Freedom Friday: Are You Being Honest?

We have a serious problem in the church today.

We lie to each other.

We lie every time that we feel deeply broken and in pain, and yet we say we’re fine.

We lie every time we skip church because we don’t want to face the question, “How are you?”

We lie every time someone opens up about a struggle and, because of pride and fear, we pat them on the back, saying, “I’ll pray for you, friend!” rather than sharing how we’ve faced a similar struggle.

We lie to each other.

In Russell Willingham’s amazing book, Relational Masks, he addresses the core beliefs that make us feel as if we must put on our smiles and act as if everything is OK.

One major core belief is this: If I am honest, I will be abandoned. 

Shame runs deep. It began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve tried to cover up the truth for their all-knowing Creator. If Adam and Eve struggled with honesty in their relationship with God, how much more so do we need to fight against this tendency in our lives.

Russell Willingham stated this in a teaching I once heard: we demonstrate the above core belief by always putting our best foot forward and never letting anyone see our weaknesses. We have this secret fear that if we’re honest about how deep the brokenness goes, we’ll be thrown out on our ears.

A lot of these core beliefs are based on experiences we’ve actually lived through. Some of our families would shut down our honesty. We’ve shared our struggles and experienced rejection. Thus, we don’t risk with people. We’re always respectable. We act like we have it all together.

Paul address in the church in Ephesus. “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25). You can read the context of the passage here. Paul was giving the believers instructions on new ways of living and interacting.

Paul was basically telling Christians to stop lying to each other. 

Because that’s our tendency. Our tendency, since the Garden, is to hide. Hide our sin, hide our brokenness, hide our shame. Act as if we’ve got it all together and we don’t need help.

Russell Willingham states that we need a commitment to truth-telling in our lives.

What have you gained, spiritually, by being dishonest?

With God?
With your friends?
With those around you who can help you?

Why do we put on our smiling faces and go to church when we are totally broken inside? Or worse yet, skip church all together during those tough weeks?

I know from my own life and years of ministry, we have a desperate need to be seen. That is the imprint of God within our hearts. He did not create us for isolation. He created us for love, acceptance and support in the safety of authentic, healthy community. He deposited in us a need for affirmation, for honesty, for the freedom that is found when we bring our struggles to the light.

Here’s the thing: not everyone can handle honesty. And not everyone has earned a place of trust in our lives that we should tell them our struggles. Remember Jesus’ example of 3 intimate friends and 9 other good friends. So you may have to go to a number of people before you find a safe place to share your heart. But it’s worth the risk. You were created for relationship. God designed freedom, healing and growth to happen in the context of community.

Will you take a risk today? Would you risk being honest, and, in the process, risk finding the freedom you long for?

Freedom Friday: Avoiding Moral Failure

This is a topic that has been brewing in my mind for a while. This is due in part to things I’ve been reading in the Bible (Isaiah, Acts & James right now, with a little of Hezekiah’s story mixed in), assignments I’ve been working on for grad school (a big essay on plagiarism), and partly because of life events I see occurring around me.

I also just needed to write this for me. It’s a timely reminder that we don’t just “fall into” sin. We will sin. Otherwise, we’d be perfect like Jesus 🙂 But there is a difference in the way various sins impact your faith and your life. I may lose my temper with my spouse today, and that may break trust a little momentarily (especially if it’s a pattern of mine), but if I were to have an affair, that changes our relationship in a different way.  All sin may be equal in the eyes of God (in the sense that there aren’t particular sins that are more difficult for Him to forgive or required Him to hang from the cross longer), but some sins are inherently different because of the way they impact our lives.

There are things we can do to actively avoid finding ourselves in major situations of compromise. Here are some suggestions.

1. Be watchful over your thoughts
Your thoughts matter. Proverbs 23:7 says “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

In the article 5 Lies that Lead to an Affair, author Julie Ferwerda shares her experiences about how she ended up choosing to have an affair. She writes, “Few people fall into adultery overnight. As with other ‘big’ sins, having an affair is usually the result of a series of small compromises in our thoughts, choices, and behaviors.” And the place it began for her was in her thoughts.

It begins with a thought, a temptation. Temptation isn’t sin, as I’ve written before. It’s our choice to nurture that temptation that can become sin, rather than choosing to lay it before the Lord.

One of the Freedom Steps is Think Like a Free Person. I share there how God commands us to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. The battle of freedom is a battle that begins in our minds.  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV1984)

Be watchful over your thoughts.

2. Be honest with your intentions
James says that we have “evil desires at war within you” James 4:1 (NLT). Believers are not immune from this. James writes earlier in his letter, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15 (NIV1984)We need to dig deep inside of ourselves and pray that God would help us be honest about our intentions in every challenging situation.Toward the end of 1999, I had been a Christian less than a year when I met a girl who had been raised in a Christian home but whose family had walked away from God. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could do that, and I desperately wanted to help her. I do believe that initially, my intentions were pure; however, my resolve for purity quickly faded, and we entered into a physical relationship.

Jeremiah writes (17:9 NLT), “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

I wanted this woman to know Jesus, but I was still deeply broken beyond my own understanding. This is why I wrote Who’s Got Your Back? The disciples went out two by two for a reason. This is why we need community, to lay ourselves as honestly as we can before others, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13), including truth about ourselves.

Be honest with your intentions.

3. Be upfront about your actions
I don’t like the phrase we often use in Christianity to describe our sinful actions. We say we “had a fall” or we “stumbled.” To me, those phrases do not take responsibility for the choices and compromises that led to that “fall.” It’s not as if we are walking down a path and all of a sudden, sin jumps out and grabs us! No. That’s in direct contradiction to the end of 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT): “When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

In the relationship mentioned above, I didn’t simply “fall” into it. I made a series of questionable choices (not all of them sinful) that ultimately led to grave sin. This is why we need to, once again, stay connected to believers, honestly sharing about our choices and actions, and even the things we are thinking of doing.

Be upfront about your actions.

4. Be desperate for the Lord
God is able. Really. He is able. He is strong enough, He is big enough, He is loving enough. He is enough. Say it with me: He is enough.
So often we live our lives, making our plans, living as we wish (and not even in a sinful way, necessarily), inviting God in occasionally. We simply forget to include God in every decision, every thought, every actions.

We need to cling to God as if our lives depended on it – because they do. “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus said (John 15:5).

Later in James 4:4b-5 (NLT), James writes, for emphasis, “I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful? He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires.”

Sin is crouching at our doors, always (Gen. 4:7). Through God’s strength and power, we can subdue it and be its master.

“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be dismayed. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will triumph.” Isaiah 50:7

Satan deceives; that’s his nature. Sin is always crouching at the door, desirous of us. Yet we can receive God’s help, determine to do His will, and know we will triumph.

Lord, help us.

Freedom Friday: Who’s Got Your Back?

I’m reading the book of Acts right now.

In Acts 10, Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman army officer (in other words, a Gentile, not a Jew), saw an angel who told him to send men to Joppa to find Simon Peter. The next day, Peter has this vision:

[Peter] saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners.12 In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”  

“No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”

But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.

The scriptures go on to say that Peter was perplexed: what did this all mean?  Then Cornelius’ servants arrived. After confirming that Peter was the man they were looking for, we read this in verse 23:

So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

Despite having a vision that was clearly from the Lord, Peter used much wisdom in deciding not to travel alone (in Acts 11:12, we learn it’s 6 men).  What he felt God was proposing seemed contrary to what he knew.

He wanted some trusted brothers there to have his back.

The concept of having others come alongside in the spreading of the Gospel, as well as walking with God, was not new, of course.  In Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1, Jesus sent the disciples out two by two.  Several times in Scripture, the importance of several witnesses is emphasized, both for confirming a crime or an accusation (Deuteronomy 17:6, Matthew 18:16, 1 Timothy 5:19), and as well as for confirming prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:29).

But why is this important?

1. There is safety in numbers.
Jesus told the disciples, as He sent them out two by two, “Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). The disciples didn’t know what they’d encounter out there.  Since our recent move, we now live in an area with few streetlights and incomplete sidewalks.  At our old home, I ran in the dark without fear because there were always cars passing by as I ran on well-lit streets with wide sidewalks.  Here, I run with a buddy.

When Peter returned from Cornelius’ house, he was criticized by some of the Jewish believers for his actions (Acts 11:2). Peter was able to tell them, with the agreement of the brothers who had been with him, what God had done.  He had witnesses to God’s work who had his back.

2. There is strength in prayer support.
Paul asked often in his letters to the churches that they pray for him.  Prayers that doors would be opened to the gospels.  Prayers that Paul would declare the Gospel clearly and fearlessly.  Prayers that he would be rescued.  The author of Hebrews requested prayer that he would be restored to them soon.

Paul prayed of the Ephesians church: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:16-17a).

There is strength is having others come alongside and pray for you: for your growth, for your kingdom work, for healing, and for support.

3. There is comfort in companionship.
Paul often sent believers to various churches to encourage and uplift them.  Here is one example:

“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow workerand fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.  Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.  Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.” Philippians 2:25-28

And another:

“Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything…. I am sending him to you for this very purpose…… that he may encourage you.” Ephesians 6:21-22

Paul also requests that people come to him.  He asks for Titus in Titus 3.  He tells Timothy, “do your best to come to me quickly,” he tells Timothy (2 Timothy 4:9), and then lists several people who have deserted and harmed him.  And then he said, “Do your best to get here before winter” (v.21). 
Timothy, my dear apprentice and friend, so many have deserted me, but I know you are faithful. I need you.

Who has got your back?

Freedom Friday: Invest in Intimacy

If you Google “intimacy with God”, there are 576,000 results. That’s a lot of people who are thinking about what it means to have an intimate relationship with our Creator. They want to know what this is, what it looks like and how to get there.

Think of someone in your life with whom you have an intimate relationship. I’m speaking of emotional intimacy, not physical intimacy. How did you develop that intimacy?
Time, time, time.
And then some more time.
I know. I saw you cringe; you wanted an easier answer. But it’s true.
How did you develop an intimate friendship with someone? You spent time with them. You invested life in them. You were intentional about making space for them in your life. And it took a while, right?
Developing an intimate relationship with Jesus takes time and effort. We need to grow not only in our knowledge of God, but in the ways we relate to Him.
“You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.” Psalm 139:3 (NASB)
God is intimately acquainted with our ways, and wants us to be intimately acquainted with His. How do we do this? Here are some possible ways to develop intimacy with God.
1. Read the Gospels.
One way we can invest in intimacy is to see how others invested in intimacy. How did the disciples develop their relationship with Jesus and how did Jesus develop His relationship with the disciples? Notice what both Jesus and the disciples say, see, experience and feel in the gospel accounts. Put yourself in their shoes as they walk along. Notice the things that Jesus says about life with Him and what it looks like. Notice the ways that Jesus reflects our Father.
2. Practice stillness, silence and solitude.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10
Make it a practice to sit quietly during your intentional times with God. Listen with expectation. Wait. Pause. Breathe.
Consider taking a silent retreat. Or create intentional times of solitude in your daily life. We read in the gospels that Jesus did this.
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (NIV1984)
If He needed it, then we certainly do to.
3. Talk to God.
Talk to God? Do I mean “pray?” Yes & no. Talking to God is part of prayer, but I think prayer for us can sometimes look like giving God our laundry list of daily requests or crying out in a time of desperation.
This is not what I’m talking about.
Think of it this way. Imagine a good friend of yours, someone you speak with regularly. Imagine your day, the things you text to each other, or the funny stories that remind you of this friend.
Now imagine that friend to be Jesus. Talk with Him as if you were talking on the phone with that friend. Tell Him the funny stories or the little things that happen. Share with Him your thoughts, dreams and fears. Pause and listen and wait for His response.
Our God is a jealous God. He desires to work and reign in every area of our lives. Ask God to open your heart and reveal to you areas where you need to draw closer to Him. We need to be jealous of our time with Him, just like we intentionally carve out time for a friend, a spouse or our kids.
Pause. Talk to Him. Read about Him. Listen. Invest in intimacy.

Freedom Friday: Living a Healthily Transparent Life

Is my life healthily transparent?

This question popped into my mind this week. I had listened to a leadership teaching on finding the balance in being healthily vulnerable and transparent, and it brought to mind how much I have changed.

If you had met me 13 years ago, by the end of our first few months of friendship (and possibly the first few minutes), I would have likely shared what a challenging life I had, all of my current struggles and all the things I thought I had overcome. This would have included intimate details of trials, abuses against me, the many therapists I saw, and tons of “woe is me” moments.

Within a few months of becoming a Christian, I became much more guarded, to the point of hiding. I lived in terror that people in the church would think I wasn’t a real believer based on the things I thought and struggled with.

Recalling all this made me ask the question: how do we go about finding a healthy balance of transparency and privacy?

1. Know Your Own Worth.
As believers, our worth is defined by the cross. It’s not defined by anything we’ve accomplished, but rather, by what Jesus accomplished.

Sometimes we hold things too tightly to ourselves because we are afraid. Afraid of being “found out” as a fraud (as in my story about my resurfacing struggle with same-sex attraction in 2005). Afraid of being rejected. Afraid…..of the unknown, as I discuss in this blog post.

Some of these fears are certainly warranted. The world is full of imperfect people who may respond imperfectly to whatever you share. But when your worth is defined by the cross and who God says you are as His adopted child, it allows us to respond in a healthy and godly way to any real or perceived rejection or “brush-off”.

Other times, we hold things too loosely. When I became a Christian, I visited the Christian group at the college I was attending and was invited to Bible study. The Bible study leader invited me to lunch beforehand, to get to know me better. Oh, boy, was she in for a surprise! I told her all my business and then some! In fact, I shared so much that she asked one of the other group leaders who knew me better, “Is Brenna always that open?”

I did this because I was so sure she would reject me for my sordid past that I figured I might as well get it over with first thing. Her response? “OK! Bible study is at 5 PM on Tuesdays. Can’t wait to see you there!”

As you can see, oversharing and undersharing can be two sides of the same coin and are often rooted in the same fears. Knowing our worth needs to be the foundation of who we are and how we live. It helps us to have wisdom and discernment in the choices we make about sharing life with others.

2. Know the Worth of Others
Often times, we talk about “normal people” and put those people on a pedestal. We think that “normal people” wouldn’t understand our struggles, or will judge us.

No one is normal; “normal people” only exist in our imagination. As I heard someone once say, normal is a setting on the dryer. Everyone has something that they’d rather others not know. The ground at the foot of the cross is level. The same blood that was spilled for you was spilled for all those “normal people”.

Another thing to consider is how you react to others sharing. If you are asking people to accept you “as is” without judgment, are you willing to do the same?

3. Strive for Balance
We will make mistakes as we try to find the middle ground in healthy transparency. There are some questions we can ask ourselves as we try to be balanced.

If you tend toward sharing too much of yourself too soon, ask yourself: has this person earned the right to this information? If you just met them, the answer is likely no. Trust is built with time, and the more intimate details of your life should be shared with those who have proved themselves to be trustworthy.

If you tend toward sharing too little, ask: am I holding this information back due to fear? Is what I’m feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but I’m not responding due to my own insecurities?

I now try to live with healthy transparency. This is my life, and these are my stories. I can choose to share them, or choose not to. I try to live with a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and an openness to sharing parts of my life and journey if that might be helpful to someone.

Are you living your life with healthy transparency today?

Freedom Friday: Are Goals Necessary?

Happy Freedom Friday to all my readers!

I was asked yesterday when I began Freedom Friday. October 29, 2010: What is Freedom, Part 1. We’ve been seeking God and learning to walk in freedom together for over 15 months now!

Freedom Friday is a toddler. Aw 🙂

I’m going to be doing a series of posts to encourage you as you pursue your priorities and goals based on your focus roles for 2012. Today, we’ll be examining whether or not goals are really necessary in the journey toward freedom.

This may seem like an odd question after last week’s post. Here’s why I started pondering this question.

I read something yesterday that was very anti-setting goals called How to Have the Best Year of Your Life (without Setting a Single Goal). The author implies that setting goals is setting yourself up to fail. In fact, he goes so far as to say “Resolutions are pipe dreams, and goals are a waste of time.”

In some ways, I agree.

As I mentioned previously, I have been setting goals for years. Years. Many of them had to do with time management, weight management, health, fitness, and Bible reading. Most years, I didn’t even accomplish half of those goals.

I had to ask myself why? What has been the difference in those years when I did accomplish my goals?

One thing I could agree on with the article was that goals really need to be about developing new disciplines. If the goal alone is what is motivating you, then you may be setting yourself up to fail.

Saying, “I want to lose 50 lbs” is likely not good enough. Why? Why do you want to lose weight? And what disciplines are you planning on developing to accomplish that goal? If this is a recurring goal in your life, what have you done in the past that has worked and what hasn’t worked?

I started running seriously because I lost a significant amount of weight and wanted to keep it off. This was only motivating for a short time. I continued running because I wanted to see how far I could go and how hard I could push myself. I now run not only for the physical exercise, but for the mental clarity I gain while running.

One of my goals for 2012 is to run through the winter (something I’ve never done), even when it’s wicked cold. I hit one level of that goal this week, when it was 8 degrees, feels like -7. I ran 8 miles.

Notice the frost covering my whole head and the icicles on my eyelashes.

Keeping the weight off is not enough of a motivator to drag myself out of bed at 5 AM and run 8 miles in the freezing cold. I do it because I’m headed toward a goal, the goal being not only to train myself to run in the wicked cold, but also to shave 30 seconds off my half-marathon pace.

I frequently discuss having SMART goals. Creating SMART goals gives you a destination to reach and a way to measure whether or not you’ve reached it.

The ironic thing is that many of my goals & priorities this year are not SMART. The ones related to running that I shared here are, but many of the rest (which I will share in a future post) are not. They are not measurable. They cannot be timed. And they really aren’t very specific. Rather, they are focused on making some small adjustments in the way I live and how I spend my time that I hope will have a great impact in refining some areas of my life.

This is where I can agree with the article above about creating new disciplines.

A 2012 goal is to read and complete 25 books. This is a means to an end. The end is not being able to say “I read 25 books”; the end is that I want to spend less time on my computer and my iPhone. I also have a pile of half-finished books I want to complete, as well as a mammoth stack of books I’ve gotten off of Paperback Swap (fantastic resource, by the way!) that I genuinely want to read but have not made the time for.

These two factors together, I have books I want to read and I want to limit my internet time, are both motivators to read those books and create a new discipline of reading regularly, something I’ve struggled with since having kids.

So, are goals necessary? Maybe not for everyone. I like to have priorities to focus on with a few specific goals mixed in. I can’t completely agree that goals are a waste of time, but I can absolutely agree that one way to shape your goals and choose them is by focusing on who you want to become. Creating good, sustainable habits as well as shaping new disciplines that you enjoy is a step in this direction.

On that note, here is a blog post about six keys to achieving big goals from one of my favorite bloggers, Michael Hyatt (I’ve mentioned him before). And here’s a post of his on How To Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick which discusses the importance of having SMART goals.

And a close-up of the partially defrosted eyelashes after they had been inside for a few minutes:

Freedom Fridays: Learning to Walk in Freedom Wrap Up

Today, we’re wrapping up the “Learning to Walk in Freedom” series. If you click on that link to read the series, make sure you scroll to the very end to start, as the posts are in reverse order.

What have we covered so far in “Learning to Walk in Freedom“?

Intro: What is Freedom?
1. Spend Time with the Freedom Giver
2. Spend Time with Freedom Seekers
3. Act
4. Understand Grace
5. Think Like a Free Person

This list is by no means exhaustive, nor is it intended to be a list of “the keys” to walking in freedom. These are simply some truths that have helped me and others as we desire to walk in the fullness of all that Jesus died to give us.

We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to walk in freedom. Whatever it takes! If you struggle with pornography, put a filter on your computer, or install Covenant Eyes or a similar software, which reports all the sites you view to one or two accountability people in your life.

Can’t think of anyone to hold you accountable? Then disconnect the Internet at your house or on your phone. Go to the library to check your e-mail.

You’re probably thinking, “Now, that’s just unrealistic.” Remember, we lived for centuries without e-mail, and even as recently as 10 or 15 years ago, it was something only a few people could access from their homes. Some people still don’t have email! Shocking, I know 🙂

Some people I know can’t even watch secular TV or listen to secular music because the themes are triggers for them.

I’m talking about taking drastic measures! If you’re not willing to do whatever it takes, then you don’t really want freedom in your life.

That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth.

At an Exodus conference, I heard a speaker share that she made a list of 20 people she could call if she was having a “Moment of Maybe” as described in “Act like a Free Person, Part 2“. She wrote it in order of how well she knew these people, 1 being her closest friend and 20 being a good acquaintance. One day during such a moment, she called through the entire list. No one answered. She started calling through the list again. #14 picked up. She said, “I’m calling because I’m struggling with temptation right now and just needed to tell someone. Could you ask me tomorrow if I need good choices for the rest of the day?” She didn’t need to go into details, but she needed to reach out and be honest with someone.

I know a grown man who would give his car keys to his dad or his accountability partner and would have to tell them where he wanted to go and basically ask them permission to use his own car. Why? Because he struggled with acting out sexually. He took drastic measures!

I remember being at an event with an ex-girlfriend who made it very clear that she would like to “get back together”. As soon as I got home, I called a friend and let her know what happened, lest I be tempted to do anything. It was like 1 or 2 in the morning, but I didn’t care. My relationship with God was just more important.

You may be thinking, “That’s fine for you, Brenna, but you don’t know how dirty and ugly my struggles are.” Please don’t tell me that you can’t tell anyone, that no one would understand, or that you’re too embarrassed or ashamed of your struggles to bring accountability into your life. Those things may feel true to you, but you are in essence saying that you are unwilling to do what God says is necessary for walking in freedom.

I do get it. Not only did I struggle with same-sex attraction for years, I had an eating disorder where I was addicted to laxatives (talk about gross) and I self-injured. I cut myself with anything I could get my hands on, and when I decided that was just not acceptable, I punched things, punched myself and banged my head against walls.

Talk about ugly!

But I came to the point where I just didn’t care what anyone thought about me. I could not live this way anymore – my desire for experiencing freedom in my life began to outweigh any shame or embarrassment I felt. I was tired of struggling. And I became more disgusted by the sin in my life than I was concerned about what anyone thought about me.

Ultimately, it only matters what Jesus thinks about me and how I present myself to Him today and on judgment day.

Are we willing to do Hebrews 12, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Free people do whatever it takes to become free and remain free. Whatever it takes. Jesus did whatever it took. He gave up everything.

It’s OK to not quite be there yet. When I started to recover from my eating disorder, I prayed, “God, help me want to recover.” The reality was I knew that recovery would be difficult and lengthy, that I would gain weight, and that I would have to deal with all the pain and hurt I was avoiding by abusing my body. I didn’t want that. Who in their earthly selves would? So I prayed, “God, help me to want recovery. Help me desire You.”

God gave His only Son for you, for your freedom. Tasting freedom will eventually be so much more satisfying than a life of bondage.

God wants us to experience freedom, the freedom that is available to all of us through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

Pray this with me.
God, you know where my heart is today. You know the doubts and the fears and the struggles. Help me desire freedom. Give me the willingness to do whatever it takes to follow You and to experience all You have for me. Help me recognize the lies and replace them with truth. Forgive me for not relying on Your grace, but instead relying on my own strength and effort. Forgive me for my unwillingness to take drastic measures, for making excuses, for hiding from You and Your healing and love. I need You. Your Word say when I am weak, You are strong and that in Your strength, I can do all things. I need You. I desperately need You. Be Lord of my life today and every day. In Jesus’ mighty, powerful, holy name, I pray. Amen.

Do Today’s Christians Idealize the Early Church?

Some friends and I have been discussing a blog post of John Piper’s entitled Don’t Equate Historically Early with Theologically Accurate

I am neither endorsing or not endorsing (what’s the opposite of endorsing? rejecting? disapproving? anyway…) John Piper or what he has to say in his blog post. But it got me thinking:

Do today’s Christians idealize the early church?

I just began reading the book of Acts again (prior to that, I read all the gospels), so this question really hit home for me.

I think many Christians do try to “reclaim” the early church by trying to create a church service or environment that looks like what they perceive the early church to have looked like. So they meet in homes, sometimes without a formal leader, focus on the book of Acts and the epistles, abandon a lot of the structure and programs that have come to mean “church” today. I’ll be upfront and say I am not at all “anti-house church”. Not at all. I am aware of some of the dangers (many do not have strong oversight and accountability, for one) as well as the benefits (many don’t have a set leader, so all input is valued, family worship is encouraged, to name a few).

But I think trying to recreate the early church environment is missing the point.

I have been reading about Amy Carmichael, and something she said really struck me (if you follow me on Twitter, I quoted this a few weeks ago):

I don’t wonder apostolic miracles have died. Apostolic living certainly has.

Those who idealize the early church seem to want to live church as the early church had church, but they don’t want to live lives as the early church lived their lives. I don’t mean we have to live on a commune, having no possessions of our own and striving to figure out what it means to have “everything in common“. But we often are not willing to live our lives generously, sacrificially, reaching out to others often with the truth of the Gospel.

That is what identified the early church – not what their meetings looked like, but what their lives looked like. Read the book of Acts to get a full picture of what the early church looked like, as well as the epistles, to get an accurate idea of the challenges they faced.

May we commit to living lives that glorify God and put Him in the center, sacrificially, generously, devoting ourselves to the Word, to fellowship, to prayer and breaking bread, caring for each other and bearing each others’ burdens, as our early church fathers did.

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:

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

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 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.