The Freedom to Resume

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I confess I lost my way.

When I started this endeavor, it was with specific intent. It was to bring encouragement to fellow believers and show the path to a true relationship with God to those who didn’t know it.

It was to represent grace in today’s world and in today’s church, where it’s often lacking. Lacking not because people are cruel, but because they don’t always understand how to display grace in the tough situations. Or sometimes because we’ve been conditioned to react in ways that – while commonly accepted as Christian – are far from what Christ taught or modeled.

It was to speak freedom to people who were caught in a cycle of hiding and dragging their chains with them because they felt too ashamed or hopeless to stand up to their jailer – a jailer that takes various forms:

  • Our past – shame over the things we have done or people we’ve hurt.
  • Current struggles – things like addiction, unwanted but seemingly inescapable habits or desires, negative mindsets, poor self-image.
  • Our spiritual Enemy – Satan, Lucifer, the Devil, whatever you want to call him.

(I personally believe that ultimately the jailer that holds the keys to every chain that binds us is this Enemy. Yes, I believe he exists. And I believe he is active. He doesn’t want us to live free, because it scares him! A world full of free-living people could bring the roof down on all his hopes and plans, and he knows it!)

Whatever or whoever the jailer is, the truth is that we have a Savior who brings freedom which transcends all the brokenness. A God who represents everything the Enemy doesn’t want us to realize.

That message was my motivation. But I lost that. I got caught up in lies, and allowed the lies to derail me from these truths. As a result, I lost my focus, and then the path. Until the next thing I knew, I was in the thickets not even sure where the path was or when I had left it.

I had allowed exactly what Paul warned the Galatians not to allow – “do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

The result – a year of almost total silence.

But praise God for the freedom to resume. The freedom to get back to the work when we realize we need to re-center. The freedom to shake off the chains, and engage afresh.

Let me encourage the reader: if you’ve lost the path – if there is something that God laid on you and you got caught up in distractions or discouragement or apathy – God is still calling you to serve Him. Pick it up, whatever it is, and serve Him. You will not be happy until you are serving where God has called you to serve.

Eternity starts today, and in God’s economy the game never times out. No matter how long it’s been paused, we have the freedom to resume.

Lane Changes

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It’s a familiar scene.

I’m slowly crawling through the parking lot between home and office – the ‘parking lot’ officially known as Northern Virginia’s Interstate 95.

I’m following a semi. I don’t remember the markings on the truck, but let’s called it “ACME Corporation” (I was always a big Road Runner fan as a kid).

At some point I grow tired of following a truck that I can’t see around. That, plus the lure of the slightly-faster-moving traffic in the lane to my left, compels me. I make my move. I change lanes.

Five minutes later, guess where I am? I am sitting in left-center lane, staring at the “ACME” truck in the right-center lane…which is at least a half mile ahead of me. And I’m thinking If I had just stayed where I was…

And it occurs to me…isn’t that the way we live our lives sometimes? We make a decision, and then later we look back on that decision and say If only I’d have just decided differently…

But guess what? We can’t re-do those decisions any more than I could make four lanes of interstate traffic back up and allow me a do-over on my lane change.

But still, it’s easy to look back and imagine how perfect things would have been with a different choice. But imagination is not reality (profound, eh?).

So here’s a few things we can do when we catch ourselves in those moments of second-guessing.

  • Remember Hebrews 13:5 – “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” God is there. Always.
  • Be thankful for where you are in life, instead of regretful of where you might have been.
  • Pray that God will show you how this works into His plan. Because it does. Even if it was a bad choice, it still becomes part of the fabric of His plan. Because He’s sovereign that way.
  • Remember that perception is not always reality, and that the whole can’t be derived from a snapshot. It’s about the entire race, not just a few paces somewhere in the middle.

Lane changes happen.  Some of them turn out well. Some of them not so well.

Sometimes you look like you’re going nowhere, only to look up one day and realize you did get somewhere. (Case in point – I ended up ahead of the ACME truck just a few miles later.)

Sometimes you don’t get where you wanted to be, but find out where you are is pretty good.

Sometimes you don’t see any of these things, but have to trust God that you are where He wants you to be (I wish I could say that we always see the happy ending, but that’s just not true).

So keep moving forward. Trust your decisions. But most of all, trust God.

 

Commend

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“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 KJV

It’s not often I prefer the King James Version for study, or launch from it in my blog posts. I love its poetic prose and rich imagery, but versions written in today’s vernacular make it much easier for us to grasp the concepts and intentions of the text, in my opinion. (No intent to launch a firestorm with that comment – I know there are passionate opinions on both sides of the KJV fence…so I’ll move on quickly).

Something in this verse jumped out at me recently, though, and the word that struck me is one that is only used in the KJV – “commend”. Most modern day translations render the verse “God demonstrates…” (NASB, NIV, NKJV) or “God shows…” (ESV) or “God proves…” (HCSB) “…His love for us.” These are all good words. But let me spend a few minutes on why I think “commend” is so much richer.

Dictionary.com defines “commend” as “to entrust; give in charge; deliver with confidence.”

God “delivered with confidence” His love to us. Not any confidence based on our ability to carry it out. But confidence because of who He is and because of His ability and determination to carry through (see Philippians 1:6).

How should that change my life? That God would ‘entrust’ His love to me? He didn’t give it to take it back. He didn’t give it to ‘see how this works out.’ He didn’t give it with reservation or hesitation. He entrusted it to me! He ‘gave it in charge’ to me! He ‘delivered it with confidence’! He gave it with the full intent of my possessing it for eternity!

What a terrific word! How rich that one word makes this promise. How could I ever take advantage of or dismiss such a commitment?

And what freedom! Knowing that God not only offers His love but commends it – this symbolizes a commitment that allows me to live in total freedom, knowing that He has full confidence in me and my ability to possess (and share) His love.

There is no obligation or striving, because it is based completely on Him and not on me in the slightest. His faithfulness and His promise and His work in the person of Jesus Christ make it so – not my ability to earn it or to maintain some level of worthiness.

So no matter what my weaknesses, what my failings, what level of ugliness I might see in myself – God commended His love to me with no take-backs or do-overs. He demonstrated it (to tie it all back to the word used in other translations) before I ever had a chance to prove my worth.

Because our worth is in who He has determined us to be.

Let that sink in.

Let it become part of how you see yourself.

Let it become who you are.

And live free!

What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

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Years ago, a friend helped me through a tough time in my life. There are many things that she said, and I value much of the advice she gave during our talks.

But there was one phrase she came back to repeatedly – and it always seemed to make me stop and say ‘hmm’:

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Used properly, this ranks among the greatest questions of all time (in my humble opinion).

Here’s the deal – the things that we dread thrive in the darkness. When ideas are half-formed and fears are nebulous, they seem very overwhelming.

But when we start to take a closer look and actually think through them, we realize that they are not nearly so disastrous.

It’s the nature of the unknown. Unknowns often seem larger than they are.

Have you ever noticed that when you travel somewhere new, the trip there seems to take much longer than the return trip? Or if you go back again to the same place it doesn’t take nearly as long as you remembered it taking the first time?

That’s the nature of the unknown.

So, the key to conquering fear, dread, and anxiety is to tackle and expose the unknown element(s). When you start to feel these emotions forming, step back and consciously think through whatever is causing the angst.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen.”

And then slowly, calmly and purposefully – with lots of deep breathing, if necessary – answer the question.

If circumstances permit, take the time to sit down and write out all the things that could happen.  Map out the possible paths and consequences. Think through all the alternatives. Literally find the worst possible scenario.

Then think about the probabilities of each path coming to reality. Realistic probabilities. If it helps, use a numbering or a high-medium-low scale to grade the likeliness of each one happening.

When you go through this exercise, the monsters that panicked you will usually prove to be toothless and ineffective in the light of clear thought.

I’m not saying that there will never be scary possibilities. There may be things that are terrifying! But I can almost guarantee they won’t be as terrifying as they were before you put them into words.

They may be hard, but they are things you are perfectly capable of handling – especially when you have a God who said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).

Snake Charmer

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“He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15b).

“Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10:19).

I was contemplating the concept of ‘power’ the other day, particularly as it relates to our battles with temptation and sin.

How often do we treat temptation as if it is a snake and we are merely a desperate snake-charmer, trying our best to either placate it, hold it at bay or dodge its next strike – allowing it to have the control, and reacting as best we can to avoid getting bit? Giving it the position of power does not give us freedom. It binds us.

To keep something at bay while playing defense is a recipe for defeat. Just ask any football fan who has watched his or her team blow a fourth quarter lead thanks to the ‘prevent defense.’

To compromise with wickedness is equally a recipe for defeat. Just ask the nations that thought a peace treaty with Hitler was a good idea.

But look at the Genesis passage above, and put your particular weakness in the role of the serpent for a moment. I see here two important truths related to that confrontation.

God tells the serpent “he [man] will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” Let me work right to left.

God said “you will bruise his heel.” What this tells me is that sometimes our sin lands a blow, and that’s okay.

Well, I mean, it’s not okay, but it’s okay…if that makes sense.

We’re human. We make bad choices.

John writes “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9), which presupposes we have sins that need confessing. In fact, he even goes on to write that if we say we have no sin, the truth isn’t in us (v. 10). (And remember, John is writing to church-going Christians here!)

Missteps and offenses are part of life. Temptation and weakness will get the upper hand once in a while. From the very beginning God acknowledged as much. It doesn’t mean we have a free pass, but it means His grace is enough to cover it.

The best part of this passage, though, is where God tells the serpent “he will bruise your head” or, in the NIV: “he will crush your head”.

God is using language that suggests not merely avoidance or keeping our sin at arm’s length, but outright aggression.

We were intended to meet the enemy head-on in the power of Christ. In Luke 10:19, Jesus tells His disciples “I give you authority to trample snakes and scorpions…” Again, His intention is for us to conquer.

Paul starts his ‘Armor of God’ discourse with the phrase, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might…that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

He didn’t say find a safe place to hunker down. Or learn some good footwork so you can dodge the blows. Or give it some slack so you can avoid the ‘big sins’.

He said “be strong, take on God’s power, and stand !”

So next time you’re faced with that habit or addiction or weakness that plagues you, remember that God doesn’t empower you to dance around it, He empowers you to meet it head on.

Don’t dance with it, don’t flirt with it – claim the power that resides in you as a believer, and crush it!

Let me close with one more verse. Something to cling to whenever you start to think that the serpent is too strong for you and all you can do is compromise or avoid…

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory” (Ephesians 6:20-21).

Freedom to Stay the Course

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Stick with your work. Do not flinch because the lion roars; do not stop to stone the devil’s dogs; do not fool away your time chasing the devil’s rabbits. Do your work. Let liars lie, let sectarians quarrel, let critics malign, let enemies accuse, let the devil do his worst; but see to it nothing hinders you from fulfilling with joy the work God has given you.

He has not commanded you to be admired or esteemed. He has never bidden you defend your character. He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood (about yourself) which Satan’s or God’s servants may start to peddle, or to track down every rumor that threatens your reputation. If you do these things, you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord.

Keep at your work. Let your aim be steady as a star. You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded and rejected, misunderstood, or assigned impure motives; you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men. But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.”

This quote is from an anonymous writer. I found it years ago in John MacArthur’s Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically (Thomas Nelson Press, 2005, p. 14).

These words have been on the wall above my desk since I discovered them. I have looked at them often. I have prayed over them. I have read them aloud, and hand-copied them in my journal as an exercise to internalize them. I have pleaded with God to help me live by them when doing so seemed impossible.

Though the quote was found in a book on pastoring, it is certainly not limited to pastors. It can be applied to every person who is trying to follow God’s call.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are all in ministry in some capacity (see Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, and Ephesians 4:11-16). And if we are pursuing that ministry, we are going to meet opposition.

Opposition can arise from where we might expect it, or from where we don’t expect it at all. Though we must be careful not to dismiss true loving correction, when it is pure antagonism and slander we should rest in the One who holds us securely in the palm of His hand (John 10:28-29).

Opposition can be based on truth or lies (or a mixture of both).

If it is truth concerning something from the past, claim God’s promise that you are redeemed (Colossians 2:13-14) and a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). If truth about something current, then own it, break the cycle, and seek accountability and help. In either case, don’t allow hateful or condemning words to drive you to despair. God is not surprised by your brokenness… He knew about it before the world began, and He loves you anyway. You can move forward.

If it’s based on lies, know that even the Lord Himself faced lying accusations and was assigned false motives. Let Him be your defender. He’s capable, willing, and always on the job (“For He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” – Hebrews 13:5b).

Overall, remember this: God is able to complete what He set out to do through you. Man will not derail what God has established (Isaiah 55:11, Philippians 1:6). This gives us freedom to stay the course.

So take heart. Trust Him. Stick to your work even when the fight seems hopeless. It will definitely be worth it in the end.

He promised.

What Lies Within

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“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  2 Timothy 1:6-7

Each of us has a gift – a message to carry to others about what God has done for us. But often it lies dormant because we don’t make the conscious effort to stir it up and put it to use.  Fear causes us to bury it or hold it back.

Sometimes that fear is the result of guilt and shame, feeling we’re unworthy or disqualified.  

Sometimes it’s due to doubt and low self-worth, a certainty that nobody really wants to hear anything we have to contribute.

Sometimes there’s just a feeling of inadequacy, that we don’t have the skills or talents to properly deliver our message. 

And sometimes it is the fear of others – what will they think or say? Will they think less or differently of me? Will my boldness stir up anger or resentment, or blow the fragile lid off of latent bitterness and unforgiveness? Will people make assumptions about my motives?

But God does not intend for that gift to be stagnant and neutralized by fear, no matter what form it takes.  As Paul encouraged Timothy, we are also urged to “stir up the gift of God which is in” us, because “God has not given us a spirit of fear.”  Whatever the source of that fear – guilt, shame, doubt, feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, potential reactions of others – it is not from God.

So what does God give us?  

Power to live larger than our flaws and failures.  With the aid of His Holy Spirit, we have the power to blast through any barriers that will rise before us.  The power to cling to the truth of our real identity in Him, throwing off the labels and the doubts, whatever their source.

Love, the only attribute against which nothing can stand.  Hatred (including self-hatred), doubt (including self-doubt), gossip, lies, labels, accusations, unforgiveness, anger, bitterness…whatever tends to reinforce our chains – all these things eventually crumble in the face of love. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4:18. There is nothing in the universe stronger than love.

A sound mind that isn’t riddled with insecurities, hesitancy, or negative labels.  One that knows what He intends for us and steps forward in that knowledge, regardless of what the world or those negative voices inside our heads may think or say. A mind that is renewed (Romans 12:1-2) and confident (Philippians 1:6). 

This is how God intends us to live. Living out the message He has placed within.

Don’t allow your gift to lie dormant any longer. Don’t let the Enemy or anyone else convince you that you are not useful or valid. You are that and so much more – you are a vital part of God’s plan.