Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Jealousy that Protects

"...for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord,
who name is Jealous, is a jealous God),
Exodus 34:14
Last week I set out to write a blog on jealousy. Interestingly jealousy had its roots in pride that was triggered by the comparisons we so often make. The jealousy exhibited by the leaders resulted in sinful actions so I'm inclined to label that jealousy as toxic jealousy. The pride and the jealousy exposed in the story of Daniel was more glaring in light of Daniel's humility who continued to trust in the living God in tough circumstances. 
A few years ago I wrote a book on emotions to use in our support groups. I wrote a chapter on jealousy. I looked the word up in the Bible to see what God says about it. I came across familiar verses that said God is a jealous God. But then found the verse that states that God's name is Jealous which indicates that the name is a part of His essence. If we're made in His image it means that  the potential for jealousy is written on our hearts, by the Creator Himself. If that were true, then jealousy, in and of itself, is not a sin. We were given that emotion for a reason, and because of the fall and the stirring of pride in our hearts by the fall that emotion has been tainted by sin.
Emotions are given to us by God to help us navigate our world and our relationships in godly and healthy ways. Emotions tend to reveal something to us about our hearts. Sometimes it's positive and sometimes it reveals sin we can then deal with. When a dear friend died, I felt tremendous grief even thought I knew that she was in heaven. The grief told me how much I valued her friendship. I had seen Jesus in her and learned to have a more intimate relationship with Him because of her. 
There are times that I have gotten angry and the anger was righteous anger because I saw someone being mistreated by another person. I was able to use the anger to motivate me to confront the person and invite them to move back into the light. At other times I have gotten angry because something trickled my pride and I let my desires turn in to expectations then demands. When that happened I either confront in an aggressive, nonproductive way or I withdraw to protect my heart rather seeking to grow relationship. 
It's hard to wrap my mind around the concept of godly jealousy. There are two reasons that I could identify for this. First, I've been victimized by people who experienced toxic jealousy triggered by the comparisons they made. Sometimes, it was over the talents I had. Sometimes it was over things I had. Sometimes it was over the spiritual gifts God gave me. I have even had someone come at me in anger because I led a person to the Lord and they had wanted to do it.
The second reason, is I experience the emotion of toxic jealousy birthed by comparisons often. At times I am able to hide it . It takes a lot of energy to keep it under wraps. Other times I sin by withdrawing from a person I feel jealousy toward, because I don't want to feel the jealousy. Sometimes I react sinfully by getting angry or working harder to find something I can feel good about. 
Deuteronomy 4:24 says, "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." Other passages on jealousy indicate that God's anger is triggered by His jealousy that was triggered when Israel went after strange gods. That means jealousy is a hot emotion which is why it burns in our hearts. Jealousy was also designed to be a protective emotion. When God saw His beloved Israel going after other gods, He was jealous and angry which motivated Him to action to bring Israel home to His heart. His discipline was motivated by a love that gave them freedom to roam, but demanded allegiance to stay. That is grace. He could have made them puppets or He could have written them off. 
Created in His image, I will experience jealousy. It will burn hot in my heart and that is okay. But as a person prone to sin, I must take the jealousy to God and look at it in the way He designed it to be used. 
I was at a marriage conference with my spouse and stopped to talk to someone while my husband stepped over to talk to someone he knew. A lady who was divorced joined their conversation and then the other person walked away. As I walked up, it was obvious she was flirting with him. He works in agriculture and doesn't wear a wedding ring so she probably didn't know he was married. I felt heat rise in my heart and a surge of protectiveness over my marriage. I could have just gotten angry and gone to the car in a huff. But that day, God gave me the wisdom to move towards my husband and introduce myself to the woman and move the conversation toward what we had learned from the speaker. She quickly began to engage more with me and the awkwardness soon dissipated. He thanked me for helping him out. To be honest, I also did some self reflection on how I could love and respect him more, so that if that ever happened when I wasn't around he would be more inclined to turn away. 
I have experienced jealousy when I have seen the relationships others have with God. The jealousy born of comparisons can lead to toxic jealousy that births slander, ungodly competition, and strife. However, when I feel that hot jealousy ignite, I can use it to move towards a person to hear her story and find out how she developed her relationship with the Lord. When I do this cool things happen. I develop or deepen friendships. I have the opportunity to walk through the painful stories that drew them to the Father's heart--stories I wouldn't  have wanted to live. I also gain tools to use in my personal Bible study and gain perspectives that help me work through a fear of trusting God which enabled me to begin moving towards God during hard times. I've gained an understanding that God works in many different ways in the lives of His children. I have come to expect that, trust that, and rest in that. 
The dangerous thing about ungodly jealousy caused by comparisons is that it triggers pride which stirs anger caused by a sense of entitlement that melts into bitterness over  unmet expectations. When I quit trying to be God's CEO and trust how He chooses to work in my life, I experience precious connection with God that fills my heart with His love, truth, and grace. 
I'm grateful He is Jealous and desires my full devotion. I can trust Him to act when I follow after things that draw my affection away from Him. I am thankful He will do what it takes to draw me back.
I can prevent discipline by examining my life, my affections, and my desires for idols. My idols aren't the idols of the old testament, but are idols created by the same enemy to trigger pride and  dissatisfaction that draws my heart away from God--a god of materialism motivates me to pursue wealth over God, a god of self-protection lends to isolation instead of love, a god of recognition tempts me to write for man rather than my true audience of One, a god of being right causing me to forget the importance of another's heart, the god of being seen which cares more about me being noticed than others seeing Jesus in me. 
I want to be so in love with Him and focused on Him that when my mind goes into neutral it is drawn to Him, not my idols and not the negative thoughts of comparisons. I want to love Him in such away that my obedience flows from a heart of gratitude rather than fear of evoking His discipline. 
My God's name is Jealous! I love it that He is in the business of protecting His relationship to His people. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jealousy a Breeding Ground For Sin

"We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel
unless we find it in connection with the law of his God."
Daniel 6:5    

One of the major themes in the book of Daniel is the sovereignty of God. But, there are many sub themes woven through the story as a result of men's refusal to accept God's sovereignty over every area of their lives. When Daniel was about eighty years old, he was one of three high officials over King Darius' court. He became distinguished above all of the leaders. This was because Daniel had so much integrity that Darius knew he could trust him with much power. The rest of the high officials had to report to Daniel. When Darius planned to put Daniel over the entire kingdom, the pride in the other officials' hearts was tickled, stirring them to compare their positions with Daniel's and then their pride birthed jealousy. They wanted more, thought they deserved more, and they plotted to get more. They knew at some level they lacked something Daniel had so they watched him in an effort to find his faults. But when they couldn't, they became more jealous and plotted to attack Daniel's faith, noting he was a man of prayer gave them the ammunition they needed for a malicious plan of attack. 

They went to King Darius with their plan that they knew would tickle kingly pride. They asked him to establish an irrevocable ordinance stating that for thirty days that whoever petitioned a god or any other man beside the king would be put to death. The king's pride was ignited. He signed the decree.

Even though Daniel knew the king signed the document, he faithfully did what he always did. He went to his upper chamber, and facing his beloved Jerusalem, he knelt in prayer. Oh, how I wish his prayers were recorded! We could learn so much from his prayer life. For over sixty years, he was held captive, serving in a foreign land. For sixty years, he consistently prayed--humbly meeting with his God.

The officials reported him to King Darius who was bound by the irrevocable ordinance. Darius threw him in a den of lions and remorse melted the pride that burned in the king's heart and he spent a sleepless night pacing. Upon arriving at the den the next morning, he saw that Jehovah had shut the mouths of every hungry lion in the den, sparing Daniel's life. Darius sentenced those who had drawn up the malicious plan and they were torn to shreds by the very lions who sat with Daniel through the night.

Oh, I long to be a Daniel in this culture I live in. But, I tend to be like the jealous officials. I was talking this week with a counselor friend about this issue of pride and how it plays out in my life. And he shared an illustration that is so graphic it made me smile. He said in comparison to God we are all just worms and we have this tendency to get our eyes off of God and start comparing ourselves to other worms. We think, "Oh, wow look at that worm, he has a pretty red stripe, I wish I had that. But at least I am not fat like that worm. Oh, wow, I am really glad I am not all fuzzy like that fellow. Oh, and that hook on that worm is just not stylish! Oh, and I wouldn't want to eat dung, at least I get to eat mulberry leaves and spin silk!" How often I am a worm comparing myself to other worms!

Who of us hasn't compared our bodies, our intelligence, our spiritual gifts, or our positions with those of others. Whether the comparisons are positive or negative, they tend to trigger our ugly friend  pride. The pride that says, "I am all that!" as well as the pride that says, "I am not enough."

But, it was the Creator who made each of us, delicately designing us in just the right way. He was the one who distributed spiritual gifts and talents according to His infinite wisdom so we could fulfill our God-given purposes. When I am looking up and comparing myself to the Creator, I am humbled that He wants to use me, this worm, at all and I find myself content in fulfilling the plans He drew up for my life. In humility I can rise up and be a Daniel in this culture. In humility, the glory for who I am and what I accomplish goes to Him who deserves it.

It scares me to think that when I compare myself to others, I can be like malicious officials. Oh, I may not approach the president with a malicious plan, but I begin to covet things. I covet spiritual gifts God didn't deem best for me and I fail to use the ones He gave me. I covet positions God didn't ordain me to have and fail to fulfill the one He placed me in. I covet friendships others have and fail to nurture the beautiful ones God gave me. I covet ministries God didn't call me to and neglect the ones He placed in my care. I even find myself looking down on another, thinking that the gifts, callings, talents, healing, and friendships God has provided have somehow make be better than another.

Even scarier, is that in a prideful state, the tempter comes and I tend to bite...gossip, slander, stirring a pot of conflict, feeling bitter over slights, rejoicing in another's pain or judging another in a failure...oh it can get really, really ugly here when my eyes are on man instead of God. 

So the solution lies in doing as Daniel did. Looking towards my true "home," comparing myself only to my Abba. There I can bask in the love shown on the cross. There His blood covers my ugly friend, pride, and the sins that are born out of it. There I am humbled and content to live life as He graciously scripted it. Basking in His love births contentment and along with it a desire to love as He loves, quieting the fleshly clamor for more recognition, more acceptance, more love, and more power.

I am learning to love the fact that His holiness exposes sin, the tendency to compare, unholy pride, and the tendency to love so poorly. For this exposure always brings me to my knees, draws my gaze upward where His holiness exposes my messy heart, and allows me to find my true joy in His lavish grace. How I hate that it seems to be all about pride, but, how I love that it is all about His grace!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pride Raises its Ugly Head Again

"Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable,
he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy,
useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work."
2 Timothy 2:20-21
This week I have been working through Daniel 5 and was not surprised that the descendent of Nebuchadnezzar, King Belshazzar struggled with pride. We all struggle with some kind of generational sin and more than likely the root of the generational sin is pride. However, I was surprised at how his pride showed up. He decided to throw a party for a thousand of his lords and he had his servants bring him the vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem. His lords, his wives, his concubines, and he drank from them while they praised their gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
As I read that Nebuchadnezzar had taken the vessels from the temple I cringed in fear. As I read the statement that Belshazzar had actually used them for idol worship, I cringed even more because I remember how carefully God had instructed Israel as they made the temple and its vessels. He  wanted everything in the temple purified and set apart for worshipping Him! People had died for not honoring God through obedience in their worship now a gentile king takes vessels and uses them to worship gods who do not see, gods who do not hear, or gods that do not know--gods who were not living gods. 
It seems that every time Jehovah God addressed gentile nations, it was to show that He was the only true God. He showed a nation that worshipped fertility gods that He was the true God of life when he called Abraham and Sarah, an elderly, infertile couple out of the nation and gave them a child of their own way past the time they should have conceived. He did it when He judged Egypt with plagues that countered their gods. Egypt worshiped living creatures and by afflicting them with plagues, God revealed that He was Creator of all living things. He even did it when King Nebuchadnezzar was glorifying himself by removing his kingdom, his power, his looks, and his sanity by having him live, eat, and sleep with beasts. Jehovah ultimately showed Nebuchadnezzar He was God and Nebuchadnezzar wasn't. 
Belshazzar was using Jehovah's vessels to worship gods that represented elemental things. God had ordained the vessels in the temple for use in worshipping Him. So, it was is no surprise that when Belshazzar used the vessels from the temple for a idolatrous feast, God had a response. These things were created by God just as living things were. So, just as Jehovah had penned the ten commandments with His own hand, He penned a message to Belshazzar on the wall of the palace.    
Once again Daniel was called to interpret the message. Daniel reminds Belshazzar about the story of Nebuchadnezzar and his struggle with pride then translates a scathing message: God had numbered the days of his kingdom and brought it to an end. He had been weighed in the balances and found wanting and his kingdom would be be divided and given to the Medes and Persians. That very day Belshazzar was killed and Darius, a Mede, came to power. 
I want to be careful not to judge Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar too harshly. As a believer, I was washed clean and set a part as a vessel for service by the blood of a holy, loving Savior. But the flesh constantly wars against the Spirit indwelling me and tempts me to do dishonorable things. 2 Timothy 2:20-26 tells me how I  can remain a clean vessel. I am to run hard after righteousness, faith, love, and peace. I am to join with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart and have fellowship with them. I am not to have anything to do with foolish, ignorant, controversies because they breed quarrels. Finally, he calls me to "be kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently endure evil, correct my opponents with gentleness." All of this is so that God may work in the hearts of others so that they might repent and come to the truth, allowing them to escape the snare of the devil. 
As I think about what keeps me from being like the person described in 2 Timothy, I realize it boils down to the same thing Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar struggled with--that ugly thing called pride. 
When I fail to run hard after righteousness, faith, love, and peace it is either because I have become self absorbed and  dissatisfied with God's plan in my life and want more(pride) or I am wallowing in the pit of shame (pride) rather than believing God continues to forgive me as I confess my sin.  
When I rise up in anger and start a quarrel or perpetuate a quarrel another has initiated, it is because I want to be right rather than caring about the other person's heart, our relationship, and their relationship with God. Pride wants to make sure I am heard and agreed with and pride wants the validation that I am right. When I am walking closely with the Savior, I care more about the other person and their heart than I do about being proven right (or wrong). 
When I don't isolate myself from those who seek God with a pure heart, I find that I can more patiently endure evil for the sake of the gospel and allow God's love to be visible through me. When I isolate, I can only take so much before anger and pride begin to swell and my thoughts become more about, "How dare they treat me like this?" than a prayer, "Lord, show me how to love and to show this person both grace and truth!" 
When I either cower in fear avoiding a loving, gentle correction or rise up in anger and rage at a person it is driven by pride. Pride forgets I serve an abused, wounded Savior. Pride forgets His calling on my life to be His visible representation to others who are entrapped by the enemy who wants to use them to do his will. Pride forgets that when I respond as Jesus would, they get a taste of the goodness of God, which is what really leads to repentance.
If I truly long to see the hearts of people drawn to His, then I have to draw near to the one who can save, believe Him, pursue all that is holy and walk humbly with Him who can bring it about. He is God, I am not. 
To be honest, I have had conflicts that I can look back on and realize it wasn't me the people were angry with. It was the Savior who dwells in me and bringing about changes in me that made them feel uncomfortable or threatened. It was the Savior that was truly being rejected. If I had really understood then what I do now, I would have loved better, been more patient, and patiently endured evil with the hope that they might have been drawn to the heart of Jesus.  
I want to challenge myself not to forget I've been called to fellowship in His suffering. I want to embrace that and trust Him even when suffering comes at the hand of  those I want to love me. I want to remember that at the end of this life, it won't matter how many people love me or how well, because I have always been perfectly loved by Jesus. What will matter is how well I loved others the love He has shed abroad in my heart. 


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!