There’s Only One Sovereign, And It Isn’t Me

One of the things I’ve discovered as I’ve confronted and worked through my anxiety is that (for me at least) much of it is connected to control. I fear being controlled, losing control, and not having control. Not being able to predict, plan, and prepare for things can leave me shivering, sweating, and struggling to breathe.

I know part of this goes along with anxiety as a mental health condition. But there’s also a layer that’s something human beings — no matter how their brains function — have struggled with for years. We don’t want to accept “that control is an illusion. There is only one Sovereign … and it isn’t me” (What Does Your Soul Love?).

Now, by saying this I don’t mean for us to think, “Great, one more thing I need to ‘fix’ about myself. As if there wasn’t enough on the list already.” That kind of response is still trying to cling to our own control over the situation. Not only that, it leads to self-condemnation which (as a friend recently reminded me) is not a good place to be. Instead, the solution to grasping for control we can’t really have is to surrender everything to God and trust Him to be God.

Let Go, and Let God

I’ve been reading a new book, which will be out in September, called What Does Your Soul Love? by Alan and Gem Fadling. Chapter 8’s title is “Control: What Are You Clinging To?” Reading it has been a challenging, but it’s one that I’ve found both convicting and helpful.

“Much of the anxiety we carry is actually brought on by our own fear and a desire for control. We want to put our fears to rest, so we try to control people and situations …

“Letting go is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself … [It] is a process, and the loving arms of God are a good place to start” (What Does Your Soul Love?)

Of course, my first response to this was trying to come up with a plan for how I can get better at letting go. Then the book hit me with the line, “We want to get control of our transformation and cling to personal strategies of how to make it happen.” I do that. Even reading this book is another step in trying to get reliable, controllable strategies for fixing myself.

“Sometimes, my implicit prayer when it comes to change has ended up as something like, ‘Lord, change me … as long as I can be in control of how it happens.'” (What Does Your Soul Love?)

Ouch. I do that, too. The unknown is scary, but “I’m afraid” isn’t a good excuse for not putting yourself in God’s hands. Attempting to control things ourselves certainly isn’t safer than trusting the only all-powerful and all-loving Beings in the universe. The Father and Jesus are perfectly capable of handling anything we face and They want us to let Them help. Also, They’re not going to condemn us for struggling. God is love, and filling us with His love is how He transforms us. Read more

The Problem With Following People (Including Yourself)

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed people in the church don’t always act Christ-like. For many, the worst hurts they’ve suffered from another human being came from someone who called themselves “Christian.” Even if that’s not the case for you, I’m sure you’ve seen pettiness, hypocrisy, and other issues among God’s people.

Yet even though we know human beings aren’t perfect, there’s still a tendency to align ourselves with them. We’ve all known people who found a teacher they like so much they’ll follow him even if he contradicts the Bible. Maybe we’ve even been there ourselves, often without even realizing it. We might also have seen churches break into factions when leaders disagree over a point of doctrine, and then followed one of those leaders as the group splits apart.

When you go through something like that often enough, it’s easy to lose trust in other people. Maybe we stop relying on other Christians, or refuse to listen to the ministry, or become obsessively critical of others. We might decided we’re the only reliable authority on scripture and that it’s dangerous to listen to anyone else.

Wanting someone to follow as an authority, or rejecting others and their ideas to avoid getting hurt, are both natural human impulses. But that doesn’t make either of them a good thing. Whenever we trust a human being (including ourselves) more than God, we’re going to get into trouble. We need to find a balance that lets us live in unity with our brethren while following God first and foremost. Read more

How Full Is Your Marble Jar?

I have issues with trust. I knew this to a certain extent, but being in a relationship has brought it to the forefront of my attention. My boyfriend wants to build the kind of trust that I’ve always wanted in a relationship, which is fantastic. But it’s harder to get there than I was expecting and that’s frustrating for both of us. I probably feel safer with him than anyone else who I haven’t known a minimum of 10 years and yet I still feel nervous opening up to him and being “me” around him.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I love Brené Brown’s TED talks. Since writing that post, I’ve read her book The Gifts of Imperfection and I’m halfway through Daring Greatly. Since I’ve been confronting some deep-seated fear issues as well as this trust thing, they’ve been really good books for me. They’re tough, though. For example, she has a list of 10 things that “Wholehearted” people who believe in their worthiness do. I’ve only got one down pretty good and maybe half of two others. And that’s even though all 10 points on the list are things that, in theory, I agree are good and which I’ve considered worth pursuing for quite some time.

How Full Is Your Marble Jar? |
Photo credit: timlewisnm CC BY-SA via Flickr

The Anatomy Of Trust

Earlier this year, Brené Brown gave a talk called “The Anatomy of Trust.” In this talk, she tells a story that she also relates in Daring Greatly about her daughter experiencing a betrayal of trust at school. You can click here to read the full story or just watch the video below, but in short summary the situation got so bad that the teacher took marbles out of the Marble Jar (marbles go in when the kids are making good choices and come out if they’re breaking rules, acting out, etc.). Read more

Replacing Worry

We live in the midst of a dangerous, confusing world, and it’s getting worse as we move ever closer to the time of Christ’s return.

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matt. 24:6-8)

Our first instinct when things get bad is to worry and panic. This is precisely what we’re told not to do. Easier said than done, though, isn’t it? Worry’s not something you can just turn off — you have to replace it with something else.

No Reason for Fear

Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah, so things were going pretty well at the time for the nation of Judah. Even so, he warned about a time much like our own when things would start looking pretty bleak for God’s people. In the midst of these dark prophecies, though, Zephaniah’s book gives great reason for not giving in to fear.

In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”(Zeph. 3:16-17)

Replacing Worry | marissabaker.wordpress.comGod doesn’t just tell us not to have fear. He gives us assurances designed to make fear impossible. “Fear not” because God Himself is with you to save you. “Fear not” because of His steadfast love, which Paul says nothing can separate us from (Rom. 8:35-39). “Fear not” because the Lord delights in you (Deut. 10:15; Is. 62:4).

He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6)

I still struggle with removing fear on a practical level, but abstractly I know fear simply doesn’t make sense for a Christian. The God who created the universe personally guarantees that He won’t abandon you. I always find things I’m scared of less frightening if there’s a good friend beside me, and what better friend could we have to cling to for assurance and stability in times of fear than God Himself?

Live By Faith

We replace worry with faith by consistently turning to God.

Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger. (Zeph. 2:3)

Seeking after God and consistently following His commands is the best way to get close to Him, which is the best place to be in times of trouble. No matter what happens, our focus must stay on God as we live by faith.

Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt. 24:44)

Living without fear doesn’t involve burying our heads in the sand and ignoring things that might make us afraid. Rather, it involves a watchful readiness while living in the faith and confidence of our Messiah.

Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. (Matt. 24:45-46)

Replacing Worry | marissabaker.wordpress.comWhen we stand before Christ at the end of this earth or the end of our lives — whichever comes first — we want to be found “so doing.” Consistent growth and faithfulness will be rewarded.

But what if you’re lacking in faith, and still suffering from worry? Ask God for help. He won’t turn down a sincere plea for help, even if it’s help with our unbelief.

 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:6-8)

Brethren, let us pray for stability in our walk with God — to be grounded so firmly on the Rock of Jesus Christ that we won’t be tossed about with fear. Wavering and worry go hand-in-hand, and we need God’s help to overcome that and “continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast” (Col. 1:23).

The Day of the Lord

The Day of the Lord  | marissabaker.wordpress.comAs I was reading Amos in my quest to write about more verses I don’t often study, some verses about the Day of the Lord caught my eye. It got me thinking about two doctrines I’ve encountered related to what the church will be doing during the great tribulation that precedes Christ’s second coming.

One doctrine, the one taught in the churches where I grew up, says that some believers will be taken to a “place of safety” where God keeps them from the tribulation. The other, taught in most Evangelical and some Messianic churches, says that a “rapture” occurs where Christ catches believers up to heaven before the tribulation starts.

Both these ideas acknowledge that Jesus is coming back in the future to set up His kingdom on earth, and there will be great tribulation throughout the earth before that happens. Rapture doctrine (at least, the pre-trib version) teaches that He will come back twice — once to gather up believers pre-tribulation and once again to set up His millennial reign. The Place of Safety doctrine teaches that some, not all, believers will be taken to a physical place of safety on earth to wait-out the tribulation until Christ’s return. Today, I want to re-think the idea that believers are going to get-out of the tribulation, and what that might mean for our faith.

A Day of Darkness

If you believe that those who are faithful to God are taken out of the world before the great tribulation starts, then praying “thy kingdom come” is easy. We’ll get out of the worst of it and bypass all this judgement stuff so we can finally get to that reward we’ve been promised. But what if it doesn’t work out that way?

What if Revelation 12:13-17 really does mean the church will be taken to a safe place, but you’re part of the commandment-keeping remnant still in the earth and persecuted by the dragon? What if there is a rapture, but it’s mid- or post-tribulation instead of pre-trib?

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you? It will be darkness, and not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him! Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18-20)

There’s a note on this passage in my study Bible that says, “The people were taking for granted that the ‘Day of the Lord’ would be their day of triumph. Amos reminded them, however, that because of their unbelief and wickedness, it would be a day of judgement for them as well as the other nations.”

This made me think of us in the church, hoping for the end of the world because we know it has to come before Christ’s return, while thinking we might get out of the accompanying tribulation. Well, maybe we will, but I wouldn’t count on it. Matthew 24 clearly states Christ “will gather together His elect” “immediately after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29-31). We have to be ready to stay faithful to God even if we go through the worst tribulation mankind has ever faced. If our faith is contingent upon being raptured away or taken to a place of safety, we could be in trouble.

Our Safe Place

I know this sounds bleak, but one thing we do know is that God’s people will suffer because our Messiah suffered (1 Pet. 2:18-25). If we really are living in the last days (as so many people think) and that includes having to go through the tribulation, I pray we’ll be those who can say “Thy will be done” rather than those who turn away because they were expecting something else.The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

I recently read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. She was a Christian working with the Dutch underground in World War II who was caught and sent to several German concentration camps. At first, I thought the title refered to the secret room where she and her family hid Jews, but I soon found out she meant something else.

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word. (Ps. 119:114)

Corrie quotes this verse near the beginning of the book, and again near the end.  Her sister just died, she’s trapped in the medical ward waiting for release from the third camp she’s been held in, and she writes this: “His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don’t let me go mad by poking about outside it.” We don’t need to go anywhere for God to keep us safe. We just need to stay in His will. Our safety doesn’t depend on anything other than our relationship with Him.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” (Ps. 91:1-2)

The New Living Translation has “place of safety” here instead of “fortress.” Reading on in this Psalm, we read of people living with “terror by night” and arrows by day (verse 5) in a place where pestilence and destruction are rampant (verse 6), and people fall dead all around you (verse 7). That’s not a physically safe location, but it doesn’t matter when you are dwelling in God.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling (Ps. 91:9-10)

We’ve all known Christians who’ve suffered — and we’ve probably been a suffering Christian. Clearly, this isn’t a promise for complete physical protection for every follower of God. It is a promise, though, that God won’t let anything happen to us that can’t work out for good (Rom. 8:28).

Keep Watch

We have to constantly work on developing a close relationship with God, and learning to follow Him the way He commands. That’s what’s important — not trying to figure out when He’s returning or if we’ll be raptured or where the place of safety might be. God is our focus, and if we keep our eyes on Him He will work things out.

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt 24:42-44)

If we knew exactly when and how God’s plan would unfold, there’d be little need for trust or faith as the “evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). We could have everything planned out and controlled and feel assured in our own efforts. but that’s not what God wants. He wants to see what we’ll do when we have to rely on Him completely.

The Day of the Lord | marissabaker.wordpress.comWho then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 24:45-51)

There has been far too much smiting of fellow servants in the churches by people who don’t live like they could find themselves face-to-face with Jesus at any moment. We can’t let our faith slip because we think we have time or that we’ll get a warning. I’ve lost far too many friends to sudden, unexpected causes of death to think there are guarantees in this life.

God doesn’t call us to a life of comfort. He does promise He’ll never leave us and that, if we stay faithful, we will triumph with His son at the end. He doesn’t give us all the answers, but He gives us the only one we need. Grow closer to Him, stay vigilant, and trust Him as your place of safety.

Feeling After The Lord

Feeling After The Lord | marissabaker.wordpress.comIt seems that Christians are often suspicious of feelings. And why shouldn’t we be? After all, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). We can’t understand our own hearts, so how can we trust anything they tell us?

I’ve suspected for some time that our feelings may be more important to our relationship with God than some people like to admit, but I wondered if my own tendency to favor intuition and feelings in decision-making was coloring my thinking. Then I noticed a verse in my King James study Bible that talked about people seeking the Lord “if haply they might feel after Him” (Acts. 17:27). When you look at the Greek this doesn’t really havemuch to do with emotions, but it did prompt a more in-depth study about how much we can trust our hearts and feelings.

New Hearts

When we talk about our “hearts” in the Bible, the Hebrew word is lebab (H3824). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament by Harris, Gleason, and Waltke describes this word as “the richest Biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature.” It refers to someone’s personality, and primarily includes their emotions, thoughts, and will. Any sort of feeling — positive and negative — can be attributed to the heart.

The passage in Jeremiah 17 which tells us our hearts are deceitful and wicked also tells us that the Lord is able to know, search, and try our hearts (Jer. 17:9-10). As the only one Who can really understand what’s going on in our innermost self, God is also able to effect changes inside us at a heart-level.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezk. 36:26-27)

Our hearts can be changed. They don’t have to stay wicked and untrustworthy. That doesn’t, however, mean we can follow our hearts all the time once we’re in a relationship with God. David walked “in integrity of heart” and God called him “a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (1 Kings 9:4; Acts 13:22), yet he still sinned by acting on his feelings for Bathsheba.

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Prov. 4:23)

Even when God is working with our hearts, we still have an obligation to keep and guard our inner selves. We have the Holy Spirit in us, but we’re also still human. While our gut instincts and feelings are more likely to be right when we’re in covenant with God, we could still be deceived by our hearts.

Reach Out

Let’s go back to that verse I mentioned in Acts. It’s part of Paul’s sermon in Athens.

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ (Acts 17:26-28)

In the Greek, the phrase “grope for” (NKJV) or “feel after” (KJV) is translated from the word pselaphao (G5584). This word is derived from a root that means “to touch lightly,” and here in Acts if means to feel or touch and object. The picture it paints is of us reaching out, searching for God like someone feeling around in the dark to find another person.

By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him. “I will rise now,” I said, “And go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love.” I sought him, but I did not find him.” (Song 3:1-2)

Since we’re not going to find God by waving our hands around and reaching for something physically tangible, I imagine this “feeling after” God takes place in our hearts. This brings us right back to the idea of emotions, thoughts, and the immaterial parts of us.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a friend some years ago about what role emotions have in our faith. One of the questions that came up was, “What does the Holy Spirit in us feel like, if it’s not a feeling?” It’s an appeal to probability fallacy to , but it illustrates a point — we instinctively sense that the immaterial part of us will be involved in noticing the immaterial Spirit of God.

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23)

In Acts 17, Paul told those who were “feeling after” God that “He is not far from each one of us.” Here in John, Christ tells us that both He and His Father will dwell with an inside of Their people via the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-18). Talk about being close to someone! We “live and move and have our being” in Them, and They live inside us. That’s the most intimate relationship you’ll ever have with anyone.

For in Him [Jesus] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Col. 2:9-10)

Being in relationship with God makes us complete. He strengthens our weaknesses, makes wise our foolishness, and quiets our anxieties. When we go looking for God and cling tightly to Him, the change He can and will work inside us on a spiritual, emotional, and mental level is astonishing. It transforms us to the core of our being, including our feelings.