Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sin Sucks

I'm noticing an interesting pattern emerging in this journey of self- and God-discovery: first, God generously and graciously reminds me of His love and my worth and identity in Him; then He hits me with an issue that needs to be worked through. One follows the other, over and over again. It's amazing to me, now that I've recognized the routine, how He so often leads me into the hard, slogging, discouraging but worthwhile work of becoming more like Him from a place of love and peace and rest.

So, after my wonderful waterpark moment with God (see my previous post for details), I was almost immediately challenged to take the next steps in dealing with an issue that has been occupying my heart and mind for far too long now. Sin sucks, you know? Especially sin that becomes habit - it sucks life, sucks truth, sucks hope, sucks joy, sucks peace, sucks self-esteem; and replaces those good things with guilt, shame, despair, self-hatred, self-deception, and lies. So much sin provides fleeting, temporary pleasure, but is so harmful over time. And oh, does it put up a fight when brought into the light! What a fierce battle I'm engaged in right now - ugh... It's so, so much easier, especially for a naturally lazy person such as myself, to allow sin to have its' way, to just give in and enjoy the forbidden fruit. Disciplining my mind and extricating my heart from the sin is proving to be darn near impossible at this point - the more I try, the tighter the grip it seems to have on me.

Are you ever afraid that God will one day arrive at the end of His patience with you, run out of forgiveness and grace, say "I've had enough!" and just walk away? Sometimes the thought crosses my mind, when I forget for a moment that God is God and not like me. Then I think of my relationship with my own children and how much I love them, and how often I have to forgive them. I do reach the "Enough!" moments, but they always pass and grace always prevails. And so God, who is an infinitely greater and more patient parent than I could ever hope to be, can always be depended on to forgive and forgive and forgive...like this:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:8-12)

As recently as a couple of months ago, I would have simply given this fight up in frustration, decided that it was not something I could change, that I'd just have to do my best to conceal it and fight it as I was able. But as God is dealing with me and healing me and growing me up in Him, something's changed in my response to sin, and to the Holy Spirit's conviction. For so many years, there was a very thin but very real wall that I had built between God and myself. So thin that I didn't even know it was there. If anyone had asked me if God loved me and I loved Him, I would have responded with an adamant YES! The wall was made of a strange combination of shame and fear and arrogant self-sufficiency. I didn't believe I deserved God's (or anybody's) love, therefore He must not really love me. I was afraid that I could never measure up to the impossibly high expectations I imagined God had for me. And I desperately wanted to be able to do this Christian life thing on my own - to be strong enough, wise enough, brave enough, tough enough...asking for help would reveal the weaknesses that I fought to conceal at all cost. All of this added up to the underlying belief that God must be (at least) a little bit mad at me. This was something I believed I simply had to live with, a basic fact of existence for me.

What freedom and relief came to my soul when I confronted this particular lie and replaced it with truth! God is NOT mad at me! God does NOT hold my sin against me! God's love for me does not depend even the tiniest little bit on my performance! God, in His endless grace and mercy, will forgive and forgive and forgive - Jesus' great sacrifice covers ALL my sin!  But, as Paul so comically and eloquently puts it,
What shall we say, then?
Shall we go on sinning
so that grace may increase?
By no means!
We are those who have died to sin;
how can we live in it any longer?
(Romans 6:1-2)

When we surrender our lives to Christ, we become new creations in Christ and our old self, with its' penchant for sin, is put to death. But so often, we forget to inform our new selves of the death, and the war with sin continues to rage. Satan will never concede defeat; and so we will (must!) persist in this sin-battle for the rest of our days - until we step into the eternal perfection of Heaven. But instead of trying to fight in our own power and failing, let's fix our eyes on Jesus and live in the victory He's already won for us!

(This is a song I discovered recently that provides a powerful reminder of what power lies in Jesus' death and resurrection - may it encourage you as much as it has encouraged me!)



Oh to see the dawn of the darkest day
Christ on the road to Calvary
Tried by sinful men torn and beaten then
Nailed to a cross of wood

This the pow'r of the cross
Christ became sin for us
Took the blame bore the wrath
We stand forgiven at the cross

Oh to see the pain written on Your face
Bearing the awesome weight of sin
Ev'ry bitter thought ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow

Now the daylight flees now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head
Curtain torn in two dead are raised to life
Finished the vict'ry cry

Oh to see my name written in the wounds
For through Your suff'ring I am free
Death is crushed to death life is mine to live
Won through Your selfless love

This the pow'r of the cross
Son of God slain for us
What a love what a cost
We stand forgiven at the cross

CCLI Song # 4490766
Keith Getty | Stuart Townend
© 2005 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bathing Suits and Love

It has been a WONDERFUL summer! For so many reasons - I'm so thankful. It's been a summer of connecting with my family in a way I was never able to before; the shame that covered my life kept getting in the way of really knowing them, and of letting them really know me.  I really feel like I know my boys now, and what a difference it's made in our day-to-day life! And our marriage? It's honestly never been better. So much peace and joy in the Feltmate household - it's a beautiful thing. (Not to say that it's perfect - my boys are still boys - all of them - and I'm still me...but that's ok!)

So the Feltmates went to World Waterpark in West Edmonton Mall this summer. The kids had a blast, the husband was happy, it was an excellent day.  Well, mostly.  When you're almost as wide as you are tall, you can imagine that a bathing suit is the very, very last thing you might ever wish to put on. So I didn't. Well, I did have one on, but it was covered very securely with shorts and a shirt. Anyway, I did a few slides and enjoyed the wave pool a bit, but spent most of the day hanging out at the kiddy pool with Jake, while Chris and Chandler tackled the more adventurous attractions. I loved watching his delighted face as he whooshed down the little slides again and again (and again). But as I sat there on the edge of the pool, watching people of all shapes and sizes pass by, I just felt worse and worse about myself. (Comparison is pure evil, my friends - it's a game I'll never win...) Interestingly, and slightly annoying-ly, the whole time I was there, I had a tune stuck in my head that I couldn't help humming out loud. (Fortunately, the humming was swallowed up in the cacophony of laughter and shrieks and water and conversation surrounding me, so I just kept on humming...) By about the fifth hour or so, I was thoroughly depressed, stuck in a pit of guilt and inferiority, but the tune remained and I finally recognized what I had been humming: "Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me; Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me..." over and over and over. Tears came to my eyes in spite of the crowd all around me, and my heart was filled with joy and amazement and gratitude to this One Who goes to such great lengths, Who arranges such minute details, to assure me of my worth and to whisper His love just when I need it most.

How amazing is it that this God just loves us - just as we are?! As I observed the people around me, I couldn't help but notice that no body is perfect. Flaws and imperfections that may be covered up most of the time all come out when the swim suit goes on, and insecurities that may be well hidden have a tendency to rise to the surface.  I also noticed varying degrees of discomfort and embarrassment, and it seemed to have very little to do with the size or shape of the individual, from what I could detect. It went both ways, too. There were tiny, beautiful little ladies who could barely take a step without pulling at their suits, and much larger, beautiful ladies who were playing with their kids and prancing around the waterpark with not a care in the world. There were lean, muscular men who were in the water fully clothed and softer, rounder ones who were barely clothed at all. Such an interesting phenomenon...

By the end of my time at the waterpark, God had allowed me the privilege of seeing through His eyes for just a moment: for the first time, I really saw the inherent, universal grandeur of each glorious being, each carefully-crafted body; each and every one the deliberate and thoughtful and premeditated creation of a meticulous and purposeful Creator. And as much as it's my habit to resist such thoughts, I had to believe that this applies to me, as well. What a gift - to be reminded of the beautiful truth of Psalm 139:
For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
(Psalm 139:13-14)

Sometimes it helps to go back to basics, back to the beginning. I have value because God made me. PERIOD. This is a truth I can pull out every time those evil, self-loathing, devaluing, joy-stealing thoughts come calling. This is a truth I can stand on.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Thorns and Grace

When I was going through my "dark night of the soul" a few months ago, God graciously gave me several songs that seemed to speak His love and presence directly into my situation. I hadn't listened to them in awhile, preferring my newest mix of joyful, hopeful, grateful songs that express my current heart-cry. I pulled out those songs the other day and was completely awed and overwhelmed by how God had so beautifully and graciously and specifically kept the promises these songs proclaim. I recalled so vividly the utter despair, the deep discouragement and emotional pain and turmoil of that time (still not all that long ago). All I can do is marvel at what God has done.

However, I find myself getting frustrated and impatient - again. Yes, I've been completely set free from the shame that was colouring and clouding my whole life - hallelujah! I'm more free than I've ever been, more secure and satisfied in God's love for me than ever before - it's absolutely awesome! But the euphoria from my miraculous liberation is wearing off a bit and my focus is shifting to other parts of my life; parts from which I have not been "delivered", where I'm still enslaved and failing. I keep forgetting that this life is a journey, not a race to get to perfection and then camp out there for as long as possible. Believe me, that mindset only leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction and discontent.

I've been thinking about Paul and his "thorn in the flesh" and wondering if there are any parallels to my own issues. Many have taken educated guesses as to what Paul's particular "thorn" might have been, but the Bible doesn't give us that information (on purpose, I think, because of the universal principle at hand). We do learn that Paul asked God to remove it - 3 different times - and that God didn't. When I imagine Paul's and God's interaction regarding this "thorn", I don't see Paul having a calm, quiet conversation with his Maker, somehow...I think it was more of a begging, pleading, crying out from a place of weakness and pain, last resort, end-of-his-rope kind of communication; desperate, each plea more impassioned and frantic than the one before. And the picture seems to me a bit of a paradox. I mean, this is Paul, the great apostle, teacher, leader, missionary, and all around man of faith. If anyone should be able to trust that God knows what He's doing, it's him, right? But no. Whether it was due to severe pain or embarrassment or that he felt his ministry was being hindered or compromised or something else entirely, Paul chose to question God's wisdom in giving him this "thorn". And not only did he question God's wisdom in the giving of the thorn, but he went on to question God's decision to leave the thorn intact after Paul had begged for its removal!

We know the end of the story - at least in part. Paul reports God's response in the well-known and oft-repeated words of 2 Corinthians 12:9 - "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." A beautiful promise for when we can't see past our many weaknesses to God's great strength. I've found comfort and peace in these words time and time again. But I wonder a bit about the rest of Paul's days. We have to assume that he lived the rest of his life with this thorn constantly poking at him, bringing to mind his desperate pleading and God's amazing promise. Do you suppose he ever got to the point of not fighting it, where he accepted it for what it was and even thanked God for it, for how it kept him humble, for how it constantly compelled him to rely on God's power and sovereignty and not on his own?

I'm not sure how this fits with my own particular issues, or yours, for that matter.  All I know is that there are things that God chooses to deliver us from, and things that He chooses to allow to remain. To acknowledge this mystery and come to a place of peace with our infirmities and challenges is, I think, yet another step along the path to knowing real joy.