He is Jealous for Me

“He is jealous for me.”

A line from a song by John Mark McMillan, made famous by Dave Crowder and the Jesus Culture.

“Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exodus 34:14

“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:24

Words spoken by God, made famous by Moses.

A jealous God. An all-consuming fire.

“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the LORD, And righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Psalm 24:3-5

Idols of today are not likely statues or little gold calves. They may be a nice house, a fancy car. A relationship. A certain body size. Food, sex, power, romance. Making God’s unconditional forgiveness & love conditional. Refusing to accept that you are created in His image. Shame, condemnation. Hiding from His love.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…..An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought…. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods

“He is jealous for me.”

As we sang this song today in church, I thought: I want to live a clean life. Pure. I want to be holy, as He is holy. I want my life to be uncluttered, my mind to be clear and confusion-free.

Because He is jealous. Because He is good. Because all I want is all You have.

Freedom Fridays: Spend Time with Freedom Seekers

So far in this Freedom Friday series “Learning to Walk in Freedom”, we’ve talked about:
What is Freedom, part 1 & part 2
Spending Time with the Freedom Giver, part 1 & part 2

Today, we’re going to talk about the importance of spending time with other freedom seekers.

Hebrews 10 says “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

This is the often-quoted verse that many Christians use to say we are required to go to church. And they have a point – we can’t encourage other Christians and spur each other on if we never see each other. But why? Why does God want us to spend time around other believers?

Jesus spent a lot of time telling the disciples how to treat each other and what they could learn from each other, as did the authors of the epistles. There are at least 46 examples of what I refer to as “one another” and “each other” statements in the New Testament, the most common being that we love one another. The Bible repeats over and over that believers must not only love one another, but admonish, submit to, instruct, encourage, offer hospitality to each other. And how do we learn how to do this? In the company of other believers!

But that’s not the only reason the Bible tells us to continue meeting together. Specifically, learning to heal, but also to walk out our freedom, always happens in the context of community. This isn’t something we can learn alone. I think one of the biggest lies the enemy tries to convince us of is that all I need to heal is me & God: no one else. That’s simply not true and frankly, it’s not Biblical. In James 5:16, it says “confess your sins to one another (notice it doesn’t say “To God alone”), and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” It’s talking about believers. There is something about confessing our sins that continues to put the secrecy of sin to death, silences the lies we’re believing about ourselves and about our sin, and ultimately brings healing into our lives.

It’s completely inaccurate to think that the Christian walk is something we can live out in our prayer closets. And, again, not Biblical.

You may be reading this blog not for your own struggle, but because of a loved one who is struggling with a life-controlling issue. This point is just as important to you.

In John 11, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and Lazarus emerged from the tomb, Jesus told those who were there to “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Who was at the tomb? Mary, Martha and a crowd of Jews.

Was it easy for those people to even consider unwrapping Lazarus? Jews were forbidden to touch a dead person, but Jesus saw something quite different.

He saw through the grave clothes

Jesus saw someone who once was dead, but was now alive. He saw a new creation, and He didn’t ask that others be involved in the healing process. He didn’t say, “would you mind taking off his grave clothes?”  He commanded that they be involved. It wasn’t something Lazarus could have done himself. He was still all bound up. So we need to allow other believers to be involved in the healing process. It’s not only Biblical, but God commands it.

Sometimes we try to buck up, be strong, & get through things on our own, but that’s not what God requires of us. Instead, God calls us to be utilize His strength, not our own.  In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about this very concept when God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul says that because of this, he will boast (or confess) “all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  You cannot avoid this concept in the Bible; you will run into it again & again.

So we need other believers – to learn about God, to learn how to love and to bring freedom and healing in our lives. And not just recovery-oriented groups. At the ministry I direct, we have a strong suggestion that, in addition to regular church involvement, people also be involved in a church small group and not another recovery group. We have found that another invaluable component to the healing process. Recovery-oriented groups are not necessarily an accurate representation of what it looks like to build relationships with those outside of recovery-oriented ministries.

Spend time with other freedom seekers. Remember the transparency of Jesus, that there was a level of transparency He reserved only for certain people in His life. Not everyone needs to know all our business, but a few people need to know most of it. Find people who are not afraid to be weak, who talk about sin and struggle in an honest and redemptive way.

I’ve actually written a whole article on how to build healthy relationships. There’s definitely a lot more to be said on this topic, so feel free to read it 🙂

Next week? Act like a free person.

Freedom Fridays: Spend Time with the Freedom Giver, Part 2

As I shared at the end of last week’s post, we’ve got to take the time to listen to & learn about God’s heart. As believers, we have been adopted into God’s family as His children; no concern or desire is too small for God. This has struck on an even deeper level since I had my sons.

Though it can be unbelievably challenging, especially in the early days, there is no joy like having a child. It has really helped me to understand God’s heart for His children in a whole new way. I get so excited about every little thing my kids do. “Oh, my goodness! He stuck out his tongue! Wasn’t that amazing?” “Wow! He’s getting teeth!” “He smiled at me and grabbed my hair!” It’s amazing to think God rejoices over every little discovery and victory in our lives.

I also am amazed at how much I love my kids. So much love for someone who comes into this world, relatively helpless. As infants, babies don’t give us any particularly compelling reason to love them. Yes after my first son was born, I caught myself thinking, “Wow, is this how much my parents love me?” He didn’t do anything to earn or deserve my love, except that he’s my child.

So often we try to earn God’s love by our actions. Or we worry that we’ve lost God’s love when we struggle with sin, doubt, or unbelief. But God simply loves us because we’re His creations, His children. And He loves me (and you!) far more than I could ever love my son. THAT is unfathomable.

We not only to read His Word to learn about Him, but also pray & practice spiritual disciplines. I don’t really have time to go into this topic in depth, but I’ll say a few things.

One of the most important disciplines that can help us get to know God, besides Scripture-reading & prayer is silence & solitude. Ps. 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God”. The Hebrew word for “know” there means “to experience.” If we become still, we can create the space we need to really know God. There are so many things in this world that cry out for our attention, and it can become increasingly difficult to quiet them. We need to still the noise and the clamor and the chatter of our lives and just wait.

We know that even Jesus has short & long periods of silence, solitude, prayer & fasting. You can find little pockets of solitude in your day. Early in the morning when you first wake up. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Since having a baby, sometimes I just sit quietly and take deep breaths as I watch him play. Besides those little pieces, we need to create bigger spaces where we just sit in silence and allow God to work in our lives. We may not hear anything specifically. Actually, we can frustrate ourselves if we try to heard to hear, but our simple prayer can be that God would work into our hearts the knowledge of who He is and who we are in Him.

We don’t have any trouble meditating on things we are passionate about it. If you’re a big Harry Potter fan, did you have to remind yourself that a new movie just came out? Did you have to write yourself a reminder to see it, or put it on your to-do list? No, of course not! In fact, the thought of seeing it was likely consuming much of your thoughts in the days leading up.

Are we that passionate about God and knowing Him deeply? Are we like the church in Ephesus, who was serving God with all their hearts, but had lost a passion and a true love for the reason they were serving? Have we forgotten to take the time to rest in God’s presence, to not only learn to trust Him, but also to allow Him to know us deeply?

You will get to a point in your Christian walk, if you’re not there already, where your motivation for spending time with God is simply because you need it, because you notice the difference in your life when you don’t make the time to spend with Him, praying and reading His Word. Until you reach that point, it’s OK for your motivation to be obedience. Psalm 119:45 says “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” Knowing God’s Word and His principles brings freedom. “Quiet times” or “devotionals” don’t have to look like sitting in a chair & reading the Bible. It could mean taking a prayer hike and listening to the Bible on your iPod. It could mean blasting worship tunes & dancing in your living room. It could mean going to a nursing home & doing a Bible study with some of the residents. Feel free to be creative. Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Pathways, has some great suggestions.

Next week we will talk about the next step in learning to walk in freedom: spending time with freedom seekers.

Did My Sin Cause My Issues? Christian Counseling Snafus

I recently got into a discussion about why I don’t recommend a certain local Christian counseling center.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge advocate of Christian counseling. You can read about that here, here & here. I explain in those testimonies how the 3 years of Christian counseling I sought (after having gone through close to a decade of secular counseling) were life-changing to me.

But I’ve also heard some horror stories of how poorly handled Christian counseling can scar people.

A few years ago, I heard from a friend who went to the above-mentioneds local Christian counseling center. She is someone I know fairly well who is relatively well-adjusted, but went through a challenging time and sought out some counseling. The counselor’s philosophy seemed to be that all of your issues are related to your own sin.

I can’t help but think of the man born blind who was described in the Gospel according to John, chapter 9. The basics of the story were that Jesus was walking along and he ran into a blind man. The disciples wanted to know whose sin caused this man to be blind. The guy’s sin? Maybe his parents?

Jesus’ reply? “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Yet after the man is healed, people keep badgering him. How did this happen? Why did it happen? Who did it & where did He go? Finally the former blind man answered, “Listen, this what I know; I was blind, but now I can see!” You really need to read all of John 9 to get the fullness of this amazing story.

Like Jesus said: “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

What an awesome answer that is! And how particularly relevant it is to those dealing with life-controlling issues. We often dig and dig and dig into our lives and the lives of our family-of-origin to figure out why we are dealing with what we are dealing with. What if it’s simply so God can be glorified? That’s one reason a simple “your sin caused your issues” message is harmful and often wrong theologically.

There’s another reason. Our sinful choices often flow out of a deficit or brokenness in our hearts.

An old friend used to say sin is an attempt to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. Though usually not consciously, we sometimes decide to take our needs into our own hands and meet them as we see fit. We think, “God isn’t going to meet this need, so I’m going to have to meet it myself.” We misunderstand or don’t know the fullness of who we are in Christ and who God truly is. Thus, we make broken choices out of our broken understanding.

Yes, sometimes, even as believers, we sin as an act of rebellion, but I actually think that’s pretty rare. I was making a conscious decision to rebel against God’s best for me when I entered into my last lesbian relationship. But underneath that rebellion was a broken child crying out to her heavenly father, “Are you really enough for me? Can I leave behind everything I’ve known and built my life upon for the unknown that is a relationship with You?” My girlfriend dumped me, and I decided to painstakingly, one-step-at-a-time, choose to trust God.

That’s why I think a simple “your sin caused your issues” message from a Christian counselor (or anyone) is harmful. It’s a total oversimplification. Maybe God wants to be glorified (actually, is there even a question there?). Maybe God wants us to choose to heal our brokenness rather than choose to act out of our brokenness (again, not really a “maybe”).

Check out some suggestions on how to find healing over at Freedom Fridays.

Freedom Fridays: Spend Time with the Freedom Giver, Part 1

The past couple of weeks, I’ve talked about what is freedom, and why I love to talk about it 🙂 This week, we’re going to start to dive into the practical side of learning to walk in freedom.

Spend time with the Freedom Giver.

Before you check out mentally, let me be very clear in saying this is not a post that will say: “If you spent more time with God, you wouldn’t be facing the issues you are.” That’s hogwash. I know LOTS of people dealing with life-controlling issues, particularly those of a sexual nature, have likely been told ad nauseum to pray and read the Bible more. I’ll be the first to say that yes, it’s an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the whole puzzle. In the coming weeks, I will also share that we need to spend time with believers, we need to correctly understand grace, and some other practical tips. But the reason I encourage you to first spend time with the freedom giver is strategic.

I minister primarily to Christians dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction. This is broadening slowly as people approach me outside of the ministry I direct, but this is its primary focus. They come to the ministry because they can’t figure out how to deal with a particular problem/temptation.

Well, there are a few things about approaching your issues in this way that are not super helpful. First, we were never promised a life free of temptation. After all, Jesus was tempted, but did not sin. We’re pretty much promised temptation! It’s how we respond that we have more control over.

Second, when we spend our lives micro-managing a particular struggle, we quickly lose sight of the bigger picture. We are not simply a problem. Our identity is not defined by what we struggle with. Our identity is defined by our Creator. The often-quoted verses in 1 Corinthians 6 list a string of offenders that will not inherit the kingdom of God. And then the punchline: “That is what some of you were”. Our identity doesn’t lie in how our struggle with sin manifests itself anymore! We are new creations. Our identity now rests in God. And all our problems wouldn’t go away if this one problem went away 🙂 We’d just get a new set of problems because we haven’t dealt with the core issues of who we are, who God is, and what true freedom looks like.

Bob Hamp has said that freedom is not the absence of something; it’s the presence of someone. That someone is God. This is so important. This is why we need to spend time with the Freedom Giver! This is where we find out who we are and who He created us to be.

When we begin to follow Jesus Christ, often we talk about how we have a relationship with Christ. And that’s true. Whereas sin used keep us from truly knowing God and being able to be in relationship with Him, Romans 5:1 says that when we “have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” But let’s think about what it really means to be “in relationship” with God.

I use a lot of marriage analogies because I’m married 🙂 I talk to my husband every day. If a day goes by when I don’t get to sit down, look into eyes and talk with him face to face, I miss it. This time is increasingly difficult to find after having 2 kids 🙂 Even though I am in Roy’s presence quite frequently, it’s not the same if I don’t get to sit down and spend time with him, talking to him face to face. In Psalm 139:7-10, it says there is nowhere we can go and NOT be in God’s presence. But while we’re always in His presence, that doesn’t mean we’re actually spending time with Him. We can’t be in a relationship with someone we don’t know. And how do we learn about the Freedom Giver? One primary way is by spending time in His Word.

Being in a relationship with God is all about surrender. In order to completely surrender, we have to grow to trust Him. But we can’t trust someone we don’t know. And in order for us to truly grow in our knowledge of God, we not only need to read the Word; we need to do what it says. James 1: 22-25 says:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

We need to read the Word and do what it says. We’ve got to take the time to listen to & learn about God’s heart. The things He desires for His children -good things! God loves us more than we could fathom & is concerned about our everyday needs in a way that we could not even imagine. No concern or desire is too small for God.

More on this point next week 🙂

Freedom Fridays: What Is Freedom? Part 2

Last week, I started a series called “Freedom Fridays”. Go read Part 1.

A very brief recap:

Why talk about freedom?

Freedom is my anthem – it’s my life’s theme. And the questions that come with the word “freedom” are questions I continually ponder.

I ended last week’s post, sharing that Scripture teaches that freedom is both a one-time gift and a process. The moment we come to Jesus Christ, He gives us freedom through the Holy Spirit, so that we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:17-18). But that freedom is something we need to learn to walk out.

The epistles often use the analogy of the Christian walk being like running a race or training like an athlete, and so I use this analogy: those who will one day become elite athletes have the gifts and natural talents they need to become elite athletes when they are born — but you would never put newborns at the starting line of the Boston marathon and expect to see them at the end. First, they need to learn to walk. Then they can jog. And then run. And the first run they go on will probably not set a world record. They must train to become elite athletes, even though the potential is there.

As believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, it’s the same for us. While in that moment when we first come to Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and we are free in Christ (John 8:36, Galatians 5:1), we still need to learn to walk out that freedom. We need to train ourselves to respond differently than in the past, both in our actions and in our thought lives.

So how do we learn to walk in the fullness of the freedom that is available to all of us?

Next time 🙂

“Talitha koum!" Expelling the Laughers

How do you respond to the laughers in your life?

From Mark 5:

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

*******Skipping ahead*********

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old).

I read these verses when I was in NY at the Exodus Regional Conference. I thought, “How appropriate!” We who are making such counter-cultural choices will often have laughers in our lives; I know I did & still do. Do we respond as Jesus did and put them out? Do we then also surround ourselves by a few close friends who are supportive of our choices to walk in freedom and to choice obedience and holiness? Jesus knew it would be scary. That’s why he encouraged Jairus to not be afraid and to rather actively make a choice to trust in Him.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ promises life-changing transformation. Promises. Choose to trust in the God who calls out over you “Talitha koum: do not be afraid, but rather believe.”