Freedom Fridays: Make It a Break-out Year

It’s Freedom Friday!! And I’m taking yet another break from the series, “Learning to Walk in Freedom”, to talk yet again about the holiday that is upon us.

It’s New Years.

Are you making resolutions this year? Lose weight, quit smoking, cut down on your Starbucks spending….

How about making some freedom resolutions?

Back in 2003 or 2004, I started a new way of creating resolutions (my former pastor’s wife taught me this practice). Rather than focusing on specific things I wanted to change, I started to do the following:

1. Brainstorm the different roles you have in your life. Here are a few examples: wife, mom, friend, musician, child of God, daughter, etc.

2. Pray, and using God’s direction, pick 2-3 that you’d like to work on for the year.

3. Brainstorm statements about what you’d like to improve upon (priorities).

4. Formulate goals accordingly.

Here’s another things I learned. Goals should be SMART:
Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Realistic
Timed

A quick note about goal-setting and figuring out if your goals are “SMART”: try to think about whether or not your goal is something that someone would be able to hold you accountable to. If you say, “I’d like to read the Bible more” or “I’d like to make more Christian friends”, it’s not really measurable or specific enough, so someone wouldn’t be able to hold you accountable to that. But it also needs to be realistic. Saying, “I’m going to read the whole Bible in a day” isn’t really attainable nor is it realistic. Saying, “I’m going to find a weekly Bible study to join in the next 3 months” or “I’m going to read a chapter of the Bible 5 days a week” would fit the SMART model.

Think of a way to frame your goals so that you can assess whether or not you’ve reached them. Some goals may be more general and those are the ones that are more difficult to narrow down. Another question you could ask yourself is what are some practical steps I could take to achieve this goal?

Here are some examples of what I’ve done, in terms of brain-storming roles and making priorities and goals out of them.

For 2005, my focus roles were:
Lover of God
Worshiper
Wife
Healer
Recoverer

Yes, I chose too many, but as the year progressed, it became clear which ones were to be my main focus.

Based on that, my list of priorities:

To Keep my Focus on God:
• In My Actions
• In My Marriage
• In My Recovery
• In My Music and Singing
• In My Work with Others

That year, I ended up really focusing on healing. That focus naturally overflowed into my other relationships and roles. Practically, I focused on healing by growing in my understanding of who God is and who I am as His daughter, through reading the Bible and Christian books, listening to Christian speakers, growing in my friendships and praying. I unfortunately cannot find my specific goals that I set, but you get the picture.

Here’s what I wrote at the end of 2005 as I reflected on my resolutions.

2005 has been a “breakout” year for me, truly. I heard a pastor preach on this theme at the beginning of the year, and I embraced it.

It was a choice.

And it was a hard choice, but healing and victory and joy and freedom are always choices that we can make, if that’s what we truly want. If it’s not what we want, then we will keep making the same mistakes. I decided I didn’t want to live that way anymore. And praise be to God, I’m choosing not to live that way anymore, with God’s help.

When you look toward 2011, what are your hopes and dreams? What are you looking forward to?

Do you want it to be a “break-out” year, like 2005 was for me?

What roles or areas of your life can you focus on in order to make it a break-out year?

Do you need to go to counseling, find a mentor, get a life/freedom coach, join a Bible study or support group, start going to church regularly, pray for God to re-make you, allow His spirit to illuminate who He is in new ways?

In the sermon I referenced above, my pastor played the Switchfoot song, “Dare You To Move“. I wasn’t super-familiar with the song, but I walked away thinking, over and over, “I dare you to move.”

Today you have a choice: to stay stuck in the same place, doing the same things that are not working for you, or you can allow God to move you into true freedom.

I dare you to move.

I dare you to trust that the God of the universe has a vested interest in seeing you learn to walk into freedom.

Make a choice today: to do whatever it takes to make 2011 a break-out year for you.

Freedom Friday: A New & Glorious Morn

Today I’m going to share with you the One Thing that is the key to learning to walk in freedom!

This is not a continuation of last week, but a separate teaching due to the holidays 🙂 When I say “due to the holidays”, what I mean is “due to the fact that I am out of town and left my notes for today’s entry at home.” Then again, I thought it’d be kind of silly to ignore the fact that much of the world is celebrating Christmas tomorrow!

Last year at this time, I published an article entitled “God Gave His Only“. You should read it.

God knew before He created you and me that we’d inherit from our ancestors in the Garden of Eden a propensity to make bad choices, with the complete inability to throw off the chains of struggle.

Before the foundation of time, God devised a master rescue mission. Jesus was not God’s Plan B or C, as my pastor pointed out last week. He was God’s plan A.

My 3 year old son thinks Christmas is all about presents and for the past few weeks has daily presented me with things he cannot live without and must get for Christmas. I realized, quite pitifully, that he had no idea why we even celebrate Christmas in the first place.

Mommy FAIL.

Anyway, we started reading about the birth of Jesus in his kid’s Bible. For the first time, I noticed that little manger packed with straw and it really struck me: Jesus was a baby.

Mary pushed that baby out the old-fashioned way with no epidural or fetal monitoring in a barn with animals and their poo hanging out everywhere.

I’m sure this struck me as especially interesting because I had a c-section with my 3 year-old and a homebirth with my youngest. I had people ask me if having a baby at home is sanitary. More sanitary than a barn!

Anyway, Jesus was a baby. He cried when He needed His mom (contrary to what “Away in a Manger” says), He was breastfed, He had poopy diapers. For years, He needed adults to meet His every need.

Jesus could have easily come as a full-grown man. He was God, after all. He could have floated down from the clouds and made quite an entrance for Himself!

Instead, as my acquaintance Alicia Britt Chole says, Jesus had 30 hidden years (get the book with your Christmas money) during which He knew His call & His purpose, yet He lived a life that looked pretty normal from the outside – and did not sin.

Jesus was God’s plan A for learning to walk in freedom.

God saw that people He loved were drowning in their sin. Because of His great love for His creation, because of His compassionate heart for His children. He knew that it would be painful for both God the Father and Jesus His Son, but He did it anyway. He spared no expense, but extravagantly gave His only; He did what needed to be done in order for us to have the opportunity to be reconciled to Him, the chance to live in freedom, once and for all.

As The Message says, “Christ has set us free to live a free life.”

As we meditate on the birth of the Freedom Giver, let us reflect on the words of this song that are heavy on my heart:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Jesus, in His birth, His life, in His death and in His resurrection, gives us the opportunity to become recreated into the person He designed us to be. Because of Him, we can walk into “a new and glorious morn”: an abundant life of true freedom.

“Let all within us praise His holy name.”

Freedom Fridays: Act Like a Free Person, Part 2

Freedom Fridays: Act Like a Free Person, Part 1

Recap: we as believers should not be surprised when we fall into old habits and patterns. That’s why I call it “learning to walk in freedom”. We need to proactively make choices to act like a free person.

Acting like a free person means in those “moments of maybe”, as a former pastor called them, those moments where we are tempted:
Tempted to sin
Tempted to see ourselves in any other way than how God sees us
Tempted to believe the lies and fall back into old patterns, tempted to take our unhealthy/unhelpful thoughts and run with them

In those moments, we choose to act like a free person.

A free person would realize the temptation she is experiencing is common to man. That person would choose to act as if she were free rather than act as if she is still enslaved to that temptation and has to give in.

A free person would say to that dark thought, “That’s not what Jesus says about me!” A free person would say to that boundary violation “I will leave the room if you continue to speak to me that way.” A free person would say, “In the past, my emotions have felt overwhelming, so rather than choose to feel them, I choose to medicate my emotions through food, sex, power, escape. I can make different choices today, knowing that I can experience these emotions and they won’t kill me because I can handle anything with the Freedom Giver and other Freedom Seekers at my side.”

So you see this isn’t just about saying no to sin. It’s about saying no to bondage in all its forms and saying yes to throwing off the chains.

Don’t forget it’s a process. We’re back to the analogy of training, running a race. When we were slaves to sin, our body and mind was trained that, when faced with temptation, we sin, we give in to the negative thoughts, we let our boundaries be trampled on. So like an athlete needs to discipline himself or herself to train, whereas it feels much more natural to sit on the couch and watch TV, we too need to train and discipline ourselves so that when we are faced with temptation, we, like Joseph when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him as told in Genesis 39, flee the scene rather than give in to old habits and say yes.

We read this in Romans 6: “From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did. That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.”

There are a million different reasons why we choose to old behaviors/patterns/choices rather than choosing to act free. It’s not just because it feels good or natural. We sin because we have emotions, feelings & experiences that we have trouble dealing with. We sin because we lack coping mechanisms. We sin to avoid uncomfortable feelings. We feel lonely, we feel rejected,, we feel unlovable – so we go out & try to hook up with someone. The feelings are still there, but we get to escape them for awhile. We sin – because we’re used to the chaos.

So when we start taking a risk & saying no to our old nature, these feelings will come up & we need to make sure we have a support system in place to deal with them. I heard someone who struggled with same-sex attraction share in his testimony that he would go to his counseling appointments, feel all these overwhelming feelings, and on the way home, he’d hook up with someone. Finally, he contacted a friend and said, “Look, I just need someone to hang out with me for a couple hours after my appointment.” We need to learn appropriate self-care.

Next week we’ll find out the freedom step that makes it easier to say no to the old nature.

Keeping Feelings in Their Proper Place

On Saturday, I started thinking about Tuesday. That’s today, December 14, the day on which in 2002, I married my husband. The day on which in 2008, I found out I was pregnant with Bunny Boo, the baby who was born much too early and straight into God’s arms.

I don’t know why God allowed those two dates to be the same. It’s one of many times in my life that a date has significance for multiple reasons. Another example is the day Bunny Boo passed away: 4 weeks after we learned of his existence. It was on the same date my father’s parents, my grandparents, passed away, except my pebble baby died 1 year after my grandmother died and 40 years after my grandfather (my grandparents died on the same date, 39 years apart). And then my baby JJ, who wouldn’t have been born had Bunny Boo survived, is now 1. He was born on the same date that my aunt, the sister of my grandmother, passed away, just 1 year later.

I can’t say why God allows dates to line up like that. In this case, maybe He didn’t want me to forget. But on Saturday, I started feeling quite sad and very sorry for myself.

Then I decided to take some of my own advice. I decided to allow my feelings to be indicators rather than dictators.

I could allow myself to feel my feelings without choosing to wallow and drown in them.

It is absolutely OK for me to be sad that I lost a child. Absolutely. But often we start to feel bad and then we analyze and rationalize all the reasons we are feeling bad. We stare deeply into our feelings, gazing into each cell and picking apart every nook and cranny. We choose to dive straight into self-pity rather than allowing God into those moments: not only to give us insight but to allow them to be redeemed.

Deeply feeling our emotions is part of the healing process. But it’s not the end. Sometimes we have to stay in that place for a little while in order to learn that our feelings are valid, as many of us have been told time and time again not only to ignore and deny our feelings, but also that our feelings, our emotions, our reactions are just too big and too much.

That said, as much as we do want to recognize how we are feeling, we need to remember that our feelings are valid as indicators. If we dwell there too long, we can allow them to transform into dictators.

Today on this beautiful and painful anniversary, I will allow myself to feel my feelings, but I won’t permit them to engulf me. Instead, I can acknowledge that my feelings of grieve can coexist with my feelings of rejoicing in all this day encompasses.

Freedom Fridays: Act Like a Free Person, Part 1

What have we covered so far in Freedom Fridays?

Intro: What is Freedom? Part 1 & Part 2

1. Spend Time with the Freedom Giver: Part 1 & Part 2

2. Spend Time with Freedom Seekers

PSA: I Am Not a Superhero

And today: Act Like a Free Person

It may seem pretty basic, but part of learning to walk in freedom is choosing to act like a free person.

We’ve already talked about freedom being a one-time gift and a process. 2 Peter 1:3 says that “His (Jesus) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” Everything we need – and not just for life, but also for godliness.

Galatians 5:24 says that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh (or sinful nature) with its passions and desires. It doesn’t say “are in the process of crucifying the flesh” or “will someday master crucifying the flesh”, but it says it has already been crucified!

Lest you think this is a typo of some sort or a copying error, remember Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Jesus Himself said in John 8:36 “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

Galatians 5:13 says that the reason God called us was to be free, not so that we would struggle through life, just barely holding on till heaven.

Romans 6:6 says “knowing this, that 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.” Verse 17 says we used to be slaves to sin, and verse 18 goes on to say that “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

So now that I’ve bombarded you with Scriptures stating that we are now free and no longer slaves in our sinful desires, you may either be feeling 1) empowered or more likely 2) defeated and discouraged. Either way, please keep reading! There is a way out of the cycle of sin.

If this is really true, if I’m really a free person, why do I continue to act as if I am enslaved to sin?

Shouldn’t it be easier, when we are faced with temptation, to just say no and walk away? Why did Paul even talk about, in Romans 7 directly after writing all these verses about not being a slave to sin, his struggle with doing what he didn’t want to do?

I remember a former pastor of mine sharing a story about elephants. I used to think it was about chickens, so if you heard me speak, this is the story I used to share about chickens. But my husband said it was actually about elephants and now it makes a lot more sense!

So, back to the story. In the circus, a common way to train elephants is to tie them with strong ropes to a sturdy pole. The elephants are tied to the pole when they are very young and quite small. Naturally, they initially fight being tied to the pole, but eventually resign themselves to the fact that they cannot get free.

As the elephant grows, the pole and rope stay the same size. Though the animal has everything in him that he needs to break free, he stills acts as if he is in bondage to this pole & rope. The elephant is so used to being enslaved to the pole that he never takes the time to try and see if he could be free.

We as believers often act the same way. We are so used to responding to the desires of our flesh that we don’t realize we can make different choices. We can act like a free person.

Let me share another analogy. Imagine that a person who has walked with a limp his whole life finds out there is a procedure available to correct that limp. He has the surgery, but he is so used to walking with a limp that he needs to undergo physical therapy to relearn how to walk.

Therefore, we as believers should not be surprised when we fall into old habits and patterns. That’s why I call it “learning to walk in freedom”. We need to proactively make choices to act like a free person.

And with that, stay tuned for the conclusion of this next week 🙂

Freedom Fridays: I’m Not a Superhero

I’m taking a break from today’s scheduled Freedom Friday post to do a public service announcement of sorts.

There are 2 issues I wanted to address in this blog post that have more to do with my story and my personality than really the topic of freedom. So bear with me 🙂

First, you may have noticed that when I write, I speak very matter-of-factly. I think sometimes I likely come across as unfeeling – or even worse, I come across as if I think the things I’m saying are easily done or achieved. That I’ve somehow “arrived.”

That’s not it at all.

I’m still growing as a writer and figuring out how to let more of my personality come out in these blog posts. If you’ve heard me speak, I share lots of personal stories; I’m told I’m good at laughing at myself (I think that’s a compliment!). Those things are much easier for me to work in to my teachings as I speak than they are for me to work in to teachings as I type.

That said, I do feel I’ve written lots of articles (such as Bye Bye Pebble Baby) where I’m pretty free with sharing my life and my heart. I need to go back through and add some personal stories and anecdotes to my Freedom Fridays 🙂

Second, I am not a superhero. News Flash, I know 🙂 But I do find that some people look at me that way. The reason I am sometimes idealized is the same reason I was drawn to Keith Green during the period of time when I became a believer. I thought Keith Green was awesome, authentic, passionate, had an amazing heart, and he had something I desperately needed. So on that night in January of 1999, I wasn’t all that sure what that “something” was, yet my declaration was simple: I want what Keith has.

I know the life I live and the things I have overcome are like a breath of fresh air to many. I have come out of and overcome many thing – big things: same-sex attraction, self-injury, disordered eating, to name a few.

I’m still coming out of and overcoming other things – things that don’t seem as “big,” but can be far more insidious: selfishness, impatience, envy, greed, resentment, bitterness, entitlement, pride. just to name a few.

I may not be a superhero, but Jesus is. That’s what I’ve been telling my 3 year-old, who is in love with all things superhero. I’m not sure he understands completely, as he still thinks “Jesus died on the crosswalk,” but we’re working on it.

In all seriousness, though, it’s perfectly Biblical to, as Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” the original superhero. It’s just important to recognize that while I may be further down the journey of freedom than you are, I’m still just a human being, like all believers, who has been empowered to be free by a supernatural God. The promise of the Gospel is life-changing transformation. That’s available not just to me, but ALL believers.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

If you want what I have, it is available for you. Press on and take hold of it.

Remember that “freedom is not the absence of something; it’s the presence of someone.” Bob Hamp. Ask the Freedom Giver to continue to reveal Himself to you as only He can.