Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Conflict of Fact and Feeling

In a recent response to "But I Can't Forgive Myself", someone asked, "What if what you know and what you feel are conflicting?"

As Christians, we should be in a constant state of "renewing our mind" (Romans 12:2). An examination of what Peter told his readers in I Peter 5:6-11 might help you understand the battle that is taking place. First, Peter reminds us to "be humble, under God's mighty hand..." Humility, under God, is never a false humility. It is always a genuine response to the majesty of God. I love how T.W. Hunt defined humility, "Humility is not thinking less of or badly of yourself, it is simply not thinking of yourself at all!" Hard words to live by apart from the Holy Spirit but none the less, it is to be our state of mind. So, in response to this "what you know" and "what you feel" conflict, ask the Lord to keep you humble by reminding you of his majesty. For those who have a proper perspective of humility, God has promised to "lift you up in due time." Let him be the one who establishes your position before others and yourself and then, give him the glory!

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." The finished work of Christ is all sufficient for every emotion we ever encounter. The finished work of Christ is also a picture of his care for you. When what you feel conflicts with what you know, a conscience decision to rely on his sufficiency and his care must be applied.

"Be self-controlled and alert." Peter is reminding us to be aware of the battle going on around us. If you and I were in Iraq right now, we would be constantly aware that the enemy could attack at any time from any where. Our spiritual war with the devil is far more real than any physical war ever fought. I intend absolutely no disrespect to our troops through this statement. On the contrary, I greatly appreciate each and every person willing to lay down their life for my freedom. We hear of the atrocities taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan every day. They are real. They are sobering. The emphasis of the statement is meant to be an awakening of how real spiritual warfare is. We must be self-controlled (fruit of the Spirit) and we must be alert (or sober minded) to fight the war taking place in the heavenly realms. A war in the heavenlies must be fought on a different plane - that is why our weapons are different weapons and ultimately lead us to God's Word and prayer.

That old serpent, the devil, wants you to feel defeated by sin. God wants you to know that Christ defeated sin, death, and the devil through his life, death, burial, and resurrection. If ever there were a truth to "name and claim", it is this one! I am united with Christ, the Victor!

Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering terrible mistreatment. He reminds them that Christians all over the world are suffering (v. 9) and that God will "restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." This might sound somewhat strange when you are struggling with truth over feelings but receive suffering as a gift from God. Don't go looking for suffering - it will find you! But when it does come, know that God is using it to strengthen your inner man. The strengthening he provides, will indeed enable you to act more and more upon what you know is truth.

If you are struggling with what you feel concerning God's forgiveness, you are struggling with condemnation. For those who belong to him, "there is no condemnation" (Romans 8:1). Condemnation tends to be general, "You are not worthy of God's forgiveness." Conviction is straight forward, "You have sinned by ..." Condemnation lingers. Conviction last only until there is confession and repentance. I would encourage you to learn this verse and the verses that follow. I would encourage you to set forth to memorize Romans 8. Our battle is in the mind, no doubt. So, our minds must be renewed. Renewal comes through the word.

Pray. Pray God's Word. Pour your heart out to him. Let him know what the desire of your heart is. Let him know that you want to live in the victory that belongs to believers. Recruit someone to pray with you. Preferably, someone who is older in the Lord.

Remember the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Even as you pray, the Holy Spirit is interpreting your groanings (Romans 8:26). Do a study on the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. John, chapters 14-17, and Romans 8 are good places to begin.

Deep biblical issues do not have easy 1, 2, 3 or a, b, c, kinds of answers. Battle is work. Spiritual battle is work. Paul told the Philippians to "work out their salvation with fear and trembling". If you are looking for a quick, "magical" solution to overcoming feelings that deny truth, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a life long quest in the pleasures of God, you will be rewarded!

In writing this blog, I am very aware of how human I am. It is with inner trembling that I pen an answer to such an age old subject such as this. Please know that none of what is written is considered easy. Please know that in no way do I feel that I have arrived. I just hope some of what the Lord is teaching me, helps you.

Monday, July 23, 2007

But I Can't Forgive Myself

Preface: This blog expands on a discussion from the Ladies' Sunday School class yesterday.

But I can't forgive myself! Good. You don't have to!

Nowhere does scripture call upon us to forgive ourselves. An examination of Psalm 51 might help clarify repentance and forgiveness issues. Psalm 51 reveals the heart of David after the prophet Nathan confronts him with his two-fold sin: 1)lust and adultery; 2)coveting and murder. At the beginning is a cry for God's mercy, based upon his compassion and love, followed by confession coupled with a plea for forgiveness.

"Against you, you only, have I sinned..." Is David denying, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, having sinned against the family of Uriah - including Bathesheba? Doesn't Paul teach, "... he who sins sexually sins against his own body" (I Cor. 6:18)? Absolutely not. Rather, David is emphasizing the gravity of his sin and the effect that sin has had on his relationship with God. Whereas Paul is emphasizing the lasting effect that sexual sin has upon our own bodies not only physically (STD's, possibility of pregnancy, etc.), but also emotionally (in verses 15-17, the concept of "uniting" yourself with another).

God forgives sin. God wipes out our sin "as far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12). However, never are we told that God wipes out our memory of our sin. He cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death (Hebrews 9:14). It is the guilt of sin that is removed, not the memory of sin and not the consequences of sin. A very simple illustration is when one uses money foolishly. The money is gone. Depending upon how much was spent, there could even be the consequence of having to take on a second job or work overtime to meet needs. The money is gone, but if we confess this sin, or any other sin, God is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).

You see, God does the forgiving. When you continue in a state of guilt after having confessed your sin and repented of your sin, three things have happened: 1) you have moved into the sin of unbelief by denying the power of God to forgive, 2) you have given the devil an opportunity to prey upon you, and 3) you have confused rememberance and consequences with the false notion that you need to forgive yourself.

What steps might you take to combat the enemy?
1. Put on the full armor of God which prepares us to fight through prayer (Ephesians 6:10-18).
2. "Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (II Cor. 10:5). When tempted with the thought of wallowing in past sin, make that thought obedient to Christ by reminding yourself of scriptures such as Psalm 51 and I John 1:9.
3. Renew your mind (Romans 12:2) by setting your heart and mind on things above (Col. 3:1-2).
4. Recruit godly brothers and/or sisters to pray for you.
5. Of course, all of these steps necessitate reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Word.

Now, may the peace of God guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sounds of Music

Does the sound of music fill your house? No, not the movie (although there is a good reason it still plays in homes today). Does music play a role in your house being a home? Many of my earliest memories involve music. My mother reminds me of the time she made my preschool choir robe and how adorable I looked in it (no comment, please). It was with great anticipation that my parents looked forward to the night their little three year old would sing. She sang at home. She sang in the car. Now, she'll sing for the world - well, for the church and with a few other children surrounding her. In the interest of protecting my parents from swelling with pride, I refused to step on stage when the time came (my version, I think theirs may be different!).

Other memories include the second grade school program. Oh, I wanted so badly to "go fishin' in the craw dad hole". You see, all the girls in the program were going to wear frilly little dresses. I wanted to wear the overalls and go barefoot and carry the fishin' pole - with Barry Howard, none the less (he was just a good friend, Scott). And guess what! I got to do it. I still remember that song. A song of innocence that is no longer in many repertoires.

Then there were the times when I could not sleep at night. What would I ask for? None other than Glenn Campbell's records on the console stereo. "Lineman for the County" along with other Campbell favorites would fill the house just so Amy could hear it as she went to sleep.

One more memory, please. Ok, two. Periodically we would stay with my grandmother. I don't remember the frustration of being awakened early in the morning (my dad would beg to differ) nearly as much as remember my grandmother playing hymns on the organ. When the organ concert concluded, the vocals began as she washed dishes - again, singing hymns. That's one, now the other... As forgetful as I can be lately, I'll never forget listening to my mother sing hymns. What really stands out is how she might be on the line, "...when we've been there ten thousand years..." and then the phone would ring. Mom would stop singing, carry on a phone conversation for what seemed like forever, say her goodbyes, and then pick up right where she left off, "...bright shining as the sun..." She's probably reading this so I must say, "What an example of being focused!"

I could bore you or enlighten you with many other musical memories from my childhood but I'll stop. My point, music has created lasting memories. But not only memories, a love for music has carried over into my adult life in such a way as to provide a glorious avenue with which to praise and worship my Lord. Music plays an instrumental (pun intended) role in scripture. As early as Genesis, chapter four, musical instruments were introduced. Mariam, Moses, and Hannah all responded to the work of the Lord with outburst of song. David strummed his harp as he watched for and eventually killed the savage beast preying upon the helpless sheep Later, with the same harp, he would enter the presence of Saul and calm the savage beast within the tormented king.

Many times the Old Testament illustrates rejoicing with the sounds of music. There were music leaders, there were instrumentalist, and yes, even some godly dancing. Search it out and as the New Testament exhorts us, "learn from these examples" (I Corinthians 10:11).

Psalms resonates with the sound of music. As the hymnal of the Israelites, the psalms bring us to a greater understanding of how to glorify God through worship. A crescendo that never that never falls concludes the psalms in chapter 150. As we peer into the New Testament, we again find the Spirit pointing us to the Psalms in such verses as Ephesians 5:19, where believers are encouraged to "speak to one another with psalms, hymn, and spiritual songs."

I could go on and on and you probably think I already have! All of this to say, "Please, fill your home with the sounds of music!" Share this gift with your children. Pursue their interest in musical instruments. It might last a couple of weeks or it could be for a lifetime. Either way, they profit. Play music in your home. Aldi has a CD player on sale this week for just $19.99! Ask around, I'm sure there are other believers who will share with you age appropriate godly music. Introduce a wide variety of styles. Let your children learn how creative a God we have. Spring a little blue grass on them followed by some Bach. Let them know that "When He Was on the Cross, I was on His Mind" and, that on the "Third Day" he rose again! Mix in a bit of "Passion" with the "Fruit Song". But, please, fill your home with the sounds of music!