Monday, February 11, 2013

Guilt lashings, taped on fruit


I used to go to bed beating myself up.  The emotional wounds I inflicted upon myself were just as painful as a physical lashing.  I used to think it silly that monks and Christians of old would cut themselves and beat upon their own backs with a whip, but I realized that I was doing that very same thing to myself, only on the inside.  For twenty-something years, I ended each and every day with a run down of how I had failed miserably, scolding myself for each minor detail, and vowing to do better the next day. Of course, the next day came and I found myself powerless, yet again, to be the person I wanted to be.
So I read books on how to control my anger, how be a picture of biblical womanhood, how to be an excellent wife and loving mother, how to raise my children with a biblical worldview and make sure they had all the in-home theological training I was told they needed, how to pray efficiently, and how to be a loving and compassionate person.

And then God reminded me of my humble beginnings.
He reminded me that books and articles and even my nightly guilt trips and pleas for forgiveness and rehabilitation couldn't give me what I so desired.

He reminded me that transformation doesn't come in those things.  Transformation came when I bowed before the Lord, knowing I was broken and weak and fragile, understanding that He alone was my strength, that He alone was my healer, that He alone could create the transformation I so desperately needed.  When I saw that, I knew I needed it, and I knew He was offering it to me.  I didn't have to plead and beg and pray for it.  It was there, and it had always been there waiting for me to accept.  His salvation, that forgiveness, that beautiful cleansing I needed, it was there, and all I had to do was claim it.

Somehow, though, I moved on from trusting that all I needed was in Christ to, like the Galatians, believing that I needed to do something to finish the process.  The truth is, I couldn't wrap my mind around Christ being in me and I being in Christ and what that really meant.  I think most of us can't, because it's just so mind blowing.  We can't because we're so independent and self-sufficient, and our culture tells us that, if we put our mind to something, we can accomplish anything.  If we just keep putting stone upon stone, we can construct a tower of Babel to reach Heaven and strut right through those pearly gates.
But that's a lie.
We find ourselves frustrated because we work and work and work, and think we're headed somewhere- that we're getting better, holier, more Christ-like- with all of our bible reading, praying, and various methods and ministries (1). We put on works like a coat, thinking we look righteous and beautiful, not realizing it's not so in God's eyes.  Before long, though, this coat becomes so burdensome, we can hardly carry it around, yet we are wary to remove it because we have judged others who have not had a coat like ours because, if these people truly loved the Lord, surely they would be adorned in a coat like ours.  We find ourselves putting burdens upon people that we ourselves struggle under the weight of, burdens that are impossible for us to bear (Acts 15:10).  We heap judgment upon then, not realizing we are heaping judgment upon ourselves because we are no different.

And this is the message that the Apostle Paul was preaching against. He called it another gospel, a different Jesus.  

"I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—  not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah," Paul exclaims (Galatians 1:6-7), and time and time again, God says the same thing to me. "Take off that heavy coat," my Savior says. "My garment is easy and light. Wear it, my dear" (Matt. 11:30).

In his writings of The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee words it beautifully, "Living in the Spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself. This life is completely different from the life I would naturally live of myself. Each time I am faced with a new demand from the Lord, I look to Him to do in me what He requires of me.  It is not a case of trying but of trusting; not of struggling but of resting in Him.  If I have a hasty temper, impure thoughts, a quick tongue, or a critical spirit, I shall not set out with a determined effort to change myself, but instead, reckoning myself dead in Christ to these things, I shall look to the spirit of God to produce in me the needed purity of humility or meekness, confident that He will do so."

The Apostle Paul lovingly scolds the Galatians, " Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" [Galatians 3:2-3]

How often has Christ begun to transform areas of my life, and when I get to a certain point I haughtily say, "Thanks God, I got this now."    What really strikes me about Paul's admonishment is his point on BELIEVING.  Last year, I went through a period of time where I really struggled with "this whole Holy Spirit thing". I began to question whether I was really saved because I did not see this power of the Holy Spirit in my life.  The Lord kept giving me these flashbacks to when I first began my walk with Him.  There was a huge transformation and, while I definitely am not the person I was before, I became concerned that my passion for God had seemed to settle down.   I concluded that I didn't have the Holy Spirit, then wanted to know how to get it, and then I went on trying to figure out how to get His works to be in my life.

Obviously I was missing the point.  I saw myself as God's helper.  I saw myself as helping Him work those works in my life.  I thought to myself, "I will try to figure out what God likes, and then I will do those things, and that is how the Holy Spirit works in my life."  It was all more frustrating, exhausting works, and still, over and over, God was giving me images of my humble beginnings with Him.  I was thinking He was scolding me, telling me to get it together, but what He was saying is, "Mandy, you have lost your focus. You have lost your first Love."

"Oh," I sighed, "how I miss the freedom and peace I felt then."  So I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and.... promptly fell back down.  That's what happens in Christianity.  There is no "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps".  It doesn't work. I felt like God surely must be frowning down upon me, wondering why I couldn't get my stuff together.

"A believer's peace is lost when he allows sincere, religious people to put him under the covenant of works of the Old Testament [legalism] {{{note: often legalism isn't just "Mosaic law, but even different law which others may put upon us, like "you must wear skirts" or "you must tithe 10%" or "you must have as many children as you can and never use any form of conception control" or "don't smoke, don't drink, don't dance"}}}. And when a believer loses sight of the truth of his standing in Christ then he loses sight of grace, mercy, love and the power of God. Then he gets into confusion as to the truth, and his peace evaporates, and it is gone," Victor Paul Wierwille stated in the book Living Victoriously, and it's true.  I had lost sight of this beautiful God I loved, this God of radical grace, overwhelming mercy, and abundant love.  I stopped looking to Him, and I started looking to a list of laws (many of which I had made up myself) which became an awful, ugly filtered lens through which I looked at my God.  Of course, it distorted the view and made Him look much more like a strict, unloving school master. What I was really seeing was the law.  Romans 7:7 tells us that the law shows us our sin.  The law shows us a standard we are unable to meet. The more we try to meet the law, the more our frailty and lack is revealed.

Once again, Nee puts this beautifully, "So we can say, reverently, that God never gave us the Law to keep; he gave us the Law to break! He well knew that we could not keep it. We are so bad that he asks no favor and makes no demands. Never has any man succeeded in making himself acceptable to God by means of the Law. Nowhere in the New Testament are men of faith told that they are to keep the Law; but it does say that the Law was given so that there should be transgression (Romans 5:20, Romans 7:7-9). The Law is that which exposes our true nature. Alas, we are so conceited, and think ourselves so strong, that God has to give us something to test us and prove how weak we are. At last we see it, and confess, "I am a sinner through and through, and of myself I can do nothing whatever to please a holy God. [...] The law requires much but offers no help in carrying out its requirements. The Lord Jesus requires just as much, yea more (Matthew 5:21-48), but what He requires from us He Himself carries out in us. The law makes demands and leaves us helpless to fulfill them; Christ makes demands, but He Himself fulfills in us the very demands He makes."

The law is a harsh schoolmaster who instructs but does not help. God is a loving Father who comes alongside us and bears these burdens through Jesus Christ.

The other day at our fellowship gathering, some friends and I were talking about being convicted.  I confessed that I once had an "addiction to conviction".  I went to church to hear sermons that would leave me feeling beaten and bruised. "I crave conviction," I told people. I wanted instruction and conviction and to be shown where I was wrong because I thought it all would make me more holy, more Christ-like.  Whenever I missed church on Sunday morning, I felt empty because I hadn't had my weekly shot to fill my conviction addiction.  I would listen to sermons online and read articles that would leave me feeling torn to shreds, that would instruct me to, basically, change my ways and get everything together using these three principles or five methods, and so I would set out to do those things.   It was like I made a check list. 

I need to have faith so I can walk on water like Peter (figuratively speaking, of course). Check.
I need to trust God. Check.
I need to be less critical of others and more critical of myself as part of examining myself. Check, check.
I need to be submissive to my husband. Check.
I need to give to the poor.
I need to pray more.
My prayers aren't being answered like I think they should so I should pray using this method.
I need to believe prayer works.
I need, I should, I blah blah blah.

And so it became a list I built of things to do and things I needed to do and things I needed to work in my life to be holy and closer to God.  I regularly added to this list, and it became so long that it was difficult to keep up with.  I would wake up everything morning trying to remember all the things I needed to do, and I was already overwhelmed before I got out of bed, and of course... that spirit flooded the household and tainted the rest of the day causing me to do the very things I wanted to overcome.

God's list for me is simple.
Believe and trust.  Actually, believing is part of trusting.  I can't trust someone if I don't believe them.

It is not that I am to believe in the power of prayer or believe that He will bless me if I bless others or believe that if I teach my children about God they will become super-Christians.  I believe in God.  I believe He is who is says He is.  I believe that He is powerful and mighty. I believe He accomplished what He said He accomplished, and that He has given me what He says He has given me, and so I am no longer bound to sin and death, even though some days I feel like it.  I believe that Jesus is Lord, it's already happened, and I surrender to Him. He's not going to be made Lord, as my friend Brittany shared. He is Lord. I don't make Him Lord of my life. He is. I either bow to that fact or not.  I believe , even when I feel distant from Him, He is in me, and with me, and not angry with me. I believe my emotions are fickle and unreliable, and Christ is Truth and Fact and Life, unchanging, immovable.  I see that I am weak and fragile and broken, and so, instead of trying to repair myself, put on pretty coats, and stuff this vessel full or even try to make it empty for Christ, I stop and see the beauty of my Lord who asks me to do nothing but to surrender this vessel to Him.  I don't put my trust in things or ifs or promises.  I put my trust in Christ.  All the rest follows.

I see that in Christ, I have everything, and apart from Him, I have nothing but my own works that only bring frustration and damnation.  In Christ, I have beautiful and glorious treasures- it has all been given to me already.  

I was talking to my friend Rebecca the other day and gave the following analogy (which, turns out, is the same analogy a friend of mine gave in his book).  As believers, we are rich, rich men and women. Figuratively speaking, we have billions of dollars in the bank.  However, many believers are living like paupers.  Why is that? Why are so many believers wearing tattered garments and scrounging for food in the garbage when they have been given beautiful new garments and literally have everything they need?  Do they not know they have billions of dollars in the bank?  Have they been told yet they don't believe?

2 Peter 1:3-4 tells us we have "a billion dollars in the bank": His divine power has granted to us all things [everything we need] that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust.

 I have spent so much time begging, pleading, and crying out for things which God has ALREADY GIVEN ME.  In a simple illustration, it as though we are crying out for food and clothing and a roof over our head, and God is saying to us, "I have already given you these things!  Would you please accept them?"  But because we don't believe it, we don't act on it, and we live like beggars and poor men.

When I am distraught over my sinful flesh and wishing, crying out for God to make me new, He is hugging me tight and saying, "Mandy, my beloved daughter, I have! Believe this!" When I believe I am a new creation, even though I can't "see the money in the bank", I trust what He says is true, and I ignore the fears and taunts that creep up time and time again whispering, "What if you're not? Remember when you did ___? If you're new why do you struggle with these thoughts?  If you're a new creation, why are you so easily distracted?"  I wave them away, and know that Christ is my identity, my reality, He's my billion dollars in the bank.  He is the Truth. He is my Life. And as John 17:3 says, "This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."  And that is it. It is knowing Him. Believing Him. Focusing on Him. 

It is not focusing on myself, worrying over my works, trying to get it figured out, focusing on prayer, trying to get in "the right spirit" to worship.  It is simply believing. Trusting. Knowing. Abiding.
It is simple, yet complicated.  We have so much in our hands, and we have been juggling these things for so long, running on these hamster wheels for so many years, that we don't know how to stop.  The simple things, the narrow way, it seems to hard. It is straight but we are so crooked that it seems too difficult.  Like little Much-Afraid in the book Hinds Feet on High Places, we often focus on our cripples rather than the Good Shepherd.  We hear Him say, "I have given you everything you need for life and godliness!" and we think, "Surely not everything.  Look at me! Look at how broken I am.  Surely I have not received everything.  I do not feel like I have everything. I must not have everything, for if I did, surely I would feel different and look different."  And so we continue limping along, wishing we could be transformed, rather than believing what He has told us.  The old has gone, the new has come.  This broken being has been filled with the Holy Spirit.  He is there, present, living in me, even when I wake up with a list of things I have done wrong and things I should do differently.   He is there, even when I feel alone. He is there, I have been given the Holy Spirit. God says so, and I must believe Him.
I am learning that I cannot rely on the guilty feelings and the emotions that twist and turn and change so quickly. There is only one steady in my life that I can bank on.  It's God. When everything seems to be falling around me.  When the circumstances are overwhelming, when I find myself crying over a sink full of dishes, or wondering how I am to handle these beautiful children I have been entrusted with when I am such a mess, He is there. And I remember, this life is only a blip on the span of eternity.  I don't have to wait for heaven to "cash in" on the truth that I have been made new.  I don't have to wait until I die to see God, He's with me now. He's carrying me now.  It would be so much easier if I would rest in those strong arms.
He doesn't want me to beat myself up for the mistakes I've made.  He doesn't require I go through a time of proving.  He only wants me to turn to Him and believe. Now. Here. Yes.  And as I believe, and as I gaze upon Him, and as I take in His goodness, it flows through my prayer life, through the Scriptures I read, and I am nurtured, and I am strengthened, and I have peace.
And when I see those glimpses of my humble beginnings, I no longer have to wonder, "How do I get back there?"  I just know that I am there. I stop trying to get there, and I realize God has placed me there, in Christ.  When God gives me those little images, they stand as reminders, "Rest, my dear. Cease your works. Trust in mine."

I'll close with this little "parable" that often plays out in our family.  I often will ask one of the kids to do something, and it often plays out like this:
"Keagan, I want you to clean off the table. Put away the game, and clear off the coloring books, okay?"
"Why?"
"Because it's time."
"Okay, but can I play a little longer?"
"No, it's time to clean up and put things away."
"What if..."
"Keagan, it's time to put things away."
"But I..."
"What did I say?"
"I hurt my finger though," he states, holding up a finger with a nearly invisible scratch on it.
"You are still able to clean off the table."
So he goes to the table and ever so slowly packs things away, often getting distracted and needing reminders.

This is such a picture of my relationship with God.  He tells me to do something, and I have a thousand excuses, buts, what-ifs and so on. Instead of obeying, and trusting in Him, trusting that He is good and wonderful and always has a beautiful reason (even if He chooses not to tell me ahead of time what that is), I drag my feet, complain, allow myself to become distracted and even entertain thoughts that He is not good, or this is ridiculous and useless and....

I find every reason why I cannot complete the task.  I'm not capable. I can't do it.  I forget that He has given me strength, that in Him and through Him all things are possible.  I waste so much time with my whys and what-ifs and buts, concerned with myself, not focusing on the Lord, not believing and trusting Him.

But I am thankful He supplies me with so many reminders, draws me out of my distractions, and turns my face to His over and over again.

Trusting leads to a beautiful place.  Trusting lends itself to obedience.  When we trust, our hearts give to obedience, and His works are manifest in us.  

Keagan's trust and obedience led to a meal that filled his belly and then to a fun time of painting lovely pictures, but first, He had to trust and obey my words.

It's so clear to me now that obedience apart from trusting is not really obedience at all where the Lord is concerned.  Joe and Sally can do the same works- they can both feed the poor and attend church gatherings and sing praises to God and pray fervently, but if Joe does not trust God, if He is not doing these things out of a trusting belief in God, these works are just his own works.  And if Sally does all these things as the Lord prompts and moves and she listens to Him and trusts, submitting each moment, asking what He would have her do and say, and stepping out in obedience, allowing Him to live through her body, her works are not her own. On the outside, Joe and Sally are doing the same things, but... not really.  Sally's are the fruit of the Spirit, Joe's works are just taped on plastic apples.

I often find myself taping on plastic apples, stepping out in "what I think I should be doing," rather than asking God, "What now? What next? Lord send me!"

 Anyway, like always, I've rambled and this may not make much sense, but I thought I would share what's on my heart, in my mind, and working in my life.

(1)- This is not to say that bible reading, praying, ministries, etc, are not important, but "it is wrong to trust in even in them for victory", as Nee says. Our trust must be only in the One who is the focus and object of our reading, praying, ministering, and so on.  Too often, Christians are encouraged to put their faith in a method of prayer or wording, to trust in the "power of prayer" rather than the God whom we pray to. Our passion turns from Christ alone, to ministries and methods and doctrine about or involving Christ.  This is a problem.  It is summed up as fleshly works, carnal, even though it may seem good and godly.

Watchman Nee's book is available FREE here: THE NORMAL CHRISTIAN LIFE
Inexpensive copies (less than $10) can be found at most book stores as well.