Perspective

 

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;  and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.  So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)

Jesus and a group of Jewish believers had a pretty deep conversation here concerning freedom.  The dialog culminated in one of the foundational verses of this ministry: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

But sometimes we can focus in on one aspect of the truth so keenly that other vital elements get lost.  It’s good to re-center ourselves on the big picture once in a while.

Recent blog entries here have been about openness from both sides – the need to approach someone and be open, and the need to be approachable in order to facilitate openness and healing.  

It’s important to remember, though, that just talking about it isn’t the entire solution.  If we’re not leaning on Jesus and living obedient lives, all the talk in the world isn’t doing any good.  Openness without action doesn’t free anyone – on one extreme it essentially turns us into habitually sinning conversationalists (which amounts to empty religion), on the other it promotes wallowing and self-pity (keeping us in chains).   

Jesus said “whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.”  So even if freedom is recognized, we can still find ourselves enslaved to sin when we don’t reside in Christ.

Compare also Galatians 5:1 (“It was for freedom that Christ set us free”) and 5:13 (“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh”).

You see, freedom is core to the gospel message, but it is not spoken of without the counter-balance of obedience.

If we’re not doing something about it, we’re not taking it seriously.  

Now here I will differ from some who say that if you are still struggling and stumbling with a certain sin you haven’t truly repented of it.  I think that inaccurate at best, destructive and disheartening at worst.

True, Paul did write to the Romans “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (6:6-7).  

But just a few paragraphs later Paul wrote “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” (7:19-20).

So, if Paul was teaching in Romans 6 that truly repentant people are completely over the sin they repented of, then he obviously wasn’t truly repentant himself based on his admissions in Romans 7.  

The distinction here is not the scorecard, but where your heart-focus is.  Maybe you still slip once in a while. Maybe the same old weakness creeps in and pulls you into sin that you turned away from.  But it’s the overall battle that’s our true indicator.  

Don’t dwell on a moment of failure, and fear that you’ve lost when you’ve had a thousand moments of victory.  But  also don’t dwell on a momentary confession and repentance and take pride that you’ve won when you’re not fighting the day-to-day fight.

Perspective is key – a perspective that sees things from eternity’s view.  In Christ we are freed from the chains of sin and death.  But in Christ, we also are motivated to live a life of obedience and victory.  

That’s what eternal life is all about.  And eternity starts today!

 

Be Safe

 

A crucial part of experiencing freedom in Christ is dealing with our weaknesses, struggles and mistakes. And that means finding a safe person with whom we can be open.  

On the flip side, we need to be safe people.  Without that, we end up with churches full of people who need to find someone safe and approachable, and no one who knows how to be safe and approachable.

So, how does one “be safe”?  Here are a couple thoughts to get the conversation started.

1) Grace has got to be the core.  The grace that Jesus showed while on earth; the grace that Jesus showed each of us personally when He saved us.  It’s that grace that we should pay forward; that grace should permeate everything we do, say, think.  We cannot compromise the truth (Jesus never did), but can show grace (Jesus always did). Jesus’ display of grace was never dulled by His dedication to truth, and His dedication to truth was never compromised by His display of grace. The adulterer dragged before Him to be stoned; the woman at the well with five ex-husbands and a live-in boyfriend; the tax collector cheating everyone in sight; the thief on the cross being executed for serious crimes – Jesus treated all of them with grace.  Actually, the only ones He was harsh with were those who were judgmental and arrogant in their religious performance. The broken and bleeding always found compassion.  

2) Make a determination to never be repulsed.  This comment came from something Russell Moore said in a panel discussion I listened to recently.  He stated, “Jesus was never repulsed by anyone, no matter where they were in life.”  And so it should be with us.  This is something we need to be intentional about, and undergird with prayer, but it’s necessary if we care about being approachable. Showing grace the way Jesus did means we need to be prepared to love somebody no matter what. That’s the only way to help them get past those struggles and live redeemed.  It doesn’t mean we say all is okay, or we turn a blind eye to continued sin.  But if they are earnestly grappling with it, we need to show them the compassion that will help them through – rather than judgment and condemnation that could destroy their progress.

3)  Never presume to know everything.  Everybody has travelled different roads.  People are wired differently.  They see things differently, feel differently, react differently.  So as you are listening to and praying with people, understand one thing: “that person is not me.”  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been through the exact same experience – you still can’t know how they are processing things.  I have too often heard believers judge another’s level of repentance based on assumptions, and regrettably I have done so myself.  But really, who are we to think we have complete understanding of what’s going on in someone else’s heart?  Remember Job’s friends?  Their fault wasn’t that they had poor advice to give; it was that they were addressing issues they really didn’t understand. They presumed that everything happening was because Job messed up and God was punishing him, and that if he would just own up to whatever he’d done wrong everything would be okay.  We know better, we’ve read the whole story. But how many times do we act the same way – presuming to know another’s heart and God’s motives? This sort of mindset can be extremely hurtful and detrimental to the healing process of someone in crisis.  

So that’s what I have for now.  In a nutshell being safe means showing love and grace, giving space and understanding.   I’m not saying tough love is never necessary.  But it should always be a last resort, never our go-to solution.  Grace must always come first.

Thoughts?  This is a conversation all of us can contribute to, so I’m very interested in your inputs.  Leave a comment and share your ideas, or send me an email

And in the meantime, remember – safety first.

Stepping Out on the Ledge

Abraham Maslow established that at our core we need safety.  Just above the foundational needs for physical sustenance, there is that need for safety and security.

We build around ourselves networks of safety.  We gravitate toward friends who are safe.  We get an education and work experience in an attempt to ensure our safety economically. We seek out church fellowship in order to find spiritual security.  We arrive at compromises to make sure our relationships with the ones we care about are safe and secure.

Sometimes, those efforts and compromises result in construction projects to wall off parts of ourselves that we think are ugly or repulsive to others.  We have secret battles with things we know aren’t acceptable – sexual brokenness, hatred, anger, substance abuse, lying.  These things can’t be known because the exposure could undermine the work we’ve put into our safe and secure bubble.

Yet in many ways the masquerade itself gets in the way of true safety and security.  

Because even while we worry about what others would think if they knew, we are secretly wondering if they know anyway.  Is there something I have said or done that blew my cover?  Is there a chink in the armor I’ve so carefully woven?  Are people seeing the very thing I’m terrified they’ll find out about – keeping it to themselves out of kindness or fear of confrontation, yet secretly wagging their head at me over it?

Freedom comes when we stop clinging to that fear of what might happen, and take the risk of stepping out on the ledge and being open with someone.   

It comes because we find that when we turn on the lights, the looming shadow on the wall before us is only a harmless object sitting on the windowsill.   The lurking demons and threatening monsters disperse.  The consequences aren’t so overwhelming or unbearable.  The result is not disaster, but liberty!  

Oh, it’s not comfortable.  Trust me on that one.  Being out on that ledge is a very vulnerable place.  We wince a lot there, anticipating the fiery darts of accusers. And we can experience hurt.  But when we know it’s what we need to do, and remember that Christ is with us out there, there comes a point where we realize it’s all going to be okay.

Sometimes we’re pushed out onto the ledge.  That was me.  Looking back, I know stepping out there on my own would have been the right thing.  But the prospect was too frightening.  So God found it necessary to give me a nudge.  Because I hesitated on being open with someone, the walled off parts of me became exposed to a wider audience.  He did that so I would deal with them.  He did that so He could use me.  I know that now.  But it could have been different. I could have stepped out there myself.

One final word: nobody should step out on a ledge wearing a bullseye before the mob.  Stepping out on the ledge doesn’t mean that it has to be an act of public confession.  Because unfortunately, human beings are….well, human, complete with opinions and speculations and assumptions.  And therefore public confession can easily turn into public suicide.  So don’t go bounding out there with reckless abandon.

But do look for an opportunity to let someone – just one person – in on what you’re dealing with.  Don’t let those walls, built so sturdy with the bricks of guilt and shame, held fast by the mortar of fear and dread, hinder you.  Determine to be open.  Step out there, and discover freedom!

What Defines You?

We are not defined by our failures, our weaknesses, our temptations, or our bad choices in life – past or present.

We are not even defined by our victories.  After all, if we get into the habit of defining ourselves by our victories, then we are just one fall away from defining ourselves by our failures, right?

As believers, we are defined by God.  That’s it.  We are who He says we are, and then comes victory.  Victory doesn’t form our definition of self … it results from it!  

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

“Then He said unto them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16).

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son” (1 Cor 1:9).

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

“…you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

” [you] who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation” (1 Peter 1:5).

(Emphasis mine in all references.)

Do you notice the commonality?  

Jeremiah prophesied that God had an intentional, predetermined plan for His children (directed originally toward the Israelites exiled to Babylon, this also applies to each of us as the spiritual children of Abraham – see Romans 4:9-18).

Jesus told the men He called that He would make them fishers of men, and later reminded them that He chose them, not the other way around.

Paul dealt with issues such as lust, gluttony, divisiveness in the Corinthian church.  Yet He says “God is faithful, and He called you!”

To Ephesus, Paul addressed believers who, like many at the time, were dealing with various false teachers trying to either cheapen the Gospel or intellectualize it or turn it into a form of hyper-Judaism.  He also addressed drunkenness, domestic relations, and spiritual warfare, among other things.  Yet he tells them that God gave them new life and brought them into relationship with Him.

And Peter, addressing the church in general, reminded them that it was God’s power that kept them secure.

In each instance, God is acting and believers are recipients.  He defines us.

So don’t ever forget that your identity does not rest in you.  It didn’t start with you, it isn’t enhanced or impaired by you, and it certainly isn’t secured by you or anything you do.  

Jesus did say, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15), but note that obedience is not a precondition, it is an outflowing.  

1 John 4:19 says “We love Him because He first loved us.”  So here’s the scenario: (1) He loves us and speaks our true identity into us, (2) we fall in love with Him as we come to believe, (3) obedience flows out of our love for Him.

So what have you allowed to define you?  A past mistake?  A lifestyle you came out of?  A habit you can’t break?  A weakness that continuously resurfaces?  Your church attendance?  Your ability to outperform others athletically, career-wise, academically, spiritually?  Whatever it is, throw it out.  Let your concept of who you are come from God alone.