A Deeper Cure for the Brokenhearted

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We all have heard the saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” And we all nod because it is true.

But how can we be kind and help those around us who are facing hard battles?

How we answer to this question is important, but more important is how we act on the answer we give.

In a day in which relativism has crept into our Christian thinking more that we would want to admit, it is important to keep coming back to the Scriptures, and dig in there to prove what is true and act on that. It is important to remind ourselves each day  that the only way to effectively help someone (including ourselves!) who is fighting a battle against her own flesh, thoughts, and emotions is to give them the hope that is only found in Christ.

If you are a Christian woman I am sure you would agree with the statement above. Yes, yes, we all say, Christ is the answer. Solus Christus. From beginning to end, from top to bottom, in and out, always: Christ alone.

But the way we flesh out this answer is another different thing.

The world has many options to offer us as a cure for the pain that the battles we face bring to us. The cabinet of solutions to our anxiety, fear, depression (depression in teens, depression in postpartum women, depression in mid-age women, depression when we get our period, and depression when our periods cease), bad moods, moods that swing and moods that hurt others include breathing exercises, yoga poses, candlelight, silence retreats, quiet spaces, eat-this-food but this-food-not regimes, and all sorts of oils applied in all sorts of ways.

Why do many Christian women feel so tempted to open this cabinet and take one or two of these cures to offer to their hurting friend when we all have agreed to believe that the more potent, the true and deeper cure to our pain is found in Christ alone?

Friends, the way to be kind to those fighting a hard battle is to open the Word in front of them and give them true hope. Hope anchored in that which is not perishable, hope anchored in the words breathed out by God.

One way to see if we actually believe what we say is to listen to the words we say,  and pay attention to the solutions we think of first.

If my friend is struggling with mood swings, what is the first thing I think of? “Oh, I am going to recommend to her this breathing exercise, this oil, this ________” Or,  “Oh, I am going to message her every morning a verse of the Scripture to remind her that in Christ self-dominion is possible, that in Christ we are not slaves to our hormones. That because of the finished work of Christ we have been promised victory over our flesh.”

Or what if you meet a person who is not a believer and she shares with you all about her battles and emotional pain she is going through, what is the first thing you do? Recommend her this new diet, this new oil, this new ________? Or since you know that the heart of the problem needs a deeper solution you share the gospel with her?

We must fear the Lord and recognize that when we offer those hurting a cure for their emotional and spiritual pain outside the gospel, we are offering them something that might actually draw them away from God and the true hope which is found in Him.

Why would they need Christ to be joyful if they can find joy in exercising and burning their pain away at the gym?

Why would they need the Gospel to fight against mood changes if they can stop eating this and start eating that to find hormonal balance?

Why would they need to read and pray and mediate on the Word of God if they can cope with their fears and anxieties with an oil?

Our Creator, the One who made us, who knows each one of our cells and molecules and  dancing hormones, who knows the depth of our thoughts and the marrow of our souls, the One who knows the number of our hairs and has collected each one of our tears in a bottle, the One who doesn’t sleep and sees us tossing around at midnight and intercedes for us. The Almighty God who has called us by name and has become our Redeemer, has spoken words to heal our deepest hurts and satisfy our longings and give us life and hope that never fades.

In Isaiah there is a wonderful verse (50:4) that points us to Christ, and tells us that He will have words to sustain those who are weary.  The Prophet continues, and in different places he keeps pointing us to Jesus, our comforter. It is only the Lord who can make the wilderness like Eden and the desert like the gardens of God. He alone can bring joy and gladness and a heart full of thanksgiving to the one whose heart is now hard and dry and bitter (51:3). Only in Jesus’ words can we find everlasting joy and gladness because His words are our medicine (Is. 51:11, Prov 4:20-22).

Many of our anxious thoughts and fears are rooted in our sinful thoughts and habits, so only God’s forgiveness will set us free and bring true healing to our hearts. Nothing else will. Many things can apparently cover the symptoms for a season, but the pain, the heaviness of spirit, the discontentment, will always come back until we fall on our knees and repent and believe.

David knew this. He said,

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”

(Psalm 103 ESV)

Nothing else. Just the goodness of the Lord and His Words coming like the rain will heal our weary souls and renew our strength.

And this other verse from Psalm 119 is encouraging too,

“I am severely afflicted,
give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” (v.107 ESV)

Can you imagine the pain the Psalmist was experiencing at the time he wrote this? And where does he turn for help? When he was severely afflicted, he knew better than to try to look for help in vain things for help, he turned to God and God alone. How we all need to believe in the Word in such a way that we would immediately turn to it when our hearts are in sorrow.

Friends, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, His faithfulness is great” (Lam.3)  We can come, dearest Sisters, to the Father in the name of Jesus and say, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in Him.” (Lam 3). If we place our hope in anything else than the finished work of Christ, the Lord himself will shatter it to pieces because He is a jealous God who wants His children to put their hope in Him alone.

Along with the Psalms, the epistle of 1 Peter is a wonderful read to help us build our hope in God. Consider these verses, for example (and then go read the whole epistle)  (emphasis mine):

“Blessed be the Lord and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“He [Jesus] was  foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

Let’s pray that the Lord will enlighten the eyes of our hearts that we may be able to see, to know what is the hope to which He has called us, and what are the riches of his glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable power toward us who believe in Him… (Ephesians 1: 15-23)

How we also need to understand the importance of praying earnestly for one another when we go through different trials. How we need to pray that the Lord will give us and our brothers and sisters spiritual strength to persevere,  and how we need to remind each other that “God is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work with us.” (Eph 3:20-21)

Do we really believe that the Spirit can help us in our weaknesses? Do we believe with our flesh and blood that God who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all,  will also give us graciously with Jesus all things we need? (see Romans 8)

May we grow in our faith to a point in which it can be said of us what was said of Abraham,  in hope she believed against hope, she saw her weak body, and yet her faith did not weaken. No unbelief made her waver concerning the promises of God she knew well because she was in the Word always. She saw her weakness but her faith grew stronger because in all she did she gave glory to God and did not let unbelief take root in her heart. She was always convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. (Read Romans 5:13-25)

The only true safe place for us to be is before the throne of the Father in the name of Jesus. There we will always find “mercy and grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:14-16)

Under His sun and by grace,

Becky

What Are You Reading in the Bible?

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When I am far gone and people who knew me talk about me, I want them to remember me as a woman who always encouraged others to read all the Word of God, to love it, to pray it, to believe it all, to live by it every day.

And I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that God has provided for me to do what I have always done , but with a much bigger microphone this past year. God is good!

This week about a thousand women all over the world concluded the first Bible Reading Challenge put together by Christ Church: We read the whole Bible in 8 months following a plan that I put together trying to make it easy to follow because of its structure. Starting with the fact that the New Testament is the inspired commentary of the Old Testament and understanding that the Bible has one main story line: A Redemption Story, then I tried to pair the readings in a way that people would read the selections of the day and then say, “Aha! I now see this super clear connection that I never saw before!” So we read, for example, the book of Hebrews at the same time that we read the book of Leviticus. I tried to place most Psalms where they belonged in the timeline. We read specific Psalms at the same time that we read in the book of Samuel  the circumstances David was going through when he composed that specific Psalm.  The plan was also unique because we started and finished with Psalm 119 and the very last day we closed with Romans 8. So powerful!

Now many more women (over 2,000 as I am typing this and hundreds of men) are ready to start the Summer Bible Reading Challenge this coming Monday, June 4. These next three months we will be reading the New Testament, and if you choose to do the extended version, you will read the NT once plus many epistles three times all together. I planned it in such a way that we would read some epistles back to back and some other books by author to get the most of them, to be immersed in them. For example, we will start with John, his letters, and the book of Revelation, and those doing the extended plan will also read in a week two times the epistle of Paul to the Galatians. I really encourage you to join us, Friend. Find all the information for men and women (and in 6 other languages too!) here.

So, Friend, what have you  been reading in your Bible lately? What will you read next? Would you consider joining us?

Read the Word, read it all, believe it all, pray it all, live by it.

Under His Sun and by His grace,

Becky Pliego

 

 

Plundering the Egyptians?

pexels-photo-250609.jpegOnly after ten horrible plagues, did Pharaoh let God’s people go. Not surprisingly, the people of Egypt were ready for the people of Israel to go –quickly, please . Their land was now devastated by the plagues, they had buried their firstborns, what was coming next? They were afraid all were going to die. The night of the great deliverance, of the great Exodus, Moses told the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold and silver, and clothes, and yes, the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (From the book of Exodus)

This story is wonderful, and that last line? It has become a favorite among Christians. But are we using it rightly?

What exactly did the Israelites plunder? Material things that would serve them well in their long journey to the Promised Land. God in His kindness, provided generously for His people. The days and nights are ahead were going to be many and hardship was awaiting.

There are many instances in the Old Testament in which we see this same thing. God goes before His people, they fight big battles and over and over again God gives them victories than seemed impossible. And so many times the Israelites plundered the nations God gave them into their hands (read the Old Testament to find for yourself all the many instances in which this happened).

And every time God told them what they should plunder and what they shouldn’t take from these nations. And the things they were never supposed to take were their religious views, their idols, and their ways of worshiping and living. The command was clear, but in their unbelief, in their practical atheism,* they brought with them these things, they tried to incorporate these gods, these spiritual ideas, these new ideas of worship into their lives, forgetting -or better yet, not wanting to remember, that judgment would come too.

But, “Why shouldn’t we bring in these ideas with us? Aren’t we being legalistic? Isn’t this *your* own interpretation? What is an idol? Please, define it first.” The Post-modern Christian today joins the Israelites in asking theses questions.  “We have been made free, we have God on our side, can’t anyone see how He has given us this land? We are God’s people, we are His, we can certainly bring with us some great ideas that they have used in their worship services, some systems of beliefs, some ways to deal with sin that might work well for some of us, right?”

Hint: Don’t forget that  God killed Uzzah  because he tried to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling from the cart… Wait a minute, from where? From the cart? The Ark was never supposed to be transported in a cart that was an idea that the Israelites decided to plunder from the Philistines, and of course it sounded more practical than doing it the way God has established it should be transported (read  Numbers 4:15, 1 Chronicles 13, and 2 Samuel 2)

Well no. We shouldn’t even start considering plundering the religious ideas from the world, their belief systems, their way of feasting, their way of dealing with sin, their ways of worship. Those things can’t be baptized. That would only bring destruction upon us and our children, it would bring judgement, it would bring corruption to our families and churches. It will bring worldliness into our lives which should be holy.  Christian, Friend, we have Christ, we have the Word of God, we own the Truth. Think about that for a minute. Why would we even want to imitate the lives of the pagans and take their advice on how to live this life God has given us in Christ? Why would we want to add to the great and precious promises God has given us in Christ their beliefs? That is not plundering the Egyptians, that is foolishness and sinful, that is to willingly walk into a Baal altar to offer ourselves and our children.

Read the Old Testament. Read it all. Read the New Testament. Read it all. Now put the two things together. We don’t get to define what an “idol” is. We don’t get to define what “worldiness” means. We are the People of the Word, the People of the Book. Let God’s book define that for us and let us flee from all idols.

Many will say, “But wait, are you saying that we shouldn’t read the books authored by unbelievers, that we shouldn’t listen to their music, that we can’t enjoy their art and walk in the cities and parks they have built? By all means, no! What we are not to consider plundering from them is their idols, their religious systems, their definitions of the virtues that pertain to God, the way they think we should be doing life, they way they insist we educate our children, the way the want to get rid of the hierarchy God has established  for marriage,  the church, and the world.

My eldest son and I have been having some wonderful conversations about this and we thought that we all should start using the term “worldliness” more and more in our conversations with other Christians. Read the epistle of James and read his warnings against worldliness. Read it, Friends, and tremble and “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor.13:5).

Why do we believe that we are less vulnerable to be deceived by sin than the Israelites? Consider the weight of this warning, “take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”” Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews

The good news is that Christ has come to destroy the works of the evil one, He has come to set us free from all sinful habits, from all idolatry.  Repent and believe, and He will help you see that Christ’s way is the only way to live fully.

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

 

 

*Practical atheism, a phrase I plundered from John Piper.

Humility, Grace, and Peace of Mind

 

View of Arles with Irises by Vincent Van Gogh

 

“Clothe yourselves, all of you with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1Peter 5:5b-7

One of the reasons we fail to fully trust God and completely leave all our anxieties before Him is our prideful and arrogant heart.

First of all in the passage above we see the connection that Peter makes. We must dress ourselves with humility not only before God, but before one another (it is easier to say that we are humble before God, but another different thing is to show that humility in action in the way we relate with another), and we need to do this because Grace is given to the humble not to the proud.

One area in which we certainly need Grace is when it comes to laying all our burdens and anxieties before God. But Grace, remember, is only given to the humble person.

Now let’s look closely at these two, Grace and humility,  put together.

Think of this, one of the reasons we battle with anxiety is because we are prideful. We say we believe in prayer and we like the verses that encourage us to come and leave all our burdens before God, but because of our prideful heart, we don’t really leave our burdens at the feet of Jesus. Instead, we try to hide them -hoping that God won’t notice-  in our heart and mind, and then we leave our prayer closet thinking that we need to keep pondering about it because, in our arrogance, we persuade ourselves that if we think hard enough about those worries, we will sure come up with a solution. And sure enough, Arrogance wins and we lose. Anxiety takes hold of us and it seems harder to cast our burdens before the Father.

Humbling ourselves before God in prayer, trusting that He cares for us is the only way for us to stop being anxious. Because, you see,  when we are in that humble state, He gives us grace to endure, to wait, to trust.

Peter continues,

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5: 8-11

So, are you battling anxieties, are your burdens too heavy? Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will give you Grace to walk through any dark valley -of death, of confusion, of fears. And be watchful, because after you cast your burdens at the feet of Jesus, the devil will be prowling around trying to convince you to take that burden and carry it yourself. But we can resist him because God gives Grace to the one who humbles himself under His mighty hand, and Christ himself restores, confirms, strengthens, and establishes us. He is sovereign over all. All the spheres of our life are under His dominion. We are even given the Grace to believe this and rest assured on His promises.

So fall on your knees today (literally!) and humble yourself under the mighty hand of God casting all your anxieties before Him knowing that He cares for you.

Under his sun and by His grace,

Becky

Soften Our Hearts to Receive Forgiveness

Jim Lepage Art

The story of Joseph is one of my favorites in the Bible mainly because Joseph is clearly a powerful type of Jesus.

In Genesis 50 we read that after Israel (Jacob) died, Joseph’s heart grieved for him and he, along with his brothers, mourned and cried, and buried his father Israel. But not long after that, Joseph’s brothers came to him with great fear.

The past still haunted them. Their past sin’s shadow had not yet departed from them. They had once asked Joseph to forgive them from their sin against him, and Joseph had expressed his forgiveness with words and tears, and actions (Gen. 45). Joseph even called them and brought them near to him, to a safer place where they would lack nothing. But now that their Father was gone, now that their circumstances had changed, the questions came back and the shadows grew darker and bigger as the memories of that day rushed back like cataracts -the Dreamer, the tunic, the well, the merchants, the look on Joseph’s eyes, his cries, his pleas, the blood of the animal, the lies all had to make up, the moment they faced their father, his loud cry, and the way their lives were changed forever- all were tangible memories that made them shiver and sweat.  What if Joseph had changed his mind? What if Joseph’s forgiveness was just a show to make their father happy? What if he had not really forgiven them? So they came and again asked for his forgiveness one more time because, you see, forgiveness and restoration and all-is-forgotten-and-all-is-made-new is too good to be true, and it just can’t be that easy, right? Their nightmares were real, but more real than Joseph’s promise of forgiveness?

However, Joseph didn’t change his mind. He “wept when they spoke to him” and said to them, “Do not fear… ” and then again, “Do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And the author tells us that with these words “he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

If we could only see and understand how Jesus forgives us! How many times we are haunted by our past sins, by memories that out of nowhere spring up and cast a heavy shadow on our hearts. How many times we have asked God to forgive us for the same sins over and over again? We are like Joseph’s brothers, we doubt the character, the goodness, the free gift that Jesus gives us. We can’t possibly believe that God forgives the worst and calls us and brings us close to him to feed us with the best of the land, with bread and wine. “No,” we say, “that can’t be.”

But we must believe and not fear to come when God bids us to come. God’s love for us and His forgiveness are not dependent on anything we do or don’t do; His forgiveness doesn’t rest on the circumstances around us, His forgiveness comes from His immutable character and perfect love. He even leads us, in his kindness, to repentance. We ask for forgiveness because He softens our hearts to be able to do that.

Don’t fear the shadows of past sins. Repent and believe that He delights to forgive His people.

And there is one more layer to unwrap in this story. One more lesson on forgiveness.

How do we extend forgiveness to others? Like Jesus to us? Like Joseph to his brothers? Joseph knew -and never denied- that what their brothers did to him, they did full of malice and meant it for evil. However, he fully forgave them and did all that was possible for him to do to restore that relationship. Why did he do that? How was that even possible? Again, because Joseph knew God and His character. He understood one thing above all else: God is sovereign over all the events of our lives, even over those things that people do and say against us. He even told his brothers, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (50:19)

Let us learn to be like Joseph -and even more like Jesus. Let us welcome those who have hurt us and have meant evil against us, let us start saying more often kind words that can bring comfort, “Do not fear, come…” 

Soften our hearts, Oh Lord, to receive and extend forgiveness. 

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

Hands and Feet – and Knees-

This place has been quiet, but not my heart, and not my mind.

Lately I have been thinking about how owning a sound, historical, and biblical theology matters -and it matters a lot!- but also, how we flesh out that theology, that set of beliefs that drive our motives and actions, our responses to the good things and hard things that come our way matters a big deal too.

Studying big books about the Bible like commentaries, systematic theology, and other very important titles like The Institutes of Calvin, etc. is absolutely important; but we should never forget that the ultimate goal of knowing more is to love more. Love God more, love our neighbor more, love our family more, love the Word more, love to meditate on the Word more.

The more we know, the more responsibility we have to apply that knowledge in the life God has given us with the people God has given us. We need hands and feet to flesh out what we have studied in the Word -and in the big books we love to read. If we don’t do that, if the people around us cannot see that the more we study the more compassionate and understanding, and loving and helpful we are, then we are not truly growing in the Lord. We are just deceiving ourselves. People around us will know us because of the fruits we bear, not because of the many books we read- if you know what I mean. Fruits cannot be faked.

And this same principle applies to prayer. If we read a lot of big books, and know every point of our theology and can argue for this or that side of the debate, but we are not praying more, then something is terribly missing. Our study of the big Theology books can never substitute our time with God in prayer. Never.

Becoming women of the Word is not only about reading more and studying more, but about becoming more like Christ and longing to be with Him more.

I want to be known not by what I say I believe, but by what I do with what I say I believe.

Sound theology needs hands and feet and knees to be fleshed out.

Under His Sun and by His grace,

Becky