February 28

Scripture reading for today:  Psalm 116, 117, 118

     Today concludes our study of step two. I hope you have a snazzy notebook with lots of cool points that you’re pondering from this month’s study. If not, take some time to scroll back through the previous studies.

    You may want to take a moment and remember step one too. Think about why these steps are next to each other in the process.

    I’d love it if you would take some time and blog about your own personal experience with the second step.   

    May the Lord himself grant you both the willingness and the ability to come to believe. May He grant you peace in the process. May you live large in whatever land the Lord has planted you.

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February 27

Scripture reading for today: Jonah 1 – 4

     “Coming to believe” in step two is clearly a process; more closely resembling a journey than an arrival at an important destination.  I am making  a concerted effort to set aside all the thoughts, dreams, and expectations I have harbored about how this journey will look.  I have chosen to put them in a box and tie a ribbon around them. I am asking God to define how he wants my journey to unfold.

 

Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please…What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” Isaiah 46:9-11 NIV

February 26

Scripture reading for today: Instead of reading Leviticus, thumb through it and note the chapter headings. If you have any charts, glance over them (my NIV translation has some great summaries in chart form), notice all the rules and regulations that helped guide the Israelites in their pursuit of holiness.

  God handed Adam and Eve some life principles/guidelines when he presented them with the key to the Garden of Eden.  One rule:  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”  Genesis 2:16-17 NIV 

    The rule was delivered in chapter two of Genesis, and it was broken in chapter three.

    Leviticus has many more rules besides “don’t eat that.” Most of the Levitical law was purportedly given during the year that Israel camped at Mount Sinai. Much has been written about these laws and their implications for us in today’s world, but I want to focus on the theme of Leviticus: be holy. God is holy; if He is our God, we are to do something (consecrate ourselves) and be holy ourselves. Because of who God is, our belief in him should change how we live.

    I wonder if we find that message daunting. Be holy. Wow. Who can do that? I can’t even keep my calendar straight or my kitchen vacuumed. Holiness seems so far away.

    Coming to believe requires me to wrestle with the command. I can’t just pretend it isn’t in scripture. In the gospels, there’s even a call to “be ye perfect,” and just writing out those words fills me with fear. I don’t think I’ll ever fully grasp all that this means for me as a believer finding her way back to God. But I do believe it centers me—reminding me of several points relevant to step two:

  • Who God is—holy—is amazing, frightening, and mysterious.
  • Who He has created me to “be”—my true God-created identity—can reflect part of that mysterious glory.
  • What this means for my daily living is a constantly evolving, God-inspired, Holy Spirit-revealing process far bigger than my pea brain can grasp unless God chooses to teach me.
  • Where do I go from here? That is a question I will be asking minute by minute, every day, for the rest of my life.

 

Step two isn’t about answering all the questions. It’s about realizing that there are questions worth asking, and a God capable of revealing all that I need to know in order to be who I need to be in this moment.

 

I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.  Leviticus 11:44 NIV

February 25

Scripture reading for today: Habakkuk 1 – 3

     Yesterday I suggested that perhaps our “coming to believe” is stunted by our preconceived notions and baggage from our past. Common preconceived notions among children who have grown up in unhealthy families include: my feelings don’t count, my feelings are wrong, my thoughts are crazy and/or wrong, and I don’t matter and have no value.

    None of these things are true in the kingdom of God. But in our families sometimes they are, and that leaves us anxious and angry. This can kill us. We know how it predisposes us to addictions and unhealthy codependent relationships, but did you know it can literally kill you?

  • Hostility and anger are directly related to pain (physical). The psalmist knew this when he talked about his bones withering away and his back hurting day and night. He was right—he was in physical pain. (See Jeremiah 15:17-18, Psalm 32, 129:2-3)
  • Tension impacts blood circulation to the back muscles—causing vessels and nerves to construct, reducing blood supply and oxygen to tissues. Chronic ongoing constriction causes waste to build up in muscle tissue. Muscles in the back, neck, shoulders, buttocks, arms and legs are effected.  For more information about Sarno’s theories you may want to read The Mind-Body Prescription, Healing Back Pain, Mind over Back Pain.
  • “When a person begins to pack powerful and devastating emotions into the closet of his soul, he is setting himself up for trouble. Emotions do not die. We bury them, but we are burying something that is still living.”[1]

    One of the best skills a parent can teach a child is how to identify and appropriately work through his or her emotions. As we’ve said earlier, lots of really angry people don’t even know that they are hostile. Signs of stuffed emotions are: perfectionism, a desire for control, self-doubt and deprecation, cynicism and criticism, promiscuity, exaggerated responses to everyday occurrences, flashback memories or nightmares, and strong emotional reactions that are inexplicable. Sometimes we’re so busy telling the world that we are “fine” (and hoping that this is true) that we fail to realize our deep and profound need to believe. We miss cues that reveal to us our insanity and our need to be taught, led, healed, and nurtured. I pray that you will not be so stuck in your need to defend that you can’t look up and see God’s commitment to restore.

 

Lead me; teach me; for you are the God who gives me salvation. I have no hope except in you.  Psalm 25:5 NIV



[1] Deadly Emotions, by Dr. Don Colbert, M.D., Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2003, p. 54, 58.

February 24

Scripture reading for today:  Obadiah, Nahum 1-3

Consider taking “coming to believe” very seriously.  We’ve been discussing it all month. But I am convinced that few of us have given our “believing” the serious consideration it deserves.

I also have a theory as to why we are deficit in the believing department. For many of us, our families of origin have taught us to ignore the cries of our own hearts.

  • In unhealthy families, children are taught to not trust their own thoughts or feelings.
  • In unhealthy families, the thoughts and feelings of each family member are not valued equally. (The most dependent member often demands attention and sucks the energy out of the family—energy that should have been dispersed among all the members.)
  • In unhealthy families, distorted thoughts, relationship styles, beliefs, and even mental health issues are “passed on” to the next generation. This is done both consciously and unconsciously. Some things we teach; many things we model.
  • In healthier families, there is both a commitment and a skill set that allows members to experience problems AND focus on the solutions.
  • In healthier families, the input of each member is valued (which validates each person’s worth). Remember that in unhealthy families, the needs of the children are usually subjugated to the desires of the parents.

Last night our youngest son was under the mistaken impression that I drank out of his glass of milk. I did not. But that did not stop him from getting up, pouring it out and refilling it with fresh milk. His father teased him about his compulsive cleanliness when it comes to drinking glasses. (He takes exception to glasses with gunk in them. The rest of us feel that if there is a little gunk in the bottom of a glass that has gone through the dishwasher then the gunk is sterile. Perhaps this is unhealthy.) 

I think what happened next was kind of cool. I mentioned that although we liked to tease about the gunk, I truly thought the new milk pouring was a bit obsessive. His comment to me was, “You’re sick a lot.”

I can’t tell you the last time that I was sick. But instead of saying, “Are you nuts? I’m healthy as a horse. You’re wrong mister!”  I asked for clarification, “Tell me more.”

After a brief discussion, he recalled my two surgeries in 2005 (hernia repair and cataract removal) and the time I got the flu (also in 2005 and was sick for weeks). I was glad to have this information. Sure, I remembered the incidents. But I didn’t know that to him it felt like I was sick all the time. That year took a toll on more than just my insurance company’s bottom line.

I know this seems like a silly example. But take a moment and dig deep. What began as a funny incident at dinner led to an opportunity for Michael to get some stuff off his chest that he didn’t even know had been perched there. I think Michael’s perspective probably got readjusted a bit. But for sure, his parents learned something new.

We certainly have our unhealthy patterns in our family, but in this instance, I think we had a healthy moment. This would not happen in a family where a kid has learned to never say what he’s thinking, feeling, believing, or fearing. This wouldn’t happen in a family where the kid is concerned about the consequences if he says something that his folks might not agree with.

If you live in a family that can’t have healthy discussion, conflict without confrontation, open sharing of feelings in an environment of mutual respect—if those things aren’t happening, it’s going to be pretty hard to “come to believe.”  More on this topic tomorrow.

Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth.  Ephesians 4:14 The Message

There’s a verse in Isaiah that says this: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (5:20-21 NIV). I ask you to invite the Holy Spirit to direct you in this matter; ask him to show you, are there things you are believing about yourself, your world, others, and God that are not true? Are there beliefs that you’ve learned from you family since before you had words to name them that are not in keeping with what God has taught us? Could there be some strongly held beliefs that you cling to that are wrong? It’s crazy thinking to be out of alignment with God’s perspective. (But use caution: sometimes mere mortals tell us things about God that are not right.)

February 23

Scripture reading for today: Acts 27 – 28; Psalm 116

Paul’s life reminds me of an Indiana Jones movie. Beaten, imprisoned falsely, shipwrecked, snake-bitten—a lot of bad stuff happens to Paul. I wonder if he ever felt frustrated about all this action and adventure. Anxiety isn’t the only emotion that reveals hidden pockets of unbelief. Resentment, hostility, and anger also can be toxic emotions.

Dr. Don Colbert, M.D. and author of Deadly Emotions, claims that hostility, rage and anger are at the top of the list of toxic emotions that generate an extreme stress reaction.  According to studies on aggression, most people are angrier than they realize. Twenty percent of the general population — one in five — have measurable levels of hostility high enough to dangerously affect their health. Here’s what happens to an angry body.

  • Hostile people release more adrenaline and norepinephrine into their blood than the non-hostile. Angry people have elevated blood pressure, cortisol levels, salt retention, triglycerides, cholesterol and sticker platelets—all predisposing factors for heart disease.
  • A study in Finland showed that hostility is a major risk factor and predictor of coronary artery disease. (Hostiles are three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the calm.)
  • Hostility may be a better predictor of coronary disease than cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Why wasn’t Paul torqued up about all his suffering? Because he knew his place in the story. He believed that there was a God, and he (Paul) didn’t get the job. He believed that God had good things planned for him. Paul didn’t try to manipulate the world to bring those good things into reality; instead, he entrusted himself to God and God’s time and interpretation of what “good” looked like.  If you read through all of the writings of Paul, you realize that Paul did get plenty angry at times in his ministry. The goal here is not to eliminate anger from our diets. It’s simply that anger shouldn’t be our main course. Like a very fattening, decadent dessert, it should be partaken of rarely.

Thought for tomorrow:  As he thinks in his heart, so is he.  Proverbs 23:7 NKJV

Ask three people who you believe know you well to assess your “anger” quotient. On a scale of 1 – 10 (1=Ghandi, 10=a raging lunatic), how angry do others assess us? Remember, no matter what they answer, say this, “Thank you for sharing.”  I hope some of you will blog with your results.

February 22

Scripture reading for today: Acts 25 – 26; Psalm 115

I met a high school senior recently for an expensive cup of coffee. I smiled as my young friend exclaimed, “I can’t wait to get to college! I am going to have so much freedom! I am so tired of my parents ordering me around all the time!”

I smile because I know her parents. They do take their job as parental units very seriously. I do know her mom likes to keep up with the laundry and regularly prepares meals that include not only a meat but veggies and homemade bread too. I also realize she tootles around in a cute little VW bug that is well maintained by a mechanically inclined dad. I’ve also noticed how faithfully her mom gets her to the orthodontist, the dentist, and the trendy salon in the city. I remember how her parents wanted her to go to the gifted school, but she wanted to stay at her local school. (She’ll be graduating from her local school.)  I’ll never forget praying with her mom about a dangerous mission trip experience that this child felt called to take. (She took it and survived it; she also didn’t have to take out a loan to pay for it.)  I even remember how desperately her older siblings wanted her to follow in their footsteps in the school band. (She thrived in the arts department.)  I can’t say that I saw a lot of “ordering around” going on in that family.

I can’t wait until next October. If this precious thing is anything like my children, she’s going to return home with a lot more appreciation for the life she left behind. I’ll bet she’s going to love those laundry baskets being magically filled with clean clothes, her favorite dishes for dinner, and an opportunity to just let her family take care of all the messy details of daily living. She’s going to love it.

That’s what “coming to believe” is like. It’s coming to realize that if we will allow our heavenly Father to parent us, we will be able to relax about the details.

Consider what we’ve been reading about Paul. Stuck in prison, pleading his case, God gives him a vision for going to Rome. I suspect that Paul would have loved to go first class on a mission trip. But instead, he gets sent to Rome because he’s still in prison and no one can decide quite what to do with his case. Paul could have been fretting away, chafing for his freedom. But instead, Paul was at peace, knowing who was in control.

Peaceful and passive are two different things. As peaceful as Paul was, he was actively seeking to do God’s will even in prison. He was part of the process, not feeling like a pawn in God’s complex game of life. He knew he had a part, and he relied on God to show him when and how to step. This is a far easier way to live than making it up as we go and foolishly thinking that’s freedom.

 for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation…For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

I think contentment is the by-product of “coming to believe” in a God who has our best interests at heart, even though at any moment his provision is mysterious and not easily recognizable in the seen world.