Freedom Friday: Exercise Your “No” Muscle

Have you ever done a plank?

They’re a type of abdominal exercise. And they are hard.

planking

Prior to having Maggie, I planked regularly. At first, I held it for 10 seconds and had to stop. But I kept trying. I got to 20. And 30. And so on as my abdominal muscles strengthened.

For many years, I answered “yes” to temptation. I didn’t even know it was temptation, and I didn’t know I could say no. I thought my feelings dictated my life, and my desires dictated my actions. And every time I gave in, my “yes” muscle became stronger and stronger.

When I became a Christian, I was surprised how much power my “yes” muscle still had. My eating disorder was still ever-present. I even had another lesbian relationship, despite knowing it was wrong. I thought I was a new creation? I’d cry out to God, wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t figure out how to say no and walk away.

How did I move from that place to where I am today?

As I recently chatted with other believers, I realized something.

I learned to exercise my “no” muscle.

Prior to following Jesus, I exercised my “yes” muscle quite a bit when temptation came my way. “Yes! I will starve myself.” “Yes, I’ll have sex with you.” “Yes! I’ll drink too much.” “Yes, I’ll self injure.”

It took me a while to realize that the Holy Spirit wanted to empower me to develop my “no” muscle.

At first, it’s very difficult to exercise your “no” muscle when you’ve been so used to your “yes” muscle being your default. It will feel unfamiliar, even uncomfortable. But as you say “no” more and more, it will become easier, until it becomes almost your default.

I have exercised my “no” muscle in the area of sexual sin so much that now I can fairly easily exercise my “no” muscle when it comes to pornography, fantasy, or acting out sexually.

My book Learning to Walk in Freedom talks extensively about how I also needed to learn to exercise my “no” muscle in the area of my thoughts and struggles with hopelessness and despair.

I still working on using my “no” muscle in the area of food. I read Lysa TerKeurst’s devotional for folks like me called Made to Crave. This quote today really caught my attention:

It is good for God’s people to be put in a place of longing so they feel a slight desperation. Only then can we be empty enough and open enough to discover the holiness we were made for. When we are stuffed full of other things and never allow ourselves to be in a place of longing, we don’t recognize the deeper spiritual battle going on.

Satan wants to keep us distracted by chasing one temporary filling after another. God wants us to step back and let the emptying process have its way until we start desiring a holier life. The gap between our frail discipline and God’s available strength is bridged with nothing but a simply choice on our part to pursue this holiness.

A simple choice to exercise my “no” muscle on a regular basis.

In what areas do you struggle to exercise your “no” muscle? Confess this struggle James 5:16 style to a Christian friend and ask that person to pray for you. Then ask God, through His Holy Spirit, to empower you to choose better next time.

Romans 6:6 (NLT) says “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”

Exercise your “no” muscle. Watch it get stronger and strong as God empowers you to walk out the freedom He died to give.

Freedom Friday: I Am Not The Same

Today, Friday, is one of the very rare mornings where somehow I was awake before my beautiful 1 year-old baby girl. I snuck out of bed, searched for the baby monitor, and settled into my comfy chair to read some psalms.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

 

There is something about this familiar passage that is so life-giving. The song with these lyrics sings in my ears as I read – a song I learned in those early days of walking with Jesus.

My soul exhales.
********************

 

I prepared a teaching on Philippians 4 for the ministry this week. I wanted to share all my wisdom about how God’s Word would have us approach anxiety.

And wouldn’t you know it. I spent the 10 days leading up to the teaching, feeling more anxious than I have in a long, long time.

Times like these – I start to question myself. Why do I do this? I think. Who am I to say that Jesus changes lives? I’m as anxious as I’ve ever been.

There is something so familiar about these thoughts. Comfortable, almost. They are words I have heard in my thoughts for years. A voice of hopelessness.

In those low moments, I am unable to recognize those words for what they are, or whose they are: whispers of Satan.

This morning, I got down on my knees after reading a few psalms and repeated back to God:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

I spent thousands of days elsewhere. I dwelt in the tents of the wicked. As I pondered these words, my soul exhaled again as God spoke to me:

You are not the same Brenna that you once were. Do not give in to the lies. I have changed you and will keep changed you.

I am not the same.

Fall in a park

The leaves are changing color here in New England. They have no control over it, but are submitted to a more powerful force.
 
The same is true of us. If you are a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit in you is changing you day by day as you surrender your life to whatever He has for you. You may have some of the same struggles, face some of the same fears, but you are not the same.

 
If the anxiety returns today, so be it. Rather than wonder how long it will last, I will walk out the truths from Philippians 4 that I shared on this week:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Don’t let the devil whisper into your ear. Listen to God. Pray, and sink deep into God’s peace.

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #12: “Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective” by William W. Menzies & Stanley M. Horton

I finished my 12th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective by William W. Menzies & Stanley M. Horton

I actually read a slightly older version, since that’s the edition I was told to read. I mentioned before I’m working on finishing up my ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God, and this book helps in studying for the written test.

The book basically walks the reader through the 16 Fundamental Truths of the Assemblies of God, including the corresponding Scriptures. While none of this was new for me, it went further in explaining concepts I was already familiar with.

This book would certainly be enlightening to anyone with an interest in the theology of the Pentecostal movement.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

 

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #10: Assemblies of God History, Missions, and Governance

It’s been 4 1/2 months since I’ve updated my #EmptyShelf challenge.

Ouch.

It’s not because I haven’t been reading, though admittedly, I’ve been reading a lot less. I am 3 books behind on posting blog updates with two other books I will finish very soon.

In these months, I’ve walked through a very difficult pregnancy, a long-distance move, and getting resettled as a ministry director here in Boston.

So without further delay, book #10:

IMG_7905

Assemblies of God – History, Missions, and Governance (this links to Amazon, but this is not the most updated version of the text. Global University would have that.)

I’m working on finishing up my ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God. I took 2 classes about a decade ago that were very similar to this one, but it seemed I needed to take this updated class. I wasn’t thrilled about it 🙂

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and how much I learned. It was a lot of memorization (as there’s a test you take at the end), but the improvements and developments that have occurred in the past decade were worth reading about.

I also had more of a context for a lot of what the book was talking about and the history within the Assemblies of God movement since I have now been attending various AG churches for most of the past 15 years.

This book would certainly be enlightening to anyone with an interest in the development of the Pentecostal movement in the 20th century.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

 

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #8: “The Cross and the Switchblade” by David Wilkerson

I finished my 8th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson

This book was a little different because I actually listened to the audio version. As I mentioned before, Christianaudio.com has a free monthly download. All you have to do is sign up for their email newsletter, and they will let you know what the free download of the month is. You go to the site, enter your email, and it downloads. You can’t beat free!

I’ve also shared that I don’t think absorb as much from audio books as I do from actual hold-in-your-hands books. But since I’ve read this book at least 5 times already (though probably not in about 5 years), I was very excited to listen to it.

The audio version did not disappoint.

If you’re not familiar with David Wilkerson, he traveled to New York City in the late 1950’s to minister to teens in gangs and with heroin addiction. He eventually began a ministry that is known as Teen Challenge today. This book is the story of that ministry’s beginnings. Teen Challenge is now one of the most successful drug rehabilitation programs worldwide.

The story is so compelling (even the 6th time around) that I limited myself to only listening to it while exercising. I found myself cheering, pumping my fists, crying and praying, even though I would be running or on the elliptical. I won’t give away the whole book, but I will share one story.

David Wilkerson comes from several generations of preachers. His grandfather was a preacher, and so was his father. One day, his grandfather said to David, “The day you learn to be publically specific in your prayer, that is the day you will discover power.” He learned the power of this truth one day when he was about 12.

He came home from school to find several cars and an ambulance at his house. He knew it was his father. His father had duodenal ulcers, and for more than ten years he was not free of pain. David’s mother warned him on this day that his father would likely die. Just then, his father cried out in pain. As his mother ran into the room, David saw that the floor and bedclothes were covered in blood.

I’ll let the book pick up there:

Ignoring my grandfather’s words, I ran just as far away from everyone as I could. I ran down the basement stairs, shut myself up in the coal bin, and there I prayed, trying to substitute volume of voice for the belief that I lacked.

What I didn’t realize was that I was praying into a kind of loud-speaker system.

Our house was heated by hot air, and the great trumpetlike pipes branched out from the furnace, beside the coal bin, into every room of the house. My voice was carried up those pipes so that the men from the church, sitting in the living room, suddenly heard a fervent voice pouring out of the walls. The doctor upstairs heard it. My father, lying on his deathbed heard it.

“Bring David here,” he whispered.

So I was brought upstairs past the staring eyes of the elders and into my father’s room. Dad asked Dr. Brown to wait in the hall for a moment, then he told Mother to read aloud the 22nd verse of the 21st chapter of Matthew…

“And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer,” she read, “believing, ye shall receive.”

I felt a tremendous excitement. “Mother, can’t we take that for Dad now?”

So while my father lay limp on his bed, Mother began to read the same passage over and over again… And while she was reading I got up from my chair and walked over to Dad’s bed and laid my hands on his forehead.

“Jesus,” I prayed, “Jesus, I believe what You said. Make Daddy well!”

There was one more step. I walked to the door and opened and said, loud and clear: “Please come, Dr. Brown. I have…” (it was hard) “I have prayed believing that Daddy will get better.”

Dr. Brown looked down at my twelve-year old earnestness and smiled a warm and compassionate and totally unbelieving smile. But that smile turned first to puzzlement and then to astonishment as he bent to examine my father.

“Something has happened,” he said. His voice was so low I could hardly hear. Dr. Brown picked up his instruments with fingers that trembled, and tested Dad’s blood pressure. “Kenneth,” he said, raising Dad’s eyelids and then feeling his abdomen and then reading his blood pressure again. “Kenneth, how do you feel?”

“Like strength is flowing into me.”

“Kenneth,” said the doctor, “I have just witnessed a miracle.”

David Wilkerson went from being a “country preacher” from the hills of Pennsylvania to ministering through the power of the Holy Spirit to teens in New York City with strongholds he’d never even heard of. He was able to do this because God enabled him to.

If that doesn’t get you excited about what God is capable of, then you might not be alive!

Grab a copy of The Cross and the Switchblade. Your local library might have it. And prepare to be changed!

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

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: A Place for Obedience, Part 4

This is a continuation of a post from the last three weeks, part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Last week’s post ended with this:
Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) Depending on your background, when you read that passage, you may hear, If I loved God, I would obey Him perfectly, but because I’m not, I must not love Him. This is what I hear, through the filter of knowing God as patient and kind: If I fully love God with all that I have and all that I am, out of that heart of love and trust will flow obedience because I know of His goodness and faithfulness.

Jesus goes on to immediately talk about the Holy Spirit, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” v. 16-17

It is not a coincidence that Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit immediately after obedience. God gave us the Holy Spirit to help us love Him fully and to empower us to obey His commands. He sent us His spirit so we can act like the free person He already made us to be.

How do we act like a free person? We all have those moments where we are tempted to act like our old self and not like a free person, those moments where we are:
Tempted to sin
Tempted to see ourselves in any other way than how God sees us
Tempted to believe the lies we have bought into and fall back into old patterns
Tempted to take our unhealthy/unhelpful thoughts and run with them

A free person grows to realize the temptation she is experiencing is common to man. She chooses to act as if she were free rather than act as if she is still enslaved to that temptation and has no choice but to give in.

A free person would say to that lie about his identity, “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 reason, “In the past, my emotions have felt overwhelming, so rather than choose to feel them, I chose 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 suffocate me because I can handle anything with the Freedom Giver and other freedom seekers at my side.”

This isn’t just about saying no to sin, though that is an important piece. It’s about saying no to bondage in all its forms and saying yes to throwing off the chains.

We are training to run a new race.
When we were slaves to sin, our body and mind were trained, when faced with temptation, to respond a certain way. We gave in to the negative thoughts, we let our boundaries be trampled on, we believed the lies we’d been told. An athlete needs to discipline himself to train, when it might feel more natural to sit on the couch and watch TV. Similarly, we too need to train and discipline ourselves so that when we are faced with temptation, we, like Joseph in Genesis 39, flee the scene rather than give in to old habits and say yes.

“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.” Romans 6:11-14 (MSG, emphasis mine)

There are a million different reasons why we choose to give in to old behaviors/patterns/choices rather than choosing to act free. It’s not just because it feels good or natural. For many of us, these old ways of responding are all we have ever known. We may have begun self-medicating with various behaviors at a young age because we lacked coping mechanisms to deal with the painful trials in our lives. We wanted to escape uncomfortable feelings. We felt lonely, rejected, or unlovable – so we went out and tried to hook up with someone. We overate. We overspent. We fantasized. The feelings were still there, but we got to avoid them for awhile. We may have felt entitled to the temporary pleasure and relief of sin, telling ourselves, I deserve this. It has simply become a habit. It’s just the way we are, and what we’ve always done.

Except it’s not the way we are anymore! If we are in Christ, we are now slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). We have the capacity and ability, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to make different choices.

When we start actively saying no to our old nature and way of doing things, we need to make sure we have our support system in place to help us follow through (back to Freedom Step Two) and to hold us accountable. 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 something to the effect of, “Look, I just need someone to hang out with me for a couple hours after my appointment.” Learning appropriate self-care is part of acting like a free person. Learning to voice your wants and needs is part of choosing to act like a free person. And learning to sit with those uncomfortable feelings, turning them continually over to God, is also part of learning to walk in freedom.

That is Freedom Step Five: Act like a free person.

Next week, I will write about owning your choices.

Freedom Friday: A Place for Obedience, Part 3

This is a continuation of a post from the last two weeks, A Place for Obedience, part 1 and part 2.

I state in freedom step three (Embrace Grace) that Jesus didn’t just die to modify our behavior. That doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t have guidelines for our behavior. Of course it does. Just as a good parent gives their children boundaries to live by, so does God. It would help us to reframe, in our thinking, both why God gives us these guidelines and what should be our motivation for following them.

I’ve shared here that I’m a mother. At the writing of this, I have 2 sons under the age of 5. I tell my children not to touch the hot stove because I don’t want them to experience the pain of being burned. I ask them to hold my hand when they cross the street because I am more aware of the dangers involved than they are, and am able to be more alert and observant of potential harm. I ask them to be kind to their parents, each other and others because they’d like to be treated kindly themselves.

When they do not listen or obey, I do not withdraw my acceptance of them. I do not withhold my love because they make choices contrary to my teachings. Instead, my heart breaks that due to their disobedience, they have now experienced a type of pain I hoped they could avoid. Even though they were disobedient, I still rush in to comfort them in their pain. Later, we talk, outside of the moment, about the cause and effect that was put into action when they disobeyed. We also discuss how they could make different choices next time.

Through all of that, they are still my children, and I would proudly say so, even in their disobedience. God says the same. Do you know that, before Jesus ever accomplished anything noteworthy enough to include in the Bible, God proudly declared, “This is my son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) I say this same of my children. He is my child, whom I love dearly. He is human. He will make mistakes. He will be imperfect, just as I am imperfect. I can model how to forgive, ask for forgiveness, and make different choices in the future.

God does not want to see us harmed. He urges us “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB) He reassures us that “whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

Has obedience become a dirty word in today’s church culture? I can understand the tendency to avoid it. Out of the holiness movement of the 20th century rose much legalism. Lots of rules were enacted to measure “good Christian behavior.” This is similar to what I did in my life. I was trying to “white knuckle” my way to holiness.

The backlash from this has been to more fully embrace grace. Now, it seems behavior is talked about much less. Pastors are afraid to stand in the pulpit and say, “This behavior is not God’s best for your life,” for fear of offending someone.

Where’s the balance? If it’s true that God’s grace empowers us, if it’s true that we are clothed in God’s righteousness, how are we to live?

When I left behind homosexuality in March of 2000, I made a choice. I chose to walk in obedience to what I believed God said in His Word about my sexuality.

Did choosing to obey make me more free? This is a question I have really wrestled with. If Jesus came to set us free through Spirit-empowered living, what part did my choices play in that?

We can ask the question from the opposite angle. If I had chosen instead to continue to walk in disobedience to God, would that have helped me learn to walk in freedom? Certainly not. Romans 6:16 (NLT) says, “Don’t you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master?”

We can choose to obey God not because we are concerned His love for us is conditional. We can choose to obey Him out of a trust that He has our best interest in mind. We can obey because we believe He has good things for us.

When I began to walk in obedience, I obeyed God because I was afraid of His rejection. I thought His feelings were as fickle as mine: that if I made good choices, He loved me and was pleased with me, but if I made bad choices, He was immediately furious and turned His back on me.

That’s not the character of God. God said about Himself to Moses: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

That’s the forgiving, loving, patient God I now know and try to love with all that I am. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) I can now obey Him out of a place of love and a deep recognition of all He did to give me life. Jesus showed His love by hanging from a cross. One way to show my love is through obedience.

Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) Depending on your background, when you read that passage, you may hear, If I loved God, I would obey Him perfectly, but because I’m not, I must not love Him. This is what I hear, through the filter of knowing God as patient and kind, If I fully love God with all that I have and all that I am, out of that heart of love and trust will flow obedience because I know of His goodness and faithfulness.

Jesus goes on to immediately talk about the Holy Spirit.

Continued next week….

Freedom Friday: A Place for Obedience, Part 2

This is a continuation of a post from last week, A Place for Obedience, part 1.

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. Because he has walked with a limp for so long, his muscles have actually conformed and adjusted to accommodate his limp. He has the procedure but still needs to undergo physical therapy to strengthen his weakened muscles.

He needs to relearn how to walk.

We as believers should not be surprised that we walk with a limp. All of humanity walks with the same limp. Yet, as believers, we have the opportunity to learn to walk in freedom through Christ’s work on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit.

We can proactively make choices to act like the free person that we already are.

Here is the issue. This is what many of us might think it looks like to act like a free person.

We believe that God wants us to behave better than we are. We know God wants us to do certain things and doesn’t want us to do others. Thus, we gather knowledge, and with that knowledge, we try really hard to behave how we think God wants us to behave.

How does this pattern play itself out in our lives? Say you have a struggle with pornography. You know you shouldn’t view it. In fact, you get even further convicted when, after having an all-night Saturday porn marathon, you go to church on Sunday and the pastor preaches on the dangers of pornography. You go to the altar, you repent as best you know how, you might even ask someone to pray for you with some vague sharing like, “I just feel God speaking to me and need prayer.”

Then you go home and try harder. Maybe you even read some books on why pornography is bad, how the industry treats the workers, how the struggle enslaves a person, and maybe even some tips on overcoming. And you keep trying harder.

Then you likely fall again.

This is basically what I did, as described in Freedom Step Three. I would feel genuinely convicted about something. I would be truly grieved by my sin and exhausted by the insanity the cycle of sin produced in my life. I would gather materials to help me understand the struggles, and I would try and use that knowledge to inspire myself to better behavior.

I had sincere intentions, but I was going about it the wrong way.

How then would a free person act?

A free person actively overcomes life-controlling issues by becoming plugged in to the power source and remaining plugged in.

In doing a search in the New Testament for the word power, I noticed that Luke, in the gospel he wrote, talks about power more than the other three gospels combined. He talks about Jesus doing what He did under the power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke also wrote the book of Acts, often referred to as the Acts of the Apostles, or sometimes even the Acts of the Holy Spirit. In the beginning of the book of Acts, it is recorded that Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem because “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” (Acts 1:8) Luke had seen this power, the power of the Holy Spirit, up close and had experienced it intimately. He saw its importance. He observed the difference it made in the lives of the disciples, including Peter, who, on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them in Jerusalem, shared the hope of Jesus Christ with the crowds, and 3,000 people believed and were baptized.

God is meant to be our source of power.

Through His Holy Spirit given to us as believers, we can be empowered to make better choices. Rather, what we often do is take our knowledge and will power and try to make these things our source of power for overcoming our struggles.

Bob Hamp gives this analogy. It’s like taking the ethernet cable (which connects your computer to the internet) and plugging it into the spot for the power cord. We try to take data, the knowledge we have gathered, and use that to fuel us into obedience in hopes that we will derive power from that data.

I quoted 2 Peter 1:3 earlier, that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” Imagine that we, as believers in Jesus, are like a lamp. That lamp has everything in it that it needs in order to function as it was created to: electrical wires, functioning light bulbs, and a switch to turn it on, but if I do not plug in the lamp to the electrical outlet, it won’t work.

In the Garden of Eden, not only did we become disconnected from our source of life, we became disconnected from our source of power. That power enters back into us when we become believers, as every believer receives the Holy Spirit, but we need to continually reconnect.

That doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit comes and goes completely as it often did in the Old Testament stories, where we read about the Holy Spirit coming upon people so they can prophesy or be empowered for leadership or an event. The Holy Spirit always dwells in believers. Yet Paul commands the Ephesus church to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) Why would Paul be telling believers to be filled with the Spirit? They already had the Holy Spirit in them. We can gather from the passage, then, that we are implored to “keep being filled.” The passage shows us that the filling of the Spirit is something we need to continually seek and ask for.

We need to continually be reconnected with our power source.

continued next week