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Monday, May 13, 2013

Think on These Things

No one's life is free from challenges. Whether because of testing, to prove to you that your faith is genuine so that you will not doubt your salvation, or tempting, when the evil one wants to shake that faith and make you think God cannot possibly keep his promises to you, life has challenges.

Our battle is in the spiritual realm. It's going on all the time. But we are not left as orphans. We have tools to use to strengthen our minds when facing challenges, when under attack, when discouraged, when left to work alone though perhaps we (as I) do much better in small community. We are charged to speak encouragement to one another. We are charged to capture our own thoughts ourselves.

Today's one of those days when things are clicking along well, just like they should. The big challenges are kind of on hold at present, and I almost know the serenity prayer by heart, and can summarize at least the overarching gist of it as it applies at this very moment with Atticus Finch's words, "It's not time to worry yet, Scout." But for some reason, my body and brain chemistry just won't cooperate. That caffeine-addicted chihuahua that lives under my ribcage is doing his flips and the irrational anxiety that met me with the alarm clock is fully active today.

So what is in my power to do in this case? I don't want to opt for the afternoon glass of wine that probably would put H.Anx (the chihuahua's nickname) to bed for awhile. (Though I am not by any means a tee-totaler, I am very cautious about using alcohol for medication purposes, lest dependency gradually develop.) So I told two friends: anxious day. Please pray for peace. And I trust them that they did indeed pray for me. Both are the kind of people who know me well enough to accept my request for prayer without requiring details, and both are mature enough believers to entrust me to God rather than choose first to try to fix things for me instead of surrendering me to our mutual Father, which is what I always need most.

And second, I have chosen to take the words of Paul to the Philippians, and think on these things:
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. --Philippians 4:8

I've often read this verse and it's left me kind of blank. I don't readily bring to mind true, honorable, lovely things, at least not things that really work to CHANGE me. What's true? 2 + 2 = 4, now, always, forever. So what?

What's honorable? A firefighter entering a building to save a person he or she is not related to. Good stuff, but it doesn't help me right now. What's lovely? The gerberas blooming in the front yard finally. Thank you for beauty, God, but H.Anx isn't responding to that.

So today, I want to take each one of those suggestions, and specifically name something to think on that is relevant to this challenge. I want this favorite-verse-of-many to take root so that it affects change in the way Paul was thinking when he wrote it, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for all our individual and common good.

Whatever is

True:  The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. -- 1 Timothy 1: 14
Grace, unmerited favor, overflowed abundantly for me. I didn't do it. I didn't earn it, therefore I cannot lose it. Because of who God is and what He has done by his own great love and mercy, I am secure forever in his grasp and nothing can separate me. This is true, as the next verse affirms: This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Honorable: This is a humbling one as well. The dictionary says "honor" is integrity. It refers to something worthy of being held in esteem. A biblical translation can be "above reproach." Were it not for God's promises, none could claim to be honorable or above reproach, and seeking to think on such a thing would only condemn. But for this:
You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven. -- Colossians 1:21-23

Who can claim to be above reproach, and therefore honorable? All that is honorable is made so by the work we could not do. And to maintain that state, God makes it just about as easy as it can be: Believe the gospel and confess honestly to him my sin and shortcomings. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. -- 1 John 1:9. He is faithful to make us honorable. He bestows honor to the dishonorable who confess honestly to him, and trust by faith in his righteousness alone, and not in a checklist of rules to keep for salvation or honor. (Romans 10: 5-11.)

Just: The enemy of peace has a powerful tool on his side where justice is concerned. The God who by no means will clear the guilty is to be feared. And yet, he who does not clear the guilty calls himself first by the name of MERCY and takes upon himself the due punishment on my behalf. The penalty must be paid, and so it is. Justice is satisfied once for all who believe.

The Rock, his work is perfect,for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. -- Deuteronomy 32:4 

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation." -- Exodus 34: 4-7

But he was wounded for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. -- Isaiah 53:5

Pure: With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, says 2 Samuel 22: 26-27. Note it is not with the pure God deals purely, but "with the purified." How does this process of purification occur? Is it within my grasp? Not on my own, no, but access has been given. Peter reveals it: Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God and this word endures forever. -- 1 Peter 1: 22-23 and 25.

Purity that endures forever, for who can call unclean that which God himself has made clean? Oh, quiet your accusations, evil one! You cannot take from me that which has been done for me.

Lovely: 2 Samuel 1:23 tells us that the friendship of David and Jonathan, who should have been divided as enemies but were united by faith in God's perfect plan, is lovely. God brings together that which, in the world, is impossible. Most impossible is the union he brings between people, his enemies, hopeless and dead on their own, with his own perfect self. Esther, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon assert that womanhood is lovely. God's design for me, regardless of the world's standards that I can never, never achieve, is lovely in his eyes. He regards my form as lovely. My Maker is satisfied with me. So lovely is womanhood to him that he uses both explicitly feminine terms and the word "lovely" to refer with pleasure to Jerusalem, the dwelling place of his cumulative beloved, in its glory. To be as lovely as Jerusalem, his completed Bride, is indeed a thought worth savoring. Song of Solomon 6: 4.

Commendable: Ecclesiastes commends to us "joy." Yes, our challenges are great and the days are wearisome. Today turns to tomorrow and there may seem to be a purposeless repetition of the mundane. But that is the facade, not the truth. There is a Redeemer, there is a Balm in Gilead, there is an all-mighty One who works all things, even the small and repetitious and mundane and even the evil things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. -- Romans 8:28. We are not left to the endless cycle of seasons that the pagans worshiped. We who know that Redeemer are to rejoice in all things. To do so is commendable. Commend joy to one another! Likewise, commend one another as you see the Fruit of the Spirit in each other. Paul commends his friend Phoebe to the Roman church, calling her a servant (Romans 16:1); he commends even the quarrelsome Corinthians because of their faithfulness to lift him up and their attempts to follow his examples (1 Corinthians 11: 2); commend one another when you face hardships with endurance (2 Corinthians 6: 4) because it truly is God who wills and works within you! We can have confidence and joy in commendation, as we are commended to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give to you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. -- Acts 20: 32. Take joy!

Excellent: 1 Corinthians 13 tells us the more excellent way. Love.
Paul has just been talking about the various gifts of the Church, and how they might be used for the whole community's good. He has cautioned against looking down on one person's gift as well as looking down on oneself for not possessing a "high" gift. He simply removes from us any right to feel superior or inferior (and I admit to both, at the same time). But regardless of the distribution of good spiritual gifts, every single one in the whole community can give this even more excellent thing to each other: Love. Optimism for each other. Humility. Kindness. Patience. Concern. Compassion.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. -- 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7.

Worthy of Praise:
I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,and I am saved from my enemies. -- 2 Samuel 22: 4
What other name in heaven or on Earth can I call upon? None other is trustworthy. And to him I have access. I call, and he hears.
For through him [Christ] we have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. -- Ephesians 2: 18-19.

These things. I am claiming them today to overcome the physiological, mental, emotional, and spiritual enemies that act to rob me of my peace.

So take that, H.Anx. Down, boy!

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