my heart to be.  I don’t feel free to let it go, even though in some ways it seems like the one thing I could set aside and no one would know.  I guess that’s the down-side of virtual friendships.

In truth, I learn as much from my own flying finger tips as I ever know in my own head before I begin writing. And I gain strength and courage from you comments, your blogs, your identification, your friendship. I love you, all and I thank God for you.

Other things I am thankful for…

Corporate worship

Short, extra shifts at work with fun friends

Doggy daycare

Windows rolled down

Globe-shaped grapes and summer-heart strawberries

Paper cuts from letters in my mailbox

Tomorrow I will post the schedule for March!

 

Good For Explaining the Good News

Foundational, mind-boggling principles becoming clear.

Have you ever found yourself in such a conundrum: Someone you dearly love and long to share eternity with has questioned your faith?

Well, um… I believe that Jesus died for my sins. He was buried and rose again. Now he lives eternally, and as my sins have been paid for, I can spend eternity with him in heaven.

“Well, that’s just great,” they rejoin, “but what is true faith? Why do you call God ‘Father’ and why does a God who loves me let bad things happen to me?”

I distinctly recall being in that position about seven years ago. I worked with one of my best friends. I’ll call her Kelly. Kelly was never hostile to my faith, in fact she was genuinely curious. But she never lobbed easy questions at me. Whenever work was slow, we’d be organizing and checking dates on millions of supplement bottles (we worked at GNC) and she would begin asking the tough questions. Kelly wanted to know all about the Trinity. She wanted to know why Jesus had to die. She wanted to know if God really listened to and answered prayer. She wanted to know if he offered peace of mind concerning her husband who was currently deployed. Kelly wondered what made Jesus of the Bible any different from the founders of other religions.

I did my best to answer her questions. I remember going home at night and calling my mom tearfully. “What if I don’t have the right answer? I know what I believe, but how do I explain it?” Praise our good and loving God. He had already marked Kelly with his name. Despite my bumbling answers, two years later, Kelly called me with explosive enthusiasm. “I’m getting baptized tomorrow! I accepted Jesus as my savior! I know I’m going to heaven.” Convictingly, since that day, I have had to humbly accept rebuke, training, teaching and affirmation from this once baby Christian. Kelly has found the Bible to be the living source of nourishment that God promises His word is. She as grown like a tree firmly planted by streams of water and has borne much fruit.

As I have slowly plowed through Kevin DeYoung’s book, “The Good News We Almost Forgot” I have unearthed a wonderful resource for sharing my faith. DeYoung is a compelling author, making even potentially dry subjects seem humorous and interesting. However, I don’t recommend simply handing the book to your questioning friends and expecting the proverbial lightbulb to blink above their head. As a historic Christian document, the catechism employees many terms specific to the Christian faith. The questions themselves are pretty heady.

Perhaps the best use of the book is personal. A Christian (speaking to myself) has no business attempting to explain the good news of the Gospel, if he has lost its wonder in his own heart and mind. Read to remember. Remember that…

True faith is not only knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in Scripture is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation.

I trust Him so much that I do not doubt He will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and He will turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this sad world.

That I am not my own, but belong –  body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

These are just snippets of answers offered in the catechism and expounded upon my DeYoung. Additionally, the catechism addresses the 10 Commandments, one at a time, and the Lord’s Prayer. Each is afforded useful answers.

The Heidelberg Catechism is not an infallible document. And DeYoung does not profess to be a new source of truth. The Catechism is based fully and unashamedly on the infallible truth of the Bible. It is a trustworthy source of instruction and useful for training in righteousness – and for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. The Good News We Almost Forgot, takes this ancient resource and repackages it in a less-intimidating paperback. Don’t miss this. 

P.S. To make sure you don’t miss it, I’m giving away a copy at the end of this week. Make sure to comment and repost the link for a chance to win your copy!

Day 1 Book Review: The Good News We Almost Forgot

Catechism. It’s an old, dusty word that rolls boringly off the tongue. It sounds like library books and creaky chairs laden with inches of dust, unmoved by studious backsides.  I remember my mother once determining that my sisters and I would study and memorize the catechisms as part of our homeschooling Bible class. As tedious as it seemed and though I never made it through the 129 questions and answers, sometimes phrases of the old document leap to my mind in response to a probing question.

Even more so now, 20 years later, with the emergent and seeker-sensitive church movement, these timeless truths have been shelved. Shelved often behind cobwebs, the very cobwebs that shroud our clarity of thought, the simplicity of the scriptures and our commitment to absolute truth.

Kevin DeYoung does a marvelous job of presenting the old Heidelberg Catechism in an intriguing light in his book The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Truth in a 16th Century Catechism. As I read the book, it was a progressively dawning light. It illuminated truths that I’ve known, but never known how to express. It confirmed doctrines like the Trinity and original sin and total depravity.

As usual, I stumbled upon this new book as I listened to In The Market With Janet Parshall on Moody Radio. By the end of the interview, I could barely wait to get my hands on a copy. Now, for three days this week I want to whet your appetite, too. At the end of the week, I will be giving away a copy of the book.

Recently I have been listening to a series of sermons on reformed theology, by R.C. Sproul. True to form, God has folded truths from both of these sources into overlapping confirmations in my mind. I certainly don’t have it all wrapped up in a nice little package, but I’m getting closer to a confident understanding and an ability to express what I believe.

I confess, I haven’t finished this book yet. You may be privy to additional nuggets of treasure that I unearth even after this week. But it’s a start. Don’t forget to be lively – COMMENT HERE – follow the links. The more involved you are the higher your chances of winning a free copy of The Good News We Almost Forgot. 

Introverted Extrovert (sounds like a new species)

Does God care if you’re an introvert or an extrovert? Does one personality type please Him more than another? Is one personality a more effective evangelist?

A couple things recently have caused me to wonder. First, I have always referred to myself as an extrovert. I love people, I’m bubbly, animated, talkative, a people-pleaser and I can’t stay home a full day alone. In fact, the minute I’m snow-bound or otherwise shut up indoors, I’m bound to try and go out (usually to my detriment) just to make sure that I’m not really stuck by myself.

Recently, I have continued a life-long bad habit of over committing. I try to make sure that I’m never lonely or bored. So I promise to work this shift, meet that person, take on that volunteer opportunity, do this Bible study, etc. Finally, I guess I’m getting old, I suddenly realize that when I get that busy all I want is to be alone. Suddenly, I crave those long mornings in Bible study when I don’t have to be anywhere before noon. I miss the moments of cuddling with my puppy and the hours to experiment in my kitchen. I’ve come to a crisis of identity. Am I still an extrovert or am I a closet introvert?

According to definition: 

Basically, an extrovert is a person who is energized by being around other people. This is the opposite of an introvert who is energized by being alone.

I don’t feel like I could live in the extreme of either circumstance. But truthfully, as much as I love being with people, I feel inflated after a couple hours alone, with either a sermon or Christian music playing. What about you?

Last Sunday, our pastor confessed to being an introvert. Obviously, he’s serving the Lord and serving people and he’s not alone all the time. So, is there a right way to be?

God has blessed me in my extroverted moments. I get chatty on this blog and I comment on other’s blogs. I have tried to encourage my readers to be vulnerable, outreaching Christians. A few months ago, I gave away 2 Starbucks gift cards per week, asking the recipients to take a friend out to coffee and share the love of Jesus with them. That request introduced me to a special friend.

When one of the recipients of the gift cards provided me with her address, I was floored to find out that she lives in my home town! I wrote a quick note, stuffed the envelope and stuck it in the mail. Imagine how shocked I was four weeks later when they came back to me. Not a “return to sender” but a freshly stuffed envelope with a full-page personal note, a gift card TO me, a couple beautiful drawings and a cash gift. Stunned. Shocked, Humbled, Grateful. 

The card was gracious. She thanked me for reaching out to her. In return she extended kindness to me on one of those days when I was feeling friendless and lonely. Now, I’ve sent her something and we tag each other in blog posts (:

Another new, unexpected friendship began about a year ago. An elderly couple was dining at Panera just behind me as I was working. When they rose to leave, the lady commented on my Bible. “It’s so nice to see someone in the Word.” One little sentence struck a quickly deepening conversation. I must have stalled them for 30 minutes as we uncovered that her hubby was retired military, I told them about my husband, my writing, my church. She asked me about joining my church’s Bible study. We exchanged phone numbers and bid farewell.

I didn’t see Bob or Shirley again until yesterday. She hadn’t returned my phone call and I didn’t want to be a pest. But when our paths crossed in Panera again, in our same seats, Shirley jumped up, spry for a 76-year-old woman. Shirley explained that her daughter had had surgery and she herself had battled some health issues. But she definitely still wanted a chance to study the Bible with my church and to become better friends. We traded numbers again and said goodbye with a genuine hug.

Then there’s Fred. My atheist friend at Panera who gives me practical advice and driving directions around D.C. We met when he pointed me to the only electrical outlet at Panera. Since then we’ve exchanged small gifts, talked for half an hour at a time and grinned at each other across the dining room. (Don’t worry, he’s my granddad’s age.)

All these examples only serve to explain that being extroverted, needing to be around people and to have relationships, has provided me myriad opportunities to learn from others and to share the love of Christ with them. If I had been cuddled up at home alone, I would never have met these people.

From the other side of the isle: Jesus often escaped to be alone. (Luke 5:16) A Christian will never have the nourishment or energy to grow in their walk with the Lord if they are always being stuffed with the company of and interaction with other people. In Psalm 46:10 God commands us to be still and know that He is God. Stillness is not an attribute often exhibited by extroverts.

My researched conclusion is this: it’s not OK to say, “That’s just the way I am.” We can’t stay the same. We will all be born with a bent, but it is the beauty and glory of Jesus that constantly straightens us and changes us to be more like Him.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:18