Lean On

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What do you lean on?

One of my favorite passages and promises in Scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

I know It’s a very well-known verse, and probably appears on as many journal covers, bookmarks and coffee mugs as Joshua 24:15 and Isaiah 40:31. But this weekend, I wanted more from it – to scratch deeper beneath what I’ve gleaned from it so far and chew on it. So, here are my thoughts on it and what I’ve pulled in from other commentators.

I think the main aim of the verse is to walk in a straight path. Meaning, God doesn’t want us to veer off the path into disobedience or into a wasted life or anything that would dishonor Him. Whenever Scripture talks about paths, my mind leaps to John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and the path into the Slough of Despond and how they veered off the path, which led them to the prison of Giant Despair and Doubting Castle. So, that’s the goal: straight paths; straight to everlasting joy – straight to a God-honoring life.

There appear to be 3 steps to get there:

1) Trust in the Lord with all your heart. We need to bank on the promises of God – making our lives a moment-by-moment trusting in a good, all-powerful, unchanging, loving, all-providing and all-satisfying God. Brandon Barker, one of the spiritual formation pastors at The Village Church – Dallas Northway campus, said something Sunday evening I’ll never forget: “Some of us don’t lack boldness, we lack trust.”

2) Don’t rely on your own understanding. This is a conscious choice NOT to be self-reliant (why can’t this just be easier? The battle of self vs. God – so messy). To say to self, “Self, you are inadequate. Brain, you can’t come up with enough wisdom on your own.” I feel especially in the last few weeks that the Lord has been trying to break me of this. Now, getting away from self-reliance doesn’t mean you don’t make plans or don’t think…you just don’t bank on them. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:31) — James 4:13-15 also comes to mind. So, in the midst of our planning, thinking, etc., we’re leaning on something else and not leaning on our own resources. What a tight rope and balance.

3) In all your ways acknowledge Him. In Hebrew, this reads: In all your ways KNOW Him. At every turn, at every choice you make, at every new conversation you’re in….you’re sending up the message: “God, I acknowledge you here. I know you here. You are decisive here. I need you here.”

And if we follow those, and trust Him, He’s going to make our paths straight – going to keep us from wasting our lives and bring us into everlasting joy.

How AWESOME is that truth?! So, lean on – lean on the Lord.

(Note: ok, I admit I was trying to get clever and play off the book title “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, even though it doesn’t remotely relate – har har.)

7 Tips for Better Bible Study

I came across this blog by Mark Driscoll, pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., and had to repost it because all too often we make it all about the reading/gleaning knowledge aspect alone, and don’t take into consideration other key elements. Also, he talks about how bible study encourages and commands us to be the church. As Alistair Begg is fond of saying, “The plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things.”

An important point that we often miss as believers (in whatever stage of life transformation by the gospel) and that becomes discouraging is we tend to think because we’re limited in knowledge, etc. we can’t be affective or show Christ to others. There are things that you believe in Scripture that are true, but you just don’t fully understand why you believe them, nor can you adequately defend them. Your “ignorance” does not make your beliefs wrong, does it? You may need to grow deeply in your knowledge, but your beliefs are true and remain unchanged. Your conviction of their truth deepens, but the truth is the truth. You tracking with me?

Ok, here’s Driscoll:

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When tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread after a 40-day fast in the wilderness, Jesus responded by saying simply and profoundly, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Paul, when writing to his protégé, Timothy, writes that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

David writes, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).

The implications are clear: life and growth come from the study of God’s words through Scripture. We are not to read and study the Bible begrudgingly but rather view it as the source of life and, like David, love God’s word.

But the reality is that we all struggle at times to study faithfully or joyfully. So, it’s nice to have a few principles to help us refocus our love and study of Scripture. Below are seven principles that I’ve found beneficial.

1. Actively serve and participate in a local church to learn with and from other Christians.

Colossians 3:16 (NIV): “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

2. Be under the authority of Scripture to be interpreted by it, not over the Scripture to be interpreted by you.

Hebrews 4:12–13 (NIV): “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-­edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

3. Pick up the Bible for life transformation, not just mental information.

John 5:39–40 (NIV): “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

4. Pick up the Bible for relational purposes—not functional ones—so that you will love God and not just know or use him.

Matthew 7:21–23 (NIV): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’“

5. Don’t just get into the Word; get the Word into you.

Memorization, Psalm 119:11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Meditation, Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

6. Take advantage of godly Bible commentators, your pastor, respected theologians in church history, and wise Christian friends to better understand Scripture.

Romans 12:7 (NIV): “If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach . . .”

7. Don’t think you need more knowledge. Often you need more obedience to the knowledge you already have.

James 1:22 (NIV): “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Traffic Thoughts

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Today was my typical weekday commute of fighting traffic all the way to work. I was on Dallas North Tollway driving along, and I was keeping distance between me and the car ahead of me, but still going over the speed limit. The Jeep behind me got impatient and moved into the lane next to me and pulled alongside me, glaring at me in annoyance and his face twisted in anger. I was incredulous that he was painting me as the “mean bad guy.” His lane suddenly slowed and he was soon out of my sight. I shook my head and said aloud to myself, “Dude, I’m actually helping us both by keeping enough distance between me and the car ahead so that if I had to slam on my brakes, you won’t plow into me.”

Then I thought how we, as short-sighted humans with selfish tendencies, often don’t see love as love, but as a hindrance or cruelty. It reminded me of how this is how we can view what the Lord does at times. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). We see something that looks “mean” or “bad,” but He’s really loving us, growing us, and being gracious.

A Battle of the Wills

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” – Romans 7:15-25

I have been reading through the book of Romans and read chapter seven this morning. Verses 15-25 made my heart ache and this flood of tears pouring down my face came out of nowhere. I have memorized and read this passage many times and realize it’s true about me, but never felt it more acutely than I did this morning. I thought back to what seemed like 1,000 moments  yesterday when I was so aware of my brattiness and pride, yet it seemed like a losing battle. I was repulsed by what I saw in myself – shame filled me. But even the shame I felt yesterday was mixed with selfishness. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. Today, as I wept, I mourned and then praised the Lord for his amazing grace and longsuffering love towards a wretch like me, and the fact that I have others (especially Chris yesterday) who demonstrate and show a grace that reflects God’s towards me – whether it comes gently or as a rebuke. May I seek, by His grace and Holy Spirit, to love and forgive others as He already has when He died for me.

Believing is Seeing

“We must get over wanting to be needed – this is the hardest of all temptations to resist.” – C.S. Lewis

Today was just a C.S. Lewis type of day (note: after writing this whole thing out, I discovered all the quotes I found somehow fit perfectly within and complemented my post). It all started when I was sent this quote as a way of encouragement:

Faith is the art of holding on to things in spite of your changing moods and circumstances.

I had read/heard of the quote before, but it had slipped my mind. Then in my Bible reading plan (Soul Detox from YouVersion) complemented that quote when I was assigned to read and study Psalm 27. Verse 14 stood out to me:

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

I don’t know about you, but some days in my heart it feels that the world is ending, even though, in reality, the sun is still shining. I grappled with this verse. Ok, Lord, I can wait, which is agony enough, but “be strong”? There are so many times I feel so weak that I feel I’ll snap in two. I’m ashamed to even write that, knowing my “hardships” (see, I even have to put that in quotes) are minute. But then I realized in really chewing on this verse that waiting on the Lord – trusting in His faithfulness, having an eternal/godly perspective, clinging to Him, basing your hope and joy in Him – DOES produce a strength you cannot conjure on your own. It’s a different kind of strength than we typically think of.

Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd.

It’s ironic – sometimes I have to write these blog posts out to realize the depth of my sin, the narrowness of my perspective and my lack of faith. But on the flip-side of that I see the humbling mercy of God in Christ, the riches of His love, His pursuit of me despite my wanderings and how much He has blessed me with. It’s so easy to fall into being self-centered – some struggle with that enslaving downfall more than others. Let me encourage you, as I encourage myself, to strive for holiness in seeking to fulfill the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39):

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Because I find the times in which I serve and love on others, some of the most beautiful and richest moments of my life because my focus is no longer on me.

This is one of the miracles of love: It gives a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.

So, if you think about it upside down (which is really right side up) you’re really showing yourself some love….and I want to be careful here….this is what I don’t mean….I don’t mean that you should love others to get something from them. What I meant by that statement is despite what the world and your sinful side tells you about how you shouldn’t do this or that for a person or they deserve this or that and not your love/grace…..DON’T listen to those lies. Know that you may suffer and maybe you won’t “gain” anything on earth, but I’d encourage you to look at Christ’s life on earth and what you have to gain eternally.

Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even agony into a glory.

Perspective is such a key word here. It’s SO hard and I know I fail often. Don’t beat yourself when you fall down. Know His mercies are new every morning and that He has already forgiven it when He died for you (quickly insert Romans 6:1 here).

It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.

Let me leave you with this one last encouragement and commandment from Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

Faith vs. Formulas

For several weeks my small group of girls have been reading through Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges and using his study guide to anchor our conversations. During the last two weeks, one of the main issues pounding in my head and stirring/convicting my soul: control.

Control

Ah, yes I can see it struck a nerve with you too. I just want to first point out, before I go further with this word, how we seem to exert it at the wrong time and in the wrong way – because last time I checked we all struggle with self-control. Oh, and one more thing – by “control” I don’t mean, “domineering.”

Control is touted in our day. Go to this university, have that degree, make this amount of money, date this kind of person, retire by this age, etc. Our self-worth is so important to us; even to those of us who claim Christ. We know with our heads that Sunday School answer of how we’re supposed to find our self-worth and identity in Him, but we struggle in a world that presses at us from every side to fight against measuring ourselves according to the world’s standards and goals (which may be well and good). We all know the root of self-worth and control is, don’t we? Pride.

Oh, and you know what this desire to control causes us to rely on? FORMULAS. Do this + do that = your desired end result. Most of us think life is as easy as formulas and if something doesn’t have a “safe” or guaranteed ending, we won’t take a leap of FAITH. On a quick sidenote: I think some of us even read the books we do to find a solution to help fix us or make us feel better. Notice that the Lord never gives us formulas – He gives us His Word to hide in our hearts and follow, and His Holy Spirit to help sanctify us. Together these provide us with godly standards – not unrealistic expectations. NEVER let anyone put you down and say your expectations are too high, IF they are standards based in what His Word clearly teaches. Heck, if all the Bible characters had followed an exact formula then they would have been the same person, and there would be a need for one story in the whole Bible.

I don’t know about you, but the main two areas I fight for some sort of control is in my relationships and in my job. Ah, yes, in the realm of “control” falls the “fear of man.” Also, I so dislike things being up in the air….I mean, who doesn’t? We often find ourselves compromising just to try to hold on to and control something….which is ironic….since our standards and spirit are no longer under control. Sometimes it feels like my job is careening out of control. I lived in fear of my boss’ expectations because I am so hard on myself. Even though the Lord has freed me from that fear, I still struggle with it on rare occasions. I have faith and believe that the Lord NEVER withholds anything good from His children. I have memorized, remind myself of, embrace and practice this truth out: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be made known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving (reflecting on ALL you have to be thankful for and have been given on no merit of your own) let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:4-7).

What I’m trying to say is that too often I base my security in the wrong things: myself, people, my job, etc. C.S. Lewis puts it so well:

Don’t ever let your happiness depend on something that can be taken away from you.

I am all too often guilty of making it about ME when it comes to work and relationships (dating or friendships) – “Lord, help my boss to think I’m a valuable asset and the best writer ever” – “Lord, help whoever I’m dating or people/friends to think I’m the most awesome thing ever” etc. (generalizations/exaggerations of course). Ah, shamefully I lose focus. Instead, it should always be – “Lord help me to respect and honor my boss, regardless of how I feel. Help me to do my work as unto You.” – “Lord let whomever I’m dating or the people I’m around see your awesomeness and beauty in me, so that he and they may be encouraged and edified and motivated to be more like You.”

A wonderful, insightful, godly young man once put it to me this way – regarding pursuing holiness and living out my life by faith – he presented the metaphor of a car, and said that I needed to put the car in drive and press the gas pedal and trust the Lord to take the wheel. He can’t move us if we’re not moving at all.

So then, let’s live by faith! Formulas may seem to promise peace and control, but in the end produce bondage and shame.

The article that inspired this post was shared on Facebook today and it is from a site called Recovering Grace: How the Teachings of Emotional Purity and Courtship Damage Healthy Relationships. Fantastic read!

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

The Reckoning

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

My thoughts and emotions have been extremely loud lately. It’s hard for me to quiet them enough to think straight to write this post. Ah, that’s why I love my 4-mile runs on the KT (Katy Trail). I get my thoughts and heart mostly unsnarled and back in focus.

To be honest, I started out my run tonight feeling very fretful. Fret and self-doubt have been trying to devour me the past few weeks. There are times I’ve felt beaten down to the ground – both at work and in my spiritual living. I feel bloodied, dragging myself onward with an unawareness of where I’m going – living, because I must. Perhaps to look at me, you’d never know. But I that’s the case with a lot of people, but we’ve been taught to conceal pain well. Ah, but not only to conceal it – to smother it and have not been taught to attack and address it with the right heart and perspective. You don’t have to look hard to find pain. I am always so moved by the lyrics in the song, “A Place Only You Can Go,” by NEEDTOBREATHE:

Pain is alive in a broken heart. The past never does go away. We were born to love and we’re born to pay the price for our mistakes. Grace, she comes with a heavy load. Memories, they can’t be erased. Like a pill I swallow, he makes me well. But leaves an awful taste.

Tonight, on my run, I re-realized about myself three things: 1) Worst things are happening to people all around me and my situation can always be worse (such a “Pollyanna” moment, I know), 2) I’m the greatest enemy to my joy and 3) God withholds nothing good from me.

God withholds NOTHING good from me. WHAM. As that thought and truth came to my mind towards the end of my run, it nearly stopped me dead in my tracks with the weighty yet lightness of it. Why then am I fretful? Why then am I anxious? Why then am I acting like a whiny 5-year-old who needs a nap (well sleep probably would help me)? The Lord delights in me and I’m fighting against Him and His love – His desire for GOOD for me. I threw back my head at the glory of it, of Him — and repented of my stupid pride, my desire for wanting my cheap version of good and glory for myself. My dad once told me a truth I’ll never forget: “Rachel, God has a good plan for you because He is a good God.” He is incapable of evil. (James 1:13)

To rewind a bit, in the middle of my run tonight, listening to and getting lost in the lyrics of the NEEDTOBREATHE album “The Reckoning,” (why yes, I’m on a NEEDTOBREATHE binge right now – moving on) I thought about how much I love the constants in my life and was praising the Lord for them. Then I stopped myself — if God gives me the constants, surely He gives me the inconstants (the painful, inconvenient and good ones) as well. Each are there for a reason. For instance, the inconstants cause me to appreciate so much more the constants – and the constants are a place of rest, refreshment and comfort. BUT the inconstants are there to grow me, cause me to see more of my heart, to wrestle. So, instead of despising them, I praised the Lord for them. I can’t but help think of the line from The Princess Bride, when Westley tells Buttercup, “Life IS pain, Highness. Anyone telling you differently is selling something.” But pain is what the Lord uses to MAKE us. I can list numerous examples of it. Perhaps you’d like to share with me the instances you see it manifested throughout Scripture and even in your own life. Twould be great comfort food for your soul to think on those things, as Philippians 4:8-9 tells us: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things….practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.”

So, I started out my run fretful. Ended my run hopeful. “…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke