Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inside Out: The Trouble with Self Esteem Psychology

In the fourth grade, I caught the chicken pox from another girl in my class named Jennifer. It wasn't that her mother just decided to send a sick child to church. She simply didn't know her daughter could possibly catch the virus a second time (she could).

A few spots here, another couple there--they were initially easily mistaken as bug bites. But even though her body wasn't yet covered in the red whelps, they were still signs of the disease lying beneath.

While the new chicken pox vaccine may eventually eradicate this disease completely, it can't touch the spots from a disease each and every person on the face of the earth is born with--the disease of sin. Scripture tells us, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us"(1 Jn. 1:8). Romans 3:10-12 also says, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one"

As a child, I didn't understand these verses very well. I would sit with the Ten Commandments in front of me and think, "Well, I kept all those today." I wouldn't know what to confess to God, what to repent of. Obviously, I had yet to learn Jesus' teachings in Matthew 5 where He explained that anger in my heart is the equivalent to murder and lust in my heart is the equivalent to adultery.

As an adult, I still sometimes struggle with the concept that my flesh is evil. But truthfully, modern psychology is wrong and man is not basically good within himself. The new "good self esteem" programs being taught in schools are doing little more than teaching the next generation that God is wrong and sin isn't that big a part of their make-up.

Yes, the more wrinkles I earn, the easier it is for me to see myself as naturally sinful and evil.

In Evelyn Christenson's A Time to Pray God's Way, she teaches how to use Scripture to to help examine ourselves for spots of sin in our lives.

For example, Christenson writes:

Ephesians 4:28: 'Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor.'
Do you steal from your employer by doing less work, staying on the job less time than you are paid for? Do you under-pay?"

"Romans 12:11: 'Not slothful in business.'
Do you fail to pay your debts on time? Avoid paying them altogether? Do you charge more on credit cards than you can pay when due? Do you neglect to keep honest income tax records? Do you engage in any shady business deals whether as an employer or employee."

"1 Thessalonians 5:18: 'In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.'
Do you worry about anything? Have you failed to thank God for all things, the seemingly bad as well as the good? Do you neglect to give thanks at mealtime?"

Just like one of those invisible stamps that can only be seen under fluorescent light, that's the way Scripture acts. Beneath its glow, my skin looks more like a leopard than I ever knew.

How we perceive ourselves and our sin is critical in our relationship with Christ. Realizing our sin, examining our spots, and repenting--these actions are the difference between heaven and hell, between a close walk with the Father and a long-distance relationship with a tin-can phone.

(If you'd like the complete list of 20 verses / sins that Christenson gives on pp. 99-102 of her book, please email me & I'll send it. Hopefully, you'll find it as helpful as I do for rooting out sin in your life.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Worst Thing I've Ever Done

The cover of People magazine would read "Ordinary Housewife Confesses to Heinous Crime." Bored shoppers would grab a copy while waiting in line and flip through the pages to see a not-so-glamorous-photo of me with my angelic-looking three children. Inside, the story would tell about my hidden life of crime.

I can almost imagine the clucking "tisk tisk" sounds and side to side head shake of the older ladies. The middle aged crowd would gasp, their jaws dropping while their eyebrows go up.

Well, maybe the jaws and eyebrows wouldn't budge an inch. But they should.

My crime? It's worse than you think. Worse than murder. Far worse than adultery.

I'm guilty of ignoring God.

Yes, not loving God with my everything, letting pieces of the world slowly curl like tendrils around my mind and heart--I'm guilty...not just in my life before I became a Christian, but in my present-day life.

I'm sure I lost a good many readers two sentences ago. Maybe you're shaking your head, too, saying "Oh, that's not that're a good person overall." But I know myself better. I know how easy it is for me to forget God in the bustle of each day. And Scripture seems to agree with me.

For starters, I'm inherently sinful. David says of the earth's inhabitants, "there is no one who does good, not even one"(Ps. 14:3). Paul states, "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10).

Then, to make matters even worse, Jesus says that by ignoring God, I've broken the "first and greatest commandment": "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment" (Matt. 22:37-38).

I think it's safe to assume Jesus labelled it the "first and greatest" for a reason, probably the same reason God placed "No other gods before me" as #1 on his list of do's and don't's (Ex. 20:3).

God reiterates this hierarchy later when He prophesies judgment on the nation of Israel. He states, "Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed" (Hos. 4:1-2).

In these verses, God's case against Israel starts with their lack of "faithfulness," "love," and "acknowledgment of God." Sounds pretty similar to Jesus' heart, soul, and mind admonition.

Only after God spends an entire sentence critiquing Israel for forgetting Him, for not loving Him as they should--only then does He rapid fire list in a second sentence all the other commandments that they have broken.

For a God who can skim over a hundred years of history with no comment, I think it's worth noting where He chooses to use His words--a whole sentence on one sin; another whole sentence on at least five more sins.

This is backwards from the way most people view sin--many will categorize the "biggie's" first--murder, stealing, adultery. But God?

In His economy, it's not what you haven't done wrong that counts like gold stars towards an eternal prize. Instead, He looks at what you haven't done right--and choosing to ignore God, to reject the saving blood of Jesus is the most important decision to get right...more important than choosing to not steal or murder.

No, ignoring God might not be a newsworthy enough crime for People or CNN, but it makes each and every one of us guilty sinners on a level playing field. And it makes us all equally in need of a merciful Savior to reconcile us to a holy God.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Even if Creation is Uncreated

Last week, my friend Lyla over at A Different Story suggested her readers spend "7 days in a Psalm."

I don't, I know I've never spent seven days in one chapter before. My pastor has suggested it more times than I can count, but there's just so much ground to cover in the Word, and not really understanding the joys of in-depth Bible study until my late twenties makes me feel like I've wasted too many years for me to just park in eleven verses for an entire week of my ever-shortening life.

Yet, my quiet time these past two weeks of moving into our new home has been sorely lacking. Even my sporadic attempts at Bible study have been constantly interrupted by a barrage of unwelcome, nauseating to-do lists.

So, I decided seven days might be barely enough time for God to congeal my jello-like brain into a coherent Word to feed my hungry, hungry soul.

Last Monday, my Bible fell open to several other books, but I kept turning until it fell open to a page in the Psalms. A formerly pink highlighted verse in Psalm 46 caught my eye. And so I sat down to read, only to laugh aloud that God had directed me to a chapter with the words, "Be still, and know that I am God" (v. 11).

Yes, God let me know He already knew the problem I was having with focus and rest.

Truth be told, I missed one day of reading. But the other days, God directed me to individual verses, select words until today--day 7. Only today did God finally put the pieces together for me into a message of hope and security.

The Psalm speaks of God's creation in destructive turmoil against the backdrop of the unchanging, protective nature of God:

"God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts." (v. 1-6)

At the sound of God's voice, "the earth melts." Think of the power in that statement.

The God who spoke in Genesis 1 and the earth was created. The God who spoke in a burning bush to Moses, yet it was not consumed. That same God speaks here--and the earth melts. I looked it up, and the word means just what it sounds like--"to dissolve, to melt away."*

One commentary described it this way: "the creation itself may seem to be uncreated."

Here in Louisiana, feeling the ever-increasing effects of the oil spill, it feels like creation, itself, is literally dissolving, melting away...being "uncreated." The wetlands and marshes are being infiltrated with the oil; our state's oyster beds are ruined; much of the wildlife on the coast is sick and dying. Who knows how many species of plants and animals are being "uncreated" as I write this one entry.

But creation's destruction isn't just here in my backyard. An article I read earlier in the year concluded that "More than two animals and plants a year are becoming extinct in England" (my italics).

Look around you, read the news and weather reports--do you sometimes feel as I do, that God is "un-creating" his very creation? Does your mind ever spin out of control in wonder and concern?

There. Is. Hope.

Verses 7 and 11 repeat the same words (and repetition is what this woman needed to finally hear it): "The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress."

Though the world around us tumbles, though it looks like creation is unraveling at the seams, though it looks like wars and turmoil will overtake the world....

Through it all, God wants to be our "fortress." God wants to be our "stronghold." God wants to be our "ever-present help."

But God isn't going to force Himself on anyone. We must choose to rest in Him if we want to experience that protection.

Seven days for that message. Oh what a wonder I would have missed if I had stopped at day six.

* Baker and Carpenter. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament. p. 579.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The American Storage Unit

It wasn't that long ago when "storage" meant people tucking away unused items in their attics and barns. If it didn't fit your body or home, you either threw it out or found someone else who could use it.

Now? I can't drive twenty minutes from my home without seeing huge complexes filled with row upon row of storage units. Some are climate controlled and large enough to live in!

The popularity of these businesses shouldn't be surprising. Accumulating "stuff" is the American way. To have more, better, bigger a sign of prosperity, of achieving the American dream.

When I think of storage and Scripture, my mind immediately goes to the man who tore down the barns he had to build bigger ones to store his earthly treasure...and then he died, leaving it all behind (Lk. 12). I recall God's words about bringing my tithes into the "storehouse" (Mal. 3:10). I remember Matthew 6: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (v. 19-21).

Yet, what stands out to me most is not the physical storage mentioned in Scripture, but two other metaphorical kinds of storage. One is the storage of sin--not something the average person would intentionally do; I mean, who in his right mind would want to store up his sin? But without the saving blood of Christ, that's just what a person does--creates a storehouse of sin. Romans 2:5 states, "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."

To create a storehouse of sin is to create a storehouse of God's wrath.

In Hosea's message to Israel, he also speaks of this sin storage in connection with God's judgment: "The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; His sin is stored up" (Hos. 13:12). This verse, though, speaks of more than mere storage of one individual's sin. Instead, it speaks of a storehouse established for the whole country of Israel--here referred to as the tribe of "Ephraim."

Imagine this verse speaking to America, warning her that her sins are not going unnoticed. Instead, they are being stockpiled as God stands by and watches, waiting to enact His judgment just as He did in Hosea's time with Israel. It is a scary picture.

But there is hope.

Scripture speaks of a second kind of storage--of prayers. In John's vision of the throne room of heaven, he sees an angel at the "altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand" (Rev. 8:3-4, my italics).

My prayers. Your prayers. All the prayers of the saints are gathered in golden storage bowls before God's throne.

While I don't fully understand the part our prayers play in God's final judgment, I do know one thing--God wants us to realize that not one prayer is wasted. Not one prayer is in vain. Every silent and every uttered prayer is stored up on that heavenly altar, just waiting for the God-ordained time when He will pour them out on the earth to accomplish the judgment of sinners and redemption of saints.

Be encouraged. Even though you see America storing up sin by the bag-full so that some days, our country resembles one giant garbage dump of sin, do not despair. Continue to pray for our nation, "pray and not to lose heart" (Lk. 18:1).

Whether you can see results or not, keep storing up prayers in those golden bowls.