Empty Shelf Challenge Book #18: “The Red Sea Rules” by Robert J Morgan

I finished my 18th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times by Robert J Morgan

I actually finished this just before my daughter was born. Trying to finish up these reviews before the New Year 🙂 It was recommended by my mentor Mike Olejarz in one of his newsletters.

From the book’s description: “Using the Israelites’ story in Exodus 14 as an example, Robert Morgan offers ten sound strategies for moving from fear to faith. Life is hard, especially for Christians.”

I can’t say that from the beginning I was super enthusiastic to receive the wisdom that this book has to offer. Red Sea Rule #1 is “Realize that God means for you to be where you are.” When I’m going through a trial, I’d rather blame Satan, the world, or even myself before I point the finger at God. But I appreciated the author’s perspective that God is sovereign over all things, and if we are in the palm of His hand, then we can trust He has a plan in the messiness.

As I read more and more of this book, I saw the story of the Israelites’ struggle and victory with fresh eyes. Morgan lays out 10 principles of how we can make sense of Exodus 14 and apply those principles to our lives.

I loved this book, and it’s difficult to put into words why. But it’s one I will be lending out a lot and revisiting myself.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Freedom Friday: Do I Still Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction?

Brenna Simonds

“Brenna, do you still struggle with same-sex attraction?”

I get this question a lot. Via email, in interviews, on ministry phone calls. As I was answering such an email earlier this week, I thought it would be great material for Freedom Friday. You can read more about my struggle with same-sex attraction here.

In March of 2000 when my last girlfriend ended our relationship, I surrendered my sexuality to God and chose to walk in obedience to what the Bible says about human sexuality.

I also asked God to remove my same-sex attraction from me, and in many ways He did. I did not feel the same draw and pull I had felt toward women for as long as I could remember. I felt as if, in many ways, God had “delivered” me from my same-sex attraction.

And then 2005 happened. I began to experience the feelings of same-sex attraction again.

I didn’t do anything with those feelings, meaning I didn’t act out in any way. I didn’t fantasize, look at pornography or try and connect with another woman inappropriately. I initially just hid my feelings because I was ashamed. I felt as if I couldn’t tell anyone, lest everyone think I was a fraud.

I did eventually tell my husband and then one of my accountability partners. But it was way more difficult than it needed to be.

What happened back in 2005 to bring on this struggle again? I believe it was a number of things.

There were several ministry-related things that happened at that time. My testimony was printed that summer in the Exodus newsletter. I became the director of Alive in Christ a year earlier, and we were about to become an Exodus member ministry. Love Won Out was coming to town, and there was to be a protest with over 1,000 people, AND my story was in the Boston Globe.

I wholeheartedly believe that God allowed that period of temptation. It made me come face to face with some questions I needed to examine:

Was my testimony and ministry built on how *I* overcame same-sex attraction?

Or was it built on God’s goodness, faithfulness, and sustaining power whether I actively experienced same-sex attraction or not?

I realized that my fear of people knowing was due to the fact that I had centered my story of healing around the absence of same-sex attraction in my life. I needed to go through this period of intense struggle to be reminded that struggles will come. Same-sex attraction is a form of temptation; the attraction itself is not a sin. For instance, simply having a thought or feeling of attraction pass through your head, even if it’s toward the same gender, is not sin. Pursuing that thought by turning it into a fantasy is sin.

I’ve come to a place where if I struggle, so be it. If not, that’s okay, too. Those things I do struggle with (whether it be same-sex attraction or something else) do not define me, nor do they define my relationship with God. They also do not make or break my experience of His freedom.

“Freedom is not the absence of something; it’s the presence of someone.” Bob Hamp

Too often we define true freedom as the absence of temptation. We need to face up to the fact that that’s a completely unrealistic goal. That doesn’t mean some people won’t experience complete removal of their same-sex attraction. Some certainly claim to, and I’m not going to argue with their experience.

However, if we measure our freedom based on whether or not we still struggle with a particular temptation, that means we expect to be more free than Jesus.

Same-sex attraction is just temptation. Say it with me again 🙂 Temptation is not sin.

One of the things we need to be set free from is unrealistic expectations. If you define freedom as the absence of temptation, you are setting yourself up to fail. But if you define freedom (as I do) as living in the fullness of all God created you to be, despite and in the midst of your struggles, then freedom becomes much more attainable.So……….do I still experience same-sex attraction? Sometimes! But the big picture answer is it doesn’t matter so much to me anymore. Notice I changed the word “struggle” to “experience.” That’s because it’s not a struggle. I don’t allow whether or not I experience same-sex attraction to define me. And when I do experience it, I don’t have to respond by choosing to sin. I can pray about it & turn it over to God. If the temptation persists, or it is really bothering me, I tell my accountability folks about it and ask them to pray as well. I ask God to reveal any unmet needs in my life that may be contributing to it. I practice the tools for the journey, such as HALT. And I get on with my life.

Are you allowing temptation to define your freedom today?

**Updated March, 2014

Freedom Friday: Do You Really Know God?

I am a Judges slacker.

I have lots of good reasons, as we are leaving tomorrow (I’m writing this Thursday) for a road trip that will end at the Exodus Freedom conference (at which I will speak). I’ve been preparing my workshop, along with packing all the stuff we will need for all those hours in the car & all those meals out (kids with food sensitivities, after all).

So, I’m going to briefly share about something else that’s been on my heart. More Judges later.

At the conference, I’ll be giving my “Learning to Walk in Freedom” teaching to just the women attendees. Though when I was initially asked to tailor my talk for women, I was excited by the possibility! And I still am.

As I began to re-work my talk for this specific audience, I just happened to be reading chapter 7 in “Breaking Free“, a book I mentioned in my hopelessness post. The chapter is entitled “The Divine Caricature”.

It asks the question, “Do you really know God?” Do you really know His attributes, His character?

Step 1 of learning to walk in freedom is to spend time with the freedom giver. As I re-read what I’ve said on this topic, the following excerpt from “Divine or Distorted? God As We Understand God” by Jerry Seiden came to mind:

One day as I walked through my favorite park, I recited the 12 Steps as was my custom. This day I stopped at Step Three: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Something inside me asked, “Who do you understand God to be?” I responded by reciting all the wonderful characteristics of God, but the voice within me said, “No! That’s what you’ve been told about God in school and in books. Tell me what you really believe God to be.”

Just as if a dam broke in my heart and mind, I began to cry, grit my teeth, and curse. I was angry. I believed deep inside that God was unconcerned with my life, unforgiving of my sin, impatient with my weaknesses, intolerant of my failures, very angry with me, and more. I believed I deserved all of God’s wrath and nothing of his grace. Nothing good could or should happen to me. I wept until I was ashamed.

Then came silence followed by that voice in my heart again. It was God’s voice. It said, “You have described yourself and the way you treat yourself. And I am not like you. I am none of those things.”

“You thought I was altogether like you!” These are God’s words, found in Psalm 50:21.

When you envision your Heavenly Father, do you imagine an angry man with furrowed brow, wagging His finger from up in heaven, waiting to punish you at any mistake? Or do you imagine a caring Father, who is slow to anger, quick to run to you with love, even in your pain & brokenness?

Do you know who God is? Who He really is?

The prodigal son, when he was close to his father, living near him & spending his days with him, knew his father’s character. He knew that if he went to his father & asked for his inheritance, it would be given to him. As he walked further and further away from his home, through distance and action, he slowly lost sight of the nature of his father’s character, to the point where when he decided to go back, he thought the best that could happen would be to become a hired man.

Have you lost sight of God’s true nature? Or maybe you never really knew it & are only learning who God really is now?

For some of us, it might be more accurate to say we think God is like our parents or other authority figures who were imperfect (just as I am) or maybe even mistreated us. The New Living Translation says in Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?

Do you know who God is? Who He really is? Do you know the nature of His character? If not, will you allow yourself to absorb the truth of Scripture & what it says about His relationship with you and His heart for you?

I will likely next be posting from the Exodus conference. Hope to see you there!

Freedom Friday Tools for the Journey: Stones of Remembrance

This is a continuation of the last 2 Freedom Friday posts. It falls into the “Tools for the Journey” category, but it’s also a continuation of the discussion of Joshua (I recommend going back & reading this if you haven’t already).

We pick up the story in Joshua 4. The Israelites have just crossed the Jordan. They’ve seen God’s hand move powerfully and faithfully, as He continues to do what He has promised He would do.

Then God tells Joshua to have one man from each tribe go back into the middle of the river, take a stone from where the priests are standing, and carry it back out of the river.

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5 He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”

I can’t help but wonder why God doesn’t tell them to get the stones on their way through the river. Is this again another little faith test, like when He commanded them to step into the Jordan, and only then would the waters part? While crossing the river, the Israelites were specifically instructed to stay a half mile away from the Ark of the Covenant, whereas now they are told to gather rocks from where the priests are standing. The stones needed to be from that very spot where the Ark of the Covenant, a sign of God’s presence and His promises, was held. God also instructed Joshua to make another pile of 12 stones in that very spot in the middle of the Jordan.

Notice they weren’t celebratory stones. It would have been a fine time to celebrate, but no. The “Stones of Remembrance” served as a memorial. A reminder of God’s faithfulness. That His promises were, and still are, true. The end of an era (slavery and wilderness wanderings), and a new beginning in the Promised Land.

The reality of life is that we all get discouraged. “Discouraged” is likely too weak of a word – “disheartened” is better. Proverbs says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”. Our focus gets sidetracked by the wait. We forget all that God is, and all He has done in us & through us.

We get hyper-focused on our vision of how things should be. We even have a picture of how, when and why God will show up and come through.

The Israelites certainly had a preconceived idea of how God’s deliverance should look. Imagine the Israelites, enslaved for 400 years. For all those generations, they spent their days, while subject to the whims of Pharaoh, dreaming of how God would show up. In my article “Craving Egypt“, I wrote about how quickly the Israelites lost sight of all that God had done to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. The following words were spoken by the Israelites soon after the parting of the Red Sea.

“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:3

Even the Pharisees and Jewish leaders had an idea of what the Messiah, their deliverer, would look like. They had built in their minds an image of Him so inaccurate that when Jesus came, they didn’t even recognize Him.

The Stones of Remembrance after the crossing of the Jordan served not just as a reminder, but also as a warning. You will forget. You will lose sight. You will get off kilter, lose focus, sink into despair. You will even come up with your own ideas of what freedom looks like and how it should arrive.

It’s as if God is saying: I’ve carried you this far. Trust me. I’m not going to stop caring for you now. It may not look like you think it will. but I’m still here and I’m still working.

The Stones of Remembrance encourage us to focus on the “who” rather than the “how”. We love the “how”! We love imagining and conjuring up the grand scheme of how God is going to work in a particular situation. We’re not so enthusiastic about simply resting in the knowledge of who God is. We get too caught up in the details of the “how” to remember to fix our eyes on the eternal: Jesus.

This tool is different from the encouragement file in that the encouragement file is a place to keep reminders of thoughtful notes, affirmations, and thanks from people from over the years. Stones of Remembrance are times God came through, often in surprising ways.

So start writing it down. Look back through your journals, your emails, your Facebook status updates, and start a new journal. Write the date, and the way in which God came through. The manner in which He reminded you that He is good. The person through whom He spoke truth. The Scripture you heard three times in the same day, through three different means.

Write it down. You will forget. You will lose sight. We all do.

The Stones of Remembrance are what we reach for when we are disheartened, weighed down by the burden of the problems we were never meant to carry.

In the words of Sara Groves in her song by the same name, “He’s always been faithful; He will be again”.

That’s why we need Stones of Remembrance.

21 Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. 24 He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.”