Living In The Now

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[15] The eyes of the Lord  are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. [16] The face of the Lord  is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. -Psalm 34:15-16

I remember a while back when I was in a time of meditation and ‘listening’ prayer, and God whispered “Psalm 34”.

I opened my Bible and began to read that passage.  When I got to the verses above, I at first kept on reading for a line or two.  Then suddenly I was struck with the realization that when I had read verses 15 and 16, my mind had automatically and imperceptibly categorized me in verse 16 because of my past.  Subconsciously, I’d read “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous…” and thought ‘that’s nice.’  Then, subconsciously again, I’d read “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil” and thought ‘okay, that’s me.’  And I moved on.  But God brought me back to it.  

And then came an even greater realization.  I am not one of “those who do evil.” I had done evil, yes.  But what I did didn’t carry over to what I do, and subsequently what I am.  This was a freedom-generating concept. God had revealed to me a deep-seated, faulty thought pattern.

It’s too easy to get caught up in what we did, and then classify ourselves as evildoers because of that dark stain on our past.  But that’s a lie of the devil and it smells like smoke, as a pastor friend of mine is fond of saying.  If you are redeemed and living in freedom and victory, you may be an evil-did-er, but you are not an evil-do-er.

God has freed us from our past.  We are renewed.  That doesn’t mean the old nature doesn’t creep in.  But it does mean that we are transformed…because He says so.  

We are “a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  

We are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  

It is to us that John says, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), and Paul, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

So don’t you dare allow the devil, the world, or that incorrigible inner voice to tell you that you are an evildoer.  Verse 15 was meant for us as redeemed believers dwelling in Christ.  

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry.”

Read it again.  Let it sink in.  He is watching over you, believer.  He is our righteousness, and so we are verse 15.

Always a Victim, Never a Victor

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We’re all victims.  None of us got to where we are without being subject to someone else’s decisions and things that are out of our control.  Maybe it was being lied to, gossiped about, taken advantage of.  Maybe it was abuse.  Maybe it was betrayal of a friend, or the enemy who did something you wouldn’t even expect an enemy to do. Or possibly rather than a person, it’s where you grew up, or a physical trait, or a propensity toward something that you or society sees as broken.

You are a victim.  You’re not exaggerating or imagining it.  You’re certainly not outside of your rights.  The evidence is in, it’s verifiable, you were a recipient of consequences you did not control.

Congratulations, you are an official member of the human race. We are all victims to some extent.  I don’t say that to make light of your situation or to say “oh just get over yourself.”  Your feelings are valid, and are actually a good thing because we can’t address what we don’t recognize.

But, before stepping into the world with your victim banner flying, let’s examine some truths.

Being the victim limits our freedom, and obstructs victory.  You are allowing someone or something else to define you, which brings with it heavy chains.

Breaking out of those chains requires action on your part.  David is a good example.  In Psalm 7, he spends the entire chapter pleading with God for deliverance from his enemies (who had, you guessed it, victimized him).  But then he ends with “I will praise the Lord…” (v 17).  He was still as much a victim when he wrote verse 17 as he had been in verses 1-16.  But it was that resolve to take action (the act of praising God) that brought David repeated victory. Action on your part is required.

If it involves another person, you cannot wait around for that person to come lift the victim label off of you by apologizing or seeking forgiveness.  They may never even realize or acknowledge that they wronged you, let alone seek reconciliation.  And you seeking reconciliation with them may not be possible or productive either.  But forgiveness is possible, and freeing.  Unforgiveness gives them power, reinforcing the victim label.  The act of forgiveness takes away that power.

If it involves something in the environment or your personal makeup, acknowledge it as reality.  But also acknowledge that you don’t have to be controlled by it.

Denying the reality reinforces the victim label (I refuse to acknowledge this part of me and so it rules my life, through secret indulgence or constant striving to keep it down – or often both).  On the other hand, living it out also reinforces the victim label (it’s just the way I am and I can’t do anything about it).  Either way, I am a victim.  Either way, victory is out of reach.

So this label of ‘victim’, whatever its source, has tremendous potential to define you, and to steal your ability to live victoriously and free.

But don’t you allow it.  You have a choice.

Nothing to Prove

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    I have two dogs.  An 85-pound Black Lab and a 17-pound Jack Russel Terrier.   

    Shadow, the Labrador, has nothing to prove.  She doesn’t get worked up about much of anything.  If we pass a barking dog while we’re out walking, she doesn’t feel the need to respond.  She may stop and stare for a minute, but then will just move on leisurely.  As we’re walking, she is content to mosey along at her pace, with no ambitions to take the lead.  Shadow is secure in her ‘doghood’ and doesn’t feel like she needs to prove anything to anybody.  The other day while we were out walking a poodle got loose, ran up, and began to jump and nip near Shadow’s ear.  Shadow stopped walking and waited patiently until the other dog’s owner came and got her.  No attempt to  nip back, protect herself, or establish dominance.

    Maggie, the Jack Russel Terrier, on the other hand, is a little Napoleon with a major ‘alpha dog’ complex.  She retorts at any animal that dares be vocal toward her.  She has to be in the lead and will literally choke herself pulling on the leash until she secures the forward position.  It’s always a competition with Maggie, and she has to be winning.  Maggie has everything to prove.

    As my wife and I walked the dogs the other day, amused at this dynamic, it occurred to me how representative that is of our freedom in Christ. 

    When we are striving and working in an attempt to gain freedom, we are like little Maggie.  We are relentlessly putting one foot in front of the other, responding aggressively to every threat, straining against the chains to get in front of the pack.

    Contrast that to when we are resting in Christ and relying on what He says: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).  When we trust Him at His word, we no longer have anything to prove.  

    Just take a moment to review Ephesians chapter 1: Jesus says you are blessed (1:3), chosen (1:4), without blame (1:4), adopted as a son/daughter (1:5), accepted in the Beloved (1:6), redeemed (1:7), forgiven (1:7).  He says He is the guarantor of our inheritance (1:14), and backing us up is the power that raised Christ from the dead (1:19,20).  With all of that on our side, why should we ever feel the need to prove ourselves to anyone on this earth?

    So when the ankle-biters of life run up on you – whether they be poodles or accusers or gossips or Pharisees, or your own guilt and shame – you don’t have to push back.  Rest in Him and know that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Carrying It to the Grave

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    Many of us have one: that thing that you would prefer to carry to your grave.  It’s that offense that occurred somewhere along life’s journey as a result of neglect, bad judgment, inability to control your emotions, blurred boundaries, or any combination of these.  Then at a stop along the journey, you packed it away, checked the bag, and tagged it as ‘Destination: End of Life’.  And you hoped it would never turn up again until you were in your grave.

    But unfortunately, just like that bag that we checked for Honolulu sometimes turns up on the baggage carousel at LAX, those things we hoped to never face again in this life sometimes turn up unexpectedly along the way.  And when that happens it can be embarrassing and painful.

    But we can trust that when that baggage shows up uninvited, God’s plan is still being worked.  As hurtful as it is, exposure is often a good thing.  Because as long as that bag is safely tucked away in some cargo hold it is limiting you.  The Enemy uses it to construct labels, instill fear and hesitation, undermine confidence. 

    Conversely, some of our most profound freedom comes as a result of exposure.  Here’s why:

  • Fear keeps us from stepping out in faith.  We don’t want to make waves, because if we do, the resulting churn of the water may very well rock our boat and cause our carefully hidden offenses to spill out. And that, we think, would completely undermine our ability to serve God.  The truth is, that thing is probably already undermining you in subtle ways that run deeper than anything exposure could cause.
  • Anticipated negative inter-personal impacts paralyze us.  Negative reactions, rumors, hurting those we love – these are very real fears.  And honestly they are very real potentialities.  People who truly love us will be hurt and experience sadness, anger, depression.  People who only said they loved us will react in overtly hateful ways at worse, or simply disappear from our lives at best.  Some relationships may need to be rebuilt, and some relationships may never recover.  But we discover who our true friends are, we discover how faithful our God is, and we find new strength to walk and a new voice to proclaim His grace.
  • Maintaining the facade is exhausting work.  Ceaseless laboring to maintain a mask to cover your shame.  Constant anguishing over those you have hurt.  Unending mental playback of the offenses.  Irrational fear that you may bump into someone who knows.  All of this combines to leave you emotionally and spiritually striving, and gasping for air.

    Compounding it all, darkness is a great magnifier.  The fears, worries, anxieties are always much bigger in the dark.  Darkness gives our imaginations room to create monsters out of every shadow.  When the light is shined on the situation – especially God’s light – we find that these limiters fade away.  The result is not as scary as we feared. The collective reaction of others is more grace-filled than expected. The exhaustion of patching and reinforcing the façade vanishes and looks fruitless in hindsight.

    Everything we endure is used by God to bring us freedom.  That’s a hard thing to remember when we’re in the midst of a shameful situation.  But it doesn’t make it any less true.

Applied Grace

Look over college curriculum and Google searches and you’ll see applied science, applied behavior analysis, applied physics, applied theology, applied psychology, applied theory for guitar, etc. etc.   Many concepts that are taught or conceived in theory, have a companion course focused on applying that theory.  So why not “Applied Grace”?  We know all about grace, we read about grace, we talk about grace, we tell stories about grace, we emphasize grace, but why is there so little focused study on applying grace?

Grace is one of those things that we all want to receive when we think it is due to us.  When we make a mistake or something from our broken humanity becomes known, we look to others to please show us grace – truth is, sometimes we expect it.  But when it’s someone else wounded and bleeding on the pavement of human brokenness, the concept of grace is not always the first thing that comes to mind.

This scenario is true all too often.  As Christians, it should be the opposite.  We should be far less focused on receiving grace and completely consumed with giving it.  Yes, completely consumed with giving it.  Applying grace should be the rule by which all other decisions and actions are measured.

After all, that is exactly what our Lord did.  He never went out seeking or expecting grace.  In fact, He clearly told His followers “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).  He did not lament how unfair that was.  He did not defend Himself because He felt dismissed or unfairly treated.  He had work to do, and worrying about who owed Him grace would do nothing but take up time and energy that was needed elsewhere.

On the other hand, He was always prepared to display it.  When the people brought to him the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8, He would have been well within the allowances of the law to stone her, but instead He defended her with a challenge to her accusers: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (v. 7).  And after all had dropped their stones and walked away, the one man present who could rightly have cast that first stone said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (v. 11).  That’s applied grace.

So look for opportunities to apply grace today. Sometimes applying grace means buying a cup of coffee for someone who’s out in the cold.  Sometimes it’s forgiving the person who has wronged you, even if they refuse to see where they were wrong.  Sometimes it’s a word of encouragement, or just being there.  Keep your eyes open, and your heart ready.  Find ways to love, forgive, encourage, and support those around you.  Apply grace.

There Goes the Judge

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;”  (Romans 12:9-10).

The last entry talked about our tendency to define ourselves by our temptations as if they were full-on transgressions.  This is simply not accurate.  Our temptation does not equal transgression, or, put another way, as Andrew Comiskey writes “weakness is not wickedness.”  

But the Enemy is skilled at reinforcing our perception that our identity is built on our temptations and weaknesses.  Even worse, he has recruited some of the best and brightest of the Christian church to tow the line for him. 

Though few believers would admit it if asked directly, there are many who unintentionally reinforce this very idea that our weakness is who we are.  They don’t want the recovering drug addict in their pews, or the reformed convict, or the person struggling with unwanted homosexual attractions, or the man in counseling for anger/violence issues, or the former prostitute.  Many times mainstream Christianity equates these people’s weaknesses with wickedness, even if they are walking victoriously over those past sin patterns. 

The Apostle Paul said that the Roman Christians were to let their love be without hypocrisy.    

I have to be the first to admit that I have been there myself, treating certain broken people with the proverbial 10-foot pole even as I proclaimed the love of Jesus.  

Do you know why we do that?  I think it is because of many factors: unsureness about exactly how to handle it, insecurity about what people may think if we are caught showing grace to the ‘wrong’ people, discomfort due to an uncertainty of how to relate to such a person.  

I believe very little of it is just pure meanness or an attitude of thinking we’re better than the other person.  It’s often not for bad reasons that we do what we do, even if on the surface they seem like bad choices.  It’s our broken way of relating.  So before we become too harsh on ourselves or one another, let’s think about why we do what we do and focus on fixing it.

And here is why the fix is so important: whenever the church tells someone (by their actions or attitudes) that they are defined by their past, what is to stop that person from returning to that past?  What’s to give them the hope of victory and keep them from caving to the lure of past lifestyles.  This is how the church often, albeit unwittingly, drives people into the very pits that they condemn.  

So let’s make a conscious effort to lift up, as we are called to do.  Because the alternative is often an unconscious act of letting one another crumble.  Temptation is not transgression, freedom is possible, and the church needs to carry that banner every day.