Humbling learning from others

I recently saw Russell Moore on TV. I recognized his name but knew nothing about him so I searched on Facebook and learned that he is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. On a post promoting his book on courage, a woman commented that you don’t need another book; read and study God’s word and you will learn everything you need to know about courage, wisdom, love, etc. She went on to criticize Dr. Moore and others for writing books instead of obeying God by visiting widows and orphans and making disciples.

I still don’t know much about Russell Moore. I know that the Facebook critic opposes him because he is a Calvinist. She opposes him because he is a friend (not a relative) of Beth Moore, the popular evangelist, and she believes that Beth is a false teacher.

I agree with Russell Moore’s critic that we can learn many things directly from the bible. The bible is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). But as someone else told Moore’s critic, books by religious authors can lead people to God who would not read the bible. They can encourage and teach those of us who do.

Sometimes reading comments on social media is like a trip down the rabbit hole. I wanted to learn more about a specific theologian and instead got a close look at a damaging aspect of human nature: arrogance.

Arrogance prevents a person from learning from others. I am not a theologian. I don’t always understand what I read in the bible. I learn and am inspired reading religious books and blog posts. Other people know much more than I do about the historical context of the bible. How can you learn if you think you know everything already?

Arrogance prevents a person from seeing oneself honestly. The woman who used her knowledge of the bible to rebuke and warn others about what she sees as false teaching lacked the humility to accept criticism herself. Our biases can cause us to selectively read scripture. How is it that in her daily bible reading, the woman who decided that Russell Moore is disobeying God by writing, missed the scripture about spiritual gifts? How does she know what God has called and gifted others to do?

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Believers are all members of one body. We are called to unity, to humility and patience.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:2-3

Lord, as I am drawn to both read and to write, I pray for wisdom and discernment. I pray for the humility to be teachable so that I can live a life worthy of my calling. Help me to bear with others in love and to seek your truth even if it reveals uncomfortable truths about myself. Amen

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Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

A Prayer for Inner Purity

I committed myself to writing a prayer in response to each of the spiritual challenges that Priscilla Shirer listed in Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer. I considered skipping a prayer on purity because at this stage of my life, the issues Shirer mentioned aren’t my issues – the moral compromise, the unhealthy habit, the enticing addiction, the allure toward sexual impurity. Still, I found myself reflecting on the impacts of sexual impurity on my extended family and myself and I found myself praying Psalm 51:10.

Strategy 7 – Against Your Purity

He tries to tempt you toward certain sins, convincing you than you can tolerate them without risking consequence, knowing they’ll only wedge distance between you and God (Isaiah 59:1-2)

PRISCILLA SHIRER

As Priscilla wrote, giving into temptation is never harmless. “The waves of your choice will ripple outward into your heart, mind, soul, and body, possibly even to future generations.” I’ve witnessed the consequences of sexual impurity in my own family. A marriage shattered by infidelity. Children growing up without a father. A mother making choices without considering the impact her decisions will have on her children. Teenage pregnancies and marriages doomed to failure. Broken families. Broken hearts.

Yes, the impacts of our choices go beyond our bodies. When I was a young woman, I succumbed to temptations of the flesh. I engaged in mental gymnastics and tried to justify my sin, even trying to bargain with God. My disobedience wedged a distance between us. My Father’s face was hidden from me. When I prayed, it felt like He did not hear me.

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

Isaiah 59:1-2 (NIV)

Now that I am older and wiser, my temptations are the temptations of a wayward heart. I know that some of my thoughts and feelings are not compatible with a heart that belongs to God. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

2 Timothy 2:22

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Heavenly Father,

Before I bring my need, I bring a grateful and contrite heart. Thank you for watching over me and protecting me when I was young and foolish. Thank you for being the God of second chances! You are a God of mercy and I love you with all my heart.

Lord Jesus, you have shown me the blessing of a pure heart. Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. I want to be more like you. You taught me that a good person produces good out of the treasure of her heart. When I say something that is unkind, when I am impatient with others, when I judge others, I am not being the person you have called me to be.

Father, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you. Let no unwholesome talk come out of my mouth but only what helps to build others up. May my words benefit anyone who listens.

Father, rid me of all bitterness, rage, and anger. When my thoughts turn dark, may I think instead about whatever is good, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – about anything that is excellent and praiseworthy!

Father, thank you for forgiving my sins. I am clean because of the words you have spoken through my Savior. Savior, I pray that your words remain in me so that I remain in you and bear good fruit. Cultivate in me the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, so that I always keep in step with the Spirit.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Lord, create in me pure motives, pure desires, pure thoughts. Lord, I want to store so much of your goodness in my heart that it overflows and pushes out all impurities. May I be kind and compassionate, forgiving others just as you forgave me. May I love others as you love me, even those who are hard to love.

Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above

Amen

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Psalm 19:14

Psalm 51:10, 17

Matthew 5:8

Luke 6:45

John 15:3-4

Philippians 4:8

Galatians 5:22

Ephesians 4:29-32

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

A Prayer for My Calling and Contentment

I am still slowly reading Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer (Priscilla Shirer). The chapter titled “Your Fears: Confronting Your Worries, Claiming Your Calling” was especially timely. As I read it, my church was going through a sermon series on being called – called to flourish, called to walk worthily, called to the cross, etc. I’ve been praying about my calling for years and at last, I am ready to claim it.

Strategy 6 – Against Your Calling

He (Satan) amplifies fear, worry, and anxiety until they’re the loudest voices in your head, causing you to deem the adventure of following God too risky to attempt.

Priscilla Shirer

Shirer began the chapter with a story about a friend who had been trying to decide whether she should cut back on her caseload as a counselor to follow a calling to write about her experiences. She was plagued with doubts and worries about what might happen. What if I can’t do it? What if it all ends up being a total waste of time and energy? What if it’s all just some sort of ego trip or head game, something I’m projecting onto myself?

In a really long sentenced that I’ve shortened, Shirer wrote, “if God has given you clear direction…and your only real reason for resisting Him is because you’re afraid of what following Him down this path might mean or cost or entail, then you’re not only on the threshold of being disobedient, you’re about to miss an opportunity to give God some fresh new glory by doing what He’s wanting to do through you…”

Unfortunately, there is no burning bush. It isn’t always easy to tell if God has given you clear direction, especially when you feel pulled in other directions and you keep hearing the voices of worry and self-doubt.

It is simplistic to suggest that fear of the unknown is the only reason for resisting God’s calling. Four years ago, I thought I was taking a leap of faith when I quit my job of eight years. I intended to begin a new chapter in my life. Instead, after a couple of months, I found another accounting job and I’m right back where I was, longing do something meaningful with the rest of my life. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

I find my desire for safety and security at war with my desire to do something more meaningful, something that fulfills and motivates me. I have battled to make the right decision even though my job has left me feeling trapped and unfulfilled.

In another chapter of Fervent, “Your Pressures: Reclaiming Peace, Rest and Contentment,” I found clues that explain my own resistance to God’s calling. In my 35 year career, I have felt pressure to keep doing, to keep performing, to keep achieving, to keep being the perfect employee, to keep bringing home the bacon.

Strategy 8 – Against Your Rest and Contentment

He (Satan) hopes to overload your life and schedule, pressuring you to constantly push beyond your limits, never feeling permission to say no.

Priscilla Shirer

In this chapter, Shirer wrote about the biblical command of the Sabbath. Why is it so hard, she asked, for some of us to rest, pull back, take a deep breath, and step away from our day-to-day responsibilities? She suggested that it is because we think the way a slave thinks. We’ve been trained to not say no. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a slave, I have felt like a person living in bondage, like I owe my employer a debt I can never pay off, like I can’t leave because people need me too much.

Fear and insecurity also play a role in the way we respond to the pressures of life. We worry about impressing people and proving our worth. We act as if the only way we can gain favor is to work and produce. We’re afraid we won’t have enough, won’t be enough, if we don’t keep going, pushing, achieving. Shirer wrote that the pressures we put on ourselves can be a sign of idolatry. We make idols out of our reputations, our achievements, our self-reliance.

Fear and insecurity have kept me from following God’s calling. The pressure to achieve and to please other people has kept me bound to my career.

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Lord Jesus,

Thank you for being patient with me as I struggle with my doubts and insecurities. Anyone else would have given up on me by now. You have always been faithful, never leaving my side. You are my hope and my strength.

Father, my pastor said that the more we get to know You, the better we will hear Your call. I pray this is so. It has been hard for me see the clear direction of Your calling when I keep hearing the voices of doubt and worry.

I can’t help but wonder if the persistent longings of my heart are You calling me. Why was I so obsessed with the desire to leave my home of thirty years to move to a state I had only visited once? Why, after thinking about moving for a couple of years, did I finally make the leap just a few months before the pandemic? And how can I explain the presence of people in my life who unknowingly gave me the courage to step out in faith?

Lord, Priscilla said that a free woman has the God-given ability to know when You are asking her to do something. A free woman has the discernment to know her limits and to know when she needs to pause. Thank you for giving me the clarity and the gentle nudge I need. I want to be free of the ties that bind me to my job.

Just as I felt a persistent yearning to move, I now feel a persistent longing to retire, to stop earning and achieving. The desire to do something more meaningful with my life, to be Your hands and feet, has not gone away. I can see now that by clinging to the attachments of this world, I am missing out on the opportunity to do what You want to do through me. Forgive me for resisting this yearning.

Lord Jesus, I am weary of working. I am ready to take your yoke upon me and to serve others for you. I pray for courage. I pray for the right timing. I pray that you will lead my employer to the right replacement.

Amen

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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

A Disciple of Jesus Christ Rejecting and Resisting Christian Nationalism

Something has been bothering me and I have to get it off my chest. A couple of days before the Presidential election, a member of my old church shared a post from a former pastor in which he wrote, “This week I will be voting for the sanctity of life, for religious liberty as understood by our founders, for the sanctity of marriage, for our constitutional order and original intent, and against the growing influence of socialism and cultural Marxism in our nation.” This statement disturbed me because it is a clear example of Christian nationalism and a Christian endorsement of Donald Trump, a man who is the antithesis of Jesus Christ.

I can’t believe that after four years, I am still asking myself, how can Christians support a man whose behavior is the complete opposite of Jesus Christ? How can they accept his racism, xenophobia, hatred and cruelty? While many Christians complain that our culture has taken Christ out of Christmas, sadly many Christians have taken Christ out of Christianity.

The man who made the Christian nationalist endorsement of Trump is now the president of a Christian university with the ability to influence thousands of young minds. For years, I looked up to the woman who shared his post and admired her for her caring ministry. Now I see her as just another Christian who conflates religion with politics. It is disappointing and disheartening but I should not have been surprised.

Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

Christians Against Christian Nationalism

I just read Drew Straits’ review of the book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry. The authors describe four orientations to Christian nationalism – Rejecters, Resisters, Accommodators, and Ambassadors – and confirm what I have observed in too many of my Christian friends: it’s all about power and not about true religion. As Strait wrote in his review, Christian nationalism is about acquiring and using political power to influence “issues like Islam, immigration, abortion/patriarchy, militarism, gun control and sacrificial allegiance to the flag…”

Obsession with power explains why Ambassadors and Accommodators overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election while overlooking the many ways that Trump’s personal life is at odds with Christian ethics. Again, Trump’s personal religious piety is of little significance—what matters is that he pulls the right ideological levers to shape America into the image of Christian nationalism, to reclaim a mythical past. 

Drew J. Strait

I knew after the 2016 election that I was in the minority of Christians who oppose and resist the wickedness of Donald Trump. Since then, I have been encouraged to hear from other followers of Jesus Christ who believe that political ambition is not more important than being true to our Savior and sharing his inclusive message of love and redemption.

In What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey wrote, “Like fine wine poured into a jug of water, Jesus’ wondrous message of grace gets diluted in the vessel of the church.” Yancey quoted David Seamands, who noted that many evangelical Christians fail “to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness” and fail “to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people…”

I believe in the sanctity of life and I believe in the sanctity of marriage. And yet I know that Christians and non-Christians alike, fall short of the glory of God. No law and no government can change the hearts of people; only God can do that. I do not live in fear of socialism and cultural Marxism.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

I will not be dismayed by Christian Nationalism. I reject it and I resist it.

I want people to see the love of Jesus reflected in me.

I want to live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness.

I want to give out God’s unconditional love, grace and forgiveness to others.

With all of this in mind, I will be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people and for those who have not seen the love of God in the church.

I will put on the full armor of God so I can take a stand against the devil’s schemes.*

I will stand firm, with the belt of truth buckled around my waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with my feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 

In addition to all this, I take up the shield of faith, with which I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. In this stand against Christian Nationalism, I will take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

*Ephesions 6:10-18

Praying for My Future

I continue to reflect on Priscilla Shirer’s book, Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer. While I don’t sense that I am personally being attacked by Satan, at one time or another, I have faced the spiritual struggles she listed in her book. In writing this prayer, I remember how horrible I felt when I was going through a difficult struggle with another person.

Strategy 5 – Against Your Past

If I were your enemy, I’d constantly remind you of your mistakes and poor choices. I’d want to keep you burdened by shame and guilt, in hopes that you’ll feel incapacitated by your many failings and see no point in even trying again. I’d work to convince you that you’ve had your chance and blown it – that your God may be able to forgive some people for some things, but not you…not for this.

PRISCILLA SHIRER

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Heavenly Father, my soul continually remembers my mistakes and poor choices. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyway. I am filled with regret for hurting another with words I cannot take back. I feel like such a horrible and wretched person. I have sinned against you and am filled with guilt and shame.

Lord, I am humbled by my many failings. I don’t know how You can love a wretch like me but You do. Your love for me never ceases. You are my hope.

Lord Jesus, I am so tired of carrying the weight of mistakes I cannot undo. Take away this heavy burden of guilt. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:2). Lord, I want to learn from you. Teach me to be a better person.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

Father, my soul praises you. Truly, Your love never fails even when I fail You. Thank you for forgiving me, for redeeming my life from the pit of despair. You have crowned me with your love and compassion. Great is your faithfulness!

Lord, Your mercies are new every morning. Thank you for giving me another chance to make the most of my life. When I stumble and fall, may I learn from my mistakes and remember that You are making me new! Yesterday is gone. Today, show me Your ways that I may walk with You. Help me to look forward with hope for my future and not back to the past I cannot change.

Amen

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Lamentations 3:22-24 (ESV)

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.