Umbrellas in a Tent?

Imagine yourself at an evening, outdoor wedding reception. You know… the ginormous white tent, crisp table linens, fragrant flower centerpieces, little white lights strung across the ceiling, and a DJ who is fully eager to assault your eardrums with any song that has ever been recorded. (Definitely, The Isley Brothers singing ‘Shout’ is in the queue.) Now, imagine sometime during the evening, it begins to rain. Strangely, even though everyone knows the tent will keep them perfectly dry, they each (including you), pull out an umbrella and raise it, knowing full well that the tent is solid and not leaky. You never know…. maybe the tent won’t be adequate. I’ll raise my umbrella anyway… just to be safe.

Not only would this scenario look hilariously ridiculous, but it would be totally unnecessary, right? Maybe not….if people believe that the tent won’t hold and therefore, won’t fully protect them. Then, and only then, would they be convinced that an umbrella would serve to give them additional protection, just to be extra-sure.

We all may think the umbrella scenario sounds totally silly because we’d certainly never be so obsessive. Think again. We do behave and think like this, as we live under God’s sufficient tent of saving grace for those who believe. We create unnecessary safeguards for insurance to protect ourselves from God’s displeasure. We jockey for assurance of our acceptance by Him, just in case His saving grace isn’t enough. Just like the umbrellas did in the tent…we attempt to make good use of our Umbrella Policy against soul-condemning liability.

A little history….Do you remember in John 19:30, as Jesus was hanging on the cross before his impending death, that he uttered the familiar last words, “It is finished?” He knew His death was imminent. However, his words weren’t casually referring to the fact that He was going to stop breathing. His statement was declaring the fact that His death would be the means of God’s sufficient grace (as a tent) to cover our sin, and that a right relationship with God would be established for us by His sacrifice. As a result, no longer would we be judged by our Maker according to how far we’ve fallen from keeping the perfect requirements of the Law. Jesus is the One who accomplished all of that for us…. it was finished by the perfect sacrifice of Himself. We would no longer need to offer all the required sacrifices to appease God’s wrath. We would no longer need to worry about our acceptability to God…. nothing more would be needed for cover. We can now rest in the sufficient accomplishment of the Cross, which no longer requires any attempts at “extra credit” or “brownie points” to please God. Christ knew God’s tent of grace would cover all who are in Him, and our relationship would be secure forever. Because of this, we no longer would need to worry about our position before God.

Nevertheless, we may think, “I need to do this so that God will be happier with me,” or “I need to do this so that I can make sure I’m safe with God,” or “I need to do this in order to make up for the wrong that I did last week.” In other words, adding anything to the freeing grace of the Cross, is raising an umbrella up for extra protection, just in case Jesus’ death wasn’t enough. Not only is this biblically untrue, but it minimizes what Christ accomplished through His sacrifice. It diminishes the full impact of what He suffered for our sake. When we add something to grace, it says, “I need to complete what Jesus didn’t.” It says, “I believe Jesus needs to be re-crucified in order to correct what failed the first time.” It says, “Jesus needs me to complete my acceptability because my position before God is shaky and uncertain.” How sad. We keep ourselves hopelessly enslaved to the requirements of the Law, and don’t experience the release of being set free.

Jesus eternally satisfied the requirements of God’s law by his death. He was the perfect sacrifice; the Lamb of God. Our attempts to establish a more acceptable position before God, as our judge, are in vain. We have been cleared of our guilt of rebellion against God, and no longer need to be fearful that our Maker will require more. The debt has been paid, and our attempts at “insurance” add nothing.

Let’s look at some of the umbrellas we still attempt to raise all during the week (for extra insurance). Do you think your relationship with God in Christ is more secure when you: go to church, read your Bible, have devotions, volunteer or are employed in a ministry, increase your tithe, go to a Bible Study, or pray more often? These things are spiritual in nature and are God-honoring, but have absolutely nothing to do with your acceptability before Him. Did you know that He loves you no more, and no less, whether you do them or not? Actually, the motivation to do these things should come from the heart, as a response to His saving grace, not as a means to an end. They are attitudes and behaviors that are indicative of our thankfulness and need for Him.

I recently attempted to “raise an umbrella” for extra credit that will hopefully serve to illustrate my point. I had to go to traffic court a few months ago. I had received a ticket for an expired registration sticker on my car. (I nicely pled with the police officer for mercy. Sadly, my tears did nothing but make my mascara run.) Anyway, I appeared in court nicely dressed, thinking the judge would be more lenient if I didn’t show up in flip flops and shorts. Much to my surprise, several people who had committed the same kind of traffic violation as I, were there in clothing which caused me to think, Yikes! Does your mother know what you’re wearing!!? Eventually, my fellow drivers-in-crime and I were called up front to the bench. Okay, Janice, stand up straight, and look contrite. The judge proceeded to go through the list of us offenders one by one, routinely questioning each, “Have you now registered your vehicle? If so, your court cost will be $63.50.” What?? I thought, “Your Honor, surely, you don’t understand… I wore these stinkin’ panty hose just so I’d look more acceptable to you. Do you have ANY idea what a sacrifice that is? Are you saying that even though that other group looks like they’ve been on an all-night drinking binge, they’re just as acceptable to you? They obviously didn’t make any effort to impress you!” I was incredibly shocked and irritated by the fact that it seemed to make no difference to the judge whether or not I had made any attempt, by my attire, for extra insurance. I was no more acceptable to the judge than they, and they hadn’t done anything! The judge had made it crystal clear that the only thing which satisfied the requirements of the law was to have a current registration and to pay a court fee. Period. No attempt on my part to establish a better position before the judge was necessary. It possibly may have been more respectful of me to appear before the judge by dressing up, but only because it was his courtroom, thereby, making a statement of my respect for his position. Likewise, do you think your position before God will be strengthened by your healthy respect, or clean living, or choices that are pleasing to Him? It’s interesting that we often think of God as a courtroom judge whose verdict of grace or no grace is affected by our violations of behavior or misdeeds.

Interestingly, of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament, almost two-thirds of the greetings by the writers include the words “grace” and “peace” in the same sentence. This isn’t a literary accident. The writers consistently joined those words at the same time because one word cannot exist without the other. In every case, this kind of peace has nothing to do with our feelings. The intent wasn’t meant to confer a wish for the recipients to have a nice day. The Greek word used here for “peace” has everything to do with an event in history where believers were now joined into a new relationship with God. We were set at one again with Him through Christ. The grace of the Cross accomplished peace with Him, and we can’t make it more or less effective by our deeds or misdeeds. Grace and peace don’t ebb and flow just because we may not feel at peace with God. (That’s a subject for another day.) Jesus didn’t die for our feelings… He died to make peace with God for our souls.

One last thing…. it sort of begs the question, “Then, why try to do anything mentioned in the Ten Commandments? If our position is eternally secure, and if we can’t keep the perfect Law anyway, why bother?” The answer to that one comes from our heart. We don’t do good deeds and ministry because it will get us something…we do them as a response to the love of God, in Christ. Good deeds come from a heart that is over-flowing with thankfulness. I challenge you to think of why you do or don’t do things which please God. If you’re spiritually lazy, or too busy, or simply have presumed that God’s grace has you covered, then ask the Holy Spirit to awaken your heart to the grace and mercy of the Cross.

Turn Around. Put your umbrellas in the closet. In Galatians 2:21, Paul says, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through (keeping) the law, Christ died for nothing!” God doesn’t need any help to keep us dry….His grace poured out, and He supplied the tent that will keep us eternally safe. Fellow believer, grace and peace to you!

On Worry and Anxiety

As a counselor, I’ve noticed a distinct increase in the use of anti- anxiety medications over the last 5-10 years. I’d estimate that 75% of my former clients were using these meds on a daily basis, or felt the need to use them occasionally. It prompts me to ask, why? Have people changed? Or, has something outside of them changed? I believe it’s a combination of both. Although the heart of man hasn’t changed, the world has given us new things to worry about…. bullying, sex-trafficking, drugs, terrorism, strangers, new diseases, hackers, etc. It’s enough to make me break out in a cold sweat! So, how are we to filter all these uncontrolled things through Scripture?

First, let’s take a look at some basics. Man has always had the capacity to fear. It’s a God-given emotion that warns us to pay attention. Adam and Eve would have needed to have a healthy reaction to fear if an elephant stampede had threatened their paths. It would have been a necessary, reasonable, non-sinful reaction to a real threat if they had needed to step out of the way in order to avoid disaster. However, they also had an irresponsible sinful reaction to a perceived fear as they ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. They believed that they had to know what God knew, because they feared He had withheld necessary knowledge from them. They felt that God had thrown them under the bus, so they tried to take control by disobeying God, and taking matters into their own hands. So, as you can see, fear motivated the first couple to respond in a self-protective way via the Enemy (and their flesh) that deceived them…..and we’re no different. We get anxious and obsess about things over which we have no control. We even convince ourselves that if we try hard enough, we can control the uncontrollable…. namely the future.

As living, breathing human beings, we only have the past, present, and future. If we live in the past, we will often make excuses to remain angry by blameshifting and holding grudges against others. If we live in the future, we fear what may happen, and life feels out of control. So, the only option that brings real peace is to focus on the present….today. But, today, Mary is worried whether or not her high-schooler will get into college. Bill fears he may lose his job. Cindy is never free from worry about her weight. Tom fears his cash flow won’t pay the bills. Emily worries that her sick child won’t recover. These kinds of fears have been around forever. What’s new, is that this present world’s culture has created new kinds of fears. We live in an information overload, brain-taxing, stress-producing, global sphere, thanks to technology. Google, Facebook, U-Tube, Twitter, and the rest of the I-Need-To-Know-It apps have elevated a new level to life’s concerns. Plus, the 24-7 news channels give us on the spot, breaking news about everything and nothing. As a result, we see anxiety-overload, like Nancy worrying that her babies will get snatched. Dan, wondering if his search on WebMD will tell him whether or not he may have cancer. Bill watches the moment by moment downward movement of his stock portfolio. Janice (me) Googling what her surgical procedure last Thursday would look like. Jenny’s fear of her medical or financial data being hacked. We know too much about things out of our control, which we’re deceived into thinking, that if we just do something to get ahead of it, the outcome will be good or at least be tolerable. That’s not living in the present, because worry is ALWAYS about the future. It lives in fear about what may happen. It wants total control, but can’t have it. Think about the people/things you’ve stressed about today. The amount of time you’ve spent worrying about people/things that have taken up space in your day. The people/ things that have consumed your mental energy.

I’m a worrier. I spend far too much time thinking about the “what-ifs”, than I do about the present joy in a day I’m living. What if that happens? What if they don’t do such and such? What if I can’t get this done? What if I see someone at the mailbox and I have on no makeup? (Yes, sadly, this is a vain concern, but then you’d be the one in danger of fright.) I’ve recently had the occasion to fret over my latest medical issues which I shared in my “Suffering” post of a few weeks ago. I underwent surgery 2 days ago, and won’t know the results for 4-5 business days. As much as I don’t relish the experience, it’s yet another occasion where I’m pushed out of my comfort zone to see where I land. It’s an opportunity for me to experience how trust can overlay fear, when an uncertain future causes anxiety about things I can’t control. I really do want to know if my faith is genuine, and what better way to discover that, than through a fearful time. So…. you would think that if worry is my companion these days, it would have been over my health, but the Holy Spirit has graciously given me peace about that particular outcome.

Unfortunately, however, I laid awake last night for hours thinking of the fact that I hadn’t posted in over a week, and I was stressing over what I was going to write about stress! I was worried about what people would think, since I hadn’t posted in a week. I was anxious about coming up with a topic that would be of interest. I tossed and turned over what to say. I started praying, and the Lord quickly reminded my soul that my anxiety was coming from worry; that worry comes from fear; and fear comes from believing that a real or perceived danger is imminent, thereby not trusting that God will see me through it. So, the question I asked myself was, What do I believe the danger to be just because I haven’t posted in a timely fashion? Is it a real or perceived danger? How do I believe it can it hurt me if I let people down?

There is certainly real danger at times in situations which require us to be responsible, wise people; circumstances which necessitate us to take action. However, the large majority of the time, fear is based on a perceived danger. A belief that the situation poses danger to us, and we have to do something to circumvent it. My example of staying awake during the night is a case in point. I was thinking to myself, What is my anxiety really about? If I’m honest with myself, I’d have to admit it was about what other people would be thinking of me. My reputation. Is there really a danger in that? The answer is yes, if I live to believe that what others think of me will give me life. However, if I live to believe that Jesus is the only One who gives me life, then there’s no real danger. Possibly, a disappointment, but nothing that will kill me.

Stress, worry, and anxiety are not caused by what’s going on outside of us, even though circumstances may be uncertain, confusing, and painful. Our struggle with anxiety comes from what’s going on inside of us. You see, it’s a faith issue…. spoken by the very mouth of Christ. Matthew 6:19-34 is a familiar passage on Worry, where Jesus says in verse 27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”… and in verse 30, goes on to describe those who worry as, “O’ you of little faith.” This passage is sandwiched squarely between Jesus talking about the treasures (of our heart) that we store up on earth, and by contrast, seeking God’s kingdom as the treasure of our heart. In other words, what we worry about and what we find rest in, reveal the true treasures of our heart. Worry rips our soul apart. It tears at the very fabric of our faith. Paul David Tripp wrote an article on “Worry” that says it best. He said, “You will rest the most when what you treasure the most is secure, and you will worry the most when what you treasure the most is at risk. What does your world of worry reveal about the true treasures of your heart?” Friends, even when we understandably fear real danger, if it turns into obsessing, it means our misplaced treasure is safety. We value that over seeking the eternal treasure of seeking God’s Kingdom purposes as our master.

When I consider my anxiety that I experienced last night about what others think of me, it convicts me to repent. My head and heart were wrapped around my kingdom, and I was assigning value to my own self-centered “need” to be liked. The Holy Spirit graciously enabled me to remember that only Jesus and His Kingdom is my highest and deepest treasure. When I spend countless moments in worry, it robs me of living for a purpose that is so much higher. When I treasure my earthly desires and perceived needs above what Jesus has for me, it steals my rest.

Friend, what do you stress about? How high is your anxiety? Please understand that this is a war for your heart. Who will win? If your brain spends a good part of the day worrying about what may happen in the future, then I challenge you to consider what you’re treasuring more than Christ’s Kingdom purposes. If you could “fix” and control the future, how much of it would be about your comfort, your peace of mind, and your world. How much of it would include trusting His provision for you? Faith and trust in the Lord’s plan, and not your own, pushes out worry because it believes the promise, “Fear not, for I am with you. . . . I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)….regardless as to how it may look and feel to you. (Italics mine)

There is no need to be anxious. Anxiety is a product of your perception that God can’t be trusted with your future, or the futures of those you love. It is an unvarnished faith issue. Turn Around. Don’t be like Adam and Eve and attempt to take matters into your own hands when the outcome is up to the Lord. You can believe that God’s timing and purposes are always trustworthy because He doesn’t lie. Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of what is true and real. He will enable you to repent and have a renewed perspective. Then….enjoy the rest.

Looks, Brains, Money and Other Stuff

Many of you might remember the mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, of Mad Magazine. He was always on the cover of every issue, and the statement “What–me worry?” was emblazoned across the top of the monthly publication. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’re either too young, or you were doing something more productive than I was in the 70’s…..like being responsible. Anyway, I can’t figure out how the slogan”What–me worry?” has anything to do with the magazine itself, but it’s a catchy tagline that immediately identifies the magazine to me to this day. I’d wager (well, not really) that if I polled people over the age of 60, and asked what magazine the phrase comes from, 75% would get it right, whether they read the magazine or not. The marketing department got it right when they created their catchy tagline…. they successfully branded themselves by using it.

So, what is my point? That we are remembered in people’s minds by certain things they recall about us through the way we brand ourselves. What identifies you and me? When someone thinks of you, what do you want them to remember most? Something about your looks? Your success in life? Your athleticism? How smart you are? Those qualities are commendable, but they don’t set us apart as believers. They’re worldly qualities that are just as present in non- believers as those who follow Christ. Those things don’t tell others what we believe, they don’t define our character, and they don’t identify who we follow.

God says through Jeremiah in 9:23-24, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts, boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” When we read that, we immediately think, I don’t boast or brag. Well, maybe not with our mouths, but boasting isn’t only about what we say. That’s only one use of the word. Another use defines it this way: “A feature that is a source of pride”, or “to glory in”, such as, “the hotel decor boasts of its luxury.” Obviously, a hotel is a non-verbal entity, but it’s decor still sends a message about its identity. When we read, “the heavens declare the glory of God”, it’s the same idea. God takes pride in what He has created. It’s part of how we identify Him. So, if boasting isn’t only a spoken thing, but can also be a silent source of pride, then this begs the question, What things do I silently or openly glory in? Again, I’m not suggesting that we hide our successes under a bushel basket, but is there something else about us that we’d like for others to know, which would brand us as the people of God in Christ, other than money, stuff, brains, and more.

If you’ve ever read about the 5 love languages, you might recall that everyone has a receptive love language. (A love language is a gesture from others that particularly affirms the fact to you that you’re loved/ valued by them.) It doesn’t take me long to identify that my love language is “Words of Affirmation”. In other words, I feel loved or valued when I receive affirmations that I’ve done something well, i.e. a trophy, a statement of appreciation, a certificate, a pat on the back, etc. I also realize that I take far too much pleasure in a job I’ve done well. It’s a source of pride for me. How do I know this isn’t just a healthy attitude, but instead is an unhealthy characterization?…. Because I find it difficult not to point out to others that I did it. I’m far too quick to take the credit…to glory in it. One of the signs in myself that would indicate I’m growing in the right way, is to be quiet about my accomplishments. Humility is hard; it requires selflessness, and my sinful nature operates under the assumption that life is all about me. Carly Simon’s lyrics “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”, describes my human heart. Of course, God said it first! As a result, pride has the ability to enter the picture for you and me on every level of life. Think of the everyday things we take pride (boast) in:

Look at how much emphasis our culture puts on fitness…. how good we can look; our strength. I’m not talking about just a healthy lifestyle; I’m talking about the time and effort we pride ourselves on to be ‘better than’ or ‘more than’. It isn’t enough to be in decent shape as a stand-alone quality. We have to be in better shape than the next person because we pride ourselves on the fact that we’re more disciplined, or more persevering, or more athletic. The shape we’re in boasts of our determination to others. All of this is good…. until it becomes a self-affirming means of branding ourselves. A boast of outward appearance that comes from a source of inner pride that says, “Look at me.”

I’ve always liked the Rocky the Flying Squirrel cartoon series. I’ll never forget a quote from Bullwinkle Moose when he and Rocky were having a contest about who could be the best at something. They were arguing about who would win, and Bullwinkle said in his dopey way, “When it comes to humility, I am the greatest!” You see… even when he was seeking to become more humble, his boast was that he had to be the best at it.

How about the way we take pride in where or how we get educated… to gain wisdom? There is much to be said in favor of a college degree, but which college, if any? These days, if someone aspires to learn a trade, instead of higher education, they’re considered to be ‘less than’ the brightest and the best. Or, if someone is accepted into an Ivy League school, it automatically pegs them as smarter (not just academically). Would you classify yourself as a failure if you could only be accepted into a community college? Do you pride yourself on the fact that you’re wiser than average? Once again, this achievement is commendable, but it has become a source of your pride and identity if you feel ‘better than’ or ‘less than’ your peers. Wisdom isn’t only gained through academics. It comes from living life, listening to the voice of reason, learning the fear of the Lord. However, on the down-side, if a wise person takes it to extreme and becomes ‘dull’ to listen to others, they have become prideful. Their wisdom or intelligence has become a source of their confidence, and their glory is to see themselves as superior. They identify only with other great minds, and the lowly insight of others is viewed as inferior or rubbish. They think,”You don’t know what I know.”

Finally, let’s look at the last thing God says through Jeremiah about how we shouldn’t boast….in riches, and the stuff that money buys. Granted, money doesn’t buy happiness, but who wouldn’t rather be rich than poor? We love stuff! Money creates status in so many ways. It buys houses, cars, the latest gadgets, world travel and the best restaurants, among many other things. However, there is something far more negatively insidious about what money will do. It creates a sense of independence from others. It allows a person to be free of having to expose themselves as weak and needy, and gives them the opportunity to hide behind the power. Money holds its possessor hostage to the belief that more is better, and a path to financial security means things are okay. We glory in how much we can amass while we’re here on earth. It feels good. It says to it’s owner, “I’m smart, I’m wise, and I’m free.”

There was a time in my past where my husband and I made a better than average income at a young age. We had done well professionally, and had purchased all the bells and whistles our money would buy. We weren’t believers at the time. As the months went by, after turning our lives over to Christ, God knew that I depended way too much on status and stuff, so He saw to it that our income plummeted into a complete nosedive. We just about lost, sold, and bartered everything, except a Mercedes Benz that I drove. Things got so bad that I had to supplement our income by carrying a newspaper route…. while driving the Mercedes. Talk about embarrassing! (I have some funny stories about those times.) What the Lord taught me was invaluable. I hadn’t realized it, but I had taken on a new silent boast when we had money. I saw myself as “better”, and the Lord knew I needed to be pruned of my pride in that. No wonder the Bible says that “(the love of) money is the root of all evil”. It gave me an extremely false sense of importance. Even though that time in my life was painful, it needed to happen. I’m still human and I love stuff, but the grace of God has given me a different take on what I have. It’s all from His hand….I take no credit for any of it. It can disappear as quickly as God knows it needs to if I begin to lose perspective again.

So, knowing that God addresses these innate boasts of ours as things we shouldn’t take an unhealthy pride in, what does He mean in Jeremiah 9, when He says that if we boast in anything, we should boast in Him? In other words, how do our lives reflect the fact that God is the giver of all that we have and all that we’re able to accomplish? And, how would that identify and brand us for others to remember? The Hebrew word “boast” used in this passage means the same thing as the English word….”to take pride in” or “to glory in”. In other words, God says that if we’re going to glory in something, let it be that we “know and understand the Lord”. Sounds good, but what the heck does it mean?? To know and understand the Lord sounds like something humanly unattainable and far too lofty. In this context, the Hebrew translation for ‘knows and understands’ simply points to the fact that because we glory in and celebrate who God is and what he’s done, then we’re always to be aware of that fact. He is the One to always be acknowledged as the Giver of all, and that includes our intelligence, efforts to look good, job status and financial success.

The psalmist says in Psalm 29:1-2, “Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. “

This should produce humility, instead of pride. It should produce an awe that He would even notice or bother with us. Consequently, when we recognize that God, through Christ, humbly came to love and serve us, it should motivate us to become more selfless, and less prideful, through His example. Jesus carried the mark of God. He identified himself as a suffering servant, humbly washing feet, and ultimately offering himself up as a sacrifice for us. How will others recognize that brand we bear…. our mark of ownership by Christ? They will see it through our self- sacrificing, quiet, humility and service to others. A willingness to serve, regardless of the cost. I once heard someone say, ‘You can’t wash someone’s feet when you’re standing on a pedestal. ” So true. As believers who glory in God’s majesty, we’re humbled to decrease as He increases. When we struggle with humility, it’s a direct indication that we’ve lost sight of Him, and instead have proudly gazed upon ourselves.

I have a long way to go in this area. I’m not very quiet about much, and it’s a challenge to me. However, I’m confident the Holy Spirit will grow me because He is most satisfied in me as I’m most satisfied in Him. I’m going to memorize Proverbs 27:2, this week: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips. ”

May the mark of Christ be evident in you this week as you glory in Him!