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: When God Isn’t Showing Up

I’ve been working on a post on contentment for…well, months. Maybe longer. That was my plan for today. Finish it up and share it with you all.

But I just can’t. I can’t. My heart is heavy. A good acquaintance of mine is going through an unthinkable tragedy. After a long & excruciatingly difficult trial, the unimaginable has happened.

They did not receive the answer they were looking for. Their family is being torn apart, and the end is not in sight.

God isn’t showing up as they had hoped.

This family has been on my heart since I received the news last night. Not only is my youngest sick (and he woke numerous times last night), even when I tried to sleep, I could not get this family out of my head.

I could do nothing but pray. Pray for peace. Pray for encouragement. Pray for protection.

As I ran this morning, I asked God to help me with my writing today. I was trying to wrap up the contentment post in my mind.

I just could. not. focus.

I couldn’t stop thinking of my friends.

I came home, showered, and realized my youngest was awake. Again. As I laid down next to him in hopes of getting him back to sleep, I read my psalm for today on my phone.

Psalm 77
New Living Translation (NLT)

For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of Asaph.

1 I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me!
2 When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
3 I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.
Interlude

We’ve all been there. When we’ve asked for God’s help so many times that the thought of one more prayer literally has us moaning and overwhelmed. The times when comfort is nowhere to be found, and it seems even God is nowhere to be found.

The Psalmist continues:

4 You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!
5 I think of the good old days, long since ended,
6 when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
7 Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me?
8 Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
Interlude

I imagine this friend of mine, thinking back to the days when her family was together and full of life and peace. What happened to those days? Where are those songs of joy? Will they ever come again? Where’s God’s kindness, His grace, His faithfulness? Where is His compassion and love?

Where is God? Why isn’t He showing up?

10 And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

There have been times I myself have wrongly come to this conclusion.

I remember an excruciatingly challenging time about 8 years ago. My world, and my faith, had been turned upside down. I no longer knew what I believed or why. Add to that I was dealing with chronic illness, clinical depression (that could not be medicated, as the medication exacerbated my chronic illness), and my husband and I were both unemployed.

My experiences were not lining up with my theology, and it was seriously messing with me.

One example of this happened when I realized I was being overcharged for car insurance, going on 5 years. Rectifying this was not an easy process, as the reason I was overcharged in the first place was the state I received my license in and the state I lived after did not communicate with each other, and would not easily communicate with the state I currently lived in.

From my perspective, God could be helping me with this. He could be making it all happen more smoothly. Didn’t He know I needed that money, and I needed it now, not whenever He decided to notice my needs and finally help me out?

I was faced with a challenge that faces all of us: if our experience does not match our theology, if our feelings do not line up with the truth of Scripture, whom or what will we trust?

The Psalmist continues:

11 But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
12 They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

13 O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
14 You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
15 By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Interlude

Please do read the rest of the psalm here.

So what can we do when God is not showing up?

1. Ask people to pray for you. This needs to be the first step. Tell your friends what’s going on, and ask them to hold out hope for you, even when you, like the Psalmist, feel as if God’s promises have failed you. We need the support, both in tangible help & prayer. We need friends like the paralytic man had; he was healed because of their faith.

2. Be honest with God. Tell Him exactly how you feel, even if it isn’t pretty. None of it will surprise Him. He knows your thoughts even if you don’t tell Him.

3. Think about what God has done in the past. Reflect on what He has done rather than what He hasn’t.

4. Ponder who God is, what you know of His character. Memorize Scriptures about His nature. Contemplate the many facets of His being, and declare them to be true. I even challenge you to try doing this out loud. Words have power.

5. Cultivate hope. I talked about hope last week, that it is a choice. It can also be learned, even in the most tragic situations.

My reimbursement check from the insurance company did show up, and it was far more than I thought it would be. It also took far longer than I wanted, but in that time, God allowed me to see that I needed to work on my relationship with Him, who I thought He was, based on my reaction (my core beliefs were that He was unkind, uncaring and unconcerned with my needs).

Jesus did not ever promise an easy life, unfortunately. He did not promise that it would even go the way we hoped. What Jesus DID promise is that His grace is sufficient, that His promises really are true, and that His purposes will prevail.

Please pray for this family, that justice would roll like a river (Amos 5:24). And if you need prayer, comment on this post, and I and others will pray for you.

Freedom Friday: Is Brokenness a Blessing?

Soon after I began following Jesus, I read the book, “The Blessings of Brokenness” by Charles Stanley. Honestly, I can’t remember a ton about what specifically the book said, but I just remember it really clicking with me.

In my past, I felt as if I needed to put on a show for people. To demonstrate that I had it all together, I had it all figured out. I would openly discuss parts of my life that I felt I had some handle on. The parts of my life where I felt overwhelmed, confused, and just plain broken – those parts I would hide from almost everyone.

I carried this method of concealing what was really going on into my Christian walk.

I think the bottom line, my core belief (you can read a thorough discussion of core beliefs in Russell Willingham’s book, “Relational Masks”) seemed to be: I can only share honestly about a struggle if I have that struggle figured out.

Core beliefs associated with that would be:

I will appear weak if I am honest.

I show I am strong if I share what I’ve overcome.

If I share my current struggles, everyone will know I’m broken.

Wow. What heavy burdens to carry. Burdens Jesus wanted to carry all along.

I’ve been mulling over this a lot after I recently shared with a group that I’m very comfortable with the fact that I am broken. Some people responded by laughing; some just looked at me strangely. Others nodded in agreement. Since then, I’ve been doing some pondering, some reading and wondering, what do I mean by brokenness?

In her book, “Brokenness, The Heart God Revives“, Nancy Leigh DeMoss says this: “Brokenness is the stripping of self-reliance and independence from God. The broken person has no confidence in his own righteousness or his own works, but he is cast in total dependence upon the grace of God working in and through him.”

Russell Willingham, in a book I’ve mentioned previously called ““Breaking Free”“, has an entire chapter devoted to this topic called “The Courage to be Broken”. He defines brokenness simply as “spiritual poverty” or being “poor in spirit” and asserts “we must grasp our fundamental brokenness and stop pretending we are something else.” He distinguishes between brokenness and sinfulness:

The main reason we struggle with the idea of brokenness is that we see it as a sign of sin. Though the two are related and often overlap, they are not the same thing.

Willingham talks about David’s statement in Psalm 109:22: “For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” He writes that brokenness comes from being wounded. “This wounding can come from being born into a fallen world, being sinned against by others, or committing sins of our own.” Here’s why the distinction is so important to understand:

The man who understand this [that we are broken/wounded] doesn’t condemn himself when the old system fires up again. He expects such occurrences but quickly defaults to the new settings as soon as he realizes what is happening. However, the man who doesn’t understand his fundamental brokenness berates himself when the old machinery kicks into gear. He then falls into self-loathing or says, “What’s the use?” and gives in.

Brokenness is spiritual poverty.

Acknowledging my brokenness allows God to breath life into me, embracing the humility to permit Him to shape me into whom He created me to be.

Brokenness means that Jesus’ salvation didn’t transform me into something other than a human being. Accepting my brokenness is simply stating that I’m imperfect and that’s OK; I don’t have to pretend to be something I am not. It means that salvation began the process of transforming me into a new person, but that process is not complete.

I do not coddle my brokenness, or use it as an excuse for sin or bad decisions. It’s just a simple declaration that apart from Jesus, I can do nothing.

One of the ways I define brokenness today (a saying borrowed from 12-step groups) is:

I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let God.

“True brokenness is a lifestyle – a moment-by-moment lifestyle of agreeing with God about the true condition of my heart and life – not as everyone else thinks it is but as He knows it to be.” Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Freedom Fridays: Embrace Grace, Part 2

Hope you all survived last week’s Freedom Friday break! I actually meant to post something brief, but the cold I had been fighting for 5 days worsened – and I’m still sick! But I’m going to push through and post anyway 🙂

So brief recap from 2 weeks ago:
Understanding grace is key to learning to walk in freedom.

A few years into my Christian walk, I realized that while I believed in my heart that I was saved by grace alone, I was demonstrated a different core belief through my actions: Through rules and my own effort, I could overcome my life-controlling issues.

Let me tell you from experience that trying to be free through rules and human effort doesn’t and won’t work. In fact, it injects you into a cycle that makes YOU responsible for your own healing. I’ve found it only heaped shame and condemnation on my head when I messed up.

So how do we overcome the cycle of sin? And what does God want us to do when we struggle? Does He want us to walk around like a dog, with our tail between our legs? Or should we beat ourselves up for a certain amount of time, the amount of time being in direct proportion with the seriousness of our sin?

Of course it sounds ridiculous when I put it that way, but you know you’ve done it!

As I realized the futility of what I was doing in response to my struggles, that not only does it not work, but it’s actually not Biblical, a friend gently suggested I begin to more thoroughly explore what grace is.

I go to a charismatic type of church in a denomination with a holiness background. The denomination as a whole has a history of really liking rules 🙂 My church is quite grace-based and doesn’t have any weird rules, but I’ve heard of churches where in order to serve in any capacity, you have to sign agreements that you won’t drink alcohol, watch R-rated movies and other extra-Biblical rules. Some of the rules may be a good idea (I don’t drink, for instance, since I have alcoholism in my family), but they are not matters of Biblical mandate, but rather personal conviction.

In any event, I remember when I first heard Clark Whitten preach a thorough sermon on grace at the Exodus Freedom Conference in 2004 (he followed it up with another teaching on the law). Honestly, as I sat there, I didn’t believe what he was saying. I mean, he was quoting the Bible, and using the verses in context. It seemed to line up with what I knew about God and what His Word says about grace. But I couldn’t see past all the rules I had set up in my life.

Grace just sounded too good to be true.

“When you preach grace, unless your conscience accuses you of license, you haven’t preached grace.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Grace really is too good to be true. Maybe that’s why we try to accomplish through rules & own own effort. Yet God is very clear in how He expects us to react when we mess up:
Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV)

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God doesn’t react to our struggles and sin in the “angry fire darts from heaven” way that we think He does. Sin says something about the condition of our hearts, and ultimately, God just wants our hearts.

Look at the Pharisees. Isaiah 29:13:

These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

Externally, they seemed to do everything right. They followed all the rules, but they wouldn’t give God their hearts.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

I’m not teaching some sort of loosey-goosey sloppy grace message where sin doesn’t matter because it’s all covered by the blood anyways. That’s not what I’m saying at all.

The Bible is clear: rules have no power to restrain. Human effort will fail us.

Clark Whitten says “The greatest constraining power on earth against sin in your life is love.” The only thing that has the power to restrain us from sin is truly knowing, understanding and experiencing His love and grace. When we have a full grasp of His love and His grace and just who He is and what He’s done, we don’t want to hurt Him. We are less and less tempted to sin because we love Him, because we have experienced His grace and know His tender heart for us.

God wants to connect with our hearts! He wants us to know and believe that He really is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides, and He really can meet our needs. That through His grace, we really can learn to experience freedom from our life-controlling issues.

There may be a part 3 to this post. I guess you’ll find out next week 🙂

Freedom Fridays: Embrace Grace, Part 1

We know the bottom line: that God is the freedom giver. But how exactly do we find freedom, and how/who does it come from?

The answer is grace.

It is for freedom that Christ set us free, right? How did He set us free?

Through salvation by grace alone.

From the Gospel according to John, chapter 1:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Romans 3:24

All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 8:9

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 12:9

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Galatians 5:1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

We need to understand what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished, in order to learn to walk in freedom. Jesus’ death on the cross took care of all our sins – those we committed before we were saved AND those we committed since then.

This really was one of the keys in helping me to overcome my struggle with habitual sin. I used to try to achieve obedience, freedom and mastery over my sin by my own strength. I would pray and ask for God’s help, of course; but then when I’d fall, I’d beat myself up for a good amount of time because of my fall. This behavior fit right in line with how I treated myself before I became a Christian, especially as it pertained to my eating disorder. If I ate too much (in my opinion) or didn’t exercise enough, or if I woke up one day and my weight was too high, I’d belittle myself and make resolutions about how to change
whatever it was that I didn’t like.

Galatians 3 says “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

This way of thinking made me pretty legalistic. I made all sorts of rules for myself (and others) in an attempt to measure my faith as well as theirs. If I had boiled down my thinking, my core belief seemed to be that it was easier to follow rules than to try to live in the reality of grace.

It reminds me of Paul’s warning to the Colossians:

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Let me tell you from experience that rules alone will get your nowhere fast.

I just read this today: “Self-striving nurtures self-hatred.” Yes and Amen.

I cannot, cannot do this myself. I never could. That’s precisely why Jesus died on the cross.

More in Part 2, which may or may not be next week. I’m going out of town and will have to see if I have time to post!