#IAmNot: The lens of conviction versus condemnation

For this week’s blog post for the A Confident Heart OBS, one of the choices is to “Describe a time when you felt condemned (by yourself or someone else), and answer two key questions: What would the difference have been if you had processed the situation through the filter of conviction instead? and What steps can you take the next time to usher in restoration instead of condemnation?

For the last 2 1/2 years, I have been riding a roller-coaster of emotion and behavior with consequence. I made a mistake in leaving a fairly secure position to take on a title. In the last year alone, I have dealt with the ups and downs associated with caring for a loved one who is undergoing significant medical treatment (open-heart surgery, followed by two major cancer surgeries, and all kinds of follow-up treatments); in addition, I lost a loving cousin and was unable to attend her funeral and grieve with the rest of the family; further, I nursed my beloved pet through toxic shock and surgery, pneumonia, and cancer until her death 4 months ago; and right before her death, we suddenly lost a wonderful friend who had done much in our lives. Finally, I lost my job — and I am really not entirely sure why; but with this latest loss, there was an undercurrent of personal failure, voices of accusers implying that I should be condemned for my actions (or lack thereof). Somehow, it seems that I was entirely at fault that I could not cleanse the toxic environment in which people operated long before I entered, and will likely continue to operate in after my departure.

As a result of all of this, I have felt like I was madly treading the waters (filled with sharks) simply to keep going. I grew to not like myself very much — at least not the me that I had become, wallowing in self-pity, blaming God and others for my misery and condition, and standing mired in the quicksand of my insecurity to the point of being unable to take the steps necessary to move forward.

About two months ago, as my job search seemed to hit a dry spell, I knew that I had to do something — and as I have always done in the past — my first step was try to find my way back to Him. If nothing else — from returning to prayer, reading and reflecting on the Scripture, and joining an OBS — I have begun to take great comfort in the fact that no matter what, there can be redemption — for He loves me! Through research and reflection, I have learned more in the last two months about the precepts of the Church that I was baptized into, along with the depth of my faith and the power of the Divine Truth than I had in the last 55 years. For that, I cannot even begin to express my gratitude!

So to view my situation in the lens of conviction versus condemnation, I sought to understand the difference between condemnation and conviction, and note the following:

Condemnation is not constructive — it is accusatory and critical, and judgmental. It affirms guilt, and perpetuates feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Conviction, on the other hand is constructive and specific in its revelation. Conviction points out sinful actions and attitudes and ways to mitigate negative results and consequences. We have the opportunity to reflect and to change harmful behaviors that impede our relationship with Him and with others.

It gives me pause to think that I have been acting in accordance with my free will, with complete disregard of His — but also hope that I can turn it around and use it to create a better me as I move into the next phase of life.

On p. 129 of A Confident Heart, Renee notes that when we feel like a failure, we should ask ourselves some questions:

Did I do something wrong or make a bad decision that led to this failure? YES — I relied on my own free will and ignored His plan and Will — seeking validation of my worth through position and others — I moved without doing due diligence, from a perfectly good job to one in a very volatile environment, simply to attain the next rung up a ladder.

Am I acting independently of God? YES

Is there anything I am not doing to fulfill a commitment I made? YES — this haunts me, as I vowed to do everything within my power to make things better for all around me. I am not sure however, that I could have done more — because as I noted, the toxicity was deep-rooted, the climate not conducive to positive change — and yet, I know from their own lips and actions, that I did make a difference in the lives of some people.

Did I pray about this or just do it because I wanted to? NO, I did not pray about the decision to make the move, and YES I simply did it because I wanted to — I wanted the title.

Was I responsible for the outcome? Given what I know now about the environment — I could make a case that I was not entirely responsible for the outcome, but did play a role in it.

Did I over-commit myself in agreeing to do this? Again, given what I know now — I would have to say YES, because at one point, I had an inflated sense of my capability. In hindsight, I am not sure that anyone could have done much more than I did or have enjoyed a different outcome.

Is God using this to refine my character? YES — I firmly believe that to be the case — it has served as a giant “wake-up call.”

So, in the lens of conviction rather than condemnation, I cite the following conclusions:

I have been seeking validation through all other means than His provisions and promises. I can thus make a conscious decision not to continue to pursue this course of action.

I have pursued positions with wrong motivation. I can thus seek always to fully understand my motivations and if they are not in alignment with His Will — change course accordingly.

While I have soothed some, I have hurt others through my words and actions. I can thus make a commitment to watch my tongue, obey His laws, and act in accordance with His way — treating and serving others as I wish to be treated and served.

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#WhoIAm in Him: Toward full Acceptance

Today’s Verse

But those who did welcome Him, those who believed in His name, He authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God. (John 1:12-13, CEB)

john-1-vs-12-13

Exploration

This verse is part of John’s discussion of the acceptance of the Word made flesh (Jesus). Not all were accepting of the man-God in his time — in fact, we find in these and preceding passages that He was being shut out by the majority of his people. He was acknowledged by a few, however, and He regenerated them with his own strength and power — and giving them the rights associated with being children of the Father.

I have undertaken a journey to move from relying on temporal things being a determinant of #WhoIAm to relying on God’s promises.  Thus, my expectation is that #WhoIAm will become fully a function of Whose I am — and I am His — a child with full expectations for unconditional love and support, and sharing in the rights and benefits inherent in his promises.

I have His Word, in writing:

I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:18)

Affirmation

Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces. (2 Peter 1:4)

God never promised a life without pain,

Laughter without tears; or sun without rain.

But He did promise strength for the day, 

Comfort for the tears, and light for the way.

For those who believe in His Heaven above;

He rewards their faith with His everlasting love. (Author Unknown)

Inherent rewards:

In addition to his uncompromising love and support, as a child of God — I am an heir, with standing to inherit.

Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Galatians 4:6-7)

in my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an enduring name that won’t be removed. (Isaiah 56:5, CEB)

Reflection

The path and the end-result are the same no matter who we are, what we have done, or where we come from. Through faith and trust in the Divine Truth.

How?: through the Son and the Spirit — You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26); and All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. (Romans 8:14)

galatians3_26-27

 

#MovingForward: From self-serving to serving God

There is a big difference between the expectations and prayers stemming from a temporal and self-serving view of God, and those coming from an evolving spiritual understanding of the power of His love and promises.

psalm 4

Today’s Verses

Many people say, “We can’t find goodness anywhere, the light of your face has left us, LORD! But you have filled my heart with more joy than when their wheat and wine are everywhere! “(Psalms 4:6-7, CEB)

Exploration/Affirmation

The verses above come from King David’s musings on seeking happiness in God’s favor rather than through amassing riches, attaining honors, or reveling in worldly pleasures. Here he notes that while others bemoan the lack of earthly “goodness” — his reward is greater and longer-lasting than the yield or reward of those who are self-serving  rather than leading a life of service to God.

In 1632, Alexander Gross substantiated this, when he noted, “Where Christ reveals himself there is satisfaction in the slenderest portion, and without Christ there is emptiness in the greatest fullness.”

And in Romans 8:6, there is a strong  comparison and contrast of the value and promise of temporal vs. permanent happiness — “The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace (CEB).”

I have a strong desire to move away from what isn’t working (temporal focus) to the promise of what will work (spiritual understanding) — from reliance on my own insight to reliance on His Wisdom, from chasing my own schemes and plans to following His plan and implementing His purpose and ways. This means making a conscious effort to move from serving myself to serving Him.

Inspiration

Thus, on this journey of faith, I seek to keep developing, and to fully embrace a practical understanding of the magnitude of His power and promise. The following are some key truths (reminders) to assist me in moving from a self-centered existence to a God-centered life:

Beginning with His promise of Hope for my future:

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. (Jeremiah 29:11-13, CEB)

From my way/will to His way/Will:

There is a path that may seem straight to someone, but in the end it is a path to death. (Proverbs 14:12, CEB)

SO

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6, CEB)

From selfish living to godly living:

Don’t love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. (1 John 2:15, CEB)

 [You] shouldn’t trust in what has no worth, for [your] reward will be worthless. (Job 15:13, CEB)

From doubt and insecurity to confidence in God:

When I am feeling weak or inadequate:  He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9, CEB)

When I am consumed by worry about day-to-day living:  “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25, 32-33; CEB)

Strength and fortitude to weather the storms:

He is a refuge and a force — The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalms 9:9, CEB)

If I am afraid and depleted, my strength derives from His — Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. (Isaiah 41:10, CEB)

From despair to hope:

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, CEB)

From inward focus to outward focus:

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Philippians 2:3-4, CEB)

 From pride to humility:

And everyone, clothe yourselves with humility toward each other. God stands against the proud, but he gives favor to the humble. (Peter 5:5b,c; CEB)

From seeking validation through my own accomplishments to seeking validation through what  He can accomplish through me:

We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, CEB)

 Romans 8-28

How do you determine your worth? (And why does it always come up short?)

I have earned the respect and admiration of others through a variety of accomplishments and in many cases have outperformed both my own and other’s expectations for me, but I keep pushing for more, because it never seems like it’s enough. I have a great family and support system, the members of which I love and I know that they love me, yet often I have expectations that can’t be met and dreams that go unfulfilled. I have a huge closet full of clothes, shoes, and drawers full of accessories; a nice home, two vehicles, and lots of state-of-the art electronics; but they don’t last … in fact, nothing I have, or do, and no one that I know or love has ever offered enough to fill a lingering void, nor salve deep wounds … and I have found myself in some very dark places over the years as a result.

So as Renee Swope (2011) notes, I often feel “that aching emptiness we know when something or someone fails us — that cannot be filled by food, family, shopping, friends, sex, alcohol, or anything else (p. 56),” further, “If [I] am doing well, [I] feel fulfilled. If [I] am not doing well, [I] feel empty and worthless (p. 58).” Of course, the measurements of doing well are worldly standards and determination of my worth thus often rests with what I call the 4 Ps — people, performance, position/power, and possessions. This seems to cause me to repeatedly come up short, and cannot begin to address the need for healing of my long-broken heart.

Today’s Truth

If as Swope posits, “the wells of our hearts were created to be filled by God alone (p. 60),” then I need to move from reliance on the 4 Ps to reliance on the 3 Gs (Father, Son, and Spirit).

What better place to start than with the one who knows me best:

Psalm139v13_16

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.  (Psalms 139:13-16, NRSV)

No one can possibly know me the way that He does. He determined my path before I was conceived and formed me in my mother’s womb.

Exploration/Affirmation

Because I am one of His creations, I am “wonderfully made.” I was also, as Renee Swope (2011) noted, “made for love that isn’t measured by our last accomplishment but marked by God’s measureless grace (p. 62)”

Proverbs 19 22

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:7)

No one can protect and defend me like He can. Nothing can possibly satisfy my needs and desires as He can. And no one else can begin to help me heal my heart like He can.

So, I took some time to refute the 4 Ps, and affirm the 3 Gs as my next step toward gaining #AConfidentHeart:

As to measuring my worth by the 4 Ps standards and measures:

  • Relying on the opinion of others has been disappointing, to say the least — Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. (Jeremiah 7:8, NRSV) ; no matter how hard I have tried to please or how many accolades I have obtained — the response is often hollow, and sometimes false; thus, It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals. (Psalms 118:8)
  • As for the clothing, the property, the vehicles, and the “toys,” they quickly lose value and must be replaced, not to mention they are of no value when I die — Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19);  but the promises made by God are invaluable thus, I should store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:20-21)
  • The pursuit of position/power yielded little of value when I pursued it with a self-centered intent, for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, (Luke 18:14b); and I did learn from this behavior, adopting a desire to serve — thus (albeit unwittingly) I reaped the benefits of Commit[ting] [my] work to the Lord, and [my] plans [were] established. (Proverbs 16:3) — as, all who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 18:14c) though regrettably only for a short time.

So, as I turn to the 3 Gs, I affirm that:

  • Relying on the Father, means relying on someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for me — For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • To live in the Word and attain all of the promises He made in recognition of the fulfillment of His Father’s will  — I long to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [I]may be filled with all the fullness of God.
  • Those who trust in their own wits are fools; but those who walk in wisdom come through safely. (Proverbs 28:26) Thus, I seek the Spirit’s counsel in understanding the Divine Truth and finding the words to express myself in properly-motivated prayer.

Inspiration

My goal, then, is to learn to rely on His promises and to seek His mercy and grace daily:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Reflection/Prayer

From Paul’s epistle:

LORD, I pray that, according to the riches of [Your] glory, [You] may grant that [I] may be strengthened in [my] inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in [my] heart through faith, as [I] am being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that [I] may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [I] may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:16-21)

References

NRSV translation of The Holy Bible

Swope, R. (2011). A Confident Heart, Grand Rapids, MI: Revell Publishers.

Exchanging fear for faith: #priceless

I have spent my entire life in a big “shadow of doubt” created by insecurity that developed at a very early age (Swope, p. 21). Insecurity arising from my perspective of how others’ viewed or valued me, which in turn, determined my self-worth  and has continued to do so. That shadow always looms, as the insecurity manifests itself in many ways and many situations — its symptoms are not pleasant — fear, anxiety, depression, defensive and offensive behavior and caustic speech, to name a few. I have desperately sought to get rid of that shadow and its consequences in a variety of ways — some of which I am not terribly proud of. I have tried, over and over, in many different ways and many different arenas to prove that I am “perfect,” or at least well above average, when in reality I am flawed, and average. I have pretended that everything is fine, and that my life is going well and that I am satisfied, because some of my “successes,” by most standards should have been enough. The pretense has been very costly at times. So, I now take great comfort in the fact that “because His love is perfect, I don’t have to be (Swope, pp. 29-46).”

I have been seeking to prove my worth to and through others, through my jobs, promotions, new cars, new technologies and gadgets — and it hasn’t worked. I love my family and friends, and I know that they love me. But, I still keep seeking, “what a person desires: unfailing love (Proverbs 19:22).” So, I want to believe that, as Renee Swope (2011) states, “[I] was made for love that isn’t measured by my last accomplishment, but marked by God’s measureless grace (p. 62).”

There is indeed an emptiness in my heart. No amount of validation from others, no single accomplishment (or even a compendium of all of them), no possession, no career path, promotion, accolade has or will give me value or a true sense of significance — nor will any of these fill that emptiness. Why? Because I guess I finally realize that material goods wear out or lose value quickly, and performance-based measurement of my worth, is dependent upon the opinion, action, or behavior of others (who are likely seeking their value in the same fashion). I also don’t like who I am very much when I seek my worth in this fashion. The realization that the emptiness can ONLY be filled by God, because reliance on any other validation will never provide the abiding love and acceptance marked by His grace is a big, and welcome “wake-up call,” at a time when it is much needed. It implies that “His love will not fail, even when I do (Swope, pp. 47-64).” That type of love is #priceless (Pure; Redeeming; Inexhaustible; Comforting; Energizing; Liberating; Enduring; Supportive; and Sustaining)!

In my quest for #AConfidentHeart, I want to move from “fear-filled thinking to faith-filled believing (Swope, p. 228).”

The following When I/Then He statements address my “Top Ten” doubts and insecurities — they serve as a basis for replacing my doubts and insecurities with His truths:

  1. When I find myself seeking validation of my  worth through the 4 Ps (people, performance, possessions, or position); Then He will remind me that what I really desire is the unfailing love (Proverbs 19:22) that can be found through the 3 Gs (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
  2. When I feel as though life has filled with adversity and has become too difficult; Then He will remind me that He is with me in times of trouble, that He will rescue me, and honor me (Psalms 91:15).
  3. When I sense doubt creeping in and worry becoming all-consuming and non-productive; Then He will remind me that he cares about me and I can surrender my cares to Him (1 Peter 5:7).
  4. When I think that I have no strength left to face the latest trial; Then He will remind me that through His strength I can do all things (Philippians 4:13).
  5.  When I perceive that others are against me and feel beaten down, or defeated; Then He will remind me that no one can be against me if He is for me (Romans 8:31), and that I am a conqueror through His love (Romans 8:37).
  6. When I start to worry about finances, and finding a job that will provide the basic necessities; Then He will remind me that He knows what I need, and it will be provided (Matthew 6:32).
  7. When I begin to feel as though I will never find a sense of peace and contentment; Then He will remind me that I can find peace and confidence in Him (John 16:33); and can learn to be content in any situation or circumstance (Philippians 4:12).
  8. When I am tempted to pretend that things are fine, when in reality I am FINE (Frazzled, Irritated, Neurotic, and Exhausted (Swope, p. 31)); Then He will remind me that He can give me rest (Matthew 11:28), peace, and confidence (John 16:33).
  9. When I feel as though I don’t know what to do next; Then He will remind me that I simply have to ask him, and He will give me wisdom (James 1:5).
  10. When I find myself feeling uncertain about my next steps or my purpose: Then He  will remind me to rely on Him to guide me (Proverbs 3:5-6); and that His major goal is that I enjoy the full riches of complete understanding of the divine truth. (Colossians 2:2).

References

NRSV translation of The Holy Bible

Swope, R. (2011). A Confident Heart, Grand Rapids, MI: Revell Publishers.