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.

Sharing God’s Story At My Home Church

I had the privilege of sharing the story of God’s work in my life at our now home church yesterday. “New” is relative – we’ve been attending this church since January 🙂 I still get a little nervous when sharing, despite having done it for so long. I get even more nervous sharing at my home church! But God is gracious and able and only good, and He sustained me. Lots of folks shared their own struggles or their experiences having children who are gay-identified.

Some folks who couldn’t be there expressed interest in reading it. So here it is 🙂

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I was born in May of 1975. With an alcoholic mother and a father who worked long hours, I spent much of my childhood alone with few close friends. I began experimenting sexually with girls at a young age. As a high school freshman, I began a physical relationship with my female best friend. Trying to make sense of what I was experiencing, I looked up “homosexuality” in a health book. The book said that if you had attractions for someone of the same gender, then you were gay. I remember thinking, “There it is, in black and white. I am a homosexual.”

This was not good news. I was living in a small NH town. This was 1990. That’s 7 years before Ellen DeGeneres came out and 12 years before Rosie O-Donnell. By age 16, I had a full-blown eating disorder and was also using self-injury as a coping mechanism.

Over the next 10 years, I had a series of lesbian relationships, including a long-term year relationship with a married woman. She and I had a mock wedding ceremony and from then on, she introduced me as her “wife.” I lived with this couple for close to two and a half years. When my wife suggested I have sex with her husband, I did what she asked. I had never been with a man before. This began a cycle of abuse from her husband. I never said no. I was a guest in their home and if I said something, I would have to leave. Proverbs 27:7 states, “One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” The moments of love and acceptance I experienced with this woman somehow made the pain of the abuse tolerable. I didn’t know if I could live without her love.

My life spiraled out of control in many areas, not only in the area of my sexual identity, but also my eating disorder. Christians seemed to start coming out of nowhere to share about Jesus’ love. They never took it upon themselves to say that I should not be a lesbian. Like everyone else, I was a sinner in need of Jesus in my life. That was my primary need. My sexual behavior was only one of many indicators of my broken, sinful state.

One of these friends gave me a CD by a passionate Christian artist. His voice sang of a friend who was always there, a friend who would give everything for him. That friend is Jesus. And this was good news. In the midst of that song, I cried out to God saying, “I want what he has!” God, in His great mercy, honored my prayer on that day in January of 1999.

I asked hard questions, of myself and of God. Was it really even possible to break free of the chains that still held my life in so many ways, and give myself fully to my relationship with Jesus Christ? I knew homosexual behavior was a sin. I knew Jesus was more real than anything I had ever experienced. I was faced with a choice: continue to embrace the familiar, which was the gay identity I had lived for so long, or take a major risk and trust that Jesus would be and could be enough. I did what I knew I shouldn’t do: I entered into another lesbian relationship. After 3 months, the girl I was dating said, “Listen – you can’t be a Christian and be gay. The Bible says you must either be hot or cold – one or the other, but not lukewarm.” While quoting Scripture, she ended our relationship.

Soon after, I said, “Fine, God! I don’t want this. Please – take these desires away from me.” And in some ways, He did. While my desires for women lessened, the events and circumstances of my life that led me in the direction of lesbianism, an eating disorder and self-injury had not changed. I knew I needed more help and healing than just my prayer of surrender. Romans 12:2 says, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” I went to a Christian counselor who helped me transform the way I lived and the way I thought.

Still, besides my closest friends, I didn’t want anyone to know about my past. I mean, I had seen how Christians treated gay people on Oprah! They basically tarred and feathered them! I remember being at a campus ministry conference soon after I laid my sexuality at the cross. There was a couple there – the husband had come out of a gay past. I talked to his wife, giving me my first glimmer of hope that maybe there was another way. Maybe I didn’t have to be gay.

Fast forward through a lot of pain and hopelessness and wrestling with God, and God continually pursuing me and teaching me He is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. It was the summer of 2002. I had just gotten engaged to my now husband Roy. I kept in touch with that couple I had met at that conference. I wrote to them, wondering if there was a way I could give back. They connected me with a ministry in Boston, Alive in Christ. Alive in Christ reaches out to Christians impacted by SSA, and they needed a women’s leader.

I thought, God, this can’t be Your will! I just wanted to lick envelopes! Did God really want me to build a ministry around this part of myself I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak openly about? I prayed and once again, like I still try and do every day, surrendered myself and my agenda at the cross. 8 months later, I became the women’s leader, and 1 year and a half after that, in August of 2004, I became the director of Alive in Christ.

Since then – well, I no longer have any issues talking about my same-sex attraction. It was a slow progression over the past 12 years, but in those years, I’ve been in the Boston Globe, on TV news, in 2 award-winning documentaries, on the TV show Pure Passion, and now speak at conferences around the US.

By the grace of God, I am married and have 2 amazing sons and a sweet baby girl. Still, I want to be really clear about something. I minister in this way despite the fact that I still experience same-sex attraction. It’s to a much lesser degree. Whereas once my same-sex attraction was like a swarm of killer bees, now it’s more like the occasional fruit fly. Experiencing temptation is not sin – but acting on it would be. Jesus was tempted – but did not sin. If we expect ourselves to never experience temptation, then we expect to be more free than Jesus.

I can serve and give, even out of my weakness, because God is God, I am not, and He never asked me to be! 2 Corinthians 12:9 says His power is actually made perfect in our weakness, in those places where I still struggle and have to admit that truly, apart from Him, I can do nothing. Gal. 5 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Freedom is not defined by how I feel; it’s defined by what He did. Freedom is not even defined by the mistakes I still make or how good my behavior is or how free I’m feeling on a particular day; it’s defined by the new identity God has given to me, and the freedom I’m learning to walk in. I am freed to serve, even out of my weakness, simply because of what Jesus did on the cross.

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Sharing my life with new folks reminds me of how very blessed I am – a husband I never thought I’d have, kids I never imagined I could be blessed with.

Truly grateful.

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Freedom Friday: The Power of God’s Will

For it’s only in Your will that I am free*

Do you ever think about the Garden of Gethsemane? With Good Friday coming up, I’ve been thinking a lot about the words Jesus said as He prayed one of His final prayers here on earth.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”**

Prior to this prayer, Jesus asked all the disciples to sit in Gethsemane while He took Peter, James and John further into the garden to pray. He stated, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

After uttering His first prayer of submitting to God’s will, He walked back and found His three closest friends – asleep.

“He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'”

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I first heard the song “Jesus, All for Jesus” at a women’s conference. I was struck by its simplicity and depth and challenged by the lyrics.

But I find myself singing one line over and over as Good Friday approaches:

For it’s only in Your will that I am free

The only place we are truly free is in the center of God’s will. This was true for Jesus, too.

But how can horrific suffering that ended with death on the cross be freedom?

Isaiah records in a section of Scripture that prophesies of Jesus’ coming and is often referred to as “The Suffering Servant” that “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.”

The cross was God’s will for Jesus.

The first time I saw the above verse, I didn’t know how to respond – because I knew the implications. It was the fulfillment of God’s perfect will that Jesus die on that cross – for me and for you. It was the only way for us to be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). And not a quick, easy death (because God could have done that), but one that involved being crushed and suffering immensely.

Jesus knew that there is no life apart from God’s will.  And so He surrendered to the will of His Father.

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:8-11

For the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

For our freedom (Galatians 5:1).

And for His glory (Philippians 2:11).

Jesus, All for Jesus
Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be
Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands

For it’s only in Your will that I am free
For it’s only in Your will that I am free

Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be*

*Song lyrics are from Jesus All For Jesus (Featuring Robin Mark).

**The story of the Garden Gethsemane, as quoted above, is found in Matthew 26.

Monday Morning Meditation: How Does God See Me? (Psalm 25 series)

Another installment of the Psalm 25 series, my patient friends.

This week’s verses (v. 6-7):

Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you are good, O LORD.

One of the main themes of this psalm is guidance. It’s a patient waiting on God to show up. There is no reference in the psalm about the situation to which it was written, as there sometimes is. Just a longing, almost as if in laborious prayer.

Show up, God.

I imagine King David at this point beginning to wonder if he has done something to cause God to delay. Why is God staying away? Is He silent because of my sin? 

Because David committed a lot of serious sin.

Adultery.
Murder.
Pride.
Getting ahead of God.

Remember not all the wrongs I’ve done. My rebellion. My childish mistakes.

How many can relate to this prayer, almost a begging reminder:

God, You are good when I am not.

Lord, let Your love be primary.

Oh, friends, it is!

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8, emphasis mine

His love is primary. It’s the filter through which He sees us. Not in a “When God looks at me, He sees the cross” sort of way. I’ve heard that said before, and I don’t really think it’s an accurate depiction of what happened on Calvary. I believe when God looks at me, He sees me! And because of His desperate love, when He saw humanity, drowning in its sin, He gave.

He loved. A love so deep and tender that it kills its only Son.

How does God see you? He sees you as – well – you. He sees you in your messiness and powerlessness, and reaches down to scoop you up, just as any loving parent would. He’s a God who’s not afraid to get dirty. And He choose to use the cross to begin the process of making us not only clean, but changing us into who He created us uniquely to be!

April, 2011: Scooping up my sweet youngest

He sees you. As you are. And desperately loves you.

Embrace that place today. The place of being beloved and recklessly accepted.

God sees you as you. And in response, He loves.

A resource consulted in writing this post:
Kidner, Derek, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 15 of Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973.

Freedom Friday: When God’s Best is Suffering

I’ve been reading through Jeremiah for over a month. One painful chapter a day. During an already challenging time in my life, it’s not an easy book to read. Here is a man, in the center of God’s perfect will for him, who continually is imprisoned, beaten, ridiculed, plotted against, starved, and harassed for the words God has given him to say.

While being immersed in Jeremiah, I received a ministry newsletter with the following caption:

I was troubled at first by this tagline, even though I know this to be a balanced ministry. In a “You Can Have An Awesome (and Pain-free) Life Today!” type of Christianity that we often see and practice in America, we don’t like suffering. We much prefer to listen to those voices promising blessing, prosperity, peace and abundance.

The Gospel does actually promise those things. They may not look like we expect, but they are available. But they are not easily won.
They come through obedience.
Jeremiah was obedient, and what it brought him was suffering.

Joni Eareckson Tada, no stranger to suffering, states, “I want to see God move powerfully. But often the way He moves the most powerfully is in suffering. We wouldn’t even have access to Jesus’s power if it weren’t for the suffering of the cross.”

The Gospel promises suffering. You can read what I’ve written about it in that link. The Bible says that just as Jesus suffered, so must we suffer, and in that suffering, share in His glory (1 Peter 4:12-13, Romans 8:16-18).

Oh, Lord, I desperately want to share in Your glory.

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. 1 Peter 4:19 (NLT), emphasis mine

Throughout the suffering of Jeremiah, God sends rescuers to make the journey a bit easier for him. When Jeremiah was placed in a cistern and sunk deep into the mud, Ebed-Melech (an Ethiopian) went to King Zedekiah to advocate on Jeremiah’s behalf, insisting (in opposition to the other officials who had put him in the cistern to die) that Jeremiah would starve if left there. The king relented and told Ebed-Melech to take 30 men to pull Jeremiah out. It took 30 men to get him out.

But before they went to the cistern, Ebed-Melech first took the men to find old rags and discarded clothing, which he lowered down to Jeremiah before pulling him out. Why? So Jeremiah’s armpits would not get rope burn when he was pulled out!

I’m amazed at the way we can see God’s care and provision during trials if we, with willing hearts, open our eyes to see it.

How do we find God’s best for us?

If you are celebrating Lent during this season, you may be intimately aware of the fact that for Jesus, God’s best was the cross.

How do we find God’s best for us? Through steps of obedience. By doing what we know to do today, and clinging to Him no matter where it leads us.

Because sometimes, often times, God’s best for us is suffering.

Monday Morning Meditation: Prisoners of Hope

Good morning, my blog readers!

Monday often brings such mixed feelings.

If you have a Monday through Friday job you like, Monday likely brings excitement and anticipation of what the week brings.

Most of us, though, are left wondering where the weekend went!  Some of us head off to jobs we dread or situation that appear hopeless.

One of my dear friends who is going through an extremely challenging situation posted on Facebook, “Do you need hope today?”  Don’t we all?  He posted a few Scriptures, and I added one of my favorites:

“Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”
Zechariah 9:12 (NIV1984)

Prisoners of hope! What images does that bring to mind?

What are you a prisoner to?

If your hope is waning today, make yourself a prisoner of some of these Scriptures below. Let God breath life into them and you. Let the God of hope transform any hopeless areas of your life.

Let hope illuminate itself within your soul like the glimmers of the sun as it rises in the morning.

Be blessed!

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” Psalm 62:5

“You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our savior. You are the hope of everyone on earth, even those who sail on distant seas.” Psalm 65:5

“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19

“You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope.” Psalm 119:114

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” Romans 12:12

“This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.” 1 Timothy 4:10

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5

Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Keep It Simple

Years ago, I wrote

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Simple Girl
I am a simple girl
I live a simple life
I want to have a simple job
I want to be a simple wife

But I’m beginning to see that my life is not my own
And the path that I would take is not for me to choose
And all I want to be and all I’ve ever known
I’d give it all up for your sake; what do I have to lose?

My life would be nothing without You
My life was nothing before You
My life would be nothing apart from You
I can do nothing without You

© 2000 Unveiled Faces Music

I still want that simple life.

A picture of the sunset in Cape Cod

Yet I complicate things.

When reading these lyrics, I am reminded of a saying from 12-step programs, Keep It Simple.

How can we keep things simple when life seems overwhelmingly crazy?

1. Focus on what you know.
When trying to make a decision, I often think about all the unknowns and uncertainties.  It’s usually unhelpful and unproductive. 
It’s much more helpful to focus on what I know to be true.
Another saying I’ve taken away from my time in 12-step programs is, I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let God.

What a concept.

If God is really faithful, if He doesn’t jump off the throne at the first hint of an obstacle, then continually choosing to believe that He is who He says He is sounds like a much better plan than drowning in uncertainties.

Here’s what I know:
God is good.
He is loving.
He provides.
He stoops down to make me great.

That’s what I will focus on.

2. Stop analyzing, and keep praying.
I usually spend more time than healthy trying to make sense of things that may never make sense. I try to make decisions by weighing pros and cons, crunching numbers, and creating spreadsheets.
I try and figure out what seems good.
What appears good to us is often the enemy of God’s best.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

Then I remember: you have not because you ask not.

In Luke 18, we have this example of a persistent widow.  She continued to ask the judge for what she wanted until she got it.  In Matthew 7, God is described as a good father who does not give His children stones when they ask for bread.

Put your analysis on pause, and ask the God of the universe to lead you in His paths.

3. Choose to trust.
Friends, if you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know this is one of my central themes.  If I say I believe the Word of God, which states that God is trustworthy, then I need to choose to trust Him.

Choose to trust Him in the way you think and the things you think about.

Choose to trust Him with what you say about yourself, your situation and your God.

Choose to trust Him with your actions and in the decisions you make.

God has our best at heart.  I need to remember that.
Keep it simple.

I am praying Romans 15:13 for you all this week:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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 1

I may have shared here that I did the almost-final re-write of my book, Learning to Walk in Freedom. I rewrote entire sections, partially to clarify and partially to add additional information.

I also changed the order of the Freedom Steps:

1. Spend Time with the Freedom Giver
2. Spend Time with Freedom Seekers
3. Embrace Grace
4. Think Like a Free Person
5. Act Like a Free Person

I want to share one of the rewritten sections with you today and in the coming weeks.

The premise of Learning to Walk in Freedom is this: Scripture teaches that freedom is both a one-time gift and a process. The moment we come to Jesus Christ, He gives us freedom through the Holy Spirit, so that we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:17-18), but that freedom is something we need to learn to walk out in our lives.

The order of the Freedom Steps is very strategic (you can read the series in its original form here).

In the presence of God is where we find out who we were created to be. It’s the place God tells us we were worth knowing, worth loving, and worth creating. It is the space where our identity in Him is concreted.

In the presence of others, we find healing. We confess, we receive prayer, and we find healing. We learn how to love, and we can share some of the practical steps of learning to walk in freedom.

As we learn who God is and who we are, in His presence and the presence of others, we can begin to embrace grace on a deeper level. Grace is not only forgiveness of sins, but it is the power to live as children of God. This is where we continue to learn to rest in God and trust in Him to guide us rather than rules & regulations.

Next, we learn to walk in freedom by thinking like a free person. Since Romans 12:2 says, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think,” we allow God to renew our minds and transform our thoughts, as described in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. We learn to take every thought captive, and challenge the patterns of thinking that have become so ingrained in us.

Lastly, we act like a free person.

Notice that the title is A Place For Obedience. I added a section on this topic in the midst of Freedom Step 5.

If the word obedience sends shivers down your spine, I pray that you will read this anyway. I will not, at any point, be handing you a list of rules you must adhere to in order to be a good Christian. I have legalism in my background, which is why I did not initially have this section in the book. I decided it’s just too important to leave out.

Please be patience in the weeks to come as I set the foundation that we need in order to accurately address obedience.

Freedom Step 5. Act Like a Free Person
Part of learning to walk in freedom is choosing to act like a free person.

2 Peter 1:3 says that “His [Jesus’] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (emphasis mine)

The Bible reiterates this point over and over again in verses such as the following:
Galatians 5:24 says that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh (also called the sinful nature) with its passions and desires. It doesn’t say “are in the process of crucifying the flesh” or “will someday master crucifying the flesh,” but it says it has already been crucified!

Jesus Himself said in John 8:36, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

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

Romans 6:6 says, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” (NASB) Verse 17 says we used to be slaves to sin, and verse 18 goes on to say that “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

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

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

If we are already free – end of story – why do we even need the second half of the New Testament?

I shared in the introduction to this booklet how important it is to remember that freedom is both a one-time gift and a process. I also shared a glimpse into my own struggles with learning to walk in freedom. These are not questions I pose lightly. These are difficult questions, and the implications can be life-changing if we answer them accurately.

Let’s start, then, by considering some analogies that might be helpful.

In the circus, a common way to train elephants is to tie them with strong ropes and chains to a sturdy pole. An elephant is tied to the pole when he is very young and quite small. Naturally, he initially fights being tied to the pole, but eventually resigns himself to the fact that he cannot get free.

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

We believers often act the same way. We are so used to responding in a certain manner that we don’t realize we can make different choices.

We can act like a free person.

(I will continue this series next week.)

Monday Morning Meditation: Overflowing Hope

Could you use a dose of hope today?
I could.
Romans 15:13 is a challenging and inspiring verse on hope:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The progression of this verse has been really encouraging to me lately, so I thought I’d share it with you this morning. Let’s read it bit by bit.
“May the God of hope…”
Notice first this is phrased almost as a prayer. “May the God of hope..” This is one of many almost-prayers in the book of Romans, and even in this chapter. Paul seems to be praying this verse for the readers of the letter.
Second, notice that God is called the “God of hope.” This Greek word, translated “hope”, appears 8 times in the book of Romans, and 48 times total in the New Testament. In Romans 5, Paul says that “hope does not disappoint,” and this particular hope is brought about by the character building that comes through suffering and trials.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him….”
I consider this bolded portion to be the heart of the verse: as you trust in Him.
The joy & peace come as we choose to trust…. and choose to trust again…. and choose to trust again.
I just talked about this in Freedom Friday a few weeks ago. Choosing to trust God has been such a big part of my journey, as I did not truly trust God for much of my Christian walk. My trust of God depended on my circumstances, my perceptions of what He was doing, and my speculations concerning His character.
A turning point came when God asked me to trust Him, and I realized that while I believed I was trusting Him, my actions and thoughts showed otherwise. At that moment, I realized trust is a choice. It cannot be dependent on what I see or how I experience life. It needs to depend solely on His character.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
By the power of the Holy Spirit (the same power that was exerted to raise Christ from the dead, according to Ephesians 1:19-20), overflowing hope is possible as we choose to trust.
I challenge you to choose hope this week. Choose to trust in the God who made you. Believe that overflowing hope is possible. Because He cares for you.

The Bible verses above are quoted from the NIV1984 translation.