Monday Morning Meditation: What’s in a Name? Part 2

Friday, I shared the first half of my story. I’m sharing the second half as the Monday Morning Meditation.

I had just become a Christian. In one sense, I felt hope, but at the same time, the labels were still haunting me. Even though at the time I could not voice what was going on, I continued to spiral out of control with my eating and relationships. I was so desperate for love that I entered into a relationship with an 18 year old woman with a drug problem (I was 24 at the time). After 3 months, this woman (having been raised in a Christian home) said to me, “Listen – the Bible says you must either be hot or cold – one or the other, but not both. You can’t be a Christian and be gay.” And with that, she ended our relationship.

I threw up my arms saying, “Fine, God! I don’t want to live like this. Please take this away from me.” In many ways, He did. My attraction to women greatly lessened, but the circumstances of my life that led me in the direction of lesbianism had not changed. I felt unsure, but desperate for God.

I didn’t know that support groups existed when I was struggling. I opened up to my Christian friends about my struggle and asked for accountability. The labels were still haunting me. I found a Christian counselor who helped me to deal with my same-sex attraction, as well as my eating disorder, depression and self-injury. Romans 12:2 (NLT) says, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” The labels served as a constant reminder that I truly needed my entire thought life to be transformed. It wasn’t that I had moments of feeling worthless and unlovable; in the core of my being, I was sure it was true. My counselor helped me to recognize these faulty names I had allowed to attach to me and showed me how to make them line up with what God’s Word has to say about me (2 Corinthians 10:5).

My counselor also helped me to see that I had attached all sorts of labels and names to God, most of them not true or accurate: unreachable, unloving, distant, unconcerned with my life and struggles, nit-picky, only interested in my failures, punitive, impatient, and constantly angry.

So I wrestled with God. In all honesty, I suppose, it was more like I wrestled and He waited patiently for me to realize that He is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus gave the disciples a particularly difficult command. Rather than trusting Jesus, quite a few of the disciples decided to stop following Him. When Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave too, Peter responded, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.” That’s how I felt. In the midst of all the questions and doubts, I already knew that I had tasted and seen that the Lord is indeed good.

A few months after surrendering my sexuality to God, I met a man through the campus ministry we both attended. Roy & I continued to be friends for 5 months, at which time we began dating. It wasn’t always an easy relationship. The grip the names had on me was loosening – but it was very slow and painful.

When we first became friends, I was drawn to his strong faith, his free spirit and love for life. I can see that my lack of physical attraction to men in general was due in part to my fear of men and the lies my mother had instilled in me. As I learned more about Roy, as I grew to trust him, and as I recognized that he wouldn’t hurt me, my natural physical attraction was allowed to surface without fear.

Roy & I have been married for 9.5 years and have two beautiful sons. Marriage is not a cure for homosexuality, or even a guarantee of happiness, but simply another part of God’s healing process in my life. I thank God that I came to a point where in my heart of hearts, I felt I had no choice but to embrace Christ and all that He required of me. But what I got in return for my obedience and hard work is an amazing godly man who loves me, unconditionally, like no woman ever did.

I also have allowed God to give me new names. Rather than feeling unlovable at my core, I know that my Father calls me beloved, cherished, in fact – His favorite. Rather than being ashamed of who I am and who I was, God calls me precious, beautiful, redeemed – He has born my shame. He calls me worth knowing, worth loving and worth creating. I am mighty in Him, delightful, created in my Father’s image and strong when I am weak. And in those moments when I feel abandoned, I remember there is nowhere I can go to flee from God’s presence, and when I feel rejected, I know I will never have to feel the rejection that my Savior felt as He hung from that cross. And my mother was right: I have been rescued from hell – not only eternally, but today, God has given me abundant life and a true freedom I never thought possible.

Isaiah 62 says “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. Nations will see your vindication, all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah,your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.”

What names have you allowed to speak death to you? Do you feel stuck & helpless today as you try shed false labels?

If you are feeling hopeless, I just want to again point you to Romans 8:24 and this time, include verse 25: “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

Today, I choose to embrace my new names, letting go of the labels I wore for so many years. They no longer fit, as God is making me a new creation. I choose to trust God in the process; He has yet to let me down.

Freedom Friday: The God Who Protects

I’ve written a couple of blog posts on the character of God. I’ve also done 2 posts on the theme of “The God Who” (bends & sustains are past favorites) and will continue that today with The God Who Protects.

I wrote in the Monday Morning Meditation this week about the following verse:
“He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”
Psalm 91:4
Before we dive any more into the concept of God as protector, let’s revisit some questions I asked in Monday’s blog post.

What do you wear as armor?

Do you self-protect, or allow God to be your refuge and tower of safety?

I tried to protect myself for much of my life. I thought I could be safe if I were skinny. When that garnered too much attention, I gained 50 pounds. That didn’t work either. Pushing people away with my behavior only left me hurt and desperately lonely.

“The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.” Psalm 116:6 (NIV1984)

I tried to protect myself by hiding. Hiding my feelings, my fears, my struggles and insecurities. This would eventually backfire, as I’m an external processor and everything I tried to keep in would burst forth like a beach ball held under water.

“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:7

I continued to try to self-protect while following Jesus. I thought, “I can’t tell anyone about same-sex attraction, the fact that I self-injure, or that I hate myself on a regular basis. I’ll project the image that I have it all together so no one questions me.” This facade is not something that I could maintain healthily for lots of reasons, the bottom line being that God didn’t want me to protect or trust in myself.

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.” Psalm 91:15 (NLT)

How have you self-protected? Maybe more importantly, why?

Stop and think about your fears. What would happen if you chose to allow God into all areas of your life?

Grab your Bible and look up some of these psalms I’ve quoted. Consider what they have to say about God’s protection. Ask Him to reveal the ways you have tried to protect yourself, and be willing to lay those down. Ask God’s forgiveness for your unwillingness to believe He is able to preserve and protect you, and trust Him to care for you in the area of protection.

“He is my loving ally and my fortress,
My tower of safety, my deliverer.
He stands before me as a shield and I take refuge in Him.” Psalm 144:2

The God who protects.

Freedom Friday: Living a Healthily Transparent Life

Is my life healthily transparent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you living your life with healthy transparency today?

Freedom Friday: 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: The God Who Sustains

We are back from the conference! It was an amazing time, refreshing and yet tiring (I’m sure being in the car 24 hours over the course of 3 days added to that!). There is a lot to think about & reflect on. In addition to that, there are several situations within my circles of family & friends that require lots of prayer & attention.

Yesterday, as I leaned against our chest freezer, wondering what to make for dinner, I became keenly aware that God alone is my Sustainer. I went to a Bible search tool to remind myself of Scriptures that speak to this.

I came across a gem:

“You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.” Psalm 18:35

Since returning home, Holland Davis’s words on the last night of the conference have been at the forefront of my mind (he lead worship). He reminded us that the devil comes to kill, steal & destroy, and prayed that we would not allow him to take away from us what God did in us at the conference.

So I’ve been praying for myself and others, that whatever God spoke and/or called us to at the conference, that we would stand firm and tell Satan he has no power in our lives. That we would obey what God has called us to & the areas He may have challenged us in.

But I was missing an important piece.

I am now also praying that God the Sustainer would fulfill His Word, being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in us will perfect it (also translating “carry it on to completion”) until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).

The God who leaned down to earth, who stooped down, to rescue us & make us great.

God is our Sustainer. But we need to accept His gift of sustenance. We need to allow Him to maintain and nurture those things He’s deposited into our hearts.

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:6-7

I need to be reminded that Satan wants to steal God’s best out from under me, just like he did in the Garden of Eden. Satan’s power is limited; God’s power is unlimited.

So my prayer for all of us today is that we would continue to cling to Jesus, that we would allow God to sustain and preserve the good work He has begun in us, that we would be aware of the work of Satan, but not intimidated by him.

God is Sustainer.

Read these Scriptures. Pray through them. Memorize them. Devour them. Soak them in.

Psalm 54:4
Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Psalm 55:22
Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Psalm 89:21
My hand will sustain him; surely my arm will strengthen him.

Psalm 119:116
Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed.

Psalm 119:175
Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.

Psalm 146:9
The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Psalm 147:6
The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.

Freedom Friday: Keeping Up the Pursuit

This blog post is coming to you from Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina! What a fantastic time we are having here. Gifted speakers, amazing worship leaders, and good friends.

I’ll be speaking to a group today and teaching a workshop tomorrow. But first, a short Freedom Friday.

As I read Judges yesterday, a short verse jumped out at me:

Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.

Judges is interesting, challenging and at times convicting to read. The book of Joshua had just ended, full of victory and promise. The Israelites had finally come into the promised land! But despite warnings from God & Joshua, the Israelites almost immediately began to follow other gods. Fast forward a few chapters, and that’s why they were in this position with Gideon, described in the above verse, of pursuing their enemies: because they stopped pursuing the One True God.

Why? Why did they leave behind the God who had shown Himself to be faithful over & over? Were the gods in the Promised Land that alluring? Were they pressured by the people they were living among to try out these other gods?

We don’t know exactly. Judges 2:10-11 simply says, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.”

Are you tired of following God? Weary of doing the right thing? Has following after God at times exhausted you?

God knew that doing the right thing, choosing to act like a free person, clinging to Him would not always be easy. 2 Thessalonians 3:13 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.”

Galatians 6:8-10 says, “Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

The theme of this week’s conference is The Reality of Grace. Generally, about half of the people here at these conferences are first-time attendees. They are truly stepping into their Jordan. I’ve talked to numerous people whose worlds have been rocked by what is being shared here. My world was rocked backed in 2004 at my first same-sex attraction conference when I first truly considered the reality of living in grace. Grace is a breath of fresh air to a weary, striving soul.

Something we hear in these circles quite a bit is that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality; it’s holiness.

I have to ask, if the pursuit has you weary, what are you pursuing? Are you pursuing freedom from temptation? If so, it’s no wonder you are tired! We will always be tempted in some way. The Bible does not promise freedom from temptation. Even Jesus was tempted, but He did not sin.

Or are you pursuing God and all He has for you?

If it’s the latter, the Bible promised that if we continue to choose God, to dive deep into Him, we will reap a harvest.

It will pay off. It will be worth it.

God is calling you to Himself because the desire of His heart is to see you become the person He created you to be. He wants to be known by us, known for who He truly is.

If you are weary today, pull out your encouragement file. Ask someone to pray for you. Take some time alone with God and reflect on the words of Jesus in John 16, where He says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Ask God to show you His perspective through His eyes.

And remember the words of Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Thank You, God, for inward renewal, renewal that Your Word says is happening, even when we can’t see it. Thank You for loving us enough to reach out when we were running from You. And help us to learn to run to You, to cling to You, to dive deep into You, even when the pursuit has us weary. We love You, Lord. We pray in the mighty, powerful, awesome name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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 national 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 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 someone share a thorough teaching on grace at a 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 🙂