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.

Three Things to Consider While You Wait

Household 791Did you ever wonder about the years between the time the prodigal son took off with his inheritance and the time he returned?

We have a pretty good idea of what happened in the son’s life during that time, but virtually no insight into the father’s.

First, I wonder how hard it was for him to let go in the first place. How it must have torn his heart to hear his son say “I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I’ll just take my money and move on.” What emotions did he grapple with? Confusion? Anger? Feeling like a failure? Desperation? Guilt? Resignation? All of the above?

And what went through his head while the boy was away? We don’t know how long it was, but we know it was probably years. Partying away a small fortune, living through a famine, hitting rock bottom, and entering the workforce in the most demeaning job imaginable – all of that doesn’t happen overnight.

So what about dad during this time?

Did he yearn to go out searching for him? Did he think about sending a search party or hiring a private eye? If the story were pulled into the modern age, would he try to turn on the GPS on the boy’s phone, or Google his name to see if he turned up in the news? Would he have constantly fight the urge to text or email him?

It had to be grueling, just living with the silence, not hearing any news. Thinking about the old times, choking back emotions when memories arose. Maybe wishing he had done some things differently – spent more time with him, worked less, had more patience. Maybe he made some serious mistakes that he wished he could take back, or at least have a chance to explain. Maybe he looked back on the good times and felt a twinge of hurt and anger that his son would dismiss all that good and fly from the nest.

Of course, this is all speculation. We don’t know what went on at the home-front while the prodigal was ruining his life. But some of us can draw from personal experience, and feel like we have a pretty good idea.

Which leads to my point (yes, I have one).

Maybe there’s another lesson in this parable besides the return of the prodigal. We must not lose sight of that key lesson – that just like the prodigal, we can always return home, find unconditional acceptance, and be embraced by our Heavenly Father.

But maybe for some of us there’s also the lesson of what to do if we find ourselves in the shoes of the heartbroken father.

Some of you may be there right now.  If so, here are three thoughts about the wait that may help.

First: Life goes on. We can’t allow the pain of that damaged relationship to damage the rest of the relationships in our lives. Others still need us, and we have responsibilities to them. The hurt is real, and we can’t ignore it. But to dwell on it at the expense of other, intact relationships is wrong. Take the pain to God. Find counsel if necessary (there’s no shame in getting counseling – don’t get caught by that lie). But keep loving those that are still in your life. As far as we know, the father still attended to his farm and the rest of his family in his youngest son’s absence.

Second: God is in control. No matter how bleak things seem, God never relinquishes control, and He never drops the ball. Whatever is happening, He is there. He’s not surprised, He’s not outmaneuvered, He’s not stumped. We don’t know how long the wait was, but we know this: the father was still waiting and watching expectantly right up until his son appeared on the horizon.

Third: Do what you can, and let God do what He will. You can’t control this. Relinquish the urge to try. If an opportunity comes to let them know you’re still thinking of them, take it. But trust that the love you showed them while you were together will stay with them, and that God will remind them that they can always come home. The father didn’t pursue the prodigal, but somehow the son still knew that he could return, and would find some sort of welcome (even if it was just a job as a farmhand).

And one other thing…

Keep your running shoes on so you can dash out to meet them when they return!

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.

Three Keys to “Being There”

People - General 194All our differences aside, there is one great equalizer among us – we all make some pretty lousy decisions once in a while. The nature and gravity of those decisions vary, of course, but the act of making poor choices is pretty much universal.

And subsequently there are times when we have to face up to our choices and the consequences.

That this is a universal phenomenon means we see it from both sides as we travel through life.  There are times when I must face my choices and consequences, and times when someone else in my life is facing their choices and consequences.

Particularly for those of us who have been there, we often find ourselves driven to be present for the next person.  It’s something I refer to as ‘paying grace forward,’ and I think it’s a natural response/drive (Jesus Himself talked about this principle in Luke 7 while He was hanging out at Simon the Pharisee’s house).

So how do we encourage someone going through a rough patch?

Really being there for someone is more than just showing up, isn’t it?

Well, actually, it does kind of boil down to simply that.  Kind of.

Often we think we need to have some profound advice or witty contribution. When we don’t have something wondrous to say, we feel like we’re a huge let-down. The truth is: just being there is comfort enough.

But of course, there are moments when having something to say is important also. It’s about balance.

Based on my own experiences on both sides of this coin, I think there are three things to keep in mind. I’ve seen (and felt the effects of) positive and negative applications of these principles. And I think all three of them are key to helping us find what to say and what not to say.

Don’t judge.  I know that one sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes it’s hard to resist that knee-jerk reaction of saying “What in the world were you thinking?!?” Or to make sure they understand all the consequences of their actions.

But in reality, if they’re grappling with this, they’ve probably already thought about that ad nausea. The last thing they need is someone reinforcing their negative self-talk. What they need is understanding, encouragement, and help developing a plan to get through this and make things right.

Save your judgment and indignation for the ones who are actively and blatantly bringing hurt to others. Don’t kick the wounded.

Don’t assume you know. If you’ve never been there, don’t assume you know what they’re going through. You don’t. Maybe you’ve been in something remotely similar. Maybe your Aunt Sally has been there. Maybe you’ve been associated with numerous people who have been there. It doesn’t matter. None of that makes you qualified to say “I know exactly what you’re going through.”

Even if you have personally been there, don’t assume you know what’s going on inside them. You may have first-hand experience of their pain, but you are not them. One thing I’ve learned from my own journey, and from helping others through theirs, is: we all process differently. A mentor of mine once told me that, and I’ve found it to be consistently true.

That doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to say “I can relate.” Just don’t think you have them all figured out.

Don’t try to solve it. Listen intently, pray fervently, be the shoulder to lean on, help them talk through it, even throw in a few suggestions on what they can do.

But know that coming up with a complete solution is not your purpose.

It can be tough, being there in the right way.  There are judgment calls involved, and you will miss a few. But if you keep love and grace at the forefront you’ll be a good friend and the right kind of supporter.

And they’ll appreciate it.

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).

You Never Know

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“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.” (2 Corinthians 7:6, 7 ESV)

You just never know. That word of encouragement that you bring today may seem so insignificant, so ineffective, even unnoticed. But you never know how God is using it.

Probably no one thought that someone as great as Paul would be so encouraged by a young understudy like Titus, or the now nameless people of the Corinthian church. But here we see evidence to the contrary.

From someone who has bought into labels and lies myself, I know all too well the feeling that whatever I have to say isn’t going to contribute anything worthwhile.

  • “Why would anyone care what my opinion is?”
  • “Do I really think someone as together as ___ would even have the time to listen to a lightweight like me?”
  • “How could I think that any person would hear advice from someone as spiritually ugly as I?”

Sound familiar? Maybe the questions in your head have sounded a little different, but I bet something similar has crossed your mind on occasion.

Sometimes when you speak into someone’s life, in your mind it appears like the conversational equivalent of tumbleweeds blowing across the plain. The right words aren’t there, the words that do come seem inadequate, or it seems the words are just not heard.

Most of the time this is your own self-image talking. Like me, you have convinced yourself that nothing you say can possibly be of value. The person you are speaking to is smarter, more spiritual, better educated, more experienced, too pretty, too popular, too cool, or [insert your own reason here], to listen to you.

But God is using it. He told the people of Israel “My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (Isaiah 55:11, HCSB). Likewise, He also promises us that the things he prods us to speak into the lives of others will not be wasted.

The best rule to live by is amazingly the same as it is for about every aspect of life: Always let God’s promises (“My word will not return void”) trump the Satan-inspired and self-imposed lies (“Nothing I say is worth hearing”).

Just remember that our impression of the situation is not perfect or complete.

The truth is we don’t really know who is paying attention or how deeply our words are penetrating. But God does.

We all need more encouragers in our lives. We all need to be encouragers in the lives of those around us.

So let Him speak through you, even when it doesn’t ‘feel’ effective. If your focus is on obeying and pleasing Him (Whose opinion is the only one that counts anyway), you don’t have to worry about whether you’re being effective. He will use it, in His way and in His time. Just stay faithful.

Do you have a story of a time when you felt a word of encouragement flatlined the minute it left your lips, only to find out later it really did lift someone up? If so, leave a comment below and tell me about it – those are exactly the kind of ‘war stories’ we need to share.