Duck Test

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He was the leader of the world’s only superpower. He had subdued enemies, conquered lands, captured cities, built spectacular palaces, and oversaw a thriving economy.

And then one day things went sideways. And before it was all over he could add to his accomplishments adultery, treachery, betrayal, and murder.

His name was David, King of Israel. Most people know the story: He slept with and impregnated his neighbor’s wife, and after a hastily planned scheme to cover up the consequences failed, he orchestrated her husband’s death.

You don’t have to agree with David’s actions to understand how they came about. Hopefully we’ve not been down the path that led to adultery and murder, but we’ve all been down paths where we would never have ventured with a clear head.

But here’s what I want you to see about David: When he finally came to himself, David called it like it was.

David’s prayer following the fallout from his actions is the prayer of a broken man who was done with maneuvering and making excuses.

See, we need to be honest with God in our confessions.

We need to learn to say simply, “I sinned against You.”

I didn’t ‘have a weak moment.’ I didn’t ‘make a mistake.’ I didn’t ‘falter’ or ‘stumble’ or ‘lose a battle.’

These phrases are accurate, and in proper perspective can help us press forward. Because our weaknesses combined with the barrage of influences we face, sometimes lead to bad choices. We can’t live a perfect life, and God will never give up on us (even after all this, David’s character is still immortalized as “A man after God’s own heart”).

But the duck test says “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck”

Like David, we need to learn to be raw and honest with God and say,

“For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:3-4).

When he says “against You only have I sinned,” he’s not dismissing the fact that other people were hurt by his sin.  In this case Uriah, Bathsheba, the unborn baby, and many others close to them, were hurt terribly by his choices.

But it was primarily God against whom he sinned.

Every sin is first and foremost an offense against a holy God.

So let’s be careful to maintain balance.  We can’t spend our time condemning ourselves for our mistakes, wailing and wallowing in our filth, expecting ourselves to live the perfect life and never slip up.  But we also can’t use our flawed humanity to smooth over or minimize the fact that we hurt God and others by our actions.

Living like new means constantly renewing our mind and spirit through self-inspection, confession, and trusting that God lifts the penalty for that sin from us.

It’s “Freedom 360” – freedom from excuse-making and freedom from condemnation.

It’s a package deal.

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Dungeons and Dragons

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It’s a strange dynamic.

Dungeons are dark, dank, and scary places. But sometimes the dark, the dank, and the scary can strangely morph into a comfort zone. As bad as it is ‘in here’, we fear the uncertainty of what might be ‘out there’ and so we accept where we are.

Addictions, compulsive behaviors, sins of our past, guilt and shame, false labels – these things tend to build formidable dungeon walls. Even as we detest them, we are fearful of what might happen if we step into the light. How will people react? What will our friends say? Our critics? What will become of our lives and our families?

And so we hunker down in our musty, cold, hopeless dungeon cells. Secretly relishing the chains that we despise. Appreciating the company of the occasional rodent that scurries by.  Telling ourselves that the meager light that filters in through the bars is all that we need. After all, there are dragons out there.

Much of the safety of the dungeon is protection from the fearsome dragons that we’re convinced are lurking outside. We appease the little dragons ‘in here’, because the really big and scary ones are waiting ‘out there.’ And they will certainly devour us and our relationships and our reputation and maybe even our careers if we so much as stick a limb outside.

There is this unspoken and often unrealized idea that somehow indulging our habit, or tolerating our flaws, or keeping the lid tightly shut on our shameful past, keeps the hovering gods of our secrets appeased.

All of this is completely illogical, but in the dark corners of the dungeon it makes perfect sense.

And so…imprisonment. Not willing to risk even a peek at what we may be missing. Only concerned with the imaginary or exaggerated dangers we’re protecting ourselves from.

Yes, imaginary or exaggerated…because one of the unique features of our self-imposed incarceration is that the isolation and inward focus allow our fears to build and become larger and intensified.

They’re not all imaginary. Many of us can say from experience that there are harsh critics waiting outside those walls. And sometimes we will feel the heat of the dragon’s breath.

But I can also attest that there is tremendous grace and support out there as well – grace and support that will completely outweigh the harshness.

However, it takes stepping out of the cell, and that’s not easy by any stretch. Fortunately, though, we’re not on our own.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” – Isaiah 61:1 (emphasis added)

In Luke 4:18-21 Jesus personally applied these words to Himself.

He is the one who waits outside the door of the dungeon, and will stand with us, come what may.

Jesus came to empower us to shrug off the chains, to crash the walls, to get out of our prison cells, and to face the dragons.

It’s time for a prison break. Let’s do this.

What Not to Wear

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“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14)

Sort of an odd statement, isn’t it? “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Why didn’t Paul say “get in step with” or “devote yourself to” or “obey” the Lord Jesus Christ?

Paul used the imagery of ‘putting on’ something for a couple reasons.

What we wear covers and protects us.  It keeps undesired elements (wind, rain, paint spray, poison ivy, sand fleas – you name it) off our skin. Appropriate clothing means harmful or unwanted things cannot get to us.

What we wear also shows something of us to the world. Even those who give the least consideration to fashion have to admit that their wardrobe choices, intentionally or unintentionally, are made with purpose. It may be as simple as to draw attention (get noticed) or to avoid attention (fit in), but clothing selection has meaning.

So our spiritual attire is important. Proper dress matters in our most private moments because it protects us from harmful things. And it matters when we step out in public because it reflects our most basic choices.

Let’s thumb through our closets and see what should and shouldn’t be there.

Writing to a different church, Paul lists some things we should be wearing:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Makes sense, right?  Putting on Christ means being like Christ. So let’s don the things we see in His example.

On the other side, Paul and Peter both give some hints as to the sort of things we need to be rid of:

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

Some of these are blatant enough that they are no-brainers – everyone knows sorcery and orgies should be avoided.  Others are more subtle – like envy, jealousy, or dissensions. But blatant or subtle, choosing the wrong apparel can be limiting and enslaving.

So, can it be any clearer what needs to make up our wardrobe and what needs to go to the curb?

One final point, because I don’t want clothing selection to become the main point and result in a legalistic checklist exercise. Remember, we started with the idea of putting on Christ. Our freedom comes from abiding in Him and allowing Him to empower our choices.

We will slip up sometimes. But the question is: were you drawn into it because you had a weak moment or did you intentionally pull it off the hanger?

When Paul says “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” he is not saying that if you fall you are disqualified – just that the consistent rejection of proper attire and choice of ‘trashy’ clothes reflects a heart that isn’t focused on following Jesus.

If you are putting on Christ every day, He’ll help you put on the right things. And the rest of that stuff can be left for the moths to eat.

Courageous Grace

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“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

I wrote last time about battlefield etiquette. Particularly, how to properly care for the wounded among us on the spiritual battlefield.

This takes courage.

It’s easy to show grace to someone who has been hurt by someone else or by their circumstances.

But it’s much harder to show grace to someone in the throes of addiction or suffering the consequences of their own poor choices.

First, we must get past our initial ‘religious’ instinct to condemn and distance ourselves.

Then comes the hard part – facing all of those who insist on clinging to that religious instinct. You see, not everyone manages (or even desires) to work past that initial reaction. Some people are perfectly happy in their religious reaction.

Often, whether we admit it aloud or not, we fear the condemnation of these people if they see us helping a broken person.

What rumors will start about me? Will I become guilty by association? Will the religious lot suddenly put me in the ‘condemnation box’ with them because I am coming to their side?

The truth is none of these things matter.

The words in Joshua 1:9 were spoken by God to a man who was about to venture into a foreign land and step onto many physical battlefields.  If you look through the entire quote (verses 2-9) you will see that God used the term “be strong and courageous” three times (vv 6, 7, 9).

God knew that when Joshua led the armies of Israel out onto that battlefield, he was going to be hit all sorts of opposition.  Not only was he going to face sword-wielding adversaries from outside his camp, he was also going to have to deal with criticism-wielding antagonists from within.

God wanted to be sure he knew that if he was doing what God expected of him, he could hold his head up and know God was beside him.

It’s the same for us.  We may not be facing savage blood-thirsty warriors who want to split our heads wide open. But we sometimes face assailants who are trying to get into our heads and maybe even soil our reputations – intentionally or unintentionally.

If you are loving people the way God wants you to, though, know that “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” and because of that you can be “strong and courageous.”

Next time I’m going to write a little more about how God has our back, and why we can confidently draw courage through our trust in Him.  But for now, let me leave you with a quote from Joe Dallas:

“Courage is not an absence of fear; instead, it is a willingness to do the very thing you are afraid of.”

So don’t be afraid to step out there and help the wounded. Be courageous. He has your back.

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).

Surveying the Battlefield

Military 1148Sometimes battles are lost. We won’t always win. That’s just part of the ebb and flow of this thing we call spiritual warfare. 

But when losses come, it’s good to take time to look back over the battlefield and survey the landscape for lessons learned.

When I do this after a stumble or a fall, what I find is a battlefield littered with the armor that I should have been wearing.  

The Shield of Faith was sufficient to stop any fiery darts of lust or self-doubt or anger or whatever the Enemy launched at me. But it is lying on the ground. Cast aside in a moment of fear or frustration. Or out of sheer exhaustion from the overwhelming onslaught.

The Sword of the Spirit (scripture) could have given me the ability to deliver an effective counter-punch.  After all, that is what Jesus used when confronted by Satan in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. But I didn’t reach for my Bible when temptation came, or recall scripture passages. Instead, I loosed my grip on that sword and allowed it to clang to the ground alongside the shield.

The Belt of Truth should remind me of who I am based on God’s promises. Instead, it’s slack and falling down, allowing lies and labels to form my core in the moments when I most need to be girded by the truth. When that belt is firmly in place, I see myself as redeemed, forgiven, called, favored, blessed. When it slips, I see myself as worthless, incapable, emotionally out of control, lustful, addicted, helpless. 

Because the belt has fallen away, the Breastplate of Righteousness is askew. It no longer guards my heart properly against insecurity and frailty. A loose breastplate means I am now drawing from my limited humanity which is incapable of attaining righteousness. Had the breastplate stayed straight I’d have rested in my Spirit-filled self, which finds value and worth in what He has done rather than what I can do.

If I’d cinched fast the chinstrap on that Helmet of Salvation, I would have been protected against the ungodly thoughts and carnal imaginings that invade a mind focused on this world.  The knowledge of a secure salvation would keep me honed in on an eternal perspective.  Instead, the helmet toppled off into the dirt and I became overtaken by temporal concerns, emotions, and pleasures.

Shoes of the Gospel are there to remind me of the “death, burial, and resurrection” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) that completes me. But when they are not laced up securely they fall away and I am easily overtaken by a message of false fulfillment.

That’s the whole armor in Ephesians 6:13-17, strewn on the ground at the site of the defeat.

The losses look different. The circumstances change. The opponent varies in appearance and tactic. But ultimately, it all comes back to the armor.

It comes back to too much focus on the enemy and not enough focus on the armor that protects me from him.

Let’s make a conscious effort to change that focus. The battle is ours.

Temptation Does Not Equal Transgression

One of the most clever ploys of the enemy is blurring the lines between temptation and transgression.

Let me set up a scenario.  Say you have had an issue with lust.  You’re in the grocery store picking up a few things.  You walk past the magazine rack.  Inadvertently, a certain magazine cover catches your eye, and there staring back at you is one of the most beautiful bikini-clad ladies, or speedo-clad men, you have ever beheld.  Your eyes linger.  You feel that all-too-familiar stir within you as admiration quickly begins to turn to lust.  You want to pick up the magazine and see more, your mind wants to go racing to other images in your memory banks, or you want to go home and get online to find some ‘old haunts’.  But what you choose to do is lift it up to Jesus and ask Him to take it away.  You turn your eyes from the magazine cover, walk a little faster down the aisle, block out past images, douse the budding flames of fantasy, and vow to definitely not turn on the computer when you get home.

Yet you come away from this situation feeling dirty, wicked, sinful.  Why?  You did everything that you could have done to walk away from the temptation.  You had no control over what crossed your field of vision, and that initial lingering gaze was more automatic response than conscious choice.  Realistically, you reacted well.

But here’s the deal: Satan is very adept at convincing us that temptation is equivalent to transgression.  Especially when it comes to things we’ve struggled with in the past.  He has drawn more people back into sin patterns with this tactic than we’d care to count.  He leverages labels that we have assigned ourselves – pornography addict, drugee, alcoholic, relationally dysfunctional, sexually deviant, uncontrollably angry – and an in-the-moment urge toward that habit or lifestyle suddenly becomes a reason to say “this is the way I am.”

But this is not the way you are.  Paul says you are “beloved of God, called to be saints” (Romans 1:7).  Peter says you are a “His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9).  And John says whoever “is born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4).  You are not destined to be defined by your weaknesses.  You are destined to be “more than conquerers through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

From freedom’s perspective – being tempted is never the same as transgressing.  The determining factor regarding victory is what you do with the temptation, not that you were tempted in the first place!  Don’t let the lure become the lie that reinforces the label. Stand in His truth, and live free!