In my weakness I am strong

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)

It’s a little weird for me to be writing about this when I’m in such a good place, but in my weakness God will reveal Himself strong, so why not now?  I am a firm believer that we all have a ‘thorn in the flesh.’  We all have something that keeps us from trusting too much in our own strength.  For some it might be physical, a condition that keeps you from doing certain physical activities.  An example would be arthritis or fibromyalgia.  For some it might be an inclination toward a certain behavior that we have to constantly resist.  This would include addiction (and some other things that I would rather not get into right now).  For me it is depression.

I’ve written about my struggles with depression in the past, but I don’t think that I’ve written about this aspect of it.  If I have, just skip reading this post.  Anyway, I’ve gone through different phases of my life where I have felt (about to my depression, not necessarily while I’m depressed) confused (why do I feel this way?), frustrated (I wish I could just make it go away), angry (why do I have this problem and others don’t?), hopeful (that I can overcome it), hopeless (that it will beat me), or any number of other things.  While I’m depressed I also experience most of those feelings (except for probably hope), but while I am not (like right now), I can look at it more objectively and see it for what it is, a weakness.

Now, I’m not talking here about feeling depressed.  I’m talking about depression, the thing that I have struggled with my whole life that pops up unexpectedly and takes me out of commission, sometimes for extended periods of time and often with no obvious reason.  I’m talking about the kind of depression that makes you think, “If I didn’t think it was wrong, I might consider ending my life right now.”  I haven’t been there in a while, several years actually, but it has gone through my mind in the past.  It’s more than just feeling sad, it is feeling despair.

I used to just put up with it.  I would struggle through, making everyone in my life (especially my hubby) miserable, and eventually (sometimes days, sometimes weeks later) it would pass and I would be back to my regular self again.  Several years ago (I’d say about four years now), though, I decided that enough was enough, I got some counseling and started taking anti-depressants.

Now, I know that there are people out there that think that anti-depressants don’t work, that they are over prescribed, that they are a cop out, or any number of other things.  I just want to say this: if you haven’t been there, then you don’t know how it feels.  This is a real condition with real symptoms and real effects on my very real life and family.  The medication helps me to feel normal, not my real (depressed) normal, but normal the way that everyone else feels it.

So, since I know how people feel about taking medication for depression, I sometimes go through periods when I want to stop taking it.  I start thinking that I should trust God to help me through the depression.  Let me make sure that I say this in a way that you understand: THAT NEVER WORKS OUT.  Some people can probably manage their depression without medication, but I am not one of them.  It isn’t that I don’t trust God, it’s just that I know that God knows about this and I think He is okay with me not feeling that way.  Again, if you haven’t experienced it, you might not understand just how bad it is.

I talk to my husband about this sometimes and he always encourages me this way, “Nobody would ever suggest to a diabetic that they stop taking insulin, but they think it’s okay to tell somebody with depression to stop taking the medication that helps them function normally.  You need to take your medication” (not a direct quote).  He also has a physical condition, that unless you know him you would probably never know about, for which he takes medication regularly, so it does help coming from him (also I know he loves me, so that helps, too).

Getting back to my original point, I know that this is a weakness.  I know that God knows about it.  I know that God uses my weaknesses (there are definitely others) for His glory.  And when I remember these things, I can even be thankful for the “thorn in my flesh.”  God is good and He works all things for good of those who love Him.  (Romans 8:28)

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You can run (well, maybe YOU can)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor 5:17)

I’ve spent the last ten years running from the person that I used to be.  I’m embarrassed by that person and try to leave her in the past, but she keeps catching up with me.  I don’t know how well I can describe the differences between the person that I am now and that person, but I’ll try (without going into too much detail, since I try to keep my posts family friendly for the most part).

Here are some things that I wasn’t.  I wasn’t nice.  I wasn’t loyal.  I wasn’t lovable or loving.  I wasn’t a good friend.  I wasn’t confident.  I wasn’t responsible.  I wasn’t realistic (though I thought I was).

And now some things that I was.  I was stupid.  I was lost.  I was scared.  I was foolish.  I was wrong (though I thought I was right).  I was trouble.

Of all the things that I did back then, I am most embarrassed by the fact that I led others down the same path that I was on.  It was a path of destruction and I thought that it was the way to go.  I think I truly believed that it was the only way (or at least I convinced myself of that).  I made some really bad decisions because I had abandoned God as a teen and so thought that I was the only one I had to answer to.  The foolishness of my youth!

I know that at least some of the changes that have happened in me have come about just due to aging and learning more about myself and the world around me.  I know, though, that the biggest thing that impacted my life and changed me (most definitely for the better) was gaining a relationship with Jesus.

It wasn’t easy.  Despite the fact that I didn’t like myself, I still ran into a lot of pride obstacles.  I won’t get into the details of how I overcame that pride, except to say that I couldn’t have done anything without my (now) husband–and, of course, without the help of the Holy Spirit.

Some things haven’t changed.  I’m still honest (and it is still sometimes to a fault).  I’m still disorganized.  I’m still hilarious (at least according to my hubby and my kids).  I still love music, though my relationship with it has changed.  I still struggle with depression, though it is less frequent now.  I still care deeply about the things that I am involved in (whatever that might be at a given time).  I still hold myself to high standards (and I still sometimes impose those standards on others).  I still make mistakes (more often than I like to admit).

So, for those of you who knew me back then, please take the time to get to know the new me.  I am an infinitely more likable person now than I was then.  I am, after all, a new creation.

A good idea, but is God in it?

I just want to start by saying that I love my husband.  He isn’t always as open as I am with this kind of stuff, but he is an amazing man of God and I am so thankful for him.  He always has a word for me just when I need it.  I don’t want to get too gushy and embarrass him, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Now that that has been said, here’s what I’m really thinking about.  My church was formed about three years ago to reach the people of Smithfield, UT and northern Cache County for Christ.  It isn’t an easy thing to do because of the dominant LDS culture.  So, I have been thinking and praying about how to reach out to the people around me who I love since 2008, but even more so since my oldest child was born.    We even moved here from Logan, UT (only about an eight mile move) so we could be closer to the people of Smithfield.

The thing is, though, until recently I haven’t found a way to reach the people around me.  I am by nature introverted, so it isn’t easy for me to meet new people (I think I wrote about this before).  I had been hearing from a lot of friends around the country about a group called MOPS.  So many women all over were being blessed by this ministry that I decided to look for a MOPS group locally so that I could join.  Well, it turns out the closest MOPS group is about 45 miles away, so I started thinking that I should start a group here.  I started telling my husband about it and got an information packet.  I even contacted our pastor to see if it was something that our church would support.  Everybody seemed to think it was a good idea.  And that is when my hubby spoke a word to me that cut me to the core.

We were laying in bed and he said, “Have you prayed about this?”  Ouch.  I assured him that I had, while at the same time thinking that I probably hadn’t prayed about it as much as I should have.  “Why?” I asked.  And he said that his Sunday school lesson had been about when David decided to build a temple for God, but God told him not to and that his son would do it.  To put it in simple terms, David wanted to do something good, but it wasn’t for him to do, so God said no.  It’s not that what David wanted to do was wrong.  In fact, it was a good thing and something that God wanted, just not then and not from him.

So, here comes the application part: there are lots of good things that we can do in the name of the Kingdom, but if we ask God He might say no.  Don’t take it as a sign that what you wanted to do was wrong, though, because it might just be the wrong time or it might be for somebody else to do.  Just make sure you keep plugged in with God so that if He doesn’t want you to do something (or if He does) you’ll know.

Nothing new

That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
“ See, this is new”?
It has already been in ancient times before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
By those who will come after. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11)

I like blogging.  It gives me something to do that doesn’t involve watching television (which usually means PBS cartoons).  I have to admit, however, that I am probably more forgetful than most, so a lot of the ideas that I have usually don’t make it here.  So, I was sitting around wanting to write something (and not remembering all of those things that came to mind to write about today) and decided to see if anything in the news was blog-worthy.  As usual inspiration struck in a way that was barely related to what I was doing, but since I was sitting here at my computer I didn’t have time to forget it.  Here goes.

I clicked on the “latest headlines” feed at the top of my browser and a list of recent news items popped up.  I started scrolling through looking for something that would catch my interest when the words, “blah, blah, blah,” started running through my head.  I was struck by the incredible sameness of all the news stories.  That isn’t to say that they were all about the same thing, in fact, somewhat remarkably there were not two articles on the same subject in the portion of the list that I read.

No, the sameness that I’m talking about is the type that Solomon spoke of in Ecclesiastes when he said that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  Although the stories are different in detail, there is a painfully repetitious feel to them.  Somebody got murdered or died.  Some politician or other celebrity did something scandalous.  Some sports team defeated (or was defeated by) some other sports team, possibly unexpectedly.  Something happened in the economy, which was either good or bad.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

These things have been happening throughout all of history, from Adam and Eve in the Garden (deception), to Cain and Abel (murder), to Sodom and Gomorrah (sexual sin), to the grumbling and golden calves of the Israelites (see the entire Old Testament, but especially Exodus), to Samson (pride), to idolizing religion (the Pharisees and Saducees of the Gospels), . . . the list could go on and on.  And those are just some of the examples in the Bible.  Just think about all of the things that have happened in the last two thousand years.  But, as you are thinking of them, notice how they are all the same things, over and over.

That was foretold in Ecclesiastes, though, as well.  Not only is there nothing new, but we are also doomed to forget the things that have come before.  Ecclesiastes 1:11 states, “There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come By those who will come after.”  I don’t know why we think that things have always been the way they are (take, for instance, the general public’s insistence that we cannot live without entitlement programs, when most have only existed since 1944).  So, there’s nothing new, but we are doomed to repeat it because we don’t remember what has come before.

That is why I generally avoid reading the news, watching the news, talking about the news.  It’s all the same and it’s depressing.  I don’t really need another reason to get depressed.  Why then, you say, did I look to the news feed for inspiration?  Well, like I said, I really wanted to write something.  And here it is.  Something.

Overcoming the temptation to complain

James 1:13-15–Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

1 Cor 10:13–No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Today I started reading Job in my One-Year Bible plan and it got me thinking, as so many things do.  The thought that I had was, “What right do I have to complain about anything?”  Here was a man that was so righteous that God boasted about him to Satan–twice.  And yet, despite his righteousness (or, more accurately, because of it), God allows everything to be taken from him just to prove to Satan that his love for God is real.

I am, by nature, a complainer.  I have gotten better in recent years, but the fact remains that I complain about a lot of things that I shouldn’t.  When I look at Job, however, it puts things in perspective.  I have never suffered loss like this, and I might never experience that kind of loss.  Yet this man who lost everything held firm to his faith.  When things are not going the way I want them to go it is really tempting to start complaining.  I usually keep my complaints these days to myself (although I often share them with my hubby, who, by the way is amazing), but God knows about the grumbling in my heart.

Over the past ten or so years I have matured in my Christian faith and have overcome many of my former temptations, but this is one that still has a pretty good hold on me.  I know that, compared to some other sins it might seem minor, but I don’t believe there is a “sin ranking” in which some sins are bad and some are worse.  I think that sin is sin.  If I lie, I might as well have murdered somebody because I broke the rules and that means that I deserve death (praise God that Jesus paid for my sins).

So, the next time the temptation arises to start complaining about my circumstances, I am going to a) remember Job, b) remember to thank Jesus for paying the price for my sins, c) remember that temptation comes from me turning away from God and leads to sin (James 1:13-15), and d) remember to ask God to show me the escape route (1 Cor 10:13).  Or, at least that’s what I intend to do.

An angel of light?

So, here’s one of those things that I meant when I said I have different beliefs than some people who might be reading this.  I am a born-again Christian, so I do not believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.  I do not pretend to have an exhaustive knowledge of all things LDS, but I’m going to periodically post here about how my views are different from my LDS neighbors.  I welcome comments expanding on anything that I say here.

2 Cor 11:13-15–For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was born out of a vision that Joseph Smith received in 1820.  Here is a summary of that vision and a second vision from the website whatmormonsbelieve.org:

In the spring of 1820, Joseph Smith was searching for a church to join. There was a great religious revival in the region of New York in which he lived. He read a passage in the Bible that encouraged any lacking wisdom to ask of God. Joseph went to a secluded grove of trees to pray aloud and ask God which of the many churches were correct. When he began his prayer, an evil power possessed him and prevented his prayer. After a struggle against the dark presence, a light appeared over Joseph’s head which he described as brighter than the sun. It descended until it was just above him. In it he saw two personages of glory. One of them spoke, saying “Joseph, this is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Joseph asked which of all the churches was correct and they told him to join none of them, for the true Church of Christ was not on the earth. There were many other things that they spoke of which Joseph never revealed.

. . . On the twenty-first of September, Joseph Smith received another visitation, this time from the Angel Moroni and his work as a prophet of God began. Through him, the Lord accomplished a great deal. The Book of Mormon was brought forth, the restoring of the priesthood to the earth, the revealing of gospel truths, the organization of the true Church of Jesus Christ, and the salvation of the dead commenced in the Mormon temple.

I have several concerns about the vision that Joseph Smith experienced that lead me to believe that it did not come from God.

First, I assume that the “passage in the Bible that encouraged any lacking wisdom to ask of God” mentioned above is James 1:5, which states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  This is a Biblical truth, but there is more to it than that.  The complete passage says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)

So, if you lack wisdom, by all means ask God for wisdom.  However, don’t think that God will give you the answer if you ask from a doubting heart.  I don’t know what Joseph Smith’s heart condition was at the time, only God does, but I cannot assume that the answer he received came from God simply because he claimed James 1:5.  In Matthew 4:1-11 Satan quotes Scripture, as well, but “even demons believe–and tremble!” (James 2:19).  Claiming that Scripture led you to a conclusion does not mean that it was from God.  Biblical passages have been used to justify slavery, abortion clinic bombings, the burning of the Quran and any number of other acts.  I’m not trying to compare Joseph Smith to these others, I’m just saying that quoting Scripture doesn’t make something right or true.

So, the next thing is that he goes to a secluded grove of trees to pray (kudos to him for praying in private like we are told to do) and, “when he began his prayer, an evil power possessed him and prevented his prayer.”  I’m sure that there are those who claim that this is similar to Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but I see several key differences.  First, Jesus was never possessed by an evil spirit during his temptation.  He was tempted, but not possessed.  He remained in control of Himself and was never under the control of the devil.  Also, of all the demon possessions I have read about in the Bible none of them were overcome by the possessed individual himself.  All were cast out by somebody else (Jesus, disciples, prophets in the Old Testament; Saul’s demon was cast out whenever David played the harp for him).  None of them leave when the person possessed casts them out of themselves by sheer strength of will.  I might be reading too much into this, but I suspect that it is not possible to harness the power of God necessary to cast out a demon while one is possessed.  So, I suspect that if Joseph Smith was in fact possessed by an evil power, said power was not cast out, but remained and influenced his perception of the events that would follow.  He also may have been allowed to give false prophecy in order to bring about God’s Will in some situation, but I cannot say that definitively.

The next thing that happened is, “a light appeared over Joseph’s head which he described as brighter than the sun. . . In it he saw two personages of glory. One of them spoke, saying ‘Joseph, this is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!'”  And this takes me back to 2 Cor 11:13-15.  Paul says that even the devil can masquerade as an angel of light.  How do we know if the spirit that appeared to Joseph Smith is from God?  We are to test the spirits, and any spirit that does not confess that Jesus is God and came in the flesh is not of God.  You can read here that followers of Joseph Smith, that is members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [LDS], believe that Jesus is one of many spirit children born of God the Father and his goddess wife.  He is the literal physical and spiritual son of God, according to the LDS, and “lived a sinless life and therefore was worthy to atone for the sins of all.”  Born-again Christians believe that Jesus was God who was came in the flesh and is worthy to atone for our sins because He is God, not because he lived a perfect life.  He lived a perfect life, but it is because He is and was and always will be God, not so that He could become like God.  So, if the spirits that appeared to Joseph Smith preached a different Jesus, then they are not of God.

There it is, in a nutshell.  I don’t believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, therefore, I do not believe his teachings.  It’s pretty simple.  I understand that some people believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and so follow his teachings.  I do not.

Unashamed

Mark 8:34-38–When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

I’m an introvert.  I’ve always been more comfortable in my own head than anywhere else.  I also, however, long to be known.  That’s why this comes easily.  It’s like letting people in without having to admit to myself that I’m doing it.

That being said, fulfilling the Great Commission does not come easily for me.  Sharing the gospel is not difficult for me because I am ashamed, but because I am not bold.  I don’t want Jesus to be ashamed of me, so I need to remember that He did not give me a “spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

So, here it is: I know that I have different beliefs from some of those who might be reading this, but I am claiming the power that God has given me to speak boldly in His name for, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6).  I won’t be like those Pharisees who believed, but did not confess Him; who, “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43).  Feel free to disagree, but know that I fear God more than any man, so I will not be shaken.

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